Óin – A Healer And His Staff
This is the seventh part in a series highlighting the various weapons used by the dwarves in the Company of Thorin, including speculation on their form and function. The essay concentrates on the original weapons as shown in the first movie “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”, and doesn’t cover additional concept weapons that were never actually used – or weapons from the following films. References are drawn from the films, tie-ins and supporting materials.
Related articles are:
1. Weapons of a King – Thorin Oakenshield
2. Fili: Twice as Fierce – or – “The One-Dwarf Walking Arsenal”
3. Kili and His Weapons – Deadly At Every Range
4. Dwalin – Weapons of a Veteran
5. Balin – Mace or Sword from Ancient Times?
6. Glóin – His Axe Stands Ready
Along with his brother Glóin, Óin is a distant cousin of Thorin Oakenshield. A brave Northern Dwarf, Óin joins The Company of Thorin Oakenshield out of a sense of loyalty to his kin, and also because he has a substantial sum of money invested in the venture. Well read, with an inquiring mind, Óin is the healer of the group and carries with him a considerable collection of plants and herbal remedies.
Despite his age, he can still lay about him to brutal effect with his iron-shod staff, and he has picked up many cunning fighting tricks in his time, so don’t mess with this dwarf either.
Óin carries a long, two-handed staff and – as with Glóin and his battle axe – Óin can use his staff to support his steps in rough terrain, and to lean on when he needs a rest.
A staff in general is a close combat weapon which extends the fighter’s effective range considerably and therefore increases the momentum of his blow when the weapon is swung. Range and force of impact make it an effective weapon against armored enemies on horseback, or very tall enemies like trolls. It gives the fighter the ability to keep the enemy horse and rider at a distance and strike or stab the rider up in the saddle (or the troll in the eye).
Staff weapons are known to have existed throughout history in both Western and Asian cultures. They have been called by many names – for example, the quarter-staff in European cultures, the Gun in China, or the Bō in Japan. They all developed and practiced techniques for staff-like weapons that ranged from 4 to 12 feet in length. Offensive and defensive techniques usually consist of striking, levering, thrusting and blocking.
The quarter-staff is – as mentioned – a traditional European pole weapon. Mostly it refers to a shaft of hardwood from 6 to 9 feet (1.8 to 2.7m) long, often with a metal tip, ferrule or spike at one or both ends. The name derives supposedly from the way the staff is held, when you imagine it being divided into four quarters: the right hand grasping it one-quarter of the distance from the lower end.
The Chinese Gun refers to a long staff used in Chinese martial arts. It is known as one of the four major weapons, along with the Qiang (spear), Dao (sabre), and the Jian (sword), called in this group “The Grandfather of all Weapons”. A bō (Korea: bong, Chinese: kon) is also a very tall and long staff used in Okinawa and feudal Japan. Bō are typically around 1.8 m (5.9 ft) long and used in Japanese martial arts.
Here are some examples on typical fighting moves with above mentioned asian staff types.
Shaolin Yin Shou Gun (Reverse hands bow staff):
Variation of Chinese staff fighting in Wing Chun (mainly from 0:56 onwards):
How to spin a bō staff:
Óin’s staff seems to be made from a thick piece of hard-wood just like a quarter-staff, reinforced with beefy steel knobs on both ends, somewhat resembling the head of a mace with protruding sharp flanges (see here details on maces). The most common types of wood for quarter-staffs are oak, hazel, ash, hawthorn, and wax wood (a white wood from China that has been used for centuries for staffs and polearms). Hazel and ash saplings make light, flexible staffs, but ash has a tendency to flake and split. Hawthorn and oak are probably the toughest and most durable staff material, but they tend to be a bit rigid. So as Óin’s staff looks considerably sturdy we could assume that it is made of one of the latter woods – hawthorn or oak.
The shaft of his staff can be used to deflect hostile attacks, while the thickened ends allow bone-crushing blows. And even though Óin’s staff cannot penetrate any armor (because it has no blade), the power generated while thrusting the long shaft can deliver severe injuries and is capable of overwhelming any opponent with its blunt damage and speed.
The knobs at the ends are even a bit pointy with sharp edges, and if you’re something bigger than a dwarf (such as a troll) that’s the one thing you don’t want to have jabbed in your eye or any other sensitive parts of your anatomy.
In general, staff fighting techniques involve slashing, swinging and stabbing, and include a wide variety of blocks, strikes, sweeps, and entrapments. Óin’s staff also has some leather straps attached, most probably to provide additional aid while swinging it, as we will see later when he fights his way through Goblin Town.
John Callen, Oin’s actor, says himself in the book “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Chronicles: Cloaks & Daggers” on his “fighting stick”:
Putting a leather strap on it meant I could lean on it or rest it on the ground and hang on to the strap. It could be used for lifting, carrying or whacking. It turned out to be a wonderful weapon.
He might, for example, wield it very similarly to a bō, which is gripped in thirds, and held horizontally in front, the right palm facing away from the body while the left hand is facing the body, enabling the staff to rotate. The power is generated by the back hand pulling the staff, while the front hand is used for guidance. When striking, the wrist is twisted, as if turning the hand over when punching.
Staff techniques require as much great skill as swinging an axe or a sword, and the staff may even be used to sweep sand into an attacker’s eyes. And as master of his weapon, Óin handles it almost as an extension of his limbs, as we can see looking at his wicked fighting moves in Goblin town, where he whirls it around on the wrist strap.
- Chris McNab: Swords, a Visual History. London, 2010.
- Rupert Matthews: Weapons of War: From Axes to War Hammers, Weapons from the Age of Hand-to-hand Fighting. London, 2009.
- Dorling Kindersley: Arms and Armour. London, 2011.
- Harvey J.S. Withers: The Illustrated Directory of Swords & Sabres. London, 2011.
- Ken Mondschein/J.Paul Getty Museum: The Knightly Art of Battle. Los Angeles, 2011.
- J.R.R. Tolkien: The Peoples of Middle Earth. London, 2002.
- Daniel Falconer: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Art & Design, 2012.
- Brian Sibley: Official Movie Guide (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), 2012.
- Jude Fisher: Visual Companion (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), 2012.
- P. H. Ditchfield: Old English Sports, Pastimes and Customs. England, 1891., http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14315
- Dwight C. McLemore: The Fighting Staff. Paladin Press, 2010, p. 3.
- Daniel Falconer: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Chronicles: Cloaks & Daggers, 2014.