ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Ireland’s historical martial art form has found its way to the Capital Region. Trish Smith and John Borter are on a mission to train the next generation of Irish stick fighters.
The cracking bang of a shillelagh—a walking stick with a knob at the end—is a foreign sound to most.
“Even Irish people. You know, we have our little shirts and our logo. And they go, Irish stick fighting, what is that?” Borter said.
Borter is the Founder of the Modern Self-Defense Academy in Albany, and Smith is an instructor in Modern Self-Defense Concepts. The couple started an Irish stick fighting study group almost two years ago in Coxsackie; now it’s expanded to classes in Albany, Rochester, and Pennsylvania. The classes are open to all ages and abilities.
“You always have to tell kids, put that stick down. You’re going to poke someone in the eye,” Smith said. “They know it is so much fun to grab it and start swinging it thing around.”
Not only do the classes boast a good time, but they also hold the promise of bringing back a piece of forgotten history. Irish Stick fighting—known first as bataireacht—is a martial art born out of necessity for an occupied country
“The British did outlaw any kind of bladed weapons, metal weapons. So, [the Irish people] really had to use what they had to work with, which was walking sticks, ” Smith said.
Stick fighting took off during the 18th and 19th centuries. Borter said as the fighting style grew in popularity, the Irish people used their newfound skills to settle disputes.
“They used to do it in factions, kind of like gang fighting. So, they didn’t want to share all of their secrets. So they kept things within a town or a county,” Borter said.
Smither and Borter are trained coaches under the Doyle Irish Stick Fighting system. The Doyles passed the style down from father to son exclusively until the late 1990s when Glen Doyle received permission from the family to share with outsiders. Smith and Borter were certified by Bernie Leddy, the Chieftain of the Doyle system, and call their club the “Whiskey Stick Faction.”
“I have multiple black belts and this is the most excited I’ve been in a long time,” Borter said “We love this art so much we just want to grow it.”
This year, Trish and Borter will walk in the Albany St. Patrick’s Day Parade for the first time as The Whiskey Stick Faction with Watervliet Ancient Order of Hibernians.
In addition to offering classes, the couple runs the Facebook group “The Irish Stick” to inspire as many people as possible to pick up a shillelagh.