Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Knives! ona-Stick!!!

 So, using your short sword, you have successfully expelled the Barbarians, be they Goths, Visigoths, Huns, Saxons, Gypsies, Mongols, Hell's Angels (yeah, I had to go there...)  Now what?  They are out of your abode, casa, keep, pad, place, but they are rolling around in your yard, stepping on your flowers, touching your bbq, peeing in the bushes, unsorting your recyclables and other heinous things.  Yet all you have is 3' of a big knife.

What to do?  WHAT TO DO?

Well, you use a knife.  But not any knife, you use a knife-on-a-stick.

What?  What deviltry is this?

It's called Pole-Arms.  As in Arms.  On a Pole.  For simpler-minded individuals, yes, you touch people with a 10' pole (or 6' or 14' or or or.)

But what type of polearm?  For the variety of polearms is wide and varied from axes to billhooks to fauchards, fauchard-forks, guisarmes, poleaxes, halberds yada yada yada.

All are nice.  All have a place.  But we're going to fixate on knives.  On a stick. ON A STICK!!!

So basically, well, for a knife-on-a-stick, you basically take a knife-like-object and put it on a stick.  Where the handle for the knife-like-object would normally have a handle, you replace the handle with a socket in which to connect a stick.  

So... take a dagger-like object and put a pole up it's butt and you have a spear.  Or a pike (a spear that's much longer, like 12-16' longer where a normal spear goes from 5' to 9')

Or take a sword-like object and attach a pole in it's socket and you have... a war spear, or a boar spear.  Or a glaive, which is a fancy French word for... single edged sword (like a cutlass or falchion) on a stick.  Or a naginata, which is a Japanese katana-like blade... on a stick.

I mean, it doesn't get much simpler than this.  Take a blade and put it on a stick.


Well, see, extend your more-useful arm in front of you.  Now visually add 2-3' to that.  That whole 2-3' is your best range for a sword. Maybe a little closer but not much.  Anything closer is what some call knife-range, or grappling range.  Anything farther than that, your opponent is standing there looking at you and with his/her/its eyes saying, "Yeah, so?"

Now.  Take that Knife-on-a-Stick (KoaS) and hold it in one hand, with the hand at the point of balance of the shaft.  With a 6' shaft, that KoaS gives you roughly the same range as a sword.  Wooo.  Big change.

But... you don't bat one-handed, do you?

Take that same shaft.  Place your dominant hand near the non-pointy end.  Now place your non-dominant hand about 3' (or a yard, or a meter) up the shaft.  Stand so your front hand's foot is in front and pointed towards the nominal enemy.  Rotate your body about 45 degrees back away from perpendicular (or 135 degrees off ) to the shaft. Place your dominant hand's foot back and to the side about 12" offset from the front foot.  Like... 

This is how you hold your shaft.  
Body cocked 45 degrees
lead foot pointed at enemy, rear foot braced at roughly 90 degrees to the lead foot.
Notice the hand positions.

Notice that now, just by rocking your arms or choking up on the shaft, your weapon can reach from about 3' in front of you to over 6' in front of you.  Which places that enemy with a knife or sword or axe firmly within your range and now you can keep him/her/it outside of his/her/its range. 

Starting to make sense yet?

And... this is where the old, infirm (as long as you have two working arms) the young, the undersized can get the best of some 250lb 6'6" neo-barbarian.  Because the pole-holder can double the arm strength and increase the geometrical power release of the point (because, knife in hand swung 90 degrees at 3' range produces X amount of energy, but knife in arms swung 90 degrees at 6' range produce sooo much more than X amount of energy due to length of weapon traveled and such.  Like... so.

See the bended arms? 
Very important, as those are springs to poke with
Notice Arc is from above head of enemy to where you can cut his ankles


Notice #1 - See how far forward that spear point is? That's about 3' further than a hand-sword.  See how far that tip travels on the curve?  That curve increases Kinetic Energy and chops through much farther, so weaker person can do same or more damage with spear than stronger one with knife or sword.

Notice #2 - That the 90 degree arc of swing does not go from perfectly vertical.  Because you rarely are poking a giant in the nuts.  Instead, keeping the top of the swing to about 75-80 degrees max above horizontal gives you the ability to whack the enemy from chin to shin, even top of head to foot (what?  Put a knife/sword through someone's foot and they stop fighting real quick.)

Where was I?  I was drawing funny pictures and...

Oh, yeah, now see that 90 degree arc?  It extends to the horizontal plane, too. Actually it's a 90 degree cone from the spear-wielder's chest to the weapon's main working end.  So one person can threaten a wider bunch of barbarians than one knife or sword wielder.  Because the tip of the weapon covers more area...  Math.  It's all math.  Geometry, Algebra, Calculus and such.  But it's math that your body already knows, you just have to teach it to your muscles, but really, it's info that your body already knows.  Spear is almost instinctual, where sword fighting isn't.  Operative word is 'almost.'  Any goon can run a spear (translation, any one can use a spear) but a little practice increases ability quickly.

So far I've been using the word 'spear.'  Explanation:  A spear (lance, pike, yari etc) is a blade from 6-12" long, with sharpened edges usually all around (so both thin edges are sharp.)  This is the basic weapon from Cave Man to Modern Man (how long is your modern bayonet?  6-12" is average from WWII on.)

What happens when you hit the opponent with the shaft and not the blade or socket?  Well, it still hurts, but you won't cut or mostly kill.  And you may break your shaft if the end behind the socket doesn't have metal strapping protecting the exposed shaft (called, sometimes, languettes.)

Now, whacking someone with just a pole is perfectly legit.  It's called Staff Fighting (versus what happens at the Pentagon, which is a whole different type of Staff Fighting, more like Staff In-Fighting...) Yes, like in "Robin Hood."  A simple wooden staff is a deadly weapon, capable of smashing skulls, breaking arms, kind of like whacking someone with a 5'-6' baseball bat.  And in staff fighting you can use a shorter staff like... a baseball bat.  Or even a shorter one-handed staff, called a baton.  Philippine Escrima fighting is done with two batons.  Medieval knights often used batons in training as though against exposed body parts it could hurt, it hurt a lot less than using a training blade or a tourney blade (tourney blades often had their edges cut off or 'rebated' (and, yes, it's where the term comes from, as the edge steel is a higher quality steel and the smith who cuts it off literally either buys it from you or hands it back to you, thus rebating it.)

But we're talking poleknives, so...

Or... or... you could extend the length of the blade to 18", 24" or even, gasp, 30"or more.  And you get a War-Spear, or a Boar-Spear (War are usually 14-18" with languettes or a very long socket, sometimes with a cross piece, Boar spears are 12-18" long blades with a crosspiece on the socket to keep the fracking boar from just running up the spear-pole and gut you.) or a glaive (single edged sword about 18"-24" long (48" long ones are bills, add a hook on the tip and they are bill-hooks (a derivation of an agricultural tree trimming and fruit-gathering blade, no, really...)  And you can find about 3-5 names for every variation you can think of, plus variations you don't want to think of.

So with these swords-on-a-stick you can whack with the blade (and socket, if you must) over a greater length of weapon, giving you a wider purposefully killing section.)

Couple other parts of the KoaS.  There's the pole, usually about 1" to 1.5" (roll your fingers like you're holding a pole.  What's the diameter of the circle you now created?  about 1" to 1.5", unless you're a mutant like me (2" diameter.  I have problems finding gloves and armored gauntlets that fit my hands (also unusually wide palms...))  The pole should be strong enough it doesn't break when you smack it on someone's head, so, hickory or ash or oak.

There's the butt-end (the non-primary pokey end.) which can be just a plain end of the pole (boring, but works) or can be fitted with a metal ferrule to keep the end-grain from splitting, or fitted with a cap (for the same reason) or a spike-on-a-socket (for poking with the other end) or a ball (of wood, or metal) as a grip and as something to whack someone with.

Then there's the overall length.  Best fer fightin' on foot is between 6' and 9', maybe pushing to 10' with just a simple spear point.  Why only 9ish feet?  Because, that length thingy we talked about in making arc swings also means that the longer the weapon, the more mass and momentum is farther away from your center-of-mass and it makes it harder to move the blasted thing.  Typical rule is the heavier the blade, the shorter the overall length.  Within reason.  Seriously.  Don't go ultra long.  Maybe start long, and just cut off 3" until it feels good to you.

Yes, there are exceptions, like pikes.  But pikes, long long spears up to 16' long) are used in a group.  Individually a single pike is hard to use as it is hard to move from simply pointing at people (and, um, shoving them into said people.)  Very few actual warriors or soldiers or fighters could actually wield a pike like it was a shorter spear.  There were a few, the freaks...

Now that you have a KoaS outfitted to the length you want and the blade you want, and maybe with languettes protecting the shaft this side of the socket and any butt-features you want... how do you use it?

First, remember that second picture?  Always keep your primary weapon forward of you, way forward of you.  And your shaft is your shield.  There is never ever ever ever EVER any need to swing the weapon tip behind you or past about 45 degrees, maybe 60 degrees MAX to either side of an invisible line between you and your foe.  EVER.  Don't Do It.  Because as soon as you inevitably whip your tip out of that cone of doom and your foe will rush you and go all monkey (it's what I call it) on you and just chop you up.  It's what I do when I have a sword and shield and fighting a pole weapon - take the hit on the shield, charge and just hammer the dog snot out of the guy.

There are Four (not one, two, or three.  Four) Basic Maneuvers.

Thrust:  Arms close to body, back hand on one side, forehand on another, then extend arms towards enemy while holding your pole.  Stick it in.  Pull it out.  In.  Out.  Doesn't get much simpler than that.

Fore cut:  With the blade in line with whatever plane you're cutting on, and the blade on your forehand side of the enemy, swing forward with the forehand, while either keeping the butt-hand stable or pulling it into the body.  Like you are casting a heavy surf pole.  Swing forward - Whack - pull back.  Swing forward - Whack - pull back.  Second easiest maneuver to understand.  Swing, cut. Swing, cut.

Simple Fore Cut.  
Swing your heeeps with the direction of the cut.


Back cut:  With the blade on the backhand side of the enemy, pull your blade towards your forehand side with your forehand while pushing your backhand away from your body.  Pull back - Whack.  Pull back - Whack..

The Back Cut
Again, sweeeng your heeeeps with the direction of the forehand
Punch out with the back hand


The C Cut:  Extend your weapon to block his/her/its weapon.  Push against the weapon.  Now whip your weapon tip in a 'C' shape around his weapon and do either one of the first three maneuvers.  Extend, smack weapon, whip a C, and (stab, forecut, backcut) return.

That's it.  Simple.  SIMPLE.   4 basic moves.  Stab.  Forecut.  Backcut. C-cut (really a C-maneuver.)


Now do combos, that means multiple moves.  Hit using one move, hit again using the same move, maybe hit the third time but then toss in another move.

Thrust, thrust, cut.  Forecut (and cut through the target) backcut, forecut.  Forecut, Forecut, Forecut, Thrust.

 Get the idea?


Advanced moves are:

Butt-Punch:  See that last illustration?  Take your back hand on the shaft and punch your foe in the gut or face with the butt, or your hand if you're wearing armored gauntlets (do not do if your hands aren't armored.)  It's equivalent to punching with the butt of a rifle during bayonet drills.

Clothes-Line:  With the portion of the shaft between your two hands, punch your foe.  In the head.  In the neck.  In the body.  This is a great pushing move (if you are heavier than your opponent, he moves, if he's heavier, you move, either way, you get space to use the weapon end of your weapon.)  And, yes, if he's running into you and you catch him on the neck, it's just like he runs into a clothesline.  Thus the name.

Butt-Poke:  Most effective with a butt-spike or metal end, but works with a plain shaft, too.  Again, your foe gets within your swing.  Take the end of the shaft and poke him.  Poke him hard.  If you don't have a spike, poke him in the face or the gut.  If you do have a spike, poke him anywhere.  But POKE HARD!

 The 360:  Yes, I said to keep the tip of the weapon within a 90 degree cone, but stuff happens.  If the point is pushed past 90 degrees, and you have the room, you can just let go with the forehand, and whip the shaft over your head and then grab the shaft again with your forehand and within the last 60 degrees before hitting your enemy then put some real power into it.  And, yes, this is an advanced move. REALLY advanced.  It sounds simple but takes lots of practice to know when you can get away with it.

The... DROP:  If you miss, and miss bigly, and the foe knocks the weapon out of one or both hands and you have no chance to really recover, DROP the weapon, forget about it, and just run away.  Seriously.  You aren't encumbered by a heavy weapon, your foe is, you know the terrain, he doesn't.  So run away, run away.

The One Handed Jab:  Holding the weapon in your dominant hand, over your shoulder, Jab forward and down.  Sounds simple.  Works great for frog-gigging, but with a heavy weapon, it's a lot harder than you think.  This is actually how lancers used to fight either in an open field (where your opponents are all around you) or in the charging line before the concept of a crouched lance (shaft held between your body and your dominant arm, dominant forearm alongside the shaft, hand held on the shaft (palm up, shaft on palm.)  Yeah, try one-hand jabbing with a glaive. What makes this one difficult is knowing when you can get away with it and having the muscle-mass to do it.

Most advanced moves require body mass and muscle mass and practice to do effectively.  Almost anyone can do the First Four Basic Moves.  So basic it's what was being taught to Japanese children as young as 7 to use in preparation for the US invasion of Japan in 45 or 46.  And old people were to do it, too.  And ladies.  And, well, everyone.  It's one of the reasons spears and blades-on-sticks have predominantly been the primary war-fighting stand-off weapon since day 1.

Cold Steel makes some really nice spear blades and polearms.  Their boar spear is really nice..  And surprisingly cheap, and strong.  But there are lots of places that sell quality (and lots of not-quality) weapons...  Have fun.  Spear away.  It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye and then you can call him Odin.


  1. Watched two gentlemen suitably attired in 17th century livery performing a demo for the crowd at a Renaissance Fair. Very enlightening and humorous. They knew all the right moves while performing with the various weapons at their disposal and not drawing a drop of each other's blood. I now know where Sherman got the idea for his "War is Hell" quote. Formidable........

    1. Knife and Knife-on-a-stick fighting can look, from a distance, very elegant and pretty. But up close and personal, even in the HEMA (Historical Euro-Martial Arts, they use rebated blades and beat the snot out of each other) or SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism, they use rattan batons and fiberglass spear poles and beat the snot out of each other) the brutal reality for both bludgeoning sports is lots of bruises, some concussions and the occasional broken bone. And most fighters don't use their full strength when whopping their opponent.

      Very formidable.

      LL over at Virtual Mirage brought up on August 23, 2020 the topic of "War of the Roses Ends" and one infographic shows that Richard III (actually a very good and noble king, unlike that propaganda hit by the then-mainstream media that was so pro-Tudor it challenges today's MSM for the title of 'World's largest Syncophantic Group') was chopped in the back of the helmet by a bill hook, which cleaved the helmet and his skull. Pole arms are just destructive. Fun, but destructive.

    2. Here's the Virtual Mirage post I mentioned. I meant to put a link but... forgot.

  2. I remember well the bayonet training I received while in the Corps. Frankly, I loved it! so brutal and like a deadly ballet when it was done in sequences. I had an Infantry Sergeant that LOVED bayonet drills. He sat us down once and explained his reasoning behind it. To sum it up, putting a bayonet on the end of your rifle signals to the enemy that you are ready to get nasty. And putting that bayonet on the end of your rifle gets you geared up to become brutal. The bayonet signals bad things are coming down.

    I wonder if they still pound bayonet training into the heads of young privates these days?

    1. Ha! Bayonet Training... I helped a friend during the WPE era how to do bayonet training. Me? I've never actually held a rifle with a bayonet, but it's just a short spear with an ugly shaft. And the supposedly 'trained' people I was instructing had no idea how to butt-punch or butt-stroke someone, or even that fun move where you step inside their legs and trip them backwards. Which are all medieval European fighting moves. It was a fun day.

      And, yes, mounting a bayonet means the Bayonet-mounters are not interested in politeness or prisoners for the most part. Kind of an unwritten law of war, if you charge with bayonets and get to the enemy, it's pretty much a no-quarter or few-get-quarter situation. The goal of the receivers of said bayonet charge is to either surrender first before the charge gets to them, die during the charge, or run away and get shot or stabbed in the back.

      I think they've de-emphasized bayonet training, as the M-16 and now the M-4 and variants make a sucky bayonet platform. Not like the M-1 Garand or M-14, with a nice wood stock and all that mass...

    2. guys keep reminding me in subtle ways I just GOTTA get a bayonet for my Garand.

      I'll have to look and see what CMP has these days.

    3. I was usaf in 70s&80s. while in iceland, part of nato defense forces iceland was required to take marksmanship, bayonet drill and field craft with the lads at the US Marines Barracks, Keflavik NAS. the weapon du jour was my old friend M-14. the blade dance was...interesting. the 600 meter KDR was a challenge. got to flex some long distance I hadn't had since McClellan. Marines know their shit and know how to apply training. loved crawling thru the rock garden. spent a lot of time working on fieldcraft with them. never forget them. Respects.

  3. Beans - In my martial art I have trained in the naginata, sort of the equivalent of the European Glaive. Blade lengths can vary - one to two feet is standard, but there have been blades as long as three feet - as well as the pole length: for our style, our hand should reach to the tip of the blade (about 6' or so for me). That said, naginata - or any polearm - is an underappreciated weapon. We have all of the standard moves and cuts you discuss here (Japanese names, obviously) as well as specific kata for attacks and specific situations.

    In terms of ability to defend: it is estimated a 5' skilled user of a naginata could cover 484 square feet with a 5' shaft and a 3' blade. Having had to defend against them in practice, they are very difficult to attack - the length makes it very difficult.

    1. One of my best friends in the SCA went and took a naginata class from a classic-form Japanese teacher. She had him and his buddy demonstrate SCA fighting, in full armor, to the class. He was pretty much the best SCA naginata fighter in the Southeast, maybe the world, and his buddy was pert near #2. The class was very impressed. Then she got ahold of them and handed them their asses, individually and collectively.

      She was a young teenager being trained for the US Invasion of Japan. And short, too. This was in the late 1990's, so her age was great.

      The Japanese Naginata style emphasizes a tad bit more reverse than the Euro style, which is pretty much either 'Stand yer ground' or 'Only Forward movement avialable.' But both use the basic moves.

      And one of the most famous female Samurai was very deadly with a naginata.

      Me? With a glaive I've held off 4-5 guys in a wall. With spear (9' lenght, poking only, no hacking) I've held off a whole line of 10-11 guys. Length does have power.

  4. Beans, you are a true Barbarian.......meant as a compliment. Going to have to look for knives-on-a-stick at next years State Fair (EVERYTHING is on a stick there). Unfortunately getting older means less ability for the hand-to-hand stuff, that's where gunpowder makes up for diminishing physical abilities. Another interesting post Beans.....thanks for expanding my knowledge base.

    1. Oh, Nylon12, you wound me. See. Because Barbarians are not nearly as nasty as civilized folk. So, um, they don't tend to go for cheap shots and all that. Me? If I was truly using a spear or glaive in real life? Lotsa poked and hacked feet, chopped fingers (put blade on enemy's haft, then slide down until he's missing fingers...)

      But, okay, yeah, I am a, in the eyes of many, a true Barbarian. I'm not afraid to get dirty or bloody while doing my job.

      Glad to instruct and expand the knowledge base.

      And, yes, Gun-Fu wins over Kung-Fu or knife-fu or spear-fu any day. It's just nice to have... options.

      As to state fair food, fried butter-on-a-stick? Seriously? I mean, meat-on-a-stick makes sense, but butter?

  5. I read about a man that defended his wife against a cougar with a Cold Steel spear. I bought one that day. It's sitting in the corner. Now that I have the manual, it's time to dust of the horse stance and start proficiency training.

    Some years ago, I found out the Boy Scouts used to teach stick fighting, Indian style. I think even Victorian Brits used to practice it. I dug up a book on pdf from that era, and it was your basic 5 foot walking stick, held over your head. Interesting and effective if you were outside and had lots of room. Your onehanded stab reminded me of a maneuver from that book.

    Thanks for the lesson.

    1. Yes, Boy Scouts used to teach staff fighting, either English (two handed) or French (two and one handed, a lot more twirling and whirling than English). And my dad's Sea Scout manual still had info on how to fight with a boarding pike (basically a short spear with a hook below the blade.) Because sometimes you can't or don't want to use a gun.

      The Spear is an excellent tool, useful for all sorts of things like harvesting fruit from a tree, poking wildlife and such. Very useful. It's one of the reasons it's still a viable weapon in the atomic age.

      Glad to instruct.

  6. A timely post having just read Of Living Valour: The Story of the Soldiers of Waterloo by Barney White-Spunner which mentioned the effectiveness of Napoléon's lancers. Also that only the first rank was armed with the lance and the back ranks were sword only. Once you got past the lance tip, the poor bastid was defenseless.

    The lancers were more feared by the British infantry than the cuirassiers. Though the latter were armored large men on big horses with long-ish swords, horses won't deliberately walk/trot/run into a wall of bayonets (which on the end of a musket gives the lowly foot soldier a very nice spear) so even those long swords can't get you. The lance however was quite capable of reaching out and touching someone. Which it did.

    Great post.

    1. Lancers en-masse are just scary dudes. Even in WWI, especially the Australians, were very effective with lance. And in WWII, not a bad weapon if mounted on horse-back, as both the Poles and Italians proved. Something very fearful about a line of charging horses and sharp long sticks.

      The Bayonet Square, favored by the Brits, was as vunerable as the Shield Wall on Hastings Field to one-handed downward thrusts with a lance/spear, one of the favored maneuvers of the French lancers.

      Glad to fill in the gap while you are recovering essential personnel from the Grand-Baby-Trap. Hope things went well with Blue and the road.

    2. In actuality, the square wasn't "favored by the Brits" but was a standard Napoleonic defense against cavalry. Infantry caught in line or in column were easily cut to red ribbons. The Austrians also had a formation known as a "battalion mass," which, as I understand it, is what infantry battalions in column could form very quickly when forming square took too long. Basically everybody closes the intervals and the guys on the outside face out and present bayonets.

      Very few seem to understand that a square could actually move, albeit far more slowly than a column. Also an enticing target for artillery. Virtually proof against cavalry if the infantry knew their business, which the British and the King's German Legion did.

    3. James Burke in his "Connections" series had an episode going into the "pike square", and how it was maneuvered.

      If you haven't seen one in action, it's most impressive. All these guys with KoaS's moving in unison, like some giant, mutant porcupine.

  7. Thank you for this post. I'm making a poor-mans pole axe by attaching one of the 3-in-1 Multi-Function Hatchet to a 5' shaft. Should be a good thing for wood-walks and such. Is a fun little project.

    1. Ah! The dreaded pole-axe. Which is a great thing for self defense and poking around stuff. Non-knives-on-a-stick are fun to play with, but you have to make sure the mass of the head doesn't get too out of control.

      Sounds like a fun little project. Good luck.

    2. Papal Swiss Guard were masters of pole-axe. At one time a unit of those died to a man buying time for Pope to escape to safe castle in 1500s... Sabaton of course has a song on them. You know they would not pass such badassery...

  8. From Greek phalanx to Macedonian version with sarissas, to medieval Swiss pikemen knife-on-a-stick worked wonders.
    Then musketmen came and mixed formation ruled the land. Finally bayonett settled the question of musket-to-pike ratio.
    "How many pikemen versus musketmen? YES."
    Polish insurrections of 1794-1863 era made great improvised ones by mounting harvesting scythes straight-upward, also making every peasant a soldier, and a citizen by extension. While that did not succeeded against increasingly more modern Russian army, it helped instill patriotism beyond the nobility, which ended up crucial in 1920 defense against Bolsheviks... And later on.

    1. Your history is inspiring to me. I don't know a lot about it. But what I've read makes gets my blood up. General Pulaski comes to mind immediately (even though I had to look up his name.... again....)

  9. Lindybeige. YT.

  10. The halberd is just about the pinnacle of knife on a stick.

  11. Knives-ona-stick! Even better than sausages-inna-bun! Beans, your Pratchett is showing.
    --Tennessee Budd

  12. I am reminded of the day in Marine boot camp when we learned all about bayonet fighting. The instructors demonstrated all of the various strokes and movements, Then the Drill Instructor informed us that it was possible that that on a thrust to the chest of an enemy the bayonet could become lodged in the breast bone. If this were to occur, he informed us, the correct procedure was to stomp down on the enemy's chest and that should free the bayonet. Should that not work, he advised us, you simply pulled the trigger and the bullet would surely free the bayonet. At that point a voice was heard from an unknown recruit, "If i got one round left there ain't gonna be no bayonet fighting!"

  13. It is not a knife, but I have a walking stick(36 inch) with a ball peen hammer head for the hand grip. And yes I was trained in stick fighting.


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