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How to Choose the Perfect Staff Length

Momo Bonobo

fire performer holding fire staff

The perfect staff length is not a very easy thing to define for everyone as it really depends on what factors you value most. Many beginners will really overthink this question before buying their first staff, but my aim is to shed some light on the topic and to simplify the choosing process.

To preface this, we will be focusing on dragon, contact, and spin staffs. Conventional wisdom says that for most staffs, you want the staff to be at about chin height. This is generally a great place to start, with some dragon staffer’s preference being a couple inches taller than chin height. As a note, traditional martial arts size props much differently than the flow arts world but we will not delve into that.

Note: From the hundreds of staffs we’ve sold, the most popular staff length is 5 feet (1500mm). This is chin height or a bit higher for most of the average population and is a very standard “one-size-fits-all” length.

We will be using “chin height” as the reference height for the rest of the article when calling a staff shorter or longer. Using staffs that are almost or equally as tall as you is generally not recommended as it becomes problematic hitting the ground during practice.

When choosing the best length for your staff, these are the 3 factors you want to consider most:

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Style of Flow

The style of flow you practice is important insofar as how quickly you move, whether or not you are prioritizing technical flow, and your overall goal. The longer the staff is, the slower it’s rotational speed when doing circular movements such as weaves and reels. For this reason, faster styles of flow (think martial arts) might enjoy a relatively shorter staff then slower styles of flow.

Technical flow styles might need shorter staffs to give more room for clearance underneath joints for specific moves, whereas some other moves may also be easier with a longer staff. Interpretive dance styles can appreciate a longer staff as it can have a more visually appealing full arc when spinning in a circle. A great way to find out what a good length is for yourself is to find inspiration on social media. If you reach out to an artist online, many will be open to letting you know how long their staff is and how tall they are. This way you can be sure the ratio of your height to staff length allows you to do the same moves as they’re doing.

In conclusion:

  • Faster Styles – chest height to chin height
  • Slower Styles – chin height or slightly longer (nose height)

Weight

The weight of the staff should also be considered. The longer a staff is, the heavier it is. Other than for the obvious reasons of more material being used in a longer staff, the staff also feels heavier because many flow staffs are contact weighted. This means the weight is concentrated in the ends of the staff, which makes it feel heavier at the center point. This effect is felt more profoundly the longer the staff is.

Weight is also an important factor to consider if you have any pre-existing wrist or shoulder injuries or if you plan to practice for hours at a time. Heavier tools can stress the body more. Conversely, some people like heavier props because they sink into their skin a bit more and can help with spatial awareness of a prop on a person’s body. The weighting of the staff correlates to styles of flow as well, such as martial styles of flow generally requiring lighter weight staffs in order to move faster.

Note: Weight is also influenced by other factors such as grip, tube material, and tube diameter, so it can be difficult to compare weights of different manufacturers just based off of length. This is most accurate when comparing different length staffs from the same company and same model of staff. All this being said, weight is not very noticeably different in small increments (2-3″) as it would be in larger increments. But for some people every ounce or gram matters!

In conlusion:

  • Longer props are heavier, better suited for slower flow styles, and sink into the skin more.
  • Shorter props are lighter, better suited for faster flow styles, and easier to flow with for long periods of time.

Portability

Finally, portability is a very important factor that isn’t spoken about as much in regards to this topic. Although a 72″ (1830mm) staff might be chin height for some tall people, this length of staff is a pain to store or travel with. Outside of custom orders, many companies don’t sell staffs longer than 67″ as they are also a pain to ship.

Collapsible props are great if you know you travel a lot (performers especially), but it’s still important to keep in mind that the 3 piece collapsible staffs might need to fit in a certain size luggage when traveling. For this reason again, 1500mm is a very popular collapsible size because all 3 pieces are of equal length and can more easily fit into luggage or even carry-on compared to longer collapsible staffs.

All this to say, you should take a second to at least mentally note where you will be storing the staff and how important being able to travel with your staff is. This could also help you decide if collapsible props are important in your decision making process.

In conlusion:

  • Longer staffs are harder to travel with and store.
  • Consider a collapsible prop if you plan on traveling frequently.

Conclusion

If you’ve read this far and are still really confused as to what length to choose because you’re a beginner, my advice is to just go chin height or even just choose a 1500mm staff (if you really don’t even wanna take out a measuring tape). At the end of the day staff length is very much a preference. The deeper you get into your flow journey, the more your opinion might change as to what your ideal length is.

I am relatively tall (6’4″ / 1930mm) and started at chin height for both contact and dragon staff, which for me is 66″ (1675mm), but now my ideal length is 60″ (1500mm) for single dragon / contact staff or 55″ (1400mm) if I’m doing double contact staff. That’s because my priorities are portability and the ability to do some specific tricks I’ve learned over time that are difficult with long staffs.

Another note I’d like to make is for fire spinning. Some people enjoy a slightly longer staff as this keeps the fire further away from your body while spinning. If you are a beginner trying to get into the fire spinning world, I wouldn’t recommend going shorter than chin height. If you started out with practice staffs and are going into fire spinning, you should either stay at the same length to make the transition easier, or if you are slightly apprehensive about the fire then I would recommend adding a couple inches.

The perfect staff length doesn’t exist as a beginner because you’re still learning and finding your specific style of flow. The longer you practice, the more insight that you’ll have into what works best for you. If you have access to any local flow jams or communities, reach out to see if you can play with anyone’s staff to get a good feeling for what different lengths feel like. Hopefully this articles helps give you some insight on what size to start out with so you can start finding your flow!