Who doesn't love weapons? I mean, it's practically a human right. And kung fu people don't just like weapons, they love them. Even the ones that hurt you. Grr, nunchaku! You pretty much have to love it to spend enough time practicing the mechanics of a new kung fu weapon that it becomes second nature to you. Even if you do bang your knees a few dozen times.
Not everything comes easily, and some of the more difficult ones come at a price. But each new weapon opens a new dimension of your transition as a martial artist. They teach you distance and timing. Respect for the edge, if it's a sword. Each kung fu weapon requires different balance and posture to be adept, and each one moves in its own unique way. Part of the point of martial arts mastery is to be well rounded. To adapt to the subtleties of each new weapon and learn how to master its strengths.
These are five of my favorite kung fu weapons I have learned from Shaolin-Do. That does not necessarily mean they are the ones I am the best at. Sometimes it is quite the opposite. I do like a challenge. They each have their own unique challenges and advantages, so picking favorites was not so easy.
1. Bo Staff (bo)
Probably one of the most versatile kung fu weapons out there. Can be used for long-range as well as short range attacks, good for power generation at single distance, and defense from double distance. Joint locks and breaks are also easily achieved with proper use of a staff. The staff's resiliant nature often proves contrary to the soft muscle tissue of the attacker.
Many different styles and methods were used for bo staff fighting throughout the ages, resulting in a wealth of techniques to study. Examples include: Sea Dragon Cane, Entwining Dragon Staff, Six Harmony Staff, Drunken Bo Staff and more. It is also one of the easiest kung fu weapons to find in the natural environment and can be found in every-day items like a broom or mop stick.
2. Spear (chang)
A spear is really just as simple as a knife on the end of a stick. You have the reach of a six foot pole in order to attack with a razor sharp blade on the end for slashing or thrusting. Spear changes the effective range of the fighter, as its most deadly point is at triple distance, long before most opponents can get close enough to land a blow. The traditional combinations of long range blocking techniques and thrusting attacks keep an attacker at bay. This makes the spear one of the most valuable kung fu weapons.
Other styles of spear like Pa Kua Spear specialize in closer quarters defense, taking out an opponent within an arm's length or closer. Often the hand will change grip and flip the spear in order to utilize it with both hands like a bo staff. The difference here is that, unlike the staff, you now have a cutting edge to employ. The edge is used to make efficient slashing and thrusting attacks while using deep stances to evade an attacker and root yourself for powerful stikes and throws.
Spear is a classic kung fu weapon that goes back ages. Styles of spear techniques involve: Yang style, Lo Family, Plum Flower, Drunken Spear, Pa Kua Spear, and more.
3. Broadsword (dao)
Ever the hack-n-slash weapon of brute force, the Dao is a single-bladed sword with a curved blade. Most broadsword forms are circular in motion, using the deadly radius around one's body to chop and hack at an opponent's body and limbs. These weapons were usually mass produced for the infantry division due to their relatively inexpensive design. It was a standard military weapon, often cut crudely from stamped steel.
The broadsword is usually curved to create a clean cut, and does not emphasize stabbing motions as much as the straight sword. It tends to be a little top heavy to allow for a clean chopping motion through meat and bone. The forms utilize twisting through the waist to generate cutting power and hard, efficient blocks before striking.
Legend says that an ancient Emperor was dreaming that he was engaged in a sword battle with a single broadsword and began to lose the duel. In the dream the sword became two swords, an epic pair that he wielded with each hand. This allowed him to gain the upper hand and win the match. When he awoke, he ordered a special pair of broadswords be made that could fit into a single sheath.
There are many styles of the kung fu broadsword form, including Drunken Broadsword, Double Broadswords, Tai Chi Broadsword, Giant Pa Kua Broadsword, Hsing Yi Broadsword, Black Tiger, etc.
4. Straight Sword (jin)
Originally similar to bronze double-edged daggers in varying lengths, jian reached modern lengths by roughly 500 BCE. Though there is significant variation in length, balance, and weight of the jian from different periods, within any given period the general purpose of the jian is to be a multipurpose cut and thrust weapon capable of stabbing, as well as making both precise cuts and slashes. (Wikipedia)
The straight sword differs from the broadsword, mostly in the versatility of its use. The double blades allow for easier cutting motions, and the lighter design makes it faster to employ. It is more of a finesse weapon, as many of the razor sharp straight swords would not hold up against an extensive duel. Practitioners of the sword more often learned to evade their opponent and strike from odd angles to deliver slashing or thrusting blows.
Skilled practitioners can employ the method of hua jing or fa jin to deliver immense power into their strikes, disabling an opponent or worse. The straight sword is one of the best kung fu weapons for this method due to its length and its flexible inner strength. When perfectly balanced and in the hands of a skilled swordsman, the weapon seems to glide through the air straight to its target and hit a devastating point without effort.
Historically there have been many sword masters who developed several different styles of straight sword fighting techniques. There are many books out there on these men, go read them. In Shaolin-Do we have Table Top Sword, 7 Star Sword, Skewer the Sun, Tai Chi Straight Sword, Drunken Straight Sword, and Hsing Yi Straight Sword, just to name a few.
5. Double Daggers (suang pi sou ti)
One of my personal favorite kung fu weapons. The double dagger is smooth and circular, punchy and evasive. It is everything you want in close-quarters, single distance combat. Good for slashing and hooking attacks, as well as pointed thrusts to vulnerable places on the human body. The double blades allow for instant changes of attack as well as striking from both sides.
Daggers are famous for their ability to flip hand positions and gain an advantage. One hand is usually blocking while the other is striking, which allows for a perfect synergy of attack and defense.
From past double distance, the skilled practitioner can even throw it at a charging enemy, but this skill takes many years to practice, and even then is usually a measure of last resort.
The elder Daoist White Eyebrow is said to have developed the Yin and Yang Dagger styles in repayment for his betrayal of the Shaolin to the imperial government, but this story is much in dispute. In Shaolin-Do we have several dual and single dagger styles for students who want to learn this practical and exciting kung fu weapon.
Michael Sandham is the owner and head instructor of Shaolin Martial Arts LLC, a kung fu and tai chi school in SW Austin. He has been training in these styles for half his life so far. These are not the only weapons he likes.
Shaolin Martial Arts LLC
2009 Ranch Rd 620 N Ste 740
Austin, TX 78734