training for Life
Column by Grandmaster Doc-Fai Wong
November 2007 Issue

Four Major Weapons

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The four most important weapons in the Chinese martial arts are the Dao (one bladed sword), Gun (staff), Qiang (spear), Jian (straight sword). Once you learned these four weapons, you set the foundation for all other weapons in your kung fu training.

For the short weapons, Dao is the first bladed weapon to learn. There are only a few Daos (single-edged blades) in the arsenal of kung fu weapons: Broadsword, Butterfly knives, Ghost head knife, and the Chinese saber (similar to the Samurai sword). Most kung fu schools teach the broadsword as the Dao these days. There are some traditional sayings about the Broadsword: gIt takes ten days to master the Daoh and you might have heard: gDao is like a wild tigerh. The reason it says that it takes ten days to master the Dao is because the Dao was a land soldierfs weapon in ancient days. In order for soldiers be ready for battle in a short time of training, the Dao was taught because it was the best weapon to use and it was also easy to carry around. Therefore in a short ten days of time a soldier can use the Dao for fighting. When using Dao techniques to fight, the cutting and slicing movements must be fast and powerful, therefore itfs like a wild tiger.

The grandfather of the long weapon is the Staff (Gun or Guan in Cantonese). There are but a few of them: the single ended staff, double ended staff, two sectioned staff and the three sectioned staff. The single ended staff is the basic training for all other long weapons. The Staff is more useful to civilians than to the military. Once you master the fighting techniques of the staff, the long handle broadsword is just adding the Dao on top of the staff. Now you can use the Dao and Gun techniques in one weapon. In order to make staff techniques effective, you need to work on the stafffs striking movements and apply them to the staff training dummy. The two person drills are also a must in training for fighting along with individual staff form practice. In the southern China, staff training is the most important weapon training in kung fu. Therefore the gsouthern staffh is well known in most of the southern kung fu systems.

Qiang is a long handle weapon, which is the Spear (Cheung in Cantonese). The traditional sayings are: gSouthern staff and northern spearh; gIt takes hundred days to master the Spearh and gMovements of the Spear are like the floating dragonh. Why does the slogan say: gNorthern spearh? Back in the old days, most of the ancient capitals were in either the central or the northern part of China. Spear training was requiring by the military. The land soldiers used the short spear like the one that we practice with today; the horse soldiers used the long spear which was over 7 feet long. Military families such as the Yang family in the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960-1279) were famous as the Spear experts of their day; therefore the Spear was widely practiced in the Northern China. In order to make the spear techniques effective, three months or one hundred days of military training for the Spear was very reasonable. Why are Spear techniques like the floating dragon? A well-trained Spear expert can make the staff or the handle of the spear wiggle and bounce when he/she is doing form practice. It looks like a dragon is floating around.

Jian, the straight sword (Gim in Cantonese) has a long history and culture in China. Dating back to the Warring States period (475-221 B.C.) of China, All upper class and educated people wore a Jian on their waist. For example, the famous teacher in China - Confucius was one of them. Next time when you take a look at the picture of Confucius, you will see he was wearing a Jian on his waist. That was the fashion during that period of time and I have heard that the people who wore a Jian were doing so for exercise in the morning and for self-defense usage. Later on, one of the Taoist saints Lu Dong Bin who was also known as one of the drunken immortals wore the Jian on his back and he was famous for his Jian expertise, therefore most of the Taoist priests also practice Jian. The Wudang Mountain in the Hubei Province of Southern China has lots of Taoist monasteries. That made the Wudang Jian famous in China. The slogan for the Jian forms practice is: gTakes thousand days to master the Jianh because the Jian is not a military weapon and it is light and delicate and therefore needs a longer period of time to master the fighting techniques. One thousand days is around three years; so it takes a longer period of time than other weapons to master. Someone once said that the Jian required ten thousand days to master but I think that is pushing it little bit too long. Do you know that 10,000 days is over 27 years? Of course everything is a lifetime of training, but to make the Jian effective for fighting it should take one almost 30 years. Not too many people have that much time to train nowadays! There is another saying: gThe movements of the Jian are like a flying Phoenixh, because the forms are so beautiful and graceful as a flying phoenix when performed correctly.

Doc-Fai Wong writes a bi-monthly column for Inside Kung-Fu.

November 2007 Inside Kung-Fu