Staff Form training

Column by Grandmaster Doc-Fai Wong
November 2005 Issue

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Southern kung fu systems are known for their many sophisticated staff forms. Three of these forms, however, stand out as being particularly famous: Seung Gup Dan Gwan (Double and Single Ended Staff Form) of Choy Li Fut; Ng Long Bot Gwa Gwan (The Fifth Son's Ba Gua Staff Form) of Hung Gar; and the Look Dim Boon Gwan (Six and Half Points Staff Form) of Wing Chun kung fu. These three forms are practiced around the world, and represent the foundational training of all long weapons in traditional Southern kung fu systems.

Though the style of each system's hand techniques is very different, the staff techniques of all Southern kung fu systems are more or less the same. This is because there are only a couple of ways you can hold a staff and use it effectively as a weapon. You can hold the staff from one end, in a grip known as the single end grip, which maximizes the reach of the weapon. Or, you can hold the weapon in the center, called the double end grip, enabling one to use either end for striking. The single ended grip, in most Southern systems, is accomplished by holding the butt end of the staff in the left hand, palm down. The right hand grips the weapon about a hip's distance apart, palm up. Gripping the staff equidistant from the center of the staff with the hands palm down, and a shoulder's distance apart forms the double end grip. Generally, the weapon is held single end style to fight opponents at a distance. However, close in fighting is best done using the double end grip.

Choy Li Fut kung fu's Seung Gup Dan Gwan became popular because it combined both methods of staff fighting into one weapon form. For this reason, this staff form is much longer than the hung gar and the wing chun staff forms. Since the form combines the two types of staff techniques, the student gains the ability to switch seamlessly between short and long-range staff fighting movements. Additionally, because the form is so long, the student also receives an excellent cardio-vascular workout.

When practicing the Double and Single Ended Staff Form, keep in mind a few of the most important concepts. When practicing the single ended techniques, make sure that you grip the staff with your left hand as close to the butt end as possible. This insures that the opposite end of the weapon will have maximum extension for striking and blocking. Place your right hand about a hip's distance away from the left, or about 60 centimeters away. Again, the goal here is to maximize the reach of the weapon in order to stop the opponent at a distance, and to maximize striking power. This grip should be used when doing all of the long range single end movements such as poking (cheung), over head smashing down (sot), tapping to the head (pau), lifting backward (chau), pushing down (kum), and slicing down (gort). When doing the poking techniques (cheung), your right index finger must point toward the tip of the weapon. This is called ding jung, or the center stabilizing position, and is used to more accurately focus the energy of the thrusting attack on vital pressure points.

When using the staff in the double end style, you will mostly hold the weapon symmetrically on each side of the staff's center, making sure that the hands are about a hip's distance apart. This position is used especially when blocking with the center section of the staff. However, when striking or blocking with one of the ends, it is important to shift both hands at least 30 to 45 centimeters toward the opposite end of the weapon. This way the attacking end will extend longer than the other end, and your strike will have more power and reach. When doing the thrusting strike (chong), or the pressing down block (kum), make sure that the back end of the weapon is tucked tightly under the rear armpit, with the back hand held palm up. When doing the horizontal swinging strike (wang sow), both hands must be one fist distance apart. Generate power for this strike by holding the weapon tightly against the waist as you turn the body quickly toward your opponent.

During some techniques, a special extra wide grip is used for both single and double end moves. For these techniques, you will double the distance between the hands to 120 centimeters, or about twice the width of your hips. This gripping method is used to maximize the portion of the weapon used for blocking and to protect the hands from an incoming strike. Use this grip during the upper slanting block (dik-soy), the vertical block to the side (jieh-lan), and the upper horizontal block (goi-ding or ga-gwan). This grip is also used during the lower inward block (nah), and the lower outward block (pah), to maximize leverage and power. These are the only techniques that employ the extra wide grip.

Finally, be aware that all staff fighting techniques, regardless of system, depend on your ability to harness the power of your body. To do this, you must make sure that your body and the weapon move as one unit. This way, when you twist your body quickly, the power generated by the turning of the waist will flow efficiently into the staff. The effectiveness of staff fighting techniques depend on connection between body and staff.