Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are still two cups at my table.


Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Monday, October 28, 2019

The Weapons of Wing Chun

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Kung Fu Tea, regarding the weapons practice of Wing Chun. The full article may be read here.

From time to time I am asked why Wing Chun teaches only two weapons. For those unfamiliar with the system these are the long single-tailed fighting pole, favored by a number of southern Chinese styles, and the butterfly swords. Most of Guangdong’s more popular styles have extensive arsenals.

The straight sword (jian) and broadsword (dao) are commonly seen throughout the region as are the trident, iron ruler, spear, fighting chain and rattan shield.

Such a question may well be impossible to answer. One suspects that many of the explanations that are given are basically post-hoc justifications. It could be that the focus on only two weapons reflects the style’s dedication to “parsimony” and its “concept” rather than “technique-based” approach to fighting. Or this could all simply be a matter of coincidence. If you examine the historical record it is not difficult to locate accounts of Republic period Wing Chun enthusiasts who took an interest in a more diverse set of weapons.

Still, there is something undeniably unique about the pole and double swords. While arts like Hung Gar, White Crane and Choy Li Fut teach a greater number of forms, these two are often the first weapons actually introduced to students.

There is also a longstanding tradition (which one can see in the written literature on the Chinese martial arts as far back as the Ming) justifying the long pole’s special place in military training. It was favored by instructors as it could both physically strengthen students and introduce them to techniques that would aid their study of other weapons.

Meir Shahar has argued that it was this idea, rather than any Buddhist prohibition on bladed weapons, that explained the Shaolin Temple’s specialization in cudgel fighting throughout the Ming era. Thus there may be concrete historical reasons why these particular instruments came to be favored as the foundation of 19th century southern weapons training.

We have already seen that the pole and the hudiedao (butterfly swords) came to constitute the core of Guangdong’s 19th century training for gentry led militias and other paramilitary groups. These forces cannot be dismissed as peripheral to the area’s history. They carried out a great deal of the actual fighting that occurred during the Opium Wars and the Red Turban Revolt.

The provincial government was also extensively involved in financing and procuring the arms that these groups used. While some authors have dismissed the hudiedao as an eccentric toy for martial artists, in fact these weapons were critical to southern China’s military identity throughout the 19th century.

This might be one way of understanding modern Wing Chun’s parsimony in the realm of weaponry.

The forms it taught would allow a martial artist from the Pearl River Delta region to pick up and competently use the two weapons that they were most likely to be given in the case of a community crisis. Other weapons, such as spears or daos, were (rightly or wrongly) considered close substitutes.

Yet when we look at the martial arts as they developed during the final years of the Qing and Republic periods, we are primarily discussing civilian fighting traditions which were taught in a non-military context. Do we have any witnesses to the use of these specific weapons in a civil setting?

How common were they compared to other traditional weapons which were available in Chinese communities during the middle of the 19th century?



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