Chen Xiaoxing corrects a posture taken from the two-sectioned staff. When practicing weapons, the same body requirements apply as those for all other Tai Chi practice. Notice that the practitioners posture has been adjusted until it is straight, but the shoulders are still relaxed and the chest is not pushed out.

What weapons do they practice in Chen Village?

Tai Chi, like most Chinese martial arts, has a lot of different weapons, and for a beginner they can be very confusing. Chen style has single and double sword, single double and big broadsword, spear, staff, long pole and two sectioned staff. The staff, known as the white ape staff, does not have a practice sequence by its self, as all the techniques are included in the spear practice sequence. The actual practice sequences are:-

  • Single Sword (Dan Jian)

  • Single Broadsword (Dan Dao)

  • Pear Blossom Spear - White Ape Staff (Li Hua Qiang - Bai Yuan Gun)

  • Spring and Autumn Big Broadsword (Chun Qiu Dadao/Guandao)

  • Double Sword (Shuang Jian)

  • Double Broadsword (Shuang Dao)

  • Double Hooks (Shuang Gou)

  • Double Mace (Shuang Jian)

  • 13 Long pole (Shi San Gan)

  • Two sectioned pole (Saozi Gan)

There are basically two types of weapons, ones that a civilian might use to defend himself, his family and his property, and ones that a soldier might use to fight wars. The sword, broadsword, spear and big broadsword are examples of military weapons, while the pole and staff are more like folk weapons. Tai Chi leans towards military weapons.

The sword and broadsword are kind of like side arms. An officer in ancient China would carry a sword much like an officer of today would carry a pistol. The sword, being double edged, is a difficult weapon to master, and most of us would probably end up chopping off one of our own limbs if we were to use one for real. The broadsword on the other hand, being a single edged chopping and hacking weapon, is easier to use and would be carried by your average grunt.

If you are going into battle however you probably want the biggest weapon you can get your hands on. This is where the spear and big-broadsword (similar to a halberd) come in. Although in theory the big-broadsword, like the broadsword, should be a simpler weapon to master, its sheer weight meant it you had to be good to use it, and it was often the weapon of choice of top generals. Similarly the spear is a very refined weapon, but because it was easy to use at a basic stabbing level this often meant that your average foot soldier carried one.

Chinese martial arts in general have a very specific way of twirling long weapons. The weapon travels very close to the body and spins in a vertical plane either on the left or right of your body. This was done so that you only kill the guy you want to, and not your best buddy standing next to you, nor the horse you might be sitting on. These basic wielding techniques can be found in the Tai Chi weapons sequences, and are usually practiced before you start learning anything else.

The other thing you have to consider is that armies know for certain that they have to fight, so if a weapon is a little inconvenience to carry it is not too much of a problem. On the other hand armies often have to march a few hundred miles, so carrying a 4 meter long pole is going to be a right pain, even if you are an officer on horse back. Also in a crowded battlefield you are not going to have much room to wave it about. Therefore the length of the so called long weapons was not too long.

The really long weapons were favoured by civilians who wanted to defend their homes. A good pole fighter could fend of a lot of people. On the other hand a top professional soldier might be call on to use the pole to defend a city gate. Provided the rest of the wall was strong enough, the pole man might be able to fend of an entire hoard of bandits. For this reason, Tai Chi includes long pole practice.

The other weapons a civilian would use are the really short weapons, such as the butterfly knifes favoured by southern styles. These weapons would be used for defending yourself if you are attacked on your way to the market or whatever. They are easy to conceal and convenient to carry. You don't really want to spend your whole life lugging round a piece of battlefield hardware that you might never use, do you? Tai Chi's heritage comes from the north of China, where the main concern is fighting off invaders from outside. Consequently it doesn't have those kind of self defence weapons found in some other styles.

A staff is not too useful to a soldier unless it has a metal cutting edge, and then it is not a staff anymore. Its popularity probably comes from the myth about Shaolin monks using them and that you can use any stick to defend yourself, provided your opponent is not fully tooled up. The two sectioned staff however much more effective, and would not look out of place on a battlefield, which is perhaps why Tai Chi includes it in its repertoire.