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praying mantis weapons

Weapons: Martial Arts Tools for Self-Discovery

Weapons Training
Sifu Josh Schafer, 2004

Staff Jump - Photo Credit Tony Yeh.
Sifu Josh Schafer Is pictured here in a performance of the form: 5th Son Staff (Ng Long Gwan) at a Martial Arts Tournament benefitting Chinese flood victims. The event was held at the Chinese Cultural Centre in the heart of historic Chinatown, in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. 1998

I had the good fortune of being introduced to the challenging and rewarding practice of martial arts at a relatively young age.

As a direct consequence of this, throughout my life I have continually received the collateral benefits of balance, focus, strength, coordination, discipline, and flexibility, all of which have positively impacted on many aspects of my existence.

However, I feel that no component of my martial arts training has given me as much pleasure or challenged me both physically and mentally as much as that of weapons training.

The Highest Level

It is no exageration to say that all of the styles of kung fu contain a component of training with weapons. At the simplest level, the martial artist attempts to forge his hands and feet into blades. Beyond that, a strategic fighter is continuously interacting with their environment and seeking a tactical advantage over their 'enemy' with any available object.

Weaponry provides an infinite advantage over open-hand techniques in that the weapon-wielder may strike a contested blow and absorb no damage while simultaneously inflicting pain and possibly death to their opponent. In essence, "A Flawless Victory!"

However, a weapon can also defeat its wielder.

During battle, one must be careful not to 'over-focus' on one's weapon or one will risk being overcome by a faster opponent who has solid defensive skills. Such an enemy will avoid, parry, and neutralize, waiting for their opportunity, and then will strike in the opening that an over-focused individual will create. Like having a blind-spot in which one cannot detect the approach of a strike.

In agreement with many of the other martial artists with whom I have had conversations over the years, I consider weapons training to be one of the most challenging aspects and the highest level of my martial arts experience.

Anachronistic Training? Not!

To some martial artists, the idea of training in Modern times with Ancient Chinese Weapons may seem pointless or anachronistic. It is my opinion, however, that there are many benefits on a variety of levels to be gained from such practice.

The preservation of techniques which evolved from a bygone era adds a deeper component to ancient-weapons practice. When a weapon from the past is handled with strong mind-body-spirit connection it is as if the wielder is speaking an ancient and devastating language. The fluidity and ferocity of weapons play can stun the eye of a novice observer. To a knowledgeable observer, though, there is such a depth and complexity that there are many aspects to admire. At a demonstration of "Masters" there will be many heads nodding while "knowing smiles" creep upon thoughtful faces.

In fact, training with each individual weapon-type may offer an enhancement to different martial arts "skill sets" and provide insights into a variety of aspects of body mechanics or kinesiology. Every weapon has something to offer its master, and each kind of weapon may appeal to a different student.

Undeniably advantageous aspects of weapons training are:

  • the benefit of muscular (upper body in particular) strengthening and conditioning;
  • a deeper challenge to one's physical coordination and stamina; and
  • the expansion of one's "self-defense strategy-set" in the event of being confronted by an adversary with a weapon in a conflict situation,

The chance that one might, during combat, capture the enemy's weapon dictates that studying all 18 classes of weapons is a good idea in order to be ready to handle anything that one might encounter in battle.


Importantly, in the modern day as in the past, any weapon - including such objects as a tree branch, broom, tire-iron, key-ring, or even a handful of dirt - can provide an important equalization factor in the skilled hands of a smaller-weaker person, even against a much taller and stronger assailant.

Many of the older kung fu forms sets contain a special movement which embodies this concept of improvisation. This movement is often referred to as "Throwing the Coins", or "Throwing Change". In this posture of the form the practitioner stands in a cat stance, reaches behind their back with a palm hand positioned flat against the lumbar spine region, and then flings their arm out and forward into a high hand, palm-outward, hanging-arm position. This simulates reaching into one's waistband to throw an improvised weapon at an assailant's face while simultaneously delivering a lower-body kick.

The 'cat-stance kick' is typically hidden in the praying mantis traditional method of playing forms. In some branches of mantis, the kick is hidden in a seven-star stance position, rather than a cat-stance.

A Young Start

In my initial martial arts school, weapons were integrated at the very first level. in the white belt novice class, we often trained basic techniques through repetetive motion with weapons. Straight punch after straight punch would be thrown with the instructor admonishing that we extend our fists out 'straight' and bring them back equally linearly.

Simple enough instructions, perhaps. However, many novices would continue to waver, and wobble, and shoulder-raise, and angle their fists in an incorrect manner. Nothing quite brought the message home as clearly as when our teacher would tell us to go to the weapons closet and return with two sai (three pointed knife) each. Upon repetition of this drill with weapons in hand we would see and feel more clearly the angling and wobbling as it was emphasized by the point of our sai.

Equally as important, if we were sloppy in retracting our punches we would discover it first-hand since the sharp points of the sai would poke us in the ribs or catch and possibly tear our shirts!

Similarly the lowering punch (an angled downward hook punch) almost taught itself when a baton was placed in our hands. The correct angle of striking became that much more obvious and the weight of the weapon forced our arms into the appropriate fluid arc.

"If we were sloppy in retracting our punches we would feel it first-hand since the sharp points of the sai would poke us in the ribs or catch and possibly tear our shirts!"

Waist Power

Waist power is clearly described by the movement of the tip of a staff or spear following a variety of strikes, both linear and circular with such weapons.

When one trains with flexible wushu weapons, the metal will make a special "shing" noise as the waist power is directed down the length and out the tip. At the end of the movement, if the wrist snap is strong and the rooting is good, there will be a special higher-pitched noise.

It is highly advised for students who are attempting to improve their understanding of waist power to experiment with different weapons and strive for a greater "wobble in the tip", or whipping action.

  • When you are relaxed then the power will rise from the earth and pass through your body and out whatever part of the weapon that you direct.
  • When you execute a strike with the weapon and can hear the wind "singing" during the technique then you know you are creating excellent velocity in the tip.
  • When you stop being pulled off balance by your most powerful strikes then you know you have good rooting and structure in your stances.
  • And when you observe the wobble in the tip then you will understand waist power more deeply.

Ancient Chinese Proverb

"one hundred days with the staff, one thousand days with the spear, ten thousand days with the sword." -Chinese Proverb

As an instructor, I am in agreement with the Chinese proverb which states "one hundred days with the staff, one thousand days with the spear, ten thousand days with the sword". I would suggest that the sword is a weapon which is best suited for more senior students, except in special cases. There are so many facets to the complicated jewel that sword-play represents in the martial artists crown, that many students may become frustrated and/or discouraged if introduced to the weapon too early in their journey. Alternatively they may not perceive their own technical errors. In that case, their errors shall compound (like steep interest) and then cement themselves in the motor neuronal pathways, resisting retraining at a later date with the correct techniques.

Mastering the Sword

And yet, a beginner who applies themselves diligently, shall some day become a master.

The benefits to one's precision and coordination from training with the sword - in all its variety of shapes and sizes - are immense and will provide years of challenges to any martial arts enthusiast.

Wrist strength and flexibility will improve steadily with sword practice. Once the basic cuts, deflections, and thrusts have been learned, it is time to introduce more difficult concepts such as the translation of waist-power and disarming techniques.

Many of the kung fu sword sets also contain more advanced and challenging techniques from the system, subtly woven into the fabric of the forms. For example, in one praying mantis kung fu sword (jien) set, the use of pressure point strikes (a.k.a. dim mak, vital point hits to lethal, "non-striking" targets) with the "invisible sword" hand, as well as bagua circle-walking techniques are utilized. On their own, each of these techniques can take many years to perfect. And yet, they represent merely a small portion of the overall breadth of techniques incoporated into the sword form.


Three-Sectional Staff: Master Luo Gwang Yu's Favourite Weapon

One of the more challenging weapons to learn, the personal favourite of Master Luo Gwang Yu, is the 3-sectional staff. The 'staff in three parts' is an excellent weapon to teach total body coordination and waist power.

The three-sectional staff is a perfect example of the combination of both rigid and flexible weaponry. As such, it requires that the practitioner be capable of combining both sets of strategies, and be competent to switch rapidly between hard and soft movement patterns. The great variety of movements in the arsenal of the three-sectional practitioner allow for many years of challenge to anyone bold enough to tackle the learning curve. Nowadays, since flexible and padded three-sectional staves are available for purchase online, it is highly recommended that the novice train with such weaponry to avoid injury.

A Deeper Level of Weapons Training

In the Seven Star Praying Mantis Kung Fu school at which I studied, a deeper level of weapons training is pursued than in many other schools. This deeper training includes the instruction of more complex weapons forms with a great variety of weapons, padded weapons fighting, weapons self-defense, weapons grappling, and group-fighting role-playing scenarios where the introduction of weapons as another parameter is used to expand the training of martial arts strategy during simulated combat.

Josh Schafer and Lisa Hill Practicing Padded Weapons Fighting
josh and Lisa fighting

In response to a question which I am frequently asked by novices in my school: "When can I start training with weapons?" I simply reply, "as soon as you like," or "whenever you're ready!"


An important aspect to training with weapons is the ability to feel comfortable holding the weapon. This skill can only develop through the constant handling of the implement.

Familiarity leads to trust. Without trust there will be fear. When fear exists, the weapon will seek out the wielder. -Sifu Josh Schafer

At the novice-stage of training, a balance should be struck by the instructor between:

  • providing guidance (ie: demonstrating basic, simple techniques with the weapon); and
  • allowing the student to play with the weapon to gain a good feel for how it is handled in order to achieve a reasonable level of natural comfort.

If a student is a "natural" with the weapon, then they should discover the full movement-range instinctively. Once a degree of mastery of the weapon has been obtained by the learner, then a more refined structure as well as exposure to the more complicated "passes" and movement possibilities can be provided by the teacher.

Of course, it is easiest on the instructor if the novice has a solid grounding (pun intended) in footwork prior to discovering weapons. However, as long as the teacher spends the time to reinforce and emphasize the footwork throughout the weapons practice then 'the novice' will fast become 'the intermediate' and eventually the master.


As with all other aspects of martial arts, in weapons training the use of technique is very important. Good balance and supple-linked body movements come into play when handling a weapon.

Strong waist-power will translate into excellent weapon power. However, as any martial artist who has competed with weapons in tournaments will share with you, one of the most important aspects of weapons work is proper stances. Stances and footwork are the foundation upon which all further martial arts skills are built.

Stances and footwork are the foundation upon which all further martial arts skills are built. If you wish the structure to be tall, you'd best build solid foundations. -Sifu Josh Schafer

Weapons training can be useful for teaching basic skills and developing physical strength at the novice level, and while weapons forms and padded weapons fighting are often the highlight of a martial arts tournament spectator's experience, weapons training is important at the highest level of the martial arts experience in providing the expert martial artist with their deepest challenge on the road to self-improvement.


Further information about weapons:

Ancient Chinese Weapons - A Guide

The Three Sectional Staff

Praying Mantis Weapons Forms


plum blossom mantis

Ancient Chinese Weapons

Ancient Chinese Weapons - A Guide
by josh schafer, 2005.


China is a country with a long and rich martial arts heritage. During the course of its extensive history martial arts weapons of all styles, shapes, materials, and fabrication techniques have been invented, developed, and refined.

Basic Hoplology

Hoplology is the name for the science that studies human combative behavior and performance. Throughout human evolution the use of tools has characterized humanity's development. The use of tools in combat is as old as the history of human civilization, and over that time a large number of weapons have been created by imaginative and aggressive people.

In order to characterize the vast multitude of human arms and armaments, certain common categories of weapons must be defined. In this setting, these weapon categories will include:

  • long,
  • short,
  • soft or flexible, and
  • projectile.

Naturally, some weapons fall into multiple categories and versions of varying length have evolved over time.

The "18 Classical Chinese Weapons"

In some reference sources, the classical 18 Ancient Chinese Weapons are described. The term was widely used during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). A martial artist proficient with all these types of weaponry would be said to have mastered the "eighteen kinds of martial techniques". The eighteen weapons evolved from traditional armaments and are widely referred to as the "eighteen military weapons". One version of the Ming novel "Outlaws of the Marsh" mentions this frequently. In the 17th century, Jin Sheng-tan published what is now famous as the original version of a novel that obtained the interest and infatuation of successive generations.

Outlaws of the Marsh

Water Margin or Outlaws of the Marsh is an immortal novel because its tale is universal: it speaks of beings who are outlaws but also notables, strong-muscled heroes but also intellectuals, anarchists, and also philosophers... who cannot bear injustice nor abuse nor arbitrariness. It is set in the Liangshan Marsh (in what is now Shandong Province in China) at a time when government corruption was rampant and those who opposed the ruling class were often put to death.

An unordered list of the 'eighteen weapons'
as from the Water Margin Novel

long bow
jointed bludgeon



The following is a more modern list of the 'eighteen weapons'

Weapon Name

Other Versions of Name(s)

three sectional staff 

jointed bludgeon
cudgel club
staff bo, boken
truncheon tonfa, crutch, cane
broadsword sabre, willow-leaf sword
rapier epee, foil
halberd long-sword, gwan dao/ kwan dao, horse-cutter
shovel spade 
harrow rake, sickle, hoe
lance polearm 
long-bladed spear  throwing-spear
wave-bladed spear snake-headed spear
trident fork
hammer mallet 
hatchet cleaver, claw hatchet 
dagger-axe ge 
battle-axe two-handed axe, fighting-axe 
bow short and long bow, compound bow, crossbow

The following list corresponds to a small sample of a variety of weapons of the various classes. Further details for specific weapons are linked in the list:

Long | Short | Flexible | Projectile

Long Weapons

Long-Handled Sword (two-handed sword, Nine Ring, Chay Yang)
Axe (single, double, long handle)
Spear (Single Headed, Double Headed, Crescent Moon, Snake Headed)
Long Sword (General Kwan, horse-chopper)
Halberd (single, double)
Sweeper (large, small)
Whip (multisectional chain-whip, bull whip, rope)
Tiger Fork (trident)
Three Sectional Staff

Short Weapons

Dagger (single, double)
Sai (single, double)
Butterfly Swords, Butterfly Knife
Broadsword (single, double)
Nine Ring Broadsword
Willow Leaf Broadsword
Hammer (single, double)
Double-edge Sword (single, double)
Tiger Hook Sword (single, double, swordbreakers)
Walking Cane or Crutch
Small Sweeper (nunchaku)
Shovel (combat, Moonteeth, Golden Coin)
Sickle (hook)
Wheel (Fire, Heaven and Earth crescent moon)

Soft Flexible Weapons

Three Sectional Staff
Nine Sectional Chain Whip
Rope Dart
Meteor Hammer
Mother and Son Hammer

Projectile Weapons

Dagger (throwing)
Dart (throw-dart, blow-dart, pin)
Bow and Arrow
Arhat Coins
Pin (hairpin)

Dagger (Bei)

A small knife, the dagger tends to be defined as any knife used or designed for fighting one handed and inefficient for eating or cooking. Primarily a stabbing weapon, the dagger is usually double-edged and narrow. Most of the knife techniques involve stabbing inwards and tearing outwards. The strikes tend to be punches or hammer fist strikes modified for speed and with a weapon in the hand.

While there are specialized uses for the dagger, in the past it tended to be viewed as a thrown weapon or something an assassin would use. An example of the specialized uses are the ermei piercers and ring daggers. Both were designed for use in water with variations mainly focused on being able to swim and still have control of the weapon. An obvious logic for this is for recognisance work.

Some other uses that have come to light recently are the use of the knife in urban settings or other places where you can not take a sword. The dagger is specialized for killing and is a perfect weapon to carry into small spaces and for concealing upon the body. It has impressive applications in a close quarter combat role.The twin daggers may vary in length and are often concealed in a manner that enables quick access.

Spear (Qiang)Traditionally referred to in China as the “King of weapons”, the spear as a weapon is as old as China herself. In ancient times, many advanced martial artists/warriors knew that this pointed implement, employed by a proficient spear-player, was both lethal and formidable. Two of the top Chinese spear proponents were the famous General Yueh Fei and the first woman warrior Fa Mu Lan. Both warriors were considered invincible due to their proficiency with the spear in combat. One legend has it that General Yueh Fei developed the Xing Yi Mind-Spirit fighting system based on his proficiency with the spear and other martial art systems.

It has been told that during the "Water Margin" period of ancient China some of "Liangshan" heroes of the "Outlaws of the Marsh" fame were proficient spear players.

The best spear player of that group was a "Leopard Head" Lin Chung whose finishing move was the "Returning Horse Spear Thrust." This movement was a reverse body, retreating tactic that lures the pursuing attacker into a state of frenzy. Then the spear player would abruptly stop and deploy an overturning body spear thrust at his opponent. When executed correctly, the spear rarely misses its target.

Yang Cheng Fu of the Yang Family Tai Chi fame always carried a short single-head spear for protection. It served the dual training function of acting as a straight sword and a short staff. The British in the mid-nineteenth century acknowledged that the Chinese spear was far superior to their bayonets. Currently, the weapon is smaller and its uses are compressed into about thirty different methods. Spear techniques typically consist of a series of outward and inward parries and thrusts.

Sword (Dao, doe)

The sword (dao) is a Chinese weapon used in many styles. Large, with a curved single edge, its techniques include a variety of cuts, slashes, parries, thrusts and blows worked through an intricate set of footwork patterns.The use of this weapon is often ascribed to the emperor Chou-Mok-Wong, of the Chow dynasty, who was presented with a large sabre when travelling through Shi-Kiang province. The knife or sabre, in various lengths and sizes, has much the same mystique about it as does the double-edged sword (GIM, jien), but on a less grand scale. If the double-edged straight sword was the emblem of the upper classes, the broadsword was the mark of the warrior.

The dao (broadsword) were among the earliest weapons of ancient China, with the broadsword considered to be 'the root of short weapons' because its techniques are relatively simple to learn.

In northern China, in the countryside the weapon was generally longer because its user was taller and the countryside more open. The southern blade however was shorter and heavier because shorter people in crowded cities used it. Soldiers preferred a lighter, quicker blade that could be carried for long distances. Mountain men and farmers chose a heavier, machete-like sabre that could double as an agricultural tool. This type of Dao featured tremendous cutting power, but lacked speed and was difficult to reverse once the user began his motion.

Willow Leaf Broadsword

The most popular knife is the willow leaf. Originating in the north, the Willow Leaf sword was light with a little curve to the handle and blade. The Executioner’s sabre (Pok-Dao) was thick, heavy and wielded with both hands. From southern China came the Ghost-head sabre, a shorter weapon used for chopping. Other types of dao are the Grain-leaf sabre, Goose-feather sabre, Tiger-tail Knife, Tornado knife, Plum blossom sabre, Oxtail knife, Whirlwind Sabre, Sun-mother sabre and Crescent knife. All of these can be used with other weapons, but are most often wielded in combination with a shield.

Gwan Dao (Kwan Dao, horse-chopper, Large Knife, halberd)

Literally “Gwan's (or Kwan's) knife” it is a large halberd used in kung fu, named after the famous Chinese general Gwan-Yu (Kwan-Kung). Extended practice with this weapon builds strength in the forearms and wrists. In modern times it is used primarily for conditioning and often by larger persons. The heavy “cone” located on the other end of the staff counterbalances a long, broad, heavy blade. As general Kwan's halberd weighted almost 50 kilograms the "cone" was thrust into the ground when general Kwan mounted and dismounted the horse. Two broad plates also helped him to keep the balance of the weapon and acted as guards. One of the primary strengths of this weapon is that it is difficult to counter directly and it is adept at disarming or destroying an opponent's weapon and smashing through any resistance. Wielded by a large, horse-mounted foe, this weapon was a daunting force on the battlefield. Smaller versions of this weapon were adapted for foot-soldiers: The "Dan Dao" and "Pu Dao" .

Butterfly Swords (Hu Die Dao)

This is a southern style weapon, the yin and yang hand guard is used for smooth transitions of the weapon allowing the practitioner to flip the sabre much like the sai (chai) but with the added advantage of the sabre usage.

Sectional Chain Whip (whip chain)

This weapon is composed of 3,5,7 or 9 linked steel sections with a dagger or dart at one end, the whip is easily concealed and is a valuable secondary weapon, a light version of this heavy weapon is often used in performance-based martial arts. A flag is often attached to the last link of the chain before the dagger in order to stabilize the trajectory of the weapon, and create noise and distraction from the position of the bladed tip.

Sickle (Kama, Lian)

This is a rice harvesting implement, the Lian (Kama in Okinawa) was used either singly or in pairs, one in each hand. In close range combat it can be employed to slash, hook, rake, chop, deflect and block. The Lian has a short blade set perpendicular to a hardwood handle, it is the forerunner for weapons like the Kusari-gama. The lian was a tool used to cut weeds and bring in the crop. It was a very simple, but nevertheless very sharp and potentially deadly weapon. It's structure, however, made it very weak when attacked with heavy blows directly to the blade. Therefore, innovative warriors redesigned the weapon. It is stronger in its construction, because the blade runs through, past the curve of the normal farming implement and all the way down into the handle. This makes the cutting edge bigger, and above all, the previous weak point where the sickle was attached to the stick is eliminated.

Three Sectional Staff (San jie gun, Sam jeet gwan)

The three sectional staff, is a historical weapon, which appears in the Chinese book "Sangokushi". Its distinctive feature is three equal length sticks connected with metal rings, often much longer than a long staff.

3-Sectional Wielding, RedMantis

The three sectional staff can be swung around the body and passed from hand to hand in a wide variety of ways. The metal-shod butt-ends of the staff, as well as the connecting metal chain links, are exceptionally useful for striking and disarming opponents.The three sectional staff can be used as a long-range weapon when held at one end and swung freely, or a medium-range or short-range weapon when two of the sections are held and used to strike or parry. It is highly adaptable to various battle conditions, excellent for defense, and fully portable and concealable. A truly expert practitioner, wielding the three sectional staff on horseback, could attack both cavalry and foot soldiers. Meanwhile, a footsoldier wielding a three sectional staff could entangle the feet of a horse from a reasonable distance and thereby unseat their foes. This multivariate piece of weaponry evolved at a time when the common battle troops were armed with sword and shield. One thing that the three sectional staff does better than practically no other weapon is to be able to attack around a shield and negate the defensive advantage of shielding.

The three sectional staff's greatest drawbacks lie in the extreme challenge, focus, and discipline required to wield it effectively and to master its versatile nature. Furthermore, a high degree of ambidextrous coordination is required... which is not available to all martial arts practitioners, many of whom have trained their whole lives to become one-side-dominant (unilateral) warriors.

Find out more about this unique weapon

Sweeper (Shao-zi)

Commonly believed to be the precursor to the three sectional staff, this traditional weapon is rarely taught in modern martial arts schools. It is composed of two sections of wood of variable length, attached by chain links of variable length. The sweeper was featured in the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The weapon is used primarily as a staff, but with added trapping and circular striking features. The practitioners ability to generate percussive force at the end of the weapon is studied in great detail, and is directly linked with their skillful use of waist-power. The sweeper may be wielded from either end, but is predominantly a long-range weapon. It shares many features with the three sectional staff, particularly its efficacy against horse-mounted opponents.

Double Willow Leaf Sword

The double Willow Leaf Sword, also known as the twin Chinese Dao, possess a classical shape and configuration. This weaponry was used by Imperial troops against rebels and colonial invaders; by warlord troops against competing warlords; by river pirates and by anti-river pirates; by independent warriors; and by bodyguards of rich merchants. It was a very popular style of sword throughout China.

This double-handed weapon is a very traditional discipline amongst many styles of kung-fu. It is often used for coordination training and valuable dexterity training of students. Performance-based martial artists have put this weapon into showy routines where the traditional heavy willow leaf sword is replaced by a flexible foil-like weapon to enhance its speed and for generation of noise.

Axe (Shuang fu)

Predominantly used by Southern kung-fu stylists, the short axes are usually employed in pairs. Also known as 'hurricane double axes', a name coined by the Sung dynasty figure Li-Kwai (T’uan Ful). This warrior discipline contains no blocks or parries with a belief that the brutishness of this weapon will overcome all other techniques. Use of this weapons is enhanced by great core-body strength and speed and it is often adopted by a shorter fighter.

Fighting Fan (Tie Shan)

The fan is a popular weapon in kung fu and is often taught as a first weapon to younger students. A traditional fan could contain 9, 16,20 or 24 ribs, and was often concealed in the sleeve or waistband. It is the emblem of Chang-li-chuan of the eight immortals. Popularised in movies by such stars as Jackie Chan and Jet Li, this weapon requires amazing dexterity from its user. It is easy to use, but exceptionally difficult to master and demands a deeper understanding of yin or soft power.

Normal fans are made of paper and bamboo. This is not well-adapted for heavy blocking and striking but could still be used as a distraction tool; as well as for redirecting movements; as an aid for locking techniques; in Chin Na; and also for lightning-fast strikes to vulnerable pressure-point targets. It was a commonplace weapon, likely to be acceptable to be carried in all sorts of places where other weapons might arouse suspicion or be confiscated.

The iron fan, however, is an actual ancient combat weapon. It was made with iron plates (slats) instead of wood, and the top edges of the slats were sharpened, spiked, or bladed. The interstices (or links) could be made of a variety of substances, including metal or wire, and might be used to disguise the location or presence of the blades. As a thrown weapon, the fan, when opened, has an erratic trajectory which is unpredictable to the novice observer but highly regulatable by the expert practitioner.

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3 Sectional Staff - Dominant Weapon

3 Sectional Staff - Dominant Weapon
josh schafer, 2005

A new field of competition is developing at martial arts tournaments around the world. It is the fast-paced, exciting, and spectator-thrilling experience of "padded weapons point fighting".

Disarm and follow-up strike a legal target within 2 seconds for 2 points.
padded weapons fighting

A new field of competition is developing at martial arts tournaments. It is the fast-paced, exciting, and spectator-thrilling experience of "padded weapons point fighting". Currently, this event is available only at selected tournaments, but its popularity is growing rapidly. However, judging from the responses of both the participants and the observers at the Tiger Balm International Martial Arts Tournament and the Fireball International Tournament in Vancouver, it is destined to become a widespread phenomenon before too long.

One observation that may be made from the demonstrations of weapon-vs-weapon fighting in tournament play is that the three sectional staff (aka 3-sectional, aka three-section staff, aka jointed bludgeon) with its versatility, power, range, and unpredictable nature, emerges as a dominant weapon against any and all challengers.

Why Train With Ancient Weapons?

While to some martial artists the idea of training with "ancient" weapons may seem pointless or anachronistic. However, there are many benefits on a variety of levels to be gained from such practice. In fact, each weapon may offer an enhancement to different martial arts "skill sets" and provide insights into different aspects of body mechanics. Additionally, the added benefit of muscular (particularly upper body) strengthening, the deeper challenge to one's physical coordination, and the expansion of one's self-defense strategy in the event of being confronted with a weapon in a conflict situation are all undeniable aspects of weapons training. Importantly, any weapon, even such objects as a tree branch, broom, tire-iron, or a key-ring can provide an important 'equalizing factor' in the skilled hands of a smaller-weaker person against a taller-stronger assailant.

There is a Chinese proverb which states "one hundred days with the staff, one thousand days with the spear, ten thousand days with the sword". This adage proposes that there is an ever-increasing amount of skill required to master the staff, spear, and sword and suggests that the sword is a weapon which is best suited for more senior students. Mastery of both the staff and the spear require a student to learn linear and circular motion strikes, bilateral body movements, and to link waist power into the weapon. While these two weapons are similar, the spear may be considered to be more difficult than the staff for the reason the the practitioner must exhibit control of the bladed edge.

Mastery of the sword is an entire level of magnitude more complicated than many other types of weapons. The benefits to one's precision and physical coordination from training with the sword (in all of its variety of shapes and sizes) are immense and this weapon will provide years of challenge to any martial arts enthusiast.

The 3-sectional staff falls into the category of 'more challenging' weapons, similar to the sword, and is an excellent weapon with which to train in order to learn total body coordination and waist power.

How Was the 3-Sectional Staff Created?


Legend has it that this weapon was conceived in China during the Sung Dynasty in 960 AD by the Emperor Sung Taizu. It is told that his chosen weapon was the staff and that one day in battle he broke his favourite staff on the shield of an enemy. Later that night he ordered his vassal to re-attach the broken end of his staff with whatever chain or link might be found. The next day he waded into battle wielding a 2-sectional staff which has since become known as a sweeper. A shorter version of the sweeper is the nunchuku (numchuks, literally translated at "equal parts") which has proven a popular weapon over time. So successful was the first modification that he later ordered his weapon to be purposely broken and re-attached, and thus Sung Taizu is also credited with the creation of the 3-sectional staff.

The Different Parts of the Three Sectional Staff

This weapon has the obvious advantage as a secondary or short-range weapon of being easily carried or concealed when folded, but having great range and being particularly effective against a horseman or a shielded enemy.

In close quarters against a sword or spear, the two ends of the three sectional may be wielded to block, or trap and disarm opponents. The metal shot butt-ends, held with the points outward, may be treated as fighting sticks. However, they possess the added dimension of a centre section which may be used for blocking, striking, and trapping/disarming. The links of chain and the metal butts of the staff also provide deadly striking surfaces. Traditionally, 5 rings are used to join each two-sections of the weapon. The 5 ring structure creates a much smoother motion in the swings of the staff, and, when the weapon is expertly employed, can dull, catch, or even break an opponent's weapon.

Infinite Variations

The truly amazing aspect of the 3-sectional staff which becomes clear almost immediately upon starting to train with this weapon is the huge variety of techniques available in its movement arsenal.

Each of the 3-sections may be held by one or both hands, singly or in combination, thereby providing a variety of ranges and options for striking.

The different techniques may be combined in a limitless sequence as the practitioner effortlessly circles the weapon around their body in an endless progression.

Naming the techniques becomes difficult, but many people have put effort into this practice. Some such names of 3-sectional staff movement include:

  • Tiger Flicks its Tail
  • Spin (Waist-spin, Overhead-spin, Single-spin, Double-spin, Double-alternating spin, Continuous spin)
  • Black Dragon Whips its Tail
  • Figure Eights (eg: Double-handed figure-eights, Single-handed figure-eights, Block&strike figure-eights)
  • Block (Cross-block, Downward-block, Catching-block, Single Overhead-block)
  • Catch (coiling-catch, single-handed-catch, double-handed-catch, catch-trap-and-disarm)

Transitions and Versatility

Transitions from one hand posture to another are obviously the challenge in wielding such a weapon. Grip transitions (hand passes) may be made in front or behind the body in a seemingly limitless number of ways. It is this versatility which leads to the unpredictability for an opponent who is attempting to judge the 'safe-range' or determine the appropriate block.

In addition to having a variety of angles from which to launch both high and low strikes, the flexible nature of the chain-linked weapon allows for the end to rebound from a block to return at the defender from the opposite angle, only harder! The control of the retraction of the weapon following a strike is a more advanced technique and requires great skill.

Finally, the circular torquing nature of the weapon translates hip-power into incredible speed and powerful strikes. A more experienced 3 sectional staff exponent will understand that to achieve maximum power one must use both hands and all parts of the body to effect a strike.

Tournament Play

The format of the current padded weapons point-fighting division at martial arts tournaments is naturally quite structured and artificial, designed to ensure competitor safety at the same time as providing a venue for fun competition. It involves donning cumbersome protective head-gear, a reinforced chest-shield which straps behind the back, forearm and hand protectors, and a mouth guard, with any other protective gear being optional to the competitor. The weapons themselves are lightweight, predominantly made of plastic tubing covered in padding or foam and then sheathed in nylon. Many times, spectators who are familiar with one type of weapon can appreciate its weaknesses and strengths in a new light after watching padded weapons fighting competition.

Which Weapons are Legal in Tournament Play?

In some tournaments, home-made weapons are permitted, as long as they pass inspection by the judges and tournament coordinators. In recent times there have been many advances in the art of manufacture. As a consequence, there are many new sources of high quality flexible or padded weapons becoming available and online all the time. At the majority of touraments which support a padded weapons fighting division there are a minimum of padded sticks provided. To use one tournament as an example: at the Tiger Balm International Tournament in Vancouver, British Columbia the available weapons are either one-handed (batons, arnis-style sticks, tonfa, nunchuks, short swords) or two-handed (katana; short, medium, or long staff; and 3-sectional staff).

There are at least two of each type of weapon available and competitors may use any weapon (or combination of one-handed weapons) with no restrictions on switching between fights. This frequently provides for interesting and compelling match-ups and represents a higher level of strategy for the fighter that can use multilple weapons.

Within the context of point-fighting, the weapons division is very similar to open-hand in terms of the judging and scoring. The range of targets is limited: strikes to the head, torso, and leg below the knee score one point. Strikes to the weapon arm from shoulder-to-fingertip score two points. Any disarm of the weapon or sweep with the weapon with a follow-up strike scores two points. No thrusting, stabbing, spearing, or strikes to the neck or back of the body are permitted.

As with all other aspects of martial arts, in weapons training technique is very important. Good balance and supple-linked body movement come into play when handling a weapon. Strong waist power will translate into excellent weapon power. However, as any martial artist who has competed with weapons in tournaments will share with you, one of the most important aspects of weapons work is proper stances. They are the foundation on which all martial arts skills are built.

The Road - Journey - Path - Way

Finally, while weapons training can be useful for teaching at the novice level, and while weapons forms and padded weapons fighting are often the highlight of a martial arts tournament spectator's experience, such training is important at the highest level of the martial arts experience in providing the expert martial artist with their deepest challenge on the road to self-improvement. If nothing else, padded weapons competition provides an eye-opening experience for those martial artists who have not had the opportunity to experience the challenge of the multi-dimensions of weapons in tournament fighting competition or bouting. The exposure to a variety of styles in tournament competition has a very useful, if humbling component. Under these circumstances the 3-sectional staff with its deceptive striking range, and variety of striking angles emerges as a dominant weapon.


orchid mantis

Praying Mantis Weapons Forms:


A deep and abiding strength of the Praying Mantis system is that all major weapons sets may be played with 'mantis flavour'. Contained within the weapons forms sets of the praying mantis system are movements which may be applied to any and all of the classical Chinese weapons. Once one has mastered the mantis system and perfected the mantis forms, any object, from the mundane to the exotic may be utilized as a weapon and played with mantis flavour.


The following lists some of the weapons sets in the Praying Mantis System which are taught at the Red Mantis Athletic Association:

redMantisWeaponsRedMantis Weapons Training:

Weapon Name

Type of Training


Seven Star Mantis Double Dagger. Knife Combat and Knife Self-Defense


Fifth Brother Staff, Ng Long Gwan

Single Broadsword (Sabre)

Green Swallow Sabre, Yeen Tzerng Doe, Ching Dao

Double Broadsword (Sabre)

Northern Mantis Chain-of-Rings Double Broadsword, Twin Whirling Broadsword, 6 Harmony Double Broadsword

Three Sectional Staff

Tiger's Tail Three Sectional Staff, Plum Blossom Three Sectional Staff, Three Sectional Staff acrobatics and ground rolling, trapping and disarming


Plum Blossom Spear. Spear-play Tactics, First Route Plum Flower Spear

Tiger Hook Swords

Taiji Praying Mantis, 8 Diagram Tiger Hook Swords (Double)

Nine Sectional Chain Whip

Taiji Praying Mantis Nine-Sectional Chain Whip

Double Edged Straight Sword

Northern Praying Mantis High Noon Straight Sword, (Jien, Gim)

Double Edged Sword (Jien) T'ai Chi Jien
Two-Handed Long Sword Tang Lang Dan Dao, Mantis Long Sword
Sweeper Mantis Flail

Double-Ended Spear

Taiji Mantis Twin Head Spear

Spade Monk's Crescent Hook Spade
Gwan Dao Horse Chopping Sword
Gourd Drunken Mantis Gourd Boxing


The following list contains forms that can be said to form part of the greater praying mantis system. Many of them are being played magnificently by mantis practitioners in your part of the world.

This list is by no means comprehensive.

Please contact us if you want to provide a mantis link.

Other Praying Mantis Weapons Sets


Name of Set


Eight Diagram Staff

Double Broadsword

Six Mergence Double Broadsword

Sword (Double-edged)

Civil and Military 8 Fairy Sword


Yan Qing Single Broadsword

Sword (Double-edged)

Five Meridian Sword

Double Broadsword, Spear

Double Broadsword vs Spear

Double Cane

Seven Star Double Cane

Single Hook Sword

Whirlwind Single Hook

Double Broadsword

Ground Rolling Double Broadsword

Double Hammer

Seven Star Mantis Double Hammer


Seven Star Double Handed Longsword


Fang Tian Hua Lance


Three Loyalty Spear

Three Sectional Staff, Spear

Three Sectional Staff vs Spear

Single Broadsword, Spear

Single Broadsword vs Spear

Double Dagger, Spear

Double Dagger vs Spear

Empty Hand, Spear

Empty Hand vs Spear


Shan Chai Sword


Plum Blossom Meridian Broadsword

Gwan Dao

Praying Mantis Gwan Doe



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