by Ethan Murchie
At our Center we like to train with big weapons. This is something that the past masters in our lineage and also in Chinese martial arts in general have always held in high regards.
Our big weapons are primarily designed on the specifications of the personal training swords of Gao Y Sheng. His straight sword measures 1.3 meters long and weighed 2.4 kilos. His broadsword is 1.3 meters long and weighs 2.2 kilos. We know this because these weapons are still in the possession of Liu Fengcai’s family in Tianjin, China. Our training swords were made to these same specs.
We are lucky enough to have a large broadsword that was designed to the specifications to Dr Xie Peiqi. This sword is exceptionally large to the point of seeming laughable when someone first lifts it. It is fascinating to witness how such a large blade can become graceful and responsive in the practiced hand.
We also like to work with heavy staves, (mostly we use wood staves but our biggest is steel and was once the drive shaft of a truck) and we also have heavy versions of some smaller weapons such as duck knives and sai.
A long-standing dream is to have large spears with which to practice Xingyi movements. So far the logistical hurdles to acquiring such implements have not been overcome. We are looking forward to some research in Tawain next winter that may solve this problem.
When the question is asked what is the point and what benefit do we expect to gain from all this, there are many and varied answers. Here we can present a few easily understood points. Many of the more subtle benefits can be seen only when taken in the context of the whole system and so must be left to be discussed at the end of a training session.
How do you move from dantien? Your body gets valuable clues when you are swinging a giant sword around your body.To use these tools the student must first have a good grasp of the basic postures and movements of the system. Once the postures are basically correct the heavy weapon will help to over come the bodies resistance to change and solidify proper form and movement. If the postures are not already basically correct there is nothing to solidify.
Everyone knows you need to use your muscles to keep them healthy. Tendino-muscular channels need stimulation and rather than doing manual labour or lifting weights, playing with our weapons is one excellent way to get a good work out that is not detrimental to the other aspects of training in internal gongfu. This point is very important. The process of developing gongfu, the coordinated effort of mind and form, the cultivation of Jing, Qi and Shen is a narrow path. It cannot be mixed and matched with other practices. If someone tries to cultivate Xingyi Quan and at the same time to cultivate their bench press and dead lift because they want to be strong I am not sure what will happen to the dead lift but they certainly will not succeed in their Xingyi.
Heavy weapons provide a highly entertaining way of strengthening the tendons and muscles while cultivating whole body movement that is congruent with and not detrimental to the process of developing gongfu.
All this gives some idea about the training we persue in our researches at the Gongfu Center. And lets not forget that at the end of the day training with these weapons is just plain fun. There is a great satisfaction in learning to wield a weapon that at first seems impossibly huge and often that is enough of a reason in itself.