Guan Dao: A Chinese Long Broadsword with a Rich History and Its Role in Tai Chi

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In our most recent training trip to China we spent long days and evenings focusing on four of the tai chi weapons forms. The straight sword, broadsword, and long pole we working learning to improve. The spear was completely new to us and took up the majority of the time. At the end, almost as a challenge, Grand Master Chen Youze directed us to work diligently on the primary weapons and maybe, just maybe when we returned we could focus on the guan dao.

The Guan Dao or Spring-Autumn Crescent Dao is a Chinese broadsword mounted on a pole measuring 5-7 feet and weighing 10-30 pounds. Originally a cavalry weapon, it is now used by tai chi and kung fu practitioners but is increasingly rare compared to the other swords and long weapons.

I was excited and speechless because the Guan Dao is the powerful, flashy, most difficult of the long and heavy weapons. It’s the right combination of force, beauty, heaviness, speed, and in my opinion, just plain cool. Let’s have a look at GM Chen Youze performing the Chen style Guan Dao form and then dive into its beautiful history and purpose.

Historical Origins of the Guan Dao

Among the many intriguing weapons that have emerged from tai chi’s rich tradition, the Guan Dao stands out as an iconic symbol of bravery, strength, and martial prowess. To truly understand the significance of the Guan Dao, we must travel back in time in pre-modern China when weapons served a major role in land battles, escorting convoys, and protecting the wealthy.

The Guan Dao is forever linked to the legendary warrior Guan Yu, a revered figure in Chinese history. Guan Yu, a key general during the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD), was known for his unwavering loyalty, martial prowess, and chivalry. He wielded the Green Dragon Crescent Blade, a weapon that not only became an extension of his physical strength but also a symbol of his honor and integrity.

The most famous legend associated with Guan Yu and his weapon is the tale of the Red Hare, a steed known for its incredible speed and stamina. Guan Yu rode into battle atop this remarkable horse, wielding the Green Dragon Crescent Blade with unmatched skill. His image, with his flowing beard and formidable weapon, has become an enduring symbol of bravery and righteousness in Chinese culture.

An enormous statue of General Guan Yu was erected in Jingzhou, Central China. The city felt that it did not represent its character and the statue began sinking under its own weight. It was decided to demolish the statue and rebuild it in a neighboring city where General Guan Yu was said to have overseen his troops.

The Anatomy of the Guan Dao

The Guan Dao itself is a remarkable weapon. It features a long wooden shaft with a crescent-shaped blade attached at one end. The blade is sharp, curved, and can vary in size, but it often reaches an impressive length. Traditionally crafted from materials like steel, the Guan Dao’s weight and balance make it a formidable weapon in the hands of a skilled practitioner.

The Guan Dao in Tai Chi

Tai Chi, a martial art known for its emphasis on balance, harmony, and fluid movements, may seem an unlikely match for the Guan Dao’s imposing presence. However, Tai Chi practitioners have found ways to incorporate this weapon seamlessly into their practice. Tai Chi’s slow, deliberate movements, combined with the Guan Dao’s weight and balance, create a unique synergy.

Guan Dao Techniques in Tai Chi

Tai Chi practitioners using the Guan Dao focus on mastering specific stances and grips. Fundamental techniques and movements emphasize fluidity, control, and precision. The incorporation of the Guan Dao into Tai Chi enhances practitioners’ awareness of balance and body mechanics while teaching them to move with grace and intention. Here is another great video of a Chen style practitioner performing the Guan Dao form.

Chen Tai Chi Taiji – full routine demo Jesse Tsao 2008

The Guan Dao in Chinese Martial Arts

Beyond its association with Guan Yu, the Guan Dao plays a significant role in traditional Chinese martial arts, including various Kung Fu styles. Martial artists skilled in the use of the Guan Dao are admired for their precision, control, and strength. Throughout history, several renowned martial artists have gained recognition for their mastery of this iconic weapon.

Check out this Wu Shu Competition Champion’s exhibition. The speed of the spins is almost too fast to follow.

Today, the Guan Dao continues to captivate martial artists and audiences alike. Modern interpretations blend traditional techniques with contemporary innovations, resulting in breathtaking martial arts exhibitions and competitions. Martial artists who specialize in this weapon showcase its versatility, combining ancient wisdom with modern performance.

The Guan Dao, steeped in history and honored through the legend of Guan Yu, remains a symbol of valor and martial artistry. Its integration into Tai Chi reflects the adaptability and timelessness of Chinese martial arts. Whether in the hands of a warrior on the battlefield or a Tai Chi practitioner seeking balance and mindfulness, it continues to inspire awe and respect in the world of martial arts. Exploring this fascinating weapon and its role in traditional practices like Tai Chi is a journey well worth taking.

And if you are wondering, at the time of writing this I haven’t made it back to China to learn the form myself. Obviously, I am still dreaming about it. I can hope can’t I??

Scott Prath

Scott has been practicing and teaching tai chi and qigong since 2000. He is a lead instructor for the Austin Chen Tai Chi Association. His interest in the internal martial arts began after traveling in India and Nepal, and he has since traveled to China to train. Scott has published over 100 articles on tai chi with a focus on research showing the benefits of practicing.

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