Given the chance, the tai chi long pole is the one weapon that is best to buy in person. The variations in quality and straightness are usually pretty big. That being said, there are a few online places where we have had great success and received some really beautiful tai chi long poles in the mail. So let me start with what you should look for when you buy a tai chi long pole if you are lucky enough to have a vendor or school near you. Then we will includes some good online resources too.
The main things to consider to buy a tai chi long pole are straightness, feel or smoothness, thickness, and length. Because long poles are staffs made from wax wood, they can vary in how straight they are, the number of knots they have, the change in thickness from the base to the tip, and smoothness. They are best bought in person or from specific martial arts vendors.
The 4 main reasons to buy your tai chi long pole in person:
By it’s very nature white wax wood is not perfect, but you don’t want it to be. The rough finish, the pliability, are all part of the training. However, a curved pole does not work well because it does not transmit the correct quiver down the length of the pole and can break.
Simply lay the pole on the ground and roll it in the same way you would test out a pool stick and make sure it isn’t wonky.
When you start looking at videos of practitioners using long poles and staffs it begins to dawn on you how unscientific the “What size long pole should I buy?” question really is. This is probably the longest pole I have ever seen at 00:02:19
And masters with (relatively) thinner poles: Pole Shaking Demonstration with Chen Zhonghua
The great news is that long poles are made of wood! If you order one that is long enough, you can cut the thick end off to be just right for you. On average, most tai chi long poles are nine to eleven feet long.
The overriding question when you pick up a long pole is: Is it manageable? One that is unbalanced for you may hit the ground a lot. If the hilt is too thick for your hand size it can strain your forearms until you are strong enough. We can account for this when buying online by making sure we get a medium hilt diameter but it is hard to explain or underestimate how much your feel for it plays in. For example,
I lent my student a pole while his was coming in the mail. When it arrived, he asked if he could keep my older pole and give me the new one because he said the old one just “felt right.”
You really can’t go wrong here as long as you are buying from a store or online vendor that sells Chinese products. Many Japanese staffs are smooth to the point of being polished and they are the same thickness for the entire length. We want a slightly rougher pole which is thicker at the hilt.
Poles are long and shipping can cost as much as the pole itself. I took orders from my tai chi class when I had to drive to a large city for a conference. I bought four, got a discount and paid half of what it would have cost to mail them. So if you have the opportunity to buy a long pole near by, that is definitely the way to go.
That being said, the quality of long poles that I have seen students purchase online has dramatically improved. Students have purchased long poles together from here and saved on shipping too.
Things to Ask When Buying Long Poles Online
Online vendors are increasingly reliant on positive reviews and I am sure that having to pay the shipping for a return is costly for them too. The best way I have found to buy a long pole online is to communicate directly with someone and let them know you are serious about quality (and thereby a serious practitioner). Ask these questions:
- Is it wax wood?
- I need a straight pole for pole shaking. Can you make sure you send me a straight one?
- My height is X. What are the options for the diameter of the base of the pole and what do you suggest?
- What is your return policy? Again, returning a long pole is a total pain for both parties so this helps ensure that they get you the best of their current stock and hopefully get a happy review from you.
Lastly, poles often come in lengths measuring around 9, 10, and 11 feet. 9 is too short unless you are short 😊. If they are the same price, you can buy the longest and then cut off the thick end to get the perfect length for you and the perfect hilt diameter.
Our Suggestion for Buying Tai Chi Long Poles
It’s a rare situation where you have a local store and can test out a long pole in person. The next best option is to work with someone online who actually has experience working with martial artists. We order our long weapons from KungfuDirect. Spears and long poles need to be straight and a stock of poles can curve over time if not kept flat. If in person, place the pole on the floor and roll it back and forth like you would test out a cue stick and be cautious of knots. Extend the life of your pole by storing it on the ground, not vertically or horizontally in a rack. You can buy a spear to perform long pole drills and the form in the beginning just to get the movements down but you want to transition over to the correct pole because the energy is very distinct.
Yes, the long pole is one of the more rare weapons. But, the form is short and the movements you learn dramatically improve your balance, posture, and energy in the open hand form.