A weapon’s weight, length, and material are intended to teach you a specific ability.
Weapons forms are an incredibly beautiful, fun, and are a way to practice some of the core principles of tai chi. They are usually introduced after progress has been made in the open-hand form. While you do not have to know an open-hand form to begin a weapon form, knowledge from the open-hand form speaks directly to the movements of all the weapons. Your open-hand form and weapon form will benefit jointly as you progress.
Why study tai chi weapons forms?
- They are interesting, beautiful, and a really good time.
- The weapons forms are all a lot shorter than the open-hand forms so if you finished an open hand form you are in for a real treat.
- They include movements from the open-hand forms so your other forms will improve and these forms will not be completely foreign.
- Think of a weapon as an implement. Its weight, length, and material are designed to teach you a specific ability.
There are four main weapons that all main styles share. Let’s take a look at these four forms and discuss how their training can dramatically improve your tai chi.
Tai Chi Straight Sword (Jian/Gim)
Description: The tai chi straight sword is a double-edged sword that usually weighs 4-8 pounds. It is usually measured by holding the hilt of the sword upside down in your hand with the blade rising along your body towards your ear. The correct length ends at your earlobe.
Purpose of the Form: The straight sword form teaches coordination between the hand and the body, flexibility, balance, and fitness.
Fighting: The sword teaches cutting and stabbing but moreover teaches a lightness and intelligence over power.
Improving your tai chi: The energy of the sword requires you to be completely balanced. It is tested by issuing into the sword in high one-legged postures and low stances. New students of the sword typically have all of their focus on the sword itself and forget about the other side of the body. This is natural and expected until the choreography is remembered. However, in order to issue energy into the sword, an equal amount of effort has to be delivered with the opposite hand, often in the opposite direction. Opening the chest and issuing force in different directions teaches balance.
Tai Chi Broad Sword (Dao)
Description: Tai chi broadswords are a bit shorter than the straight sword. They start off straight at the hilt, curve at the top, and are sharp on only one edge. They weigh 5-10 pounds on average.
Purpose of the Form: The broadsword is a shorter, more energetic form. The weight of the sword, quick movements, and spins develop physical fitness, wrist strength, and flexibility, especially to the joints of the upper body.
Fighting: The broadsword is designed for power and hacking.
Improving your tai chi: The broadswords is a huge lesson in physics with a check to the ego. Think of it as a guillotine. The power is derived from getting speed behind the weight in one direction. But now the guillotine is in your hands so how do you accomplish this? Trying to “muscle” the broadsword exhausts you immediately and doesn’t allow much power into the weapon. Instead, you use huge circles of the arms as centrifugal force. You coil and launch your body bringing the blade down with your weight, or you spin your body and arms to cause a cleaver-like action. So much about body mechanics can be learned from the broadsword.
Tai Chi Spear
Description: Tai chi spears are usually around 7 feet long, are made of wax wood and have a spear head trimmed with horse hair.
Purpose of the Form: The spear form teaches twisting and suppleness and allows us to practice extending energy outside of the body. This weapon provides a lot of feedback and can be difficult to keep a hold of so there is an aspect of amassing power with a modicum of restraint.
Fighting: A spear stabs, cuts, blocks, and hits while being flexible so that the blows are not reverberated down the weapon.
Improving your tai chi: The spear is the child of the sword and the long pole. It is the most dynamic of all Chinese weapons because of its light weight, maneuverability, length, flexibility, and speed with which you can move it. The spear teaches lightness, parrying attacks, power, and cutting and stabbing. Inherent to the spear form (and the pole) is the development of fa jing. The spiraling and maneuvering of the spear allows a practitioner to learn how to develop power from the center and issue it into the hands and weapon. The vibratory nature of the spear gives you tactile and visual feedback on your power’s development.
Tai Chi Long Pole
Description: The tai chi long pole can vary from 8 to well over 12 feet. Most poles are around 8-10 feet. Poles are typically wood and often equal thickness throughout. Some styles such as Chen use waxwood like the spear material. The thickness of the waxwood pole increases tremendously towards the hilt and can be 2-3 inches in diameter.
Purpose of the Form: The pole form tests and increases the strength of the stance and exercises and strengthens the spine.
Fighting: The pole form works to bring power to a single point quickly. Due to its size, you have to issue from the center because you do not have the lightness, mobility, or circular movements of the other weapons Secondly, the pushing and pulling of the pole improves rooting and translates to more effective partner work in the open-hand sparring.
Improving your tai chi: Your stance is tested incrementally as your balance is extended away from you. Extending the pole out in front of you parallel to the ground cannot be accomplished without your arms being connected to the legs and ground or the pole tip dips down. Straight Swords on Amazon
So why study tai chi weapons?
Tai chi weapons are implements in the truest sense of the word. You begin to gain abilities and improve in the open-hand form. The weapon allows you to test out your abilities and hone your skills. It is non-judgmental and will either respond to your intentions or it won’t. This feedback is fundamental to your progress.