Why You May Need to Learn the Tai Chi Spear Form

Why You May Need to Learn the Tai Chi Spear Form

I want to begin by telling you why I love the tai chi spear and the impact it has made on my practice. I was a late-comer to the tai chi spear form because I didn’t have access to teaching. I may have also been intimidated by the speed and number of moves. However, learning the spear has paid off in many unique ways:

  • My open-hand form became lighter
  • I finally understood spiraling energy
  • I learned proper opening and closing of the armpits and inguinal crease (kua)
  • It added variety to my training so I practice more
  • It is FUN! and I laugh and feel like a kid doing it (even though I hit myself in the shins)
  • It is the embodiment of what is possible physically.

Like each of the weapons, there is an incredible history, a reason why it is studied, ways this weapon form improves your open-hand form, and jaw-dropping movie and competition examples. Put your seatbelt on because here is a wushu competition example that is absolutely insane.

Now I know what your saying. I could probably do that with a week or two of training, but might not be ready for Russian television. 😉 The cool thing is that it doesn’t matter. Because what is going on inside of her is available to you if you train at your own level.

The tai chi spear form (槍 – qiāng) is one of the primary weapons forms of tai chi but is less known or less practiced than the sword forms. It contains light, fast, spinning movements with quick steps and is used to train internal strength and spiraling energy.

The tai chi spear form is extremely unique when compared to other weapons or other forms of exercise. This routine has its origin on ancient military battlefields. Spear forms use whole-body energy for sweeping, thrusting, and striking. It also teaches you how to extend your inner power (fajin) out to the tip of the spear. Here are the things that make the spear form stand out:

The Spear Increases Your Lightness and Speed

While most tai chi forms are low, slow, and grounded, the spear form is more nimble and quick. You do hold low proper stances but you also come up to full attention. The steps are as fast as the hand movements so it is pretty light and quick. This compliments all of the other tai chi forms well.

Spiraling Energy Originates in the Spear Form

In order to get the much-desired shake in the end of the spear, spiraling energy is used to transmit force through the pole. It is often hard to learn spiraling technique in the openhand form but the spear gives us a visual and tactile way to learn. For a very nice, detailed description about spiraling energy, Dr. Paul Lam has a great instructional video: Dr. Paul Lam on Spiral Force

Opening and Closing Movements

Proper tai chi is performed with continual opening and closing of joints. As a quick example, moving your arms slowly as if you are flying opens your armpits, then elbows, then wrists and closes them on the way down. When you see someone doing beautiful tai chi you are recognizing their timing of opening and closing. They look like a sail filling and emptying. The spinning of the tai chi spear is powered by proper opening and closing motions. When you can properly spin the spear, the opening and closing abilities easily translate back into your tai chi long form.

Connection of Whole Body Force

The spear form is taught slowly in the beginning without using much force. Once the movements are learned and correct, every thrust and strike is powered with the whole body and focused on the spear’s tip. In order to produce force with such light quickness the spear form teaches movements that expand and contract the whole body which has been shown to be beneficial from a health perspective too as it influences the meridian points running up the front (conception vessels) and back (governing vessels) of the body.

Hopefully you see that there is a WHOLE lot going on here than just “learning another form.”

tai chi spear

How Old is the Spear?

To truly comprehend the value of learning the spear form we have to understand how far back in history the spear has been used and that it has been a part of every culture. Fighting, hunting, or fishing with a spear requires the use of whole-body mechanics that is at the same time forceful, quick, and flexible.

As tai chi practitioners, we are SOOO lucky. While the spear remains part of everyone else’s history, we still have a living, breathing spear routine to learn correct body mechanics that have been honed across several centuries.

The oldest spear to date was discovered in central Germany possibly dating from 400,000 years ago. However, being that spears are wood, scientists think this is an underestimation.

spear on urn

Spears have been part of every tribal, hunting, and military tradition.

  • Egyptian hieroglyphics show spears
  • The Greek and Roman foot soldiers and cavalrymen used spears
  • African tribes
  • Native America tribes
  • In the Arab world and India, spears were in use right up until the beginning of the 20th Century
  • All Asian infantry had spear or lance detachments

The history we are most concerned with is the Chinese of course. There were two primary forms of spears, the Mao and the Qiang. The Qiang was long and flexible and is the origin of the spear we now use in tai chi.

There is some confusion as to how to distinguish the Qiang from the Mao, as they are obviously very similar. Some people say that a Mao is longer than a Qiang, others say that the main difference is between the stiffness of the shaft, where the Qiang would be flexible and the Mao would be stiff. Scholars seem to lean toward the latter explanation more than the former. Because of the difference in the construction of the Mao and the Qiang, the usage is also different, though there is no definitive answer as to what exactly the differences are between the Mao and the Qiang.

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spear

No reason to just talk about the history of spears when there are great movie re-enactments. Here is one of my all-time favorite scenes:

Hero (2004) Jet Li vs. Donnie Yen – Chess Courtyard Fight

Spears Are Not Just Used By Humans

spear used by ape

Scientists have now documented that chimpanzees and apes use spears to hunt.
Chimps in Senegal found to fashion spears for hunting

Israeli documents Bonobo apes making spears

Chen Tai Chi Spear Form

We will end here with two examples of the Chen tai chi spear form. What I would love viewers to glean from this incredible example is how it is simultaneously calm and fast. 72 moves are performed in about 2 minutes. The Chen tai chi spear form movements are listed below.
It also demonstrates the relaxation needed to spin the spear during the martial flower movements and at the same time incredible power at specific points visible by the flexing of the spear.

Chen Tai Chi Spear

Chen Tai Chi Spear – Pear Blossom Spear (Li Hua Chiang)

MovementModified Pinyin
1. Yaksha Explores the Sea 1. yie cha ta hai 
2. Full Martial Flower2. chuen wu hwah
3. Middle-Level Thrust3. jong ping cheong
4. Three Quick Thrusts4. gi san cheong
5. Upper-Level Thrust5. san ping cheong
6. Swing the Pearl-Beaded Curtain6. gen ju dow juen lien
7. Lower-Level Thrust7. shia ping cheong
8. Stamp and Thrust8. dien tway lui cheong
9. Green Dragon Bares Its Claws9. ja ching long shien jow
10. Advance Forward, Pierce with Spear10. sham bu ja I cheong
11. Sweep Ground, Block Stab from the Side11. sau di su bien lon cheong
12. Step Forward, Two Strikes12. wong chien da leong cheong
13. Yellow Dragon Flicks the Staff13. wong dien gahn lowng
14. Diverting Pierce14. leow I cheong show I cheong
15. Half Martial Flower15. bahn wu hwah
16. Block Attacks at Waist16. yao chwin lan cheong
17. Turn Around, Half Martial Flower17. hwey toe bahn go wu hwah
18. Press Down on the Snake18. show an di schwa cheong
19. Flick the Spear19. show I cheong
20. Pierce with Spear20. ja I cheong
21. Two-Finishing Thrusts21. leong shang ye-eh
22. Wave the Banner on the Left22. zoa yao chee sow
23. Heaven-Piercing Thrust23. chw tien cheong
24. Wave the Banner on the Right24. yo yao chee sow
25. Iron Ox Plows the Earth25. tien nyo gun di
26. Turn Around, Half Martial Flower26. hwey toe bahn go wu hwah
27. Water-Dripping Spear27. di schwey cheong
28. Two Finishing Thrusts28. ye-eh leong cheong
29. Step Forward and Ride the Dragon29. shong o-he lowng shu
30. Part the Grass to Search for a Snake30. wong chien ing bo tzow shwing shua
31. Step Back, White Ape Drags the Spear31. wong hoe tway
32. Turn Around, Pin Black Dragon into the Cave32. hwey toe ja u long ru dong
33. Stamp and Snatch the Pipa33. dien hwey twey shu pipa
34. Advance Forward, Two Strikes34. wong chien da leong cheong
35. Wield the Banner to Sweep the Ground35. yao chi sao di
36. Mount Tai Crushes the Egg36. tai shan yah lo-an
37. Turn Around, Half Martial Flower37. hway toe bahn go wu hwah
38. Agile Cat Pounces on the Mouse38. mao puh shoe (?shu-e)
39. Strike from the Left39. zoa puh I cheong
40. Strike from the Right40. yo puh I cheong
41. Turn and Thrust41. fan shun hoy toe (look back) su I cheong
42. Flick the Heel42. tiow I gun zuh
43. Single Hand Thrust43. dan sho chu cheong
44. Full Martial Flower44. chuen wu hwah
45. Er Lang Carries the Mountain45. er lang dan shan
46. Sweep the Spear46. sow I cheong
47. Half Martial Flower47. bahn wu hwah
48. Lower Thrust48. sha leo fun cheong
49. Turn Around, Half Martial Flower49. hway toe bahn go wu hwah
50. Sparrow Hawk Swoops Down on Quail50. guh suh poo on chwin
51. Sweep Right51. yo sow I cheong
52. Flick Heel52. tiow I gun zuh
53. Finishing Thrust53. ye-eh ee cheong
54. Full Martial Flower54. chuen wu hwah
55. Er Lang Carries the Mountain55. er lang dan shan
56. Sweep the Spear56. sow I cheong
57. Half Martial Flower57. bahn wu hwah
58. Beautiful Maiden Holds a Needle58. may new ren gin
59. Fair Maiden Works at the Shuttles59. ewe new xheun sow
60. Thrust to the Throat60. zu chuong ho men cheong
61. Turn and Sweep61. hwey toe sow I cheong
62. Full Martial Flower62. chuen wu hwah
63. Protect the Knee63. who she cheong
64. Two Finishing Thrusts64. ye-eh leong cheong
65. Old Dragon Sways Its Tail65. tsong lang buy huey
66. Forward Block66. wong chien dan I cheong
67. Forward Block67. wong chien dan I cheong
68. Block Left68. wong zoa dan I cheong
69. Block Right69. wong yo dan I cheong
70. Half Martial Flower70. bahn wu hwah
71. Tai Gong Goes Fishing71. tai gong dio you
72. Step Forward, Mount the Horse, and Thrust Back72. wong chien ching bu hway ma cheong

KungfuDirect is a great place online to buy a spear to get training on your own. We trust their products because they are high quality and they understand what we are using them for. There are just a few things you need to know to make sure you get the right length and find one that is straight and in good condition. Here is what you need to know and where our class orders from: How to Find the Right Tai Chi Spear.

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.

2 thoughts on “Why You May Need to Learn the Tai Chi Spear Form

  1. Hello, I am on your site Tai Chi basics and reading the article on spear form. I am not trying to learn that form, but I was very very happy to find your complete list of moves, step by step at the end.

    The reason I appreciated that list so much is because I had started taking a Tai Chi class every Sunday morning in January of 2019. I then moved 55 miles south and have not made it back because of the distance.

    I do want to continue and am writing to ask you if you have more complete, step by step lists of forms available anywhere ? Either by email, on a website or even videos on youtube so that I can try to continue practicing while I look for an instructor near me.

    Please help and let me know and Thank You so much for your help. I really appreciate it.

    1. Hi Aaron,
      Not sure where to find a comprehensive list of forms and moves. You can lean on our class content page. We keep notes from conferences, information on the Chen Style forms we study, and any videos if we have access to them. It can be found here. Austin Chen Tai Chi

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