A Not-So-New Way of Looking at Kung Fu Weapons (Reverse Engineering, pt II)

18 01 2016
Many of you know this weapon. But what do you DO with it? How do you practice with it?

Many of you know this weapon. But what do you DO with it? How do you practice with it?

Going to ask you to step out the box you’re normally in for this one… We’re going to file this article under  “Technique and Strategy”, too.

Typically, Kung Fu teachers limit most weapons practice to learning the skills necessary to perform the forms accompanying the weapon properly. I don’t believe this is enough. If one cannot simply learn a form and the basic applications and use them in fighting, why do we think we can do so with the weapons?

Looking at the history of most styles, many of our Si Jo were not experts at many weapons. Without referencing my library or visiting any websites, I recall that founders of systems I’ve read about studied hand techniques and often, only one or two weapons. Yet a century later, the schools teaching their arts often have ten or more weapons in their curriculums. How many of your system’s history also includes a history of each weapon in your curriculum? I’ll give an example using myself. My system speaks of only one weapon/form, in its history the 8 Diagram Pole. Yet Jow Ga–depending on the lineage and school–offers as many as 12 or more weapons and forms. I do pass on to my students however, the story behind four weapons I was taught by him in close detail:  the double headed staff, the spear, the broadsword, the three-sectioned staff, and the double daggers. I have learned all the weapons my lineage has, yet these four weapons I know the best because I spent years with my teacher learning them. Training was not just form also. We had diagrams, techniques practice, combinations, I practiced techniques for use against other weapons, applications for the techniques of these weapons to modern “non” weapons, power-generating practice, applications of the techniques to the empty hand, and sparring. When I speak to other Si Hing about their experience with our Sifu, I discovered that these weapons appeared to be his weapons of choice as well. As a young instructor, I received further instruction from my Si Gung on the staff that were quite different from that which I learned from my Sifu, so my students now get a fifth story to add to their Jow Ga history. If you are one of the fortunate ones to still have access to your Sifu, I would highly encourage you to question him about these same things, as often our teachers neglect to give us the source of such knowledge and technology.

Taking our previous discussion about “Reverse Engineering”, (if you hadn’t read it, please read that article so that this one makes more sense) I have a strong suggestion for you. Take one weapon form from your system and give yourself 12 months to deconstruct it. Apply the Reverse Engineering philosophy to that form and weapon, and whatever you come up with make a list into two groups:  Group I and Group II. Group I would be the easy, superficial applications that one could surmise by simply learning the form. Start with the first technique in the form, and make your list of techniques all the way to the last. Skip anything that doesn’t actually look like a technique. Then Group II would be the applications that are more difficult (some of these could be techniques that appear in Group I, but are alternative applications) to execute and requires more training and practice. Be sure to include in Group II those things that make no obvious sense; you will work and rework these techniques until you have exhausted all possibility that the techniques are useful. You now have a working curriculum for that weapon.

Allow me to offer what I have done with my Jow Ga weapons training. Perhaps you may see something you like:

  1. Perform your weapon’s form 100 times. Yes, you read that right, 100 times. You should begin any new endeavor within your system with a thorough understanding of what you are doing. This comes in part from a Filipino proverb, that a skill is not learned until it has been performed 500 times. 500 is a lot to ask for an entire Kung Fu form, which is why I am suggesting 100 for starters. I know over 40 forms, yet there are 8 that I have performed 500 times, and two that I have performed 1,000. Doing so will reveal things to you that will escape most people. My Sifu, who died prematurely, had also confided in me that he had performed three forms 100 times in his youth consecutively and he considered himself an expert of those forms. I am merely continuing his research.
  2. Identify all possible techniques into “Group I/Group II” categories. Leave no stone unturned. Make sure that you can easily answer the question, “Sifu, what’s this for?”  You would be surprised how many Kung Fu experts cannot answer that question for a good portion of things in their system. Everything has a use; everything has a reason for being there… it’s up to you to discover them. If you can’t answer “why” and “how”, my question is, why do you do it at all?
  3. Identify the basic strikes, blocks, traps, cuts, etc., necessary to form a proper foundation with the weapon. Many of you may have them. Some of you only have them for certain weapons, and only a form or two for others. Dissect the weapon so that you can truly understand them. This list will make up daily practice for those learning the weapon. The same way you perform stance training, punching practice, Chi Sao, impact training, hand conditioning, blocking practice, etc., with the empty hand–you should also have the same regimen offered when students are learning a weapon.
  4. Your curriculum is 50% created; now become a guinea pig. Take your basics, train only those things for 3 months religiously. Focus on those weapons basics in place of what you normally train with for the empty hand in your system. Do your bag work (using the weapon). Do your shadowboxing (using the weapon). Have someone attack you so that you could practice your blocking (using the weapon). Even do some light sparring (using the weapon). Then take your Group I techniques, and train it for 3 months–doing the same as above. And finally, Group II. This will take you a year. Along the way, you should have new items, perhaps some things you want to eliminate or modify. You may even have created new drills. And I bet your skill with this weapon will be second to none. That can be the only outcome!
  5. The new discoveries should now have brought your weapons curriculum about 25% more information. If not, you’re probably doing something wrong! Add this information to the list…
  6. Teach. Teaching, they say, is 1/3 of Mastery. You cannot class and seminar your way to Mastery; you must at some point, compile all you have learned and pass it on to students who lack your knowledge and skill. At this point, more will be revealed to you as you witness the students undergo the learning process. They will stumble, they will make mistakes, they will ask questions you hadn’t thought of. Where you were once the guinea pig, you know have a classroom full of eager test subjects–so teach!
  7. While they learn, go ahead and do your form 400 more times. In the course of learning, your students will teach you through their own imperfections. This will be a great opportunity to contribute to the evolution of your system and your lineage. After all, who are we but inheritors of our Masters’ work. They have passed it on to us to continue their quest for a more perfect system. Keep training, and by the 500th time you execute that form–I guarantee you will discover things that perhaps your own Sifu had yet found.

This was a 1,300 word article, but it will be a 2-3 year process. Keep this article in your “favorites” folder, and make it a part of your martial arts philosophy. One thing is for sure, if you do it, the next generation of students under you will receive a more potent, concentrated, better-researched version of what you could have given them. If you are satisfied with the outcome, it’s time for yum cha… breathe deep…. pull out a copy of your system’s curriculum. Which weapon’s next?

Life is short. Don’t waste time. There is so much work to do! Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

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