Requested by Editor Dave Carter
for Inside Kung fu Magazine
Long before the age of the discovery of metal, there was the stick. Formed by artisans into a shaft made from white oak, rattan, or bamboo it became a walking stick or a tool to carry water buckets, and when freed of this burden it could instantaneously, in skilled hands, become a weapon.
The staff, or Kun in Chinese, is like a grandfather with many descendants. Place a metal tip on it and it becomes a spear or with a flat blade a kwan, and if you add two metal joints you have a three sectional staff, all of this from a simple stick. Outside of swords, the majority of all Chinese weapons used on the battlefield would involve it sitting on a staff.
It is for this simple reason that historically the Chinese have considered the staff as the forerunner of all weapons and the most important of the long weapons. Traditionally in most kung fu schools, the staff is taught first followed by the spear and then the broadsword. The staff coordinates the upper and lower body and right and left sides. The spear continues to coordinate the right and left sides and the broadsword refines the right and left arms.
Having understood the basics of the staff, the spear would become the king of the long weapons and the broadsword the king of the short. However, no weapon can be used without a complete mastery of the five areas of basics, being; stances, strikes, blocks, kicks and stepping patterns, as these five unarmed areas form the base of all techniques in kung fu, and no movement or techniques can be performed without it falling into one of these areas.
Weapons, long or short, are simply an extension of the arms; any block in kung fu can be traced with a similar movement using a staff as can any strike. You can block with the staff and kick or strike with your free leg or hand, and all movements coordinate with your stance and stepping patterns of your particular style. Even the concepts of Chin Na can be performed with a staff as similar circles used to break a hold using your hands can be used to lock, dislocate or break the joint if the staff is grabbed.
BEI KUN, NORTHERN KUNG FU STAFF
The base art of our kung fu style is Northern dragon kung fu, so we use a Northern staff which is about 6 feet, whereas the Southern kung fu schools use a staff around 5 feet though both schools also have the longer 8 foot staffs. The double end staff or Shuang T’ou Kun, sometimes called the head length staff or P’ing T’ou Kun, is the common staff used in the Northern kung fu schools.
My teacher, Grandmaster Chen, Chi Shi explained that the Shuang T’ou Kun in our system is simply referred to as Pang meaning stick or staff. The shaft used on this weapon comes in two different types, one being a straight even diameter from top to bottom, and the other being tapered with the top being thinner and the bottom thicker, this type of shaft is seen on the spear.
The Pang can be held in two different positions being the middle or Zhong, and at the end or Chiao. Holding the middle Zhong position divides the staff into three two-foot sections. This is a common way to hold the staff, but it does present a shorter striking range if you are focused on hitting the body.
However, in our system it’s not the body which we are striking but his lead arm or leg. In this way we stop the opponents weapon from being used by fracturing the arm that holds it or damaging his forward leg to limit his mobility.
Holding the staff in the lower Chiao position gives you a greater range, your right hand holds the very bottom of the staff and your left holds two feet up from your right. Holding the lower Chiao position divides the staff into two sections, your holding section of two feet and your striking and blocking section of four feet.
If your opponent holds his staff in the Zhong position you can out reach him by holding yours in the Chiao position. It would become a game of skill, what we call Roundness of Change, if both sides were to use the Zhong or Chiao positions. In using either position you must be skilled in switching between the two positions, switching between the left and right side lead, and in knowing how to hold the staff in your hands. Sometimes you hold the staff with both palms downward, sometimes with one palm up and the other down, and on rare occasions with both palms up.
ZHONG MEN AND KONG MEN
The word “men” in Chinese means gate, we have already seen the word zhong which means middle or central, so Zhong Men refers to the middle or central gate, Kong is harder to understand but roughly means angle or “from the outside”.
Zhong and Kong Men are terms used in our system to explain straight and circular principals in armed and unarmed techniques. If an opponent strikes along the 12, 13, or 6 o’clock points, Zhong Men, we counter by using techniques on the Kong Men which would be any numbers but the above. It is a difficult concept to understand but through practice it does get easier.
You must understand that both sides, you and your partner, have these same two gates and usually you are mixing these gates in your own body. For example, if your footwork is circular, Kong Men, your hand work might be straight, Zhong Men. It’s the same when you are working with weapons, you are responding to what your opponent is doing and countering his movement.
By practicing two-man routines with weapons, you are practicing a prearranged set of attack and defense. To really understand these concepts you need to “spar” with weapons, a prearranged set is not realistic and does not present the difficulties and challenges that actual weapon sparring will produce.
LEUNG REN KUN
Leung Ren Kun means, two-person staff, this is a basic two man routine used in our style to work the basic skills of attack and defense in the use of weapons. In the Northern dragon style, Lung Jop Pai®, all weapons are interchangeable. This two-man staff form can be performed with spears or combinations of weapons like spear and broadsword, or spear and kwan any combination of weapon can be used.
There is a learning process as each weapons characteristics would have to be learned before you would know how to apply them in two man routines. Before you practice any two man weapon routines you must be skilled in the five areas of basics; Stances, Strikes, Blocks, Kicks and Stepping patterns. Weapons are an extension of the arms so it makes sense that your basics would have to be learned first before learning any weapon.
The same circles and straight lines used in your kung fu style would be the same ones seen in your weapon routines. All weapons in Chinese kung fu follow the 13 Points which resemble a clock going from 1 o’clock to 12 o’clock with the center 13 point being straight jabs.
Practice with a partner and make sure that both of you are using a staff of the same material. Pair oak to oak, rattan to rattan or white wax wood to white wax wood. Have one partner strike involving these lines, and the other blocks. If you mix the material of your staff it can cause splintering or breakage.
Over time there will be normal damage, if its rattan and it splinters, get rid of it, the splinters or unsafe as it can penetrate the hands or feet. If white wax wood breaks just cut it to size for a Childs weapon. Practice slowly and over time increase your speed and power as your confidence improves.
The young martial artist may have greater explosive strength and stronger punching or kicking abilities, but it is with the older martial artists that one finds the best and effective staff techniques. So the saying “fear the old man with the staff” is quite true.