Monday 24 February 2014

Should I train weapons?

Weapons - To train or not to train?
In the days of Chen Wangting the answer to this question was a no-brainier. Traditional weapons were still being carried onto the battlefield and used for real. Today, the various weapon forms are often considered within the context of demonstrating or exercising in the park and many modern urban Taiji warriors question their continued relevance. The logic goes - "if you want to use a weapon, why not just carry a gun?"

It's certainly true that now most people train Taijiquan for its health benefits and for personal development rather than for life or death combat. From this perspective it's easy to see why many combat-oriented practitioners have come to view weapons training as an unnecessary anachronism. However, this represents a superficial understanding of the role of weapons training in the traditional training curriculum. 

Each weapon trains and reinforces different aspects of Taijiquan that helps to develop the physique and attributes of the Chen boxer: The sword develops strong and flexible wrists and hands and flexibility throughout the body; The broadsword develops powerful explosive movement - especially when trained with a traditional heavy weapon rather than the flimsy modern wushu version most widely seen today; The spear form helps in the development of fast and accurate footwork as well as improving upper and lower body co-ordination... Heavy weapons have long been used to increase strength.
CTGB  group training spear form 

The question of the continued relevance of weapons training for the modern player was addressed in an article on the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School website recently. The article went as far as to say that the essence of Chen Taijiquan's footwork is in the spear form training and not the hand form. A thing I often notice in push hands training is the reluctance or inability of many students to move backwards. Strong guys are happy forcing their forward, but upon meeting someone of equal or greater strength are not flexible enough to use footwork to neutralise their opponent. 

Lt: Wang Zhanghai v fencer
An interesting programme floating about on YouTube in the last few weeks shows a  friendly challenge between Chen Taijiquan exponent Wang Zhanhai (son of Wang Xian) and a fencing champion. The unarmed Wang uses evasion and rapid agile footwork to prevent the fencer from touching him with his weapon. Only on the fifth attempt did the fencer manage to register a hit against Wang's body. 

Look at some of the leading Chen practitioners: Chen Fake is said to have great issuing power and reputed to train with the long pole daily; his grandson Chen Xiaowang is known for his great explosive power and fajin skill and in a widely seen film snaps the head off his guandao during a demonstration of the form; Beijing based Chen Yu is known for his Qinna skills but at the same time can show a wonderfully dextrous performance of the sword... In fact it's difficult to find a leading exponent of the combat capabilities of Chen Taijiquan that is not also an accomplished weapons practitioner.
Qinna training with Chen Yu is a painful experience - his weapons skills happen to be pretty good as well! 

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