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Chinese Weapons

By Vince Hinde


Chinese Martial Arts known in China as wushu or here in the west as Kung Fu or Gong Fu is famous for its vast array of weaponry. From the Spear to the more esoteric Emei Peicers the Chinese martial systems have them all.


Weapons along with hand to hand combat started to develop in China about 5000 years ago. There are differences between North and South caused mainly by the geography and physical traits of the native people. Tradition states the weapons were divided into eighteen the 1982 Lau Kar-Leung film Legendary Weapons of Chinalists them as :




This is not the definitive 18 Weapons list  and I expect these weapons were chosen as much for their fight choreographical quality than authenticity.

 I guess though that as  nobody can be sure what the true list is, this is as good a list as any !   It does have some glaring omissions though such as single broadsword, although double broadswords are represented.

Playing with lists when there is no chance of proving anything is fairly pointless. Indeed I had started to prepare my own list and then thought what’s the point, I had no justification for inclusion other than the weapons I chose I had been around for many years.

What at is generally accepted though is that there are four primary weapons that most (Northern) styles will have as part of their system and generally learn first. These are Staff, Spear, Broadsword and Straight Sword. The Southern styles also have their weapons but (much like China !) I will concentrate on the Northern systems first.  

Staff (Gun)

The Staff is also commonly known as cudgel (although most dictionary definitions will say that cudgel is a short stick). The most common techniques are sweeping, striking and thrusting both in a linear and upwards fashion to the groin or chin. Often, it is slid through the hands from end to end which brings the staff to life.

To guage the correct staff length extend the arm above the head, the staff tip should reach the wrist of the overhead arm. This is the lengthfor most but not all Northern styles, some such as Seven Star Praying Mantis set a different length (eyebrow height). The staff should be made of straight hardwood although most modern practitioners prefer a tapered staff made from waxwood which is more akin to the spear material and extremely flexible and light. There is no definitive standard, indeed Chen taiji traditionally has longer staff sometimes up to 3.6 metres long.

The Shaolin Temple although famous for many styles of Kung Fu traditionally excels at staff play. As the Shaolin Temple devotees were buddhist they believed it was proper not to harm living things and the staff was preferred to edged weapons and became the weapon of choice. When they left the Temple the staff proved very functional. It was useful as a tool for walking on rough terrain or carrying items by slinging them to the staff and carrying them over the shoulder. Also it was non-threatening to strangers.  


There is a famous legend of the Jinnalou King. It is set in the Yuan Dynasty (1206AD -1368AD) about a lowly cook at the Temple called Jinnalou. The Temple was attacked by a force that had been rampaging through the country and the bandits were winning the fight. Jinnalou asked the Abbot to give him a chance to beat the army. As the situation was getting desperate and he had nothing to lose: the Abbot gave Jinnalou permission to attack the army. Jinnalou used techniques he had devised based on stoking the oven fire whilst working in the kitchen. The bandits were scared away and from that time on the staff was studied more seriously at the Temple and Shaolin Staff became famous throughout the country. 

Spear (Qiang)


The spear was probably originally made from bamboo but is now usually made from waxwood although Rattan is also utilized in the South. Both materials are light and extremely flexible. The wood is sometimes soaked in oil to increase its strength and resilience.


The spear usually has a brightly coloured ‘beard’ originally made from horsetail tassles and a rattle where some small stones (these days – loose steel balls) are fitted. They are fitted where the metal spike is attached to the wood. They serve two functions, they are for distraction and in the case of the beard a second function may have been to stop blood running down the shaft from the blade to the handle which could cause the spear operator’s hands to slip. For this reason the beard is sometimes known as the Xue Dang or the Blood Stopper.


Traditionally, the spear was used for ground and horseback fighting and was called the ‘King of the Long Weapons’. Its lightness gave it great speed and agility compared to other long weapons. It is used mainly for stabbing although its length allows the user to ‘wrap’ around an enemy’s weapon and force it from their grasp.


Acording to Chinese history the spear developed from the lance (Mao) in the Jin Dynasty (265AD - 420AD). General Yu Fei further developed the spear in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127AD – 1180AD) when he added a sharp nasy hook at the end. The spear has since spawned many varients.



The spear is an easy weapon to wield but a hard weapon to use !

It takes great skill but an experienced practioner can use it to devastating effect. 






The double edged straight sword is known as the 'Gentleman of Weapons'. Most novices can pick up a broadsword and hack and slash away. To use a sword properly though requires more finesse. Most styles teach broadsword before sword for this very reason. A notable exception to this is Tai Chi where the sword is often taught first. 


The sword developed from the dagger and by the Shang Dynasty(1751BCE-1111BCE) was starting to be made of Bronze. This continued through the Shang until, then as now, advances were driven by warfare and by the Shang's end, Ironware had started to come into use.


Relative peace broke out after brutal wars and continued through the Zhou Dynasty(1111BCE-771BCE) until the violent Spring and Autumn period(770BCE-476BCE) and Warring States Period(475BCE-221BCE). 

Sword makers of the day were held in the highest regard and legends began to spring up around them. Three of the most famous were Ou Yezi and husband and wife team, Gan Jiang and Mo Ye. Gan Jiang studied under Ou Yezi. 

Legends tells us that Mo Ye obtained two gold nuggets and Gan Jiang decided to forge them into a pair of swords. Gan Jiang heated the gold night and day but they failed to melt. Mo Ye stated that there wasn't enough human chi in the furnace so Gan Jiang threw himself in the furnace, one nugget melted and the Gan Jiang Sword was forged. Mo Ye was beside herself and to be reunited with her husband, she too leapt into the furnace, the other nugget melted and the Mo Ye Sword was forged. The couple and their swords became famous throughout China. Of course there are many variants of this story. 

The legend continues with the swords being given to the Wu Emperor, Helu who buried them with him. They remained hidden for 600 years until they were found by Zhang Hua in a well at the bottom of a garden. The Mo Ye sword was given to a friend to take to a swordsmith at Louyang to have two similar swords made. On the way the boat the sword was traveling in capsized and the sword was lost. Three years later Zhuang Hua, carrying the Gan Jiang sword, visited Louyang traveling the same river where the Mo Ye sword was lost. Suddenly the Gan Jiang sword flashed out a brilliant light and leapt out of his hand into the river reuniting the two swords. Thus the rather improbable tale is completed.  


 Discovered in 1965 this 'Treasure of China' was not rusty and still very sharp even after having been buried in a tomb for over 2000 years. Much debate has taken place over the years and consensus has now been reached that deciphering the script on the sword points to the sword belonging to Goujian, the King of Yue.  Is one of Ou Yezi's sword ?  

Ou Yezi agreed to make swords for King Goujian and set out to find the best place to make them. Ou Yeziand his students reached a region known as Long Yuen, where the mountains had dense forests, the water from the rivers was pure and crystalline, and the sand was very rich in iron. Ou Yezi found it to be the most auspicious place for a forge and made three bronze swords there.

Longyuan (龙渊)
Tai’e (

Gongbu (

Long Yuen possessed seven wells, or springs, laid out like the seven stars of The Big Dipper constellation, and also a large lake in the shape of a dragon. The Seven Stars became the symbol of Longquan swords. 

Still today there is a temple dedicated to O Yezi in Longquan. To some scholars the interpretation is that O Yezi never existed, and it is the mythical

            Goujian Sword

denomination for all smiths of Longquan. The reason for this is that O (), the name of a river at Longquan, and Ye (), meaning steel, do not make sense as a person’s name. However, truth and legend merge, since the written history is accurate enough to name swords that were created by this smith.

The name Longyuan was changed when a Tang Dynasty emperor, also named Yuan and decided that the name Yuan could not exist so as not to compete with that of the Emperor’s. Needless to say the name was swiftly changed to Longquan and it has remained as such to this day.


Here at wushu direct we favour and stock the Shen Guang Long manufacturer of Longquan Swords










The broadsword is often seem as the poor relation to the straight sword. It is however a devastating weapon in its own right. It was first used by Cavalry where the slashing and chopping actions really came into their own on horseback with devastating effect. The broadsword then started being issued to infantry as it was easy to learn and use and also they were quicker to make.   

Although there are many varieties of broadsword they usually fall into one of two main types, straight blade or curved blade.  

The most common straight bladed types are Liuye Dao, (Willow Leaf Broadsword) and Yanmao Dao, (Goose Quill Broadsword). They are both very similar, difficult to differentiate and therefore often mixed up. The Liuye Dao has an elegant slight sweeping curve the length of the blade. The Yanmao Dao is straight for most of its length and has a curve at the tip. The last quarter of back side of the blade were often sharpened which is sometimes the only clue you are looking at a Yanmao Dao. 





The advantage of the straight design broadswords is that they can be used for thrusting as well as slashing. The straight blade designs were used until relatively recently with the curved blade designs starting to be used from the Ming Dynasty(1368CE-1644CE) and then became more common in the Qing Dynasty(1644CE-1911CE).

The most popular broadsword among martial artists is the curved blade Niuwei Dao, (The Oxtail Broadsword). This the broadsword that is most often seen at competitions where exponents are performing or practicing their forms. The other popular curved broadsword was the Da Dao.




The curved broadsword has largely replaced the straight broadswords now and it is unusual to find anything other than curved broadswords being used as the 'standard' broadsword. The exception to this is Tai Chi where straight broadswords are often used and the Miao Dao two handed straight broadsword is also seen regularl


The Miao Dao and Da Dao were being used by the Chinese in the Second Sino-Japanese war in 1933. There are photos of the Battle of The Great Wall at Rehe clearly showing these strapped to the Chinese troops' backs. The Miao Dao is noted as being a recent weapon becoming popular in the Republican era (1911CE) although there are unsubstantiated reports of Miao Dao being the sword that was taken back to Japan, copied and improved upon.  This may be because Miao Dao has become something of a generic term for any long, two handed straight bladed broadsword. The Zhan Ma Dao is the original 'Horse Chopping Broadsword' which dates back to the Song Dynasty(960CE- 1279CE) followed by the Chang Dao (Long Broadsword) made famous by General Qi Jiguang around 1560CE in the Ming Dynasty(1368CE- 1644CE).