I’ve had several students in the past ask me why we practice weapons. It’s not as if we walk around sporting a spear, or broadsword in public, so what’s the purpose of training with them? Well… I have a few reasons why I believe training classical weapons are an essential part of Chinese Martial Arts.
Training ancient weapons is a direct link to history. Although not used today, they have been used in warfare for centuries or in the case of some millennia. Some weapons are a symbol of the system itself such as Hung Fut’s Mad Devil Staff, or Jow Ga’s Double Broadsword. If not passed on properly, the knowledge of these weapons will be lost and to me that’s like a great work of art being destroyed. Once they are gone it isn’t likely they will come back. The knowledge just won’t be there.
Anyone who’s used a proper practice weapon (non-wushu) such as staff, spear and broadsword can tell you that it is a good workout. Handling the weapon develops forearms, shoulders, back, increases flexibility develops spatial awareness and teaches you to use your body as a unit. Try using a combat steel Kwan Dao using only your arms. Using weapons will develop overall strength and teach good mechanics that can be translated to other open hand fighting techniques.
Yes. Self defense. I’m not talking about getting yourself a cane-sword or combat umbrella (they have those and I want one) and I’m not talking about the physical gains you get by training weapons. I’m talking about using whatever is at hand; a belt, a chair, a stick and applying the principles from your weapons training to turn them into a weapon. To this day, there are many systems that have forms using every day items such as rakes and benches. This wasn’t to look cool and it wasn’t because they are good weapons. They exist because people realized that they could be attacked anywhere so they chose items that might readily be available. An umbrella in the hands of an untrained person would most likely be flailed about hoping to hit its target. In a martial artists hands he can use it to deflect, sweep, poke and trap. It is a weapon. Not because of its sharp blade, or heavy end but because of the knowledge of the person using it.
So, train your weapons. Enjoy the history and beauty of the form. Develop your strength. And learn to defend yourself.