The staff is the elementary weapon a warrior learns in ancient China. In our present day, the staff has become an item that is legal to keep at home and carry around, and when the need arise it can be used as a weapon to protect people and property.
The staff is a blunt weapon, and it comes in the form of the single end staff, the double end staff and the truncheon, depending on the measurements and weight. The techniques for using each kind of staff vary according to type and style. The single end staff is a long staff that is tapered at the main striking end. The length of the single end staff is usually two or three heads taller than the user.
The staff of Chinese Kung Fu observes the Yin and Yang, 8 trigrams principles. The main striking end is called the head and the other end is called the tail. The middle section between two hands is called the body. When a hand is holding the staff with the thumb side facing the end on its side of the staff, it is called a Yang grip. In the case of the pinky side facing the hand’s end of the staff, it is called a Yin grip. For the single end staff, the front hand is held in a Yang grip and the rear hand is held in the Yin grip.
The key to the hitting power of the Chinese staff is the usage of pulling and pushing forces together to generate swing in the staff. When hitting with the staff head, the front hand is pushing with the rear hand pulling. When hitting with the staff tail, it is reversed.
There are many strokes of the staff, from the thrust, cover, press, lift, cleave, flick, shove, lever, sweep and etc. These strokes combined with footwork derives 64 strokes, hence the transformations of the 8 trigram staff. Two strategies of using the staff is hard and soft. The hard exploits weakness in the opponent’s stance, and the soft evades the strong to reach where the opponent is weak.
Our staff syllabus consists of a few forms, which are of Hung Gar Kung Fu origin. They are the Six and Half Killer Staff, the Tiger Tail Eight Trigram Saff and the Wulang Eight Trigram Staff. All of these forms include a complete range of footwork for dealing with all the uncertainties in armed combat; none of them are stationary and isolated. The Six and Half Killer Staff is originated from the Shaolin temple and commonly used in the South. Its techniques focus around long linear and angular strikes, and develops a good sense of distance in the student.
The Eight Trigram Staff fighting method was developed from the Yang Family Spear fighting methods by the Song Dynasty warrior, Yang Wulang. After his army suffered a defeat in a campaign against the Jin invaders, Yang Wulang went to Wu Tai Mountain to become a monk to free himself of the sin and sufferings of war. However the temple was frequently raided by wolves and the barbarian tribes, Yang Wulang formulated a staff fighting method with the principles of the Yang Family Spear, and taught it to the monks living in the temple.
The dynamic changes of the spear can be observed in the movements of the forms, making it stand out among the various staff fighting methods. Over the dynasties, this art has been passed down through Buddhist monasteries to the Southern Shaolin temple in Fujian, to one of the founder of our Hung Gar Kung Fu, Hung Hei Gun. In the North, this art is still being practiced by warrior monks in Wu Tai Mountain in Shanxi China today. In the modern day, this staff fighting method is a close representation of the ancient Yang Family Spear of Song and Yuan dynasty China.
Despite being a blunt weapon, the staff remains effective against other battlefield weapons due to its reach and striking power. It has been used massively by the Chinese army in the Tang Dynasty to repel invading barbaric tribes. In that campaign, soldiers trained in the staff would knock cavalry soldiers down from their horses. The staff of the battlefield was designed as a heavy hitting blunt weapon; when it cleaves down on the shaft of the spear it’s possible to break the spear. This is because the spear’s shaft is designed to maximize the potential of the spear head, and not primarily meant for hitting. Against short weapons, the length and leverage of the staff is enough to overwhelm most lowly trained warriors. In reality swords will not have enough ballistic power to chop through a staff, unlike commonly shown in the movies. The heavy war staff, like the mace and the round hammer are effective for pulverizing shields, which sharp weapons like spears, swords and even arrows have trouble handling.
Fundamentally, the staff is a good weapon to pick up for someone to develop a foundation in weapons. The staff is safe and simple, making it ideal for building up the most important attributes of weapon handling, wrist strength and waist rotation power. Also, the staff has to be used with two hands, so both left handed and right handed people can manage it at the start.
Of course, the war staff of the ancient battlefield requires huge strength to take good advantage of it. That is why strength and body physique is so highly regarded in armies of the past. When a student of the pugilist arts is comfortable with using a light staff, he or she should progress to a heavier and thicker staff to build more strength so in the future it is easier to learn larger weapons.
In modern performance Wushu, heavy weapons are no longer being appreciated, as very light and flimsy staffs are preferred so the performers can do acrobatics with the staff. For us traditional Kung Fu practitioners, we value the strength and fitness that comes along with practicing with progressively heavier staffs. This is because traditional Kung Fu is about self improvement, and not to mention that a heavier staff is more practical in combat because it can stop dangerous blades and deal more devastating damage.
In our modern day world, the staff is a self-defense option. You can keep a staff in your home to subdue burglars and troublemakers. Unlike a knife, a staff is less likely to kill or seriously injure a person. A highly trained user of the staff will still have the capacity to strike a man dead with a staff if he wants to.