As far as we know, the Hong Kong police were armed with tear gas grenades and 40mm grenade launchers which fire non-lethal rounds at protesters. Up close, they were using extendable batons on protesters to disperse them from the protest site. It doesn’t take a trained martial artist or a veteran soldier to figure out how to attack another person with these weapons. Anyone can aim the grenade launcher at a general direction and pull the trigger. That thing has no problem knocking the gas out of a six foot plus athlete. We can imagine it breaking some ribs on a bookish student, with no training required.
On the other hand, the umbrella is a specialized Kung Fu weapon. It is very hard for the beginner to just pick up a weapon and start learning it. The fingers have to be firm enough to hold the umbrella. The wrist needs to undergo proper strength conditioning before it is able to generate quick powerful swings while keeping it under control. And it’s not just about the hand and wrist, the waist also need to be strong enough to generate rotational power from the core, as well as to stabilize every movement.
To effectively do damage with the umbrella, it takes a high level of accuracy and dexterity to concentrate the strength of the swing onto a small point of contact. Used by a master with years of consistent training, a hit with the umbrella’s tip can shatter bones. However when used by untrained people, hits with the umbrella is unlikely to cause serious injury. It will be totally impractical for untrained people to attempt stabbing attacks for those will take more accuracy to use.
From my personal experience teaching the Hung Gar umbrella techniques, it will take 3 months to get the techniques down, and a year to build up the speed and power of the strokes. That is for somebody who already has foundation in empty handed techniques. It already takes some serious effort and dedication to develop the empty hand fundamentals in Kung Fu. Any movement above the waist will require steady footwork to initiate, to support.
For a complete beginner to learn the umbrella fighting techniques, they will need to start all the way from the basics and work their way up until they are able to generate forceful, concentrated strikes with the umbrella. I estimate it will take 2 years to reach that standard for a fresh beginner. Two years of sweat, muscle soreness and psycho-motor confusion.
Saying that the umbrella is more aggressive than anti-riot weapons is similar to saying swords and spears poses a threat to someone armed with 9mm firearms. Their wielders would suddenly dart around the air with insane agility, dodging bullets and eventually putting the blade to their enemy’s throats.
Truth is, tear gas and pepper spray are more effective in unskilled hands.
Hung Gar’s umbrella form, the Cloud Weaving Umbrella, is an interesting self-defense weapon to pick up for a Hung Gar practitioner. You can hook someone’s wrist, neck, knee, ankle or weapon with it and you can shield yourself from thrown projectiles. Unlike a sword you can hold it in the middle for more leverage. It is also lighter than most weapons of its length, allowing for a quick series of strikes.
An added advantage is that the umbrella is a legal everyday object. Unlike extendable batons or swords, you can carry it with you everywhere you go. It shields you from the rain and sun, serves as a walking stick and has an undisputable reach advantage over shady criminals’ pocket weapons. Switchblades, flipping butterfly knives or knuckledusters are harmful against an unarmed person, but they will not be able to come close because the umbrella has further reach.
The advantages of the umbrella as a self-defense weapon simply outweigh other weapons. The only weapons that will overwhelm an umbrella are sharp swords and spears; criminals probably won’t be using these against you. Meanwhile, enjoy the benefits of protection from the harsh sunlight, tropical rain, tear gas and petty criminals.
Mr Leung Che Cheung, the politician under fire claims that the umbrella has the potential to be used as an aggressive weapon. They could even be more effective than the tear gas used by the police, he said.
He continued to say that "I was told by the elderly the umbrella can be used as shelter from the rain and the sun, as a walking stick, or as a stick to beat stray dogs running after you. It's aggressive. But tear gas and pepper spray can only disperse the protesters and cannot make them fall down. They are useless weapons." He cited movies where Jet Li as Wong Fei Hong wielding the umbrella as proof that it is an aggressive weapon.
Mr Pang Chi Ming, a fourth-generation descendant of Master Wong, has come forward in defense of the umbrella. "An umbrella is used for self-defence in real gongfu, and is not an aggressive weapon," said Mr Pang. "Every pose in the 'Dragon-Tiger umbrella' set was invented for self-defence rather than attack," he said of the style which Apply daily reported to have first emerged in the 18th century and was made famous by Master Wong, who lived from 1847 to 1924, in Guangdong.
The style in contention that is seen in movies such as Iron Monkey and Once Upon A Time In China Kung Fu shows actors Donnie Yen and Jet Li wielding the umbrella as an effective weapon. The style used is Hung Gar Kung Fu’s ‘Cloud Weaving Umbrella’. The form and techniques are taught in our Singapore Kung Fu school.