There comes a point in the training life of every traditional martial artist when the shiny glint of a blade catches their eye and lures them into the temptation of training with traditional weapons.
For me, it began with the ‘jian’, more commonly known on these shores as a Chinese straight sword, and the ‘shanzi’, the fan. Still my favourite two weapons to this day.
My experiences in weapons training have seen me wield staffs, spears, tridents, broadswords, a shorter sword (nandao) and shield, butterfly knives, nunchucks, halberds, dadaos, katanas, cane, maces… learning forms and techniques that have had a myriad of benefits to my overall health and fitness, whilst keeping my training incredibly varied and – most importantly – elevating my skills in the process.
One of the stranger weapons moments was demonstrating a spear form in front of some of the Labor party at one of their conference events, whilst they were still in government (which feels like a long time ago now) – but not many people can say they looked down the end of a spear at cabinet ministers without being taken out by MI5!
So other than the occasional chance at political assassinations, what is the point in weapons training?
Surely it seems rather antiquated and arcane these days, as the naysayers – generally keyboard and sofa warriors – who love to tell you they’d just shoot you in a weapons match up.
At White Crane Online, one of our projects for 2020 is to bring you some online weapons courses, so with this in mind, here are some of my most important reasons for learning and training with weapons.
Have Some Fun
Who doesn’t need a little more fun in their lives? I have known way too many instructors who take martial arts – and themselves – a little too seriously. We aren’t living in ancient China and we don’t have to protect ourselves from marauding Mongolians who’ve breached the Great wall of our lovely manicured garden.
Grabbing hold of a weapon and learning how to wield it with skill and grace, is great fun! Where else do we get to play as an adult (online doesn’t count!)?
We live in serious times, a little more fun and play in our lives is no bad thing!
Keep Traditions Alive
I love reading and listening to books and podcasts, I’m always tuned in to one or the other. History is one of my favourite topics to learn about but there’s always a literal and metaphorical gap between yourself and the material within the pages.
One of my favourite things about traditional martial arts training is that I see it as being history come to life!
These are traditions and teachings that have been passed down and refined over generations, and if we listen carefully they speak to us of an age long gone into the mists of time.
They are a physical and spiritual connection to the past and it’s our duty to keep them alive and progressing for future generations to come.
They make you better
At the start of the martial arts journey a student’s improvement is rapid, everything is new and the layers of learning and advancement are laid down at a considerably quicker pace than a few months or years in, when it can feel like you are plateauing and making much slower progress than previously.
What is actually happening is that you’re missing being a beginner again!
Now it’s time to pick up a weapon!
Adding an implement, whatever it is, adds complexity and makes the techniques and forms more difficult to learn. However, as you have already developed some ‘open hand’ skills, you’re ready for the next challenge!
In addition to obviously learning the weapon at hand, the new skills will transcend the form and improve all of your open hand forms.
Which brings us on to the next point…
Weapons training is another level up in your physical fitness – and health.
Regular practice makes you stronger, improves balance, gets you into lower and deeper stances that you previously would have only dreamt of, and supercharges your coordination skills… New neural pathways are forged you will develop skills which will feed into your other martial arts forms, as well as more importantly, make your day to day life better!
Spice Up You Life
The irony of martial arts training is that you forge ahead with passion and fervour to learn scores of forms – then you realise that you only really need to learn one or two – but without going through the phase of accumulation, you don’t get to the point of true realisation of this fact.
However, this misses a key point in that most people need to chase the next thing and keep on acquiring forms – and there’s nothing wrong with this – variety keeps things interesting and keeps that mojo alive!
I love the fact I can wake up in the morning and have a range of weapons I can train with – long, short, heavy, light, single, double… I’m never bored!
Finally, as traditional martial artists we are to one degree or another training for self defence… how does that work with weapons training?
It’s not like we can walk around with a halberd. I’m currently in Costa and can’t imagine they’d let me in. (I didn’t see a weapons rack near the door for safely storing halberds).
However, what I can see are canes, umbrellas, newspapers, chairs, plants, cutlery… all things which to one degree or another represent the shapes of traditional Chinese weapons (or in the case of chairs and canes, are traditional Chinese weapons).
In the unfortunate situation of the table of elderly ladies at the table next to me taking offence at my demeanour and attacking me out of the blue, I can much more confidently use any of the above implements in place of a traditional weapon in order to defend myself and get back to the safety of my car parked nearby.
Jokes aside, the wide range of weapons shapes and sizes available to train with (in a style as good as White Crane!) is rather immense, and they can develop self defence skills which can be applied to other implements…with a bit of imagination.
So – just a little insight into the reasons to train with weapons – I’m sure you can think of many more once you get started, hopefully you’re feeling fuelled up and ready to join us for some online weapons training next year.
As a warning though, they do become quite addictive and before you know it, the glinting of a blade, or the rasping noise of a fan will become a common feature of your training.