When a student reaches a certain level in their open hand tai chi practice (ie. not with a weapon in their hands), it is time to start practicing weapons!
Traditionally, attainment of this level may well have taken up to a decade or more. However, these days it is somewhat quicker, partly because of the nature of the world we live in and partly down to the fact that many people do not start their training in tai chi until they are middle aged, or older.
There are many reasons to practice weapons. They increase all of the benefits that you would expect to gain from your tai chi practice, they help keep these very old traditions alive to pass down to future generations, and they are also a lot of fun!
In White Crane tai chi we focus on two weapons: Chinese straight sword and the fan (and double fan). Both are traditional tai chi weapons and practiced across many styles.
The first one we will be teaching on White Crane Online is the White Crane Fan form. You can start to learn basic fan techniques in preparation for the form here.
I would recommend you spend between 3-6 months practicing basics with any weapon before starting with the form. This may seem like quite a long time but the fan especially takes quite a lot of practice to get used to it. What looks quite easy often is a little trickier than you first think when you see it on the videos.
You can generally purchase two types of fan, metal and bamboo. Metallic ones are heavier, plastic obviously lighter. Personally I prefer metal ones but for those who may have weakness in the wrists and would like to build up strength, I would recommend a lighter one to start with.
I find the fan to be very suitable to White Crane training. Like the White Crane style, it is elegant, precise, beautiful to look at (with practice!), effective… and if used how it would have been traditionally… deadly!
In days gone by, the outside edge of the material would have been coated in a poisonous resin and the metal sharpened to sharp points used to cut the skin, or the fan could have been opened and poisonous darts released! Thankfully we can nowadays focus more on the artistic side of the martial art of White Crane fan but when practicing it does help to know and understand what the moves would have been used for.
Fans are obviously not a battlefield weapon! Like the Chinese straight sword, it would have been more of a concealed civil weapon and most likely carried by the educated, scholarly classes.
The movements include slicing and stabbing but the real drama and essence of the weapon, and forms, can be found in the loud popping noises when opening and closing the fan. The movements are very graceful and include concealment and trapping, they are bright and would also have been used to distract opponents.
The use of fans began very early in Chinese culture and as with many practical implements they were evolved to have a martial use.
The White Crane fan form (or Bai He Shanzi) is another 66-move form that we will be starting to teach very soon on White Crane Online. In the meantime, you can start practicing with these basic moves, and I recommend regular practice to really get to grips with the weapon.
Should anyone require advice on which fans to buy or further help with the basic movements, then please feel free to get in touch.