the kingdom of weapons live peasants and humble monks as well
as kings and scholars. Of course the humblest is the simple stick.
But the crooked cane may be humbler still because it calls to
mind an elderly, infirm peasant hobbling along a rural path.
the Shaolin monks actually forbidden - as the legend goes - to
use metal weapons, even in self defense? History indicates a certain
ambivalence to the question. It is said that the Butterfly Knives
were originally unsharpened and that their bone splitting
power was reserved for monks to not use "bladed" weapons. Some
Shaolin instruments such as the burying spade had metal edges
but were not considered weapons at all. If this seems like some
form of Asian religious quibbling then we Westerners should remember
a period in Church history, when all landed lords were automatically
invested as Bishops and as church officials were encouraged to
employ in battle the mace (a cudgel with a rounded metal head)
because, as the Bible states, "Those who live by the sword
die by the sword." Indicating that crushing people's skulls was
somehow holier than a swift and fatal cut.
yes, there probably was a time when monks were encouraged to use
their humbled wooden instruments as a first and stolid line of
defense. In the case of Shaolin there are many legends and much
silliness about the Temple and its denizens. But one thing often
admitted through the centuries is that the wooden weapon work
of the Temple was at times of a very high caliber. It might have
been the best in the world for its era. This is not unexpected.
Quite often Wushu styles find a certain weapon that most perfectly
characterizes their brand of skill. Pi Gua is famous for its saber
work. Ba Ji for its spear. Praying Mantis loves the two-handed
straight sword. Shaolin at one time boasted an astounding 200
stick sets. And that's quite possibly true considering the amount
of information coming into the Temple.
wooden weapons varied greatly. Some were eight feet or more up
to 12 feet. Many were the famous "eyebrow" length. Then there
were short sticks often called whips or cudgels. And, of course,
there were canes.
the Da Mo Cane - the most famous cane set from the Temple - utilizes
a square necked instrument. (There are actually a number of sets
all claiming to be called after DaMo the Buddhist founder ) The
other significant variation of the Shaolin Cane is its curve necked
brother. There are many types: Dragon Cane, Iron Cane, but the
curved and the straight are the major designations. The Shaolin
Cane we present does not distinguish between the two but can easily
use either version.
decision to make our video (DVD version might be coming soon,
we hope !) on "The Shaolin Cane" allowed us to use the
cane as more than just an traditional Kung Fu form. We also could
take this simplest weapon, break down some of the movements and
discuss the real meaning in modern terms of weapons use. There
are a few ideas here which might be new to most practitioners.
tried and true Kung Fu fashion, we list some of the "actions"
of the cane which include: PI (split), GUA (deflect), MO (rub),
BENG (smash), KAN (slash), CE (thrust), GOU (hook) and BAO (wrap).
may be surprised to find that this is not one of those anemic
sets we so often see with the cane. This is a highly dramatic,
dynamic form with twists, turns, spins and jumps. But very little
fluff. The cane itself may be humble but in the hands of an artist
even a simple pencil can be magical.
making the Shaolin Cane, we begin our new series tentatively entitled
"Unlocking the Form." In this we take a form, teach
it and give additional notes on some ideas that might be locked
in the treasure box of that particular series. Our goal is simple,
to revive the meaning of Kung Fu forms, to re-examine and preserve
what is true in these living transmissions of the art.
Shaolin Cane is fun, fast and very changeable. We would call it
an intermediate set. It comes from the traditional aspect of Chinese
martial arts which is very interesting and little understood.
We are all familiar with the Brahmin (or, in this case, Mandarin)
aspects of Chinese culture: the lordly erudition, the condescending
acceptance of the peasant and the barbarian. In the west this
tendency was the inspiration for the reflected fears envisioned
in "cold hearted" characters like Fu Manchu.
is, as always there must be, a conterveiling tendency. A recognition
of simplicity instead of ornament. Of honesty not subtlety. Many
Kung Fu weapons derived from peasant implements such as the stick,
spade, knife and hoe. The peasants were often responsible for
their own village protection. They accomplished this by using
instruments with which they were familiar in daily life.
is mirrored in another interesting aspect of the culture which
is the bent to use the same, simple, common words for specialized
applications as for basic vocabulary. After all, Chinese is so
ancient that it has no earlier language, like Latin, from which
to derive technical jargon.
a word like "Feng" for instance. Basically it means
"the wind." To a doctor in China it is a technical term
associated with disease. To a geomancer it suggests evil or beneficent
influences. To a cook it can be part of a term for "flavor."
For a martial artist it is used to designate this or that particular
style. This simple term is also used in technical senses which
must be understood in context.
cane is as simple as the word "cat." But its movements
are also as variable and mischievious as that clever, agile, lazy,
unpredictable, conceited, loving creature we so often take for
was a lot of fun to make "Shaolin Cane." We hope you
enjoy it and look forward to remarks. At the moment we are struggling
with our new Final Cut Pro. But soon...