Why the Spear?

We are starting a free tutorial section on the spear ( click to see ) and thought I would give you a little background on  WHY this is such an important weapon in the Kung Fu training program. Hope you find this interesting…

One definition of a martial artist might be: someone who keeps a spear in his closet.

Like me.

I often come across the spear tassel head high peeking through the hangers when I’m searching for today’s shirt. Some weapons you leave in the studio, some weapons you keep around because you might want to practice them at any time. It’s been said that the spear genius, Li Shu Wen, never made a trip to the bathroom without performing the Ghost Shakes Body exercise a dozen times.

The spear is ancient, powerful and definitely a major part of military history. In China there’s a whole rostrum of great spear men and ladies. All that’s beside the point, though. The main thing is the spear itself. You can be a beginner and still make it shake and shimmy. You can be a master and go to it each day to learn a little more. Chinese martial people love to point out the versatility and richness of the arts. Well, the spear really is inexhaustible.

I learned my first spear set among the requirements for a black belt in Kenpo. There was not a lot right about the set except that you point the shiny end at the other guy. It was a stiff, tight method with detailed, mostly trivial, concentration on rotating the spear head this way and that in a constant reaming action. The hand actions were useless and the footwork too formalized in Kenpo’s obsession with the cross over, but I caught the bug nonetheless.

This set was all too hard and stiff.

Years later I learned a Luo Han Spear that included hand flipping, body rolls, facile flower motions and extreme spear shaking.

Too soft by far.

But the spear itself is neither soft nor hard. Or a better way to say it is that it can be both, simultaneously.

YANG: From the guard  position with the right hand holding the butt of the spear near the right hip, shoot it forward. Aim with the left hand and bring the right hand pushing the spear up to the height of that notch just above your sternum. Try to make the spear body parallel to the ground. Make the “throat locking” thrusts as straight and quick as you can.

YIN: Hold the spear in guard position, the left foot in front, the left arm outstretched the right hand near the butt. Start revolving the right hand using the left hand as though it were an oarlock, just circling the body of the spear in it with as little friction as possible. The circle should be almost the size of your entire body. Keep the right hand circling and the left adjusting to the slight angle changes. Try to make the circle perfectly round.

Here they are; the circle and the point, the very essence, the Yang and Yin of the spear. Every movement with this classic weapon is some interplay of these two energies. Like the darting tongue of a dragon it manifests instantly and returns. One of the spear’s most surprising attributes is its range not in the sense of long but of short. It can attack at six feet and at six inches. A slight turn of the hand sends it to the crown of the head, another turn plunges it toward the front foot.

Its tassel explodes like a miniature fireworks display every time it turns in the air, a red burst momentary flame.

The Kung Fu Spear @ plumpub.comWhat does the spear teach? A list of things you would hardly guess. The spear heightens the coordination between the two hands. Its rolling, twisting and sliding action gives great feedback teaching the hands to work together in a dozen ways. The spear is the premier instrument for training the waist because the extended length makes for precise, small and highly internalized torso movement. After all if you move a foot the spear will move five so it requires tight, small actions. The spear justifies all those classical stances. This is important because people spend years practicing in classical stances without really understanding their necessity in real martial arts and real battle. The rear leg stretch in a Bow Stance is the logical counter-balance to the thrusting extension of the spear. Another skill: you must thrust the spear in a  manner that perfectly coordinates the actions of the waist, legs and arms. This necessary coordination is also seen in the famous marital hands-at-the-hips position tucks the butt of the staff against the hip and launches it from there, throwing the spear so fast that the hand must jump to catch up.

The spear makes you do all this and more. When you practice spear realize that this weapon is teaching you more than you are teaching it. Let the spear show you how it functions and you will be able to say that you were taught directly by the “King of the Long Weapons.”


2 Responses to “Why the Spear?”

  1. Markus says:


    very interresting article. I also prefer the spear now as my favorite weapon. Can you share informations where to get a good spear? Here in germany you mostly get small spears (2m high) very thin and flexible (more that modern wushu type).

  2. Jeff says:

    I’ve been thinking about this lately, so this is a timely post. I’m starting a beginner bo staff class this Saturday and I was thinking of some exercises. The class is probably going to be full of people that first day and I don’t want a lot of sticks flying around. I remembered your video of the spear and I thought, why not do some spear with the bo staff? It’s a good, repetitive, stationary exercise that can be performed in a small(ish) individual space. I like this Yang and Yin exercise, too. I’ll have to use it.

    Much of what you state here about the spear are things I’ve written down in my notes – that the staff is an instructor, that it reinforces the principles of stancing, that it forces the hands to cooperate. The staff exaggerates all your movements. If your form is good, the staff will make it better. If your form is poor, the staff will show you where you need work.

    Good stuff!

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