WeaponsSpace Part 1

There is a resurgence of interest in weapons training, at least in some martial arts schools. For anyone wanting to really understand the nature of the martial arts, I think this is nothing but good. Weapons have for many centuries been a part of martial training and, I think they should remain so. After all, the translation of “WuShu” from the Chinese, is Martial (implying battlefield and weapons) Arts. This is very accurate, and I have known Chinese martial artists who felt surprise and delight when they first encountered it.

art_weaponsspace1At first it seems, when you begin weapon training, that there is you and there is the weapon. When you begin you will definitely feel “at two” with the instrument in your hands. As you slowly gain facility with it you will find that there is a third presence, a certain sense of space that comes with each type and wears a different face with each weapon.

  It is more than length, so when you  hear “this or that weapon is an extension of the human body” you should think “of course,” but also realize extension can’t be the whole story. After all, holding a chopstick also extends your range and can be the right thing at the right time, but we don’t generally think of it as a weapon.

A weapon is something that alters the space around you, carving a common presence for you and it out of that space. The staff, often the first weapon taught, is a great introduction. That flying edge created by its roll and the wide range techniques where it could clear every table in the room with one swing, define a basic, easily understood frame of reference for a good martial artist. Everything changes. That is what a weapon demands.

The easiest weapons to learn are the ones that are short and just natural extensions of the way your hands move when you are performing your empty-handed art. The short stick, the flute, the fan, the knife at first seem ridiculously easy to translate into a useable and formidable weapon. They force the least amount of adaptation on your part, and that can be dangerous when you are spontaneously playing around with a double knife and learn it won’t really do anything you want without consequences. In fact, despite this first impression, weapons like this actually create their own space too, in an inward sense that I will talk about a little later.

art_weaponsspace2As you progress in your training the feeling of shape persists, but bends and twists to adapt to each weapon. The staff creates something like a large sphere around your body which, when you begin to play the spear, changes from a ball to something more of a cone shape. The cone is expandable to cover your entire body, or as small as a pin prick. Where your body is casual, flexible and symmetrical with the staff, it is primed, concentrated and deceptive with the spear. The sharp point of the spear almost drags you with it, interpreting every motion of the opponent like you were watching a radar screen, waiting for moment to intercept the incoming.

Take the saber. There is even a name for the shape it presents when properly handled: The Silver Bell. This bell shape should be small at the head and wider to encompass the torso. In some sense the saber is even better for learning this lesson than any other weapon, because the wrapping of the broadsword around your anatomy actually shows the effect in space, your turning and spinning self covered by a force field of whizzing blades.

Probably the most expressive space of all is that of the straight sword. Something as light and flexible as this allows almost anything. Its movement is constantly evasive, but with postures that attempt to intercept and keep at a distance.

art_weaponsspace3This brings another wrinkle, literally, to this subject of space I mentioned earlier. The straight sword has virtually no defensive features in the sense of deflection or parrying. While the saber can stop an attack from almost any weapon, it does that even to the very border of its hand guard. Clashing and slamming bodies together gives us a sense of the inward folding that is also part of weapon space. In other words, some movements actually fold toward the wielder of the weapon and create an inner space. The sword tries to avoid this, knowing that it has no structure to actually deflect another weapons with power. When you move with the sword you must arch your back, lean forward, sidestep rapidly and softly, twist around and look behind yourself. The perfect spine for the sword is something like a willow branch, bending and straightening in the same wind that seems to carry the sword through the air.

This is not all. There is another shape often hidden in the primary shape of a weapon. And that leads me to my next article focusing on these weapons fighting, that’s next…


One Response to “WeaponsSpace Part 1”

  1. Andrew Shinn says:

    Very nice post! The shape in space delineated by the weapon is a great visual. I know you allude to it in the above, but the nature of the weapon also defines this space (wood, steel, curved, strait, sleek and pointy, hooked and sharp or hooked and blunt, etc..). Then of course, you take the design of the weapon and you have to think how that applies to its natural targets on the opponent – that too changes the shape in space delineated by the weapon and the footwork you employ to keep that space at its optimal relation to the opponent.

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