Spear Learning

Some of my articles come directly from what is taught at my school that day. One of my favorite spear training exercises is “Ghost Shakes Body” (also called “Lan Na Zha”), and when I saw some students practicing this the other day, it reminded me of the extensive usage catalogue each weapon carries with it. Thus, these few words below.


kung fu weapons trainingAnyone who has trained extensively knows that there are two laws: repeated usage and lots of it. High reps don’t mean much without the bonus of understanding the proper form and usage of your body, your limbs, and your mind. People offer such sage advice as “no pain, no gain,” but in Kung Fu, we should amend this to “no brain, no gain.”

Although the above is true throughout traditional Kung Fu, it is even more meaningful when it comes to weapons, those ancestors of the Art which are so commonly misunderstood that one sometimes imagines all we know sits on a hill of ignorance.

Of course, at least some characteristics of a specific weapon’s usage are quite obvious. One only need look at a spear to know it can (and will) deliver its deadly, lightning fast, changeable thrust. But that does not mean that the signature thrust represents all spear skills obtainable.  In ancient days, there was time and need for a man to practice his entire life, developing skills like above, and a good deal more. Take, for instance, the case of Li Shu Wen, one of the supreme experts with the spear. His life was devoted to constant practice, honing skills to a degree sharper than the spear’s edge. His spear knowledge was so great that, ultimately, it took a secret plot and some poison to defeat him.

Since we no longer meet on the battlefield, many

martial artists concentrate almost entirely on legend. But legend can make us lazy and incurious, and obscure the still fruitful areas of research which produce an extensive and impressive number of techniques. For instance, consider one of my favorite uses of the spear: its vertical range. Starting in the middle one can easily, with minor adjustment of the hands, aim the spear head high or foot low. Tip toe or top of head, this is a weapon of change and unexpected pathways.

What makes spear the “king” of the weapons—or, sometimes just the “king of long weapons”—is not just the weapon’s length, but its unique ability to position itself so aggressively.



Let’s deepen our knowledge, and take the classic spear sequence, composed of only three movements and recognized by everyone who’s spent any time wielding this long weapon.

kung fu weapons training


LAN means “to obstruct.” It is an action where the rear right hand holding the spear butt elevates to the right ear. In this position, the forearm is about an inch from the right ear. Meanwhile, you have simultaneously dropped the spear tip low enough that the shaft guards your entire front leg, ankle included. Lan also protects by positioning you to lean away from the opponent’s thrust. The momentarily locked spine connects upper and lower body, a valuable technique in positioning and distancing.





NA. You have “blocked” your opponent’s spear thrust. Now, the LAN snaps the spear butt to a cocked position beside your right hip. On the business end, NA will automatically snap the tip of the spear up to guard position before your face. So, in these two “defensive” movements, you have covered your entire body, not to mention snapping downward so you have effectively “covered” your opponent’s spear thrust.




ZHA. Don’t be fooled that ZHA, “to prick,” is a weak or shallow technique. That simple thrusting action with the spear aims as high as your suprasternal notch, at the bottom of your throat. Using this target, a thrust is at maximum reach, stretching both hands and spine to the limits, a synchronized action fierce yet pin-point accurate in striking and blocking.

Like any great study, the investigation of weapons as tremendously helpful instruments leads to a gold mine of information. Below are a few more ideas that you might add to your own syllabus.

For instance, when using the STAFF, notice the way your two hands engage it: when the right moves, the left hand must follow, and vice versa. In other words, you use both hands to control the staff. How do we expand this to open-handed practice? One obvious transfer is to Chin Na—replace the idea of the staff with an opponent’s forearm, for example.

The most universal of all weapons is the SABER; it naturally suggests usage as soon as you pick it up. Swing it, and take  advantage of the power of the arc. Its path through the air leads with a long edge that can come from almost any angle. Everything about its design accommodates wild slashing action; even a stick becomes an immediate substitute.

Not a high percentage of Kung Fu students play with the KUAN DAO. But if you do, you will immediately learn a few things about momentum. As they say, weight generates power.

Kung fu weapons continue to act as teachers. Pick up a weapon—any weapon from the diverse kung fu arsenal—and find your practice.



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2 Responses to “Spear Learning”

  1. Jeff says:

    From the photos, it looks like you are doing Ghost Shakes Body as a stepping exercise. Since I don’t have a spear, I practice it with a staff, targeting a BOB dummy, so I’ve only ever practiced it as a standing exercise. Is stepping usually a part of this training? I can see the advantages of that for sure!

  2. Plum Staff says:

    Hi Jeff,
    Absolutely! One of the simplest yet most useful training exercises is when two partners circle each other around a large perimeter, each keeping his weapon and stance focused on the other partner. Variations are obvious.

    In the case of the Ghost, I advance with a front crossover or a rear cross-behind—then stepping out—alternating as I walk with the Ghost.