Yang style Tai Chi traditionally did not have many weapons in its curriculum. Nonetheless, particular attention was placed on the Jian (Sword), Dao (Saber), Qiang (Spear) and Gun (Staff). These four weapons are divided into two groups: short weapons and long weapons. The short Tai Chi weapons are the sword and the saber; the long Tai Chi weapons are the spear and the staff.
During the development of Yang style Tai Chi, proficiency with weapons was a necessity of the times. Since fights with weapons were commonplace, lack of expertise in weapons fighting presented a huge disadvantage against an armed opponent. In those days, a challenger reserved the right to choose whether a fight would be with or without weapons.
Today, weapons practice not only keeps alive the heritage of the art but serves as an essential training aid in further enhancing one’s skill. Balance, eye and hand coordination and the extension of Jin to the weapon are just of few of the benefits derived from practice.
The Jian (Sword) is the weapon that is the most closely associated with Tai Chi. In the hands of an expert; the sword appears to move like a dragon swimming through the clouds, now rising, now twisting and rolling. The sword movements are directed by the Yi (Intent). Energy rises from the feet, passes through the legs, waist and arms and is manifested in the sword, which is an extension of the body.
Not many teachers nowadays have knowledge of the specialized training that is done with the Long Staff (usually 10 or more feet in length). It originated from spear play but in time the spear tip was removed, the shaft lengthened and specialized training methods developed. Training with the long staff is especially useful in developing and emitting Fajin (Explosive force). This staff work is often referred to as Dou Gun, literally “Shivering Staff.” The name refers to the type of quivering energy that is felt throughout the body while performing different actions.
Over time, many other weapons have been introduced in different Tai Chi styles by various teachers. Among the most popular of these is the Tai Chi Fan. Today, if Tai Chi is to be viewed as a complete art form, then weapons practice is not only recommended but required, especially for advanced students of the art.