Paired Weapons of Northern Shaolin
There are four paired weapons of Northern Shaolin we’ll look at. This page describes the general qualities of each weapon, while the other pages delve into the specific Northern Shaolin style of each weapon.
Double Straight Swords is one of the most advanced and difficult weapons there is. In this form the practitioner uses two straight swords, one held in each hand. Often two swords were made as a pair with each sword having a half handle. This way both swords could fit in one specially designed scabbard. This made carrying the swords easier.
The Double Straight Swords are very difficult to use because they are long and sharp on both sides for their entire length. This makes it rather dangerous for the wielder because you could easily cut yourself if you are clumsy. These days almost everyone uses dull light weight practice swords. This eliminates the danger for the student.
Because both swords are sharp for their entire length you cannot do many of the body wrapping moves found in Double Saber forms.
Like all sword styles there are few moves blocking with the swords because the blades are not really designed for blocking. Blocking with the sword is to be avoided because it quickly notches your sharp edge and damages the sword. Of course if you need to block to save your life you will. However, that is not the main strategy. The main strategy is to completely avoid contact with the opponents weapons whenever possible and use clever body positioning and evasive skills to avoid the opponents attacks. Ideally your thrust or cut lands at exactly the moment the opponent expected to land their blow. You have dodged their move at the very last moment after they have committed to it and then thrust home with your sword.
This emphasis on evasion and body position often means that the forms become very athletic and graceful. Double sword forms frequently have many balance moves in a crane stance with two sword thrusts in different directions and a long kick. Watching these forms you can see they are designed for one person to fight many opponents at the same time.
Double Straight Swords were often used by women and sometimes have the reputation of being a women’s weapon. Double sword forms also have several important benefits for the practitioner.
When holding out two swords in opposite directions you are taking very expanded poses. When you fill you body with Qi to the very tips of the swords in these poses you are really expanding your energetic awareness and strengthening your Qi. If at the same time you are balancing on one leg and extending a kick you are really building great Qi Gong skills and balance. To do these sorts of moves you also need to be very centered and maintain great self control and focus.
Double Straight Swords forms are rare and many styles or teachers do not have them.
The Hook Swords are an exotic looking paired weapon (two swords, one for each hand) with a sharply curving hooked tip, a crescent moon bladed hand guard, and a spear tip pommel. Originally designed for use by foot soldiers combating cavalry, the hook swords are a formidable weapon.
The hooked end is used to capture the opponent, disarm them, or attack tendons and joints. For fighting men on horses the hooks would be used to attack the tendons of the horse.
The spear tip on the pommel is used for deadly thrusting attacks.
The crescent moon for a strong defense blocking powerful blows of an opponent. The Hook swords have great blocking capability because the crescent moon blade is a very strong design and placed in front of the hands it is in a strong position for blocking. The crescent moon blade of the hook swords can also be used to attack the opponents throat and to block.
They can also perform strong cross blocks using the length of the blade. Although it would still not be a good idea to try and block a Kwan Dao, the Hook Swords do have more blocking capability than either the Double Sabers or the Double Swords.
I teach two Hook Sword forms the Northern Shaolin Ground Rolling Hook swords and the Sun Moon Hook Swords. These are both very advanced forms that require previous weapons training with other sword types as preparation.
Double Daggers is another classic Kung Fu weapon. In general the Kung Fu daggers are a back up weapon. No one walked out onto the battlefield with Daggers as their main or only weapon. Daggers would be carried as a back up weapon in case their primary weapon broke. Daggers would also be carried as a concealed weapon in the city.
Daggers are very short and have no range whatsoever. Daggers can only be used at close range. Daggers are thus useful in small spaces such as indoors, on a boat, or in a narrow alley. There are really only two techniques with daggers stabbing and slashing. Stabbing is very deadly and slashing is not as deadly. Therefore, stabbing is the major offensive technique.
If the dagger person is fighting a longer weapon they are at a huge disadvantage until they can close. If they can close they may have an advantage. Thus the dagger person is usually on the defensive and it is not easy to defend with daggers. Daggers are small so any blocks or parries need to be very accurate. In addition, the daggers are not strong enough to block powerful swinging strikes. Therefore the dagger person is usually very, very active with twisting, ducking, leaping, and rolling. Daggers are well suited to very small agile people. Very small people present a small target to begin with so they are harder to hit. Small people are also the best suited to acrobatics and leaping and they are quick. This also makes them hard to hit. Small people are dangerous when the get in very close with daggers.
If a very small lady pulls out double daggers and she is really mad and knows what she is doing you had better get ready for a real fight!
Kung Fu Double Sabers
The Double Sabers or Double Broadswords are definitely one of the most difficult and advanced weapons in the whole arsenal of Chinese Martial Arts. The double sabers are also one of the most exciting and interesting weapons to learn. Without a doubt a skillful double saber expert would be one of the most fearsome opponents to face.
The Double Sabers have many advantages. The chief one is to be able to simultaneously block the opponents strike and counter attack. Even the spearman must be very careful. Because it will be very easy for the Double Saber person to block, enter, and strike at the same time as the spear thrusts. Every Double Saber form will certainly contain moves designed to do just that in a variety of ways.
For a person wielding a single saber or sword they must expect to constantly be on the defensive. The Double Saber person can constantly offer them the choice of two attacks to block or parry. However, they only have one weapon! So they must block and dodge at the same time. It is very hard to gain the initiative against the fearsome Double Sabers.One of the main techniques of the Double Sabers is to create rolling linked series of attacks. These are facing the blades of a human sized blender! The best defense is to leap back! Some of these rolling attack sequences also include thrusts or parries along with the cuts. These combined sequences really require focus and concentration. Other sequences include body wrapping blocks and turns.
Learning the Double Sabers certainly builds your coordination and awareness. Like using the double swords or Hook swords you greatly expand your awareness around the body. In addition it is important that one actually performs cuts with the sabers. The blade must be properly angled to the direction of movement of the saber and not twisted. If it is twisted the saber will not cut well. To cut properly there should also be a drawing motion of the saber. If one hacks straight down and your saber is heavy enough you will cut. However, your cut is much easier and more accurate if you can correctly angle and then draw or push the saber.
The movements of the sabers need to be clearly coordinated with the feet. This is one of the ways of judging a persons skill with the sabers. Are the steps actually powering and directing the cuts or are the cuts separate from the legs and feet. Although the Double Sabers are a challenge to learn they are absolutely worth the effort. Just make sure to learn a single saber first!