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Traditional Shaolin Weaponry
Understanding rarely comes from seeing the small or large but both and that which is in between.

On this page.....

An overview, introduction to Shaolin 5 Animal Kung Fu Academy's view on Traditional Chinese/Shaolin Weaponry, classifications as well as links to extensive weaponry listings. Also, below this is a table of Weapon Forms, Styles taught and trained within the Shaolin Academy. This list is not quite complete as there is a full definition, training and curriculum page attached to each weapon style.

Weapons precepts

Before we dive into all matter of Traditional Shaolin Weaponry (Cold Weapons, non-explosive) we need to agree that all usage, training and skill of weaponry obtained through these pages of the Shaolin 5 Animal Kung Fu Academy (Australia) are subject to the following conditions;

  1. Hold all life as sacred and do no harm
  2. Separate yourself from desire and do not to take anything not freely given
  3. Avoid sexual misconduct and sensual overindulgence
  4. Be honorable and refrain from untrue speech
  5. Be Mindful and avoid intoxication, that is, losing mindfulness.

To understand the Shaolin Way requires some basic understanding of Buddhism. To the right is a reasonably good documentary on the Life of Buddha which may give better insight into the subject than just reading the guides and rules.

The reason for this explanation is to understand that the Shaolin view of Traditional Shaolin Weaponry is very much different to most. Shaolin learn weaponry to understand what is possible with each weapon and what limitations if underlay's so that they can learn how to successfully defend against these weapons, possibly in such a way as to cause no undue harm to the person wielding theses weapons

What are Cold Weapons?

Cold weapons are 'non-explosive' weapons. Weapons that predominately rely on the skill, strength, speed, accuracy and targeting of the wielder. These can be defined in many ways and often different styles define then in their own ways. One of the most common descriptors in 5 Animal Kung Fu today is long and short weapons; although the definition of what is long and short varies considerably between short and long Knife lengths, Sword and Saber length, Spear and Trident length and not to mention such items as Whip and rope lengths.

The 4 Principle Weapons

Most every Traditional Chinese Martial Art school will tell you that you need to know the 4 before you possibly choose something different. These 4 are so significant that they have names which imply their significants amongst weapons and in history.;

  1. The Gun (pronounced Guen), is the Solid Staff, called "Father of all weapons" as most every weapon has a bit of staff in it. Understanding the Staff leads to better understanding of all weapons with a handle and that rely mainly on impact.
  2. The Dao, Broad Sword also called "The Marshal of all weapons" and represents the widest variety and the most commonly used type of weapon the curved sword. It is a battle and war weapon that most human cultures have used in their history.
  3. The Qiang, Spear also called the "King of all weapons" and is also one of the most powerful when used correctly. It is a stabbing weapon and can vary in length greatly. Alexander the great is said to have had an unbeatable spear squadron.
  4. The Ji, Straight Sword also called "The Lord of all weapons" and is the duelist, the gentleman of all weapons. In the form of the French rapier and epee it may also be the Weaponry/sword with the most kills.

These 4 weapons lay the foundation to be able to learn most any other Chinese/Shaolin Cold (Traditional) weapon. Many students than choose a 5th weapon to specialize in as their 'unique' weapon but never forgetting that the foundation of Shaolin Weapon skills are the founding 4..

Why are these 4 so important

There are two answers to this. The short version is Wisdom. The long answer is that these are the cold weapons that are most often used by most people in the world. The Shaolin Iron Staff, the English Quarter Staff, Walking Stick, Monks Cane, Escrima Sticks, Bo, Jo, Fatal Flute...... Curved swords have been exceedingly popular in most nations army's including Sabers, Katana, Mameluke, Saif, Nimcha and more including curved knives. Spear also have variation by having different sharp items at the end of a long stick including Tridents, Helbards and such. These constitute the most wildly used weapons. Finally, Straight Swords such a Tai Chi Sword, Roman Short Sword, Epee, Foil and Stiletto Knife (just to name a few); all these constitute maybe 85% of all weapons types.

But there is also a hidden answer. These 4 teach supplementary and complimentary principles of all weapons.

All cold weapons are;

  • either Sharp or Blunt
  • mostly used in a Straight or Round action
  • used One or two Handed
  • close up or at a distance.

So we have in this group;

  • two Long & two Short Weapons
  • two Swords and two Staffs
  • two predominantly Metal and two predominately Wooden
  • two that use Direct movements and two that are used mostly in Round movements
  • two that prefer Force and two that prefer Finesse

Thus, the teaching of these 4 weapons prepares the Weapons Practitioner for most other weapons. and these can be seen also in 4 groups plus one.

Beyond the 4

We have the 5! Whereas the 4 are the 'one to learn first', understanding your choices are not covered by just Long or Short, Round or Straight and the like. Thus Shaolin developed the "5" as in 5 Animals, 5 Seasons, 5 Elements and 5 Weapon groups.

The 5 Weapon Shaolin Weapon Groups; Overview

Shaolin Academy Blunt & Impacting Weapons
Blunt & Impacting; ie.
Staff, Hammer, Club
 Shaolin Academy Cutting & Piercing Weapons
Cutting, Chopping & Piercing; ie
Swords, Axes, Spears
Shaolin Academy Flexible & Whipping Weapons
Flexible & Hidden Weapons
Chain, Whip and Rope
Shaolin Academy Projectile and Thrown Weapons
Projected & Thrown; ie
Blow Dart, Bow & Arrow, Cat's
Shaolin Academy Shaolin and Not-Weapons
Not Weapons & Tools
Bench, Fan, Shield

Impacting and Bludgeoning Weapons are predominantly non-lethal and not usually considered a soldiers or warriors tool. Yet, properly wielded, they are a great defensive weapon. The humble piece of wood called the staff was often most effective against against swords, as history has shown, more than once. The staff or even flail may also be called the peasants and farmers weapon of choice.

Bladed Weapons have the greatest variety both as Weapons and Tools/Implements within their group. A great many different types and functions for knives including Stilettos, Butterfly Knives, Bread Knife, Filet Knife, Hunting/Skinning Knifes, Multi-tool Knives (ie Swiss Army), Kukuri (Nepalese inverted) Jnife, etc. And then we start with all the various Swords and variations through history from the famous Chinese Broad Sword (curved), the Jian (Chinese Straight) Sword through to the Katana (Japanese Samurai) Sword, through Roman Short Swords, English Knight Great Swords, Saif or Scimitar (Arabian curved) Sword, straight and Moro Kris (Phillipine waved) swords through to Spears, Tridents, Kwandoes, Duan Dao's, Da Dao's, Sickle, Axe, and more. Swords again fall into two categories, "Jabbing, Piercing, Stabbing, Chopping (Straight)" and Slicing & Cutting (Curved).

Flexible and Hidden Weapons are a skill all of there own, be it the Bull Whip, Nine Section Staff, Motorbike Chain, Rope or such. They require a higher degree of proficiency with not always the benefit that this may promise, yet, they are also usually easy to conceal and can be everyday object of use like a rope or bike chain

Projectile Weapons are again a whole new skill and a whole very varied category. The most famous and common cold ranged weapon would be the Bow & Arrow. But we often forget another very common and easy to make projectile weapon, the Stone Sling. Then there is Darts, Blow Darts, Throwing Spears, Throwing Knives, Bolo's, Boomerang, Throwing Stars, Sling Shot, Woomera (a spear through by a stick) and more through to siege engines and their variations.

Full weight, hard wood, metal reinforced bench; performed by Sifu Sam S

Not-Weapons is the ability to use every-day objects for purposes of defence. Some borderline examples are Staff, Monks Spade and Monks Lantern which predominantly are used as Shaolin tools, but have been adapted as defensive and functional items for traveling Shaolin (and other) Monks. The final category again has two sides to it also, Tools and Every-day-objects. Tools such as Screw Drivers, Wrenches, Tyre Irons etc and Everyday-objects such as statues, clothing, bottles, etc. Modern detective shows are very ingenious in the variety and type of objects used to kill of victims in CSI and detective shows.


It is evident that professional Martial Art schools should not teach people how to hurt other people with Weapons (or bare hands for that matter). There is enough violence out there in the world without your local dojo/kwoon/training-hall adding skilled and dangerous people into the mix. We have governments and army's that already do that. But because there are violent people out there, with or without training, the obligation of martial art schools is to teach those who are not violent how to deal with violence, bullies and intimidation. It is the principle of the Shaolin Academy to teach real Weapons skills to non-violent people with the clear view of teaching how to defend against these; but this is not ur primary reason for Weapons Skill Development.

In the Shaolin Academy, learning to use Weapons is a form of Fun, Fitness, Metal Stimulation, Re-enactment, Meditation in Motion and Friendly Competition. As Kung Fu (Bare Hand and Weaponry) is a life long exercise, there needs to be a good variety of skills to learn and develop to keep the body, mind, spirit and persona going for many decades, using a host of Traditional & Ancient Weapons, Bare Hand Skills and Historical and Modern re-enactments (see recording up to the right for an example). It's all an exercise in Enlightened Self Interest and Health.

Shaolin 5 Animal Kung Fu Academy Traditional Weaponry Forms
Beauty and Grace without deadly intent and forced haste!.

Shaolin 5 Animal Kung Fu Academy, the Traditionall 1st Four Weapons
Shaolin Traditional Chinese Weaponry, the Shaolin Iron Staff

Shaolin Iron Staff

Not the King but the Father of all Weapons, the Staff is possibly the most usefully and versatile of tools and weapons. Although in modern times you do not see people traveling with a staff... you do. Crunches, walking stick, umbrellas and the like are the modern version of what once was a Walking, Carrying, Depth Gauging (when crossing wet areas), Path Testing (crossing ices or grass lands), Snake Protection and many more. A good staff was an invaluable tool outside the village, outside of town. Law was made by the individual if soldiers and order was not around and people could not protect their homes stead without some weapon.

For Shaolin there were usually only three such tools, The Monks Spade, The Monks Lantern and the Monks Walking Staff (or stick). The first Shaolin Traditional Weapon Form, The Shaolin Iron (Walking) Staff is a brilliant combination of teaching the basics of the Shaolin Staff, showing the usage and practicality of the Weaponry/Tool, with just the right amount of complexity and variety of movement to suggest how multi-purpose the Shaolin Staff was, is and can be.

More about the Shaolin Iron Staff and Shaolin Academy Staff Training Curriculum.

Shaolin Traditional Chinese Weaponry, The Shaolin tigers Tooth broad Sword

Shaolin Tigers Tooth Broad Sword

More about the Shaolin Tigers Tooth broad Sword and Shaolin Academy broad Sword Training Curriculum.

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