Choy Li Fut Plum Blossom Spear and Staff

Article by Grandmaster Doc-Fai Wong
March 2003 Issue

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Choy Li Fut kung-fu, which was founded in 1836 by Chan Heung in Xin Hui, Guangdong, China, combines the agile footwork of northern Chinese martial arts with the intricate southern hand and weapon techniques. Two of the more fascinating weapons in the Choy Li Fut system are the staff and spear.

The Staff as "Teacher"

Staff training constitutes the most important skill acquired in southern kung-fu. According to a southern Shaolin proverb, "(Kung-Fu) uses the Fist as its seed, the Staff as its teacher and the Butterfly Swords as its parents." In other words, the student starts with hand forms ("The Fist"), is trained by the Staff (in old China the master might even motivate an unruly student with a staff), and arrives at the point of mastery protected by knowledge of the hidden, lethal and elegant Butterfly Swords ("The parents").

The Monks of the Song Dynasty

Spear and staff forms are similar because of Choy Li Fut's northern Shaolin kung-fu influence. The system's founder, Chan Heung's third teacher, Choy Fok, was from the Northern Shaolin Temple. Spear training has enjoyed a long and storied history in China. The most-famous period came during the Northern Song dynasty (960-1126). One military family was so famous for using the spear that the weapon became more commonly known as the Yang family spear (Yang jia qiang). The Yang family's fifth son, Yang Wu Lang, eventually went to Mr. Wutai to become a Buddhist monk. One of the Buddhist precepts is "no killing;" therefore Yang Wu Lang practiced the family art by selecting a long wooden staff instead of a sharp-bladed weapon for killing.

Although the Buddhist monks believed in mercy, they also needed to defend themselves from wayward bandits in China. So Yang Wu Lang trained the other monks in the temple to use the non-lethal staff for health exercises, defense against bandits, and to guard the temple in the Wutai Mountain. Some of the Buddhist monks traveled and transferred to different temples and eventually these Yang family spear techniques became one of the Shaolin Temple's long staff training forms.

Many kung-fu systems have a similar staff form. The Choy Li Fut system's plum blossom spear/staff is derived from the famous Yang family spear techniques. As one version of the Yang Wu Lang's long staff fighting form, it can be practiced with either the staff or spear.

The Magical Five Elements

The Choy Li Fut staff and spear contain five basic techniques: cheung, sot, peet, gort and chau. These five techniques correspond to the five elements of metal, wood, water, fire and earth. The technique gort is metal; peet is water; cheung is wood; sot is fire; and chau is earth. When the attacker uses chau or earth, you can use cheung or wood to destroy earth. If the attacker uses gort or metal, you can use sot or fire to melt metal. When the attacker uses peet or water, you can use chau or earth to absorb the water. If the attacker uses sot or fire, you can counter it by using peet or water to extinguish the fire. If the attacker uses cheung or wood to poke you, you can use gort or metal to chop the wood.

Learning the Spear/Staff

The key to developing strong arm muscles and becoming proficient at the plum blossom spear staff form is constantly working hard on the basic five techniques. Only through using waist and hip movements can one produce ging or power. This can be heard in the whipping sounds produced with each technique.

Selecting a Staff

In practicing this unusual form, the student must have the correct length and weight of the staff. The best wood is Chinese white wax wood, because it is light and pliable, but also very strong. The length depends on the individual practitioner. The standard measurement is from the ground to the student's middle fingertip while raising the arm over the head. The butt end of the staff is about one-and-three-quarter inches in diameter; the tip is about three-quarters of an inch in diameter. The bark should remain on the staff because that tends to make the weapon stronger.

When the student practices the form with the spear, the regular red tassel spear is fine. The length is the same as the staff and the Chinese white wax wood is the best for the spear shaft.

Choy Li Fut Spear Sets

The Choy Li Fut system has three major spear sets (forms): The beginner form - throat locking spear; the intermediate form - plum blossom spear; and the advanced form - thirteen left and right lances spear. The importance of this weapon is seen in the name plum blossom spear. Once the symbol of China because of its resilient ability to bloom in even the harshest of winters, the plum blossom flower has become the source of the name, The Plum Blossom Federation of Choy Li Fut Schools around the world.

Choy Li Fut Staff Sets

There are ten Choy Li Fut staff sets: four single-ended staff sets, including the great banner staff form, chau-sot staff form, diving dragon staff form, and the five points plum blossom bagua staff; four double-ended staff sets, including the bin gwai staff form, coiling dragon staff form, monkey king staff form, and the twin dragon inhaling staff form; and one single and double ended staff form called the seung gup dan guen. The tenth set is the plum blossom spear/staff form. This is also a single-ended form. The plum blossom spear/staff form can be performed with a regular long staff or a red tassel spear.

Detailed Movements

With 144 movements, the plum blossom spear/staff form is one of the longest staff and spear forms in the Choy Li Fut system. The entire form has 19 basic fighting techniques, including:

Nah (For right-handed weapons) - Nah is a block or strike to the lower left, to block a low attack, or to strike the knee, which can hobble an opponent.
Pah (For right-handed weapons) - Pah is a low parry delivered with a pulling motion to the lower right.
Kum (Cover) - A circular and downward pressing movement with a long weapon used for redirecting a poking strike to the ground. Some- times the blocking weapon strikes to the floor at a 45-degree angle.
Cheung (To spear or dart forward; thrust or poke forward) - This produces obvious stopping power when a pressure point is hit.
Pau (For right-handed weapons) - Pau is a horizontal strike to the upper left to the head. Pau can also strike to the head from a counterclockwise circle as in the two-person staff fighting form.
Chau (For long weapons hold with right-handed grip) - Chau is a pulling block or strike to the upper right.
Gort (Slice by pulling backward) - A long weapon technique used to disarm an opponent by striking downward to the wrist.
Sot (To throw outward like sand from the palm) - For long weapons, sot is a downward strike to the head that starts from the rear and swings over the head to the front.
Jeh-Lan (Vertical blocking) - Press the weapon to the side in a vertical position to block a horizontal attack. Sometimes the movement is also called dai-hung-kei or "great banner."
Dik-Soy (Dripping water) - Hold a long weapon overhead at a 45 degree angle to the ground. Dik-Soy is used to block a strike to the back of the head. When pressed to the side, dik-soy can be used to block a horizontal strike to the head or body.
Chum (For single-end long , weapons) - Chum is a downward strike to the floor. One hand holds the butt of the weapon to the biceps of the other arm.
Tiu (Refers to how one would hold up a fishing pole at a 45-degree angle) - An upward strike with the tip of a sword or staff. Tiu may be used to strike the groin or under the wrist, or even to redirect a strike the same way as chau.
Lau - Scooping up like upper- cut.
Hong (Blowing the flute position) - A single-end, long weapon technique used to strike horizontally to the head or to the knees from a kneeling horse stance.
Peet (Refers to a sloping upward or downward stroke of a brush in Chinese writing) - For right-handed long weapons, peet is a block to the upper right, upper left, or lower right.
Dam - A long weapon butt end uppercut to the chin, where the hands are together in the center of the staff.
Dah-Siu-Kei (Strike with a little flag) - A long weapon strike that circles once over the head, and then strikes horizontally to the side.
Tao-Ding-Fa - An overhead flower with a long weapon held at the center of the weapon shaft.
Boi-Gim (Wearing the sword across the back) - The right hand flips the staff to the back of the body for guarding the back, butt end up, left hand guarding overhead.

Straight Thrusting Techniques

There are three ways to attack the enemy using the straight thrusting technique: Cheung is for poking to the middle of the body. When the spear pokes to the throat it is saw hau cheung or throat locking spear. Using the butt end of the staff to poke is called chung. The 19 techniques of the plum blossom spear staff, combined with agile choy li fut footwork such as the twist stance, cross-stance, stealing stance, forward square horse stance, shifting back slanting stance, the ding-ji-ma stance, diu-ma stance, crane stance, and kneeling stance make this form a dynamic, unique and beautiful fighting form.

Single-End Techniques

All single-end Choy Li Fut staff or spear techniques use the right hand in the front and the left hand at the butt end of the staff. For striking techniques, the distance between the hands is about the width of your own hips. For all other blocking techniques, such as jeh-lan and dik-soy, the right hand should slide forward near the middle of the staff and be about two times wider than that of the striking width. The five vital points used for poking techniques are: the upper part is the throat; the lower part is the groin; the middle parts are the left and right ribs; and the central part is the solar plexus.

Staff Dummies

The Choy Li Fut system features a number of hand and weapon training devices known as jong or dummies. For staff training, there are two training devices called the small blossom staff dummy (siu mui fa gwun jong) and the large plum blossom bagua staff dummy (dai mui fa bot gwa gwun jong). Both devices feature turning wheels so staff trainees can perform circular motion training in clockwise and counterclockwise rotations. Wooden training blocks also are hung so students can practice poking techniques. Staff dummy training is imperative to improve plum blossom spear/staff techniques.

Beauty and Power

Equal parts beauty and power, staff and spear forms represent the best pieces of yesterday with the practicality of today. In fact, their forms can be taken out of the training hall and used in practical situations. Everyday items such as broom handles, sticks and garden tools can be pressed into service as a staff or spear when the need arises. Choy li fut's staff and spear forms are excellent additions to any martial artist's repertoire.