The Long Staff

The bagua solo staff form that Erle used to teach is a very difficult one to practise due to the extraordinary number of techniques, the physical complexity of some of the moves (e.g., doing a somersault over the staff), and the amount of floor space that it takes to practise, as it is done in straight lines. When I have asked him in recent years, he told me that very few wtba members were still practising, much less teaching this form. I have seen one or two forms demonstrated in North America that seem to be shortened versions of the same set.

Although the solo form and applications I teach to my more experienced bagua students don't come from Erle Montaigue, they are based on traditional bagua staff sets that have been modified according to my understanding of this weapon. As with the broadsword, I make no pretensions that I can provide expert weapon training; however, what I teach is not too bad in martial function.

This solo set is done in a circular pattern and has a limited number of techniques, so it is more suitable for use as an introduction to this weapon. The bagua staff can vary in length although the shortest (for indoor practice) should be determined by placing one end of the staff on the floor and measuring to the height of your eyebrows. For outside usage, it should be proportional to your height, and longer is not necessarily better. It should not be too much longer than eight feet, and 3/4 to an inch in diameter.

The whip-like force generated in many of the sweeping strikes is expressed through the forward end of the staff in blocking, sticking and striking. Many of the techniques for this long weapon are adaptable to those used with a spear. Some styles of bagua also use, or used, a somewhat shorter staff that had a spearhead at each end. Training methods include striking various objects, including your partner's staff, to learn how to generate power from relatively short distances without having the reverberations rebound into your own hands.

The staff moves through diagonal planes around the practitioner to strike and to intimidate. Thrusting attacks using the tip of the staff move fiercely along a single line, and the forward wrist is used to direct the weapon, as well as to move the forward end of the staff to parry, stick, and circle in defence and attack. Movements to the left and right, or up and down are controlled by the rear hand.

Striking force is generated near the end of each posture, and is a wave-like momentum developed by the practitioner's lower back, spine, and waist. The wrist and shoulder may add to this force, or be used to change the direction subtly if the stroke is used as a defence and followed by a thrusting action. Even without a metal spearhead, the shock of being struck by the end of a hardwood or waxwood staff is nothing that can be ignored.

Training Tips:

• The staff is usually held with at least half of the shaft ahead of the lead hand, although there are postures that use the stick with the hands positioned so that you have three equal lengths with your two hands as the dividing points.

• There are swinging movements in which both hands are held quite close together at one end of the staff and, while this can increase your reach suddenly to confound an opponent, it also means that your weapon will take longer to retrieve to a more secure grip.

• Some of the thrusting actions are done with a screwing action forward and back, and this is an essential aspect of traditional staff and spear work. Twisting it forward increases penetration. Twisting in the opposite direction, as you retract a thrust, assists in snatching back your weapon if the opponent is able to grab the shaft. If you were doing this with a spear, the sharp metal of the edges of the spearhead would sever or injure the hand(s) trying to grapple or immobilise your weapon.

• Assuming that your weapon is long enough and made from good quality wood, you should find that there is a shaking quality to the business end of a thrust or swing, and that this was considered a good sign among practitioners.

• Unlike the edged weapons, the staff is often taken over the head, as such defensive moves are frequent and can vary from blocking an overhand strike down to your head to setting up a throw if your weapon is grabbed with two hands by an unwary opponent.

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