As in all Chinese martial systems, weapon training is an essential aspect of traditional bagua. There are a host of weapons used in solo and partner training: sword, double sword, single-handed and two-handed broadsword, spear, staff, axe, and knife, as well as a variety of weird and wonderful specialty weapons, like the famous semicircular swords and the "judge's pens." The later are metal rods with a swivelling ring that fits over your middle finger to allow you to grip and twirl these handleless ice picks.
It is best to practise applications only with wooden weapons at first. Not just for safety but also to minimise the strain in your wrists and arms. Practice with metal weapons can be reserved to solo form practice. It also doesn't hurt to wear safety glasses, helmets, protective gear on your hands, forearms and elbows, as these are prime targets for many techniques. You can also improvise more complete protective outfits from hockey, Lacrosse, and bmx bicycling gear and look like an extra in a cheap rip-off of the classic Road Warrior epic as a bonus.
Any solo form designed to teach the use of an edged weapon is best done with a good quality metal weapon, although it is best not to sharpen the blade—even if the quality of the blade allows for that—until you are sure you are doing everything properly and safely. Getting a well-balanced combat steel sword or broadsword, much less Deer Horn Knives, will be very difficult and expensive.
I have not had much luck buying metal weapons by mail order. You rarely get what you think you are buying quality-wise from the Chinese mass-produced wu-shu weapons factories. In addition, you need to spend some time holding and using a weapon to see if the balance and weight is suitable to your needs and level of expertise. Real quality replica weapons are worth the expense for the serious practitioners although you should be prepared to pay hundreds of dollars to get quality—assuming you can find such in North America. By the way, the wooden and cheap metal weapons available today tend to splinter or break fairly easily, and it can get expensive replacing broken equipment.
One of the greatest benefits of training with any weapon is learning how the shape and structure of each weapon affects, determines, and limits its martial function. While all weapons share similarities within their broad categories—long or short, edged or impact, each has special attributes and limitations that you must get accustomed to. It is also true that all weapons are the same in the sense that they can only be properly used by a skilful practitioner whose skills have become such that he or she could literally pick up any item and use it as an improvised weapon in an emergency.
One of the hardest skills to learn is how to hold each weapon with just the right amount of power and muscular force. Even some relatively skilful practitioners will discover that they are not as relaxed or as strong as they thought when trying to master the correct grip with the required flexibility of wrist and elbow. It is also true that much of the difficulty in learning to hold a weapon properly comes from developing the proper grip using only the thumb and one or two fingers.
There are different theories as to which fingers should be used, and the best way to discover what works best for you is to experiment with a variety of grips. The complexity is in having a grip flexible enough to allow you to manipulate the weapon easily while still retaining the strength to absorb an impact without losing your grip on the weapon. It is not easy to learn this, and you won't if you never train with a partner and actually practise a variety of applications with him or her.
These forms need lots of space for practice—an important consideration, as with any of the more traditional forms. There is literally no point in learning the weapon if you cannot practise it for lack of indoor training space—remember winter! Practising in a park is an option, but this is not China, and pedestrians are not used to the sight of flailing swords the way they are in Shanghai or Beijing. If you are planning to practise in the park or your backyard, you will need a fair bit of privacy. More than one of my students have had the police arrive to question them when someone phoned in a complaint that "some crazy guy is waving a sword in the park."
If I may speak to my own students for a moment. I believe that it is important to develop a minimal understanding of the solo form and martial usage for at least one of the following weapons, and to have some comprehension of the main characteristics of usage for the others, especially if you plan to teach bagua at some point.
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