Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Improving One's Centerness Through The Practice of The Chinese Qiang (The Chinese Spear)

(updated with new material at 11.28.14  0118 hrs)

Instead of bringing up the usual strategy and tactics topic, we decided to continue the discussion of strategic centerness through the practice of the Chinese spear.    Fwiw, we occasionally use the martial arts analogy to explain "the physics of strategy."  For most serious reading on the various martial arts topics, please visit the Cook Ding's Kitchen site.

# Following is a minor update of an article that an associate wrote many years ago.  

Some members of our group have practiced a myriad of martial arts systems, possessed a commonality of having these three attributes: great patience; superb "mind over matter" control; and centered focus in their practice of  the spear and/or the Chinese double-edged sword.  Interestingly, they are able to extend this meta-physical state to the many task- objectives that they are focused on.

This arcane skill is based on one's integrated centering of xin, qi and shen.  One does not master this skill by playing with their smartphone.

(My preference is to practice my state of centerness through my keyboard while standing upright and drinking a 32 oz of Gatorade .)

The Chinese Spear: The King of Chinese Long Weapons
"When you use the spear you must judge where you are going to hit and focus your eyes on the target. Focus your eyes on your opponent's head, torso, or foot. When the spear is thrusted, you should coordinate the weapon with your mind, hands, and feet. Your spear should shoot like a dragon rising from the sea. The motion must be able to surround the opponent body. With that action, you will be able to hit him."

The spear (ch'iang/qiang) is as ancient as China. Not only is it considered to be the oldest military weapon in China, the spear was originally developed as a horse soldier's weapon. Before 400 B.C., foot soldiers used either a nine foot spear or an eighteen foot spear. These spears combined a thrusting point with a hooking or slicing blade.

As a footnote, there are other types of spears- snake-head pattern spear, single hook spear (hooking fish spear), and double hook spear (hooking fish spear). 

Unlike the spear that is used in other parts of the world, the Chinese spear was never meant to be thrown. Instead, a specialized set of techniques was developed that strongly resembled the single-headed staff techniques. Staffs of various lengths derived spillover value from some of the spear tactics, although they have complete systems of their own.

In ancient China, many advanced martial artists/warriors knew that this pointed implement under the usage of a proficient spear player, was usually both lethal and formidable.

Historically, two of the top spear proponents were the famous General Yueh Fei and a woman warrior- Fa Mu Lan. Both warriors were considered invincible due to their proficiency of the spear in combat. (Stories have it that General Yueh Fei developed the Xingyi mind-shaping boxing system based on his proficiency with the spear and the other martial art systems that he has previously studied.)

It has been rumored that during the "Water Margin" period of ancient China some of "Leung Mountains" heroes of the "Water Margin" fame were proficient spear players. The best spear player of that group was a "Leopard Head" Lin Chung whose finishing move was the "Returning Horse Spear Thrust." This movement was a reverse body, retreating tactic that lures a pursuing attacker into a state of emotional frenzy. Then the spear player would abruptly stop and deploy an overturning body spear thrust at his opponent. When executed correctly, the spear rarely misses its target.

Side note: The will to implement any high risk, highly successful technique prevails when the one's skill of implemented precision and control is greater than that of the opposition. This practice usually becomes the superior advantage in certain situations.  Two of the principal factors to the successful implementation of this unique movement are: the subtle, pre-staging step before  this movement and the establishment of "the conscious will to dominate." We will discuss this matter in a future post.

Yang Cheng Fu of the Yang Family Taiji fame have always carried a short single-head spear for defensive reasons. It served the dual training functionality of a straight sword and a short staff.

Under the guise of warfare, the British in the mid-nineteenth century concluded that the Chinese spear was far superior to their bayonets. Currently, this weapon is now shorter and its motions are compressed to the average total of thirty different methods.

Some of the famous spear exercises are from the Shek (Stone) family; the Ma (Horse) family; the Yang family, the Wu Family, the Wu Dang system, the E-mei system and the Northern Shaolin system.

In the 1950s and the 1960s, there were weapon competitions in both China and Taiwan featuring only the straight sword and the spear.

From my experience regarding to some Chinese marital arts training programs, the student must learn at least several martial art open-hand sets, the sabre set, the staff set, the straight sword set before a spear set is taught, for the reason of developing certain categories of techniques (i,e., chopping, twirling, thrusting, etc). certain types of "mind to body to eye to hand" coordination, speed, concentration, etc  

In most cases, the spear is generally taught after the student has obtained a firm understanding of the staff. It is the ideal weapon for the student whose physical characteristics are agility and speed. In the hands of an expert, the execution of a spear can be considered to be nearly invincible.

Regardless of the martial arts systems, spear techniques are designed to teach the significant principles relating to fluidity, grace (smoothness), good balance, precision-based attack, and defense techniques. With proper practice, the quickness and the overall agility of the spear player can be enhanced.

While the Chinese straight sword is considered to be the most difficult to learn (discussed in a later article), the spear is considered to be the next most difficult of all Chinese weapons to master. Like the straight sword, the proper execution of this instrument can also amplify the "mindful" focus of the practitioner.

During ancient China, certain spear forms were practiced on a horse while the rest of the other forms were practiced on an open field.

Because of the range of the terrain within China and certain social reasons, the spear was famous in the northern side while the staff was famous in the southern side.

Due to its vast history and its lethal but proficient techniques, the spear has been nicknamed "The King of All Chinese Long Weapons." 

The contemporary Chinese martial art systems have integrated an assortment of "flowery" staff movements into the spear exercises which dilutes its emphasis on quantity thrusting movements.  

The Construct of the Spear
For basic spear training, the recommended length for a spear with tassel is 7 feet and 2.5 to 3.0 pounds). One way for a beginning spear player to evaluate the proper height of a spear is to point the fingers upward to the sky and then measure from the ground to the same vertical plane where the middle finger is pointed upward. The height of the spear is then assessed.

In the Bagua system (and a few other exclusive martial arts systems), the dai qiang ("long spear") has one spear head and is normally a minimum length of 3 meters long. The average weight of a basic spear head is 0.75 lb.   The spear should utilize six red-colored tassels.

The Chinese Spear as a Weapon

The above picture shows a Bagua system player demonstrating a double-headed spear technique (Shuangtou sheqiang aka. "snake spear with two heads"), which is normally about 2 meters long, with a spear head on each end.

Technical Emphasis
Compared to heavier bladed weapons, the spear was moderately light and possessed a long reach. Its techniques were simple but efficient. During combat, spear players were never underestimated in combat by smart non-spear players. One wrong tactical move by the opposition and the sharper point of the spear could immediately thrust in and through their body.

The main purpose of learning to use a spear is to build power by learning correct body methods (shenfa) that open up the joints and dynamically stretches the tendons. This method must be used to improve one's skill. People, who do not practice martial arts or do not practice it correctly, will have rather stiff joints that limit their range of movements. Through proper long spear practice, one can open the joints, increase flexibility, and hence improve agility of movements. 

There are some spear sets that emphasize the connection between full body motion, subtle wrist movements and waist movements that can emit powerful circular movements, which can be technically lethal in combat.

Externally, the proper practice of the spear centers on  full body coordination and the mastery of the point thrust techniques with no extreme physical force. 

Basic spear exercises usually feature elements of twirling, thrusting, swinging and figure-eight spinning. (These fundamental elements are also found in most staff sets.) 

The two basic combinational movements of the spear are the upward slash and the jab-thrust (poke). Some of the advanced spear techniques can be characterized by free-swinging smoothness, a sequence of confused foot patterns and deceptively simple but efficient combinational tactics, the same characteristics that apply to the each school's unarmed tactics.

The ancient Chinese Martial Art Classics stated that "a spear that moves in a constant rapid-fire pace, can never be defeated."

The Thrusting Motion
In the beginning of any training, emphasis should be placed on the use of its point or tip. The spear player must be able to thrust the tip of the spear quickly and accurately in any direction. The consummate spear player should be able to move like a "dragon" when using the spear; that is, the movement should be agile and precise.

The spear is held with the front hand to balance the spear while the back hand is used to control and guide. It has been said that a spear in motion "starts like a flying phoenix and accelerates toward the target like a comet." (The tassel should be moving as one unit with the spear.) If the striking motion of a spear is consistently straight, it is then considered that the spear player has achieved the acme of perfection.

Another classic description of a correctly performed spear action is "quick as a serpent's tongue."

Some spear thrusting techniques require the rotation of the spear's head to be as small as the circumference of an orange. If this movement is achieved consistently, the spear player has apparently mastered this difficult striking technique.

Besides the basic act of thrusting, there are numerous categories of offensive spear techniques and surprise maneuvers that could be utilized by the well-trained spear player. Generally, a proficient spear player should never be underestimated in combat.

Side Note: The tactical combination of Lan, Na and Zhan movements will be covered in a future post.

The Other Techniques
Thrusting is not the only thing that a spear player practices on. Other techniques ranged from deploying circular movements to changing the grasp of the weapon without ever loosing any contact with it. Both actions are difficult movements to deploy when going full speed with a spear.

When utilizing a spear in combat, it is important that one should never move the point of the spear too far away from the center line of the torso.

The reading of an old marital arts classic tells us that "a technique will get you through times of no muscle better than the muscle will get you through times of no technique."

The  Technical Comparison of the Staff and the Spear 
Generally, there are some differences between the learning of the staff and the learning of the spear.

Generally, the strategic emphasis of the staff is on the development of the coordination skill that synchronizes the following factors in an ascending order:
  • the "strength" factor; 
  • the "specific tactical technique" factor 
  • the "accuracy" factor; and
  • the "speed" factor.  
Compared to the staff, the order of the factors for the spear is quite different. The general emphasis is on the development of the "technical" skill that synchronizes the following factors in an ascending order: 
  • the "specific tactical technique" factor; 
  • the "accuracy" factor; 
  • the "speed" factor; and 
  • the "strength" factor.  
In some martial art systems, the novice martial art students are usually taught the staff exercise first while the advanced martial art students are usually taught the spear exercise during the last stage of training for the reason that the techniques within a spear is a integration of certain tactical techniques from the sabre, the staff, and the straight sword.

Some systems have emphasized that the spear is an extension of the Chinese straight sword or certain open hands techniques.  An assortment of the various techniques are quite similar especially the execution of the spiral motion thrust. 

The Technical Parallels Between the Chinese Spear and the Chinese Straight Sword
Depending on the Chinese martial art systems, the bio-mechanical movements and the principles of the spear can be applied to the straight sword. With certain martial arts systems, the bio-mechanical movements and principles can be interchangeable between the straight sword and the spear. (There are also certain open-hand combat concepts that can be applied to the straight sword and vice-versa.)

While the spear is a longer weapon, the straight sword is physically a faster weapon (due to the obvious attributes) in a short to medium range distance-based field situation (three to seven feet). In some situations, the swordplayer can occasionally triumph against the spear. 

What makes the Chinese long spear a supreme combat implement is the emphasis on the point first and then the edge, especially in a medium to long range field situation. (Again, this specific emphasis is very similar to the Chinese straight sword). 

In that category of combat, the point is more effective than the edge and the advantages in using the point are greater range, centralized power, and safety from most counter moves. 

The two principal techniques that are involved in the usage of the spear are the point and the edge.

[ The Point ]                [ The Edge ]
-----------------------   -------------------------
Thrusting                      Wide-hooking Tactics

The following are some of the traditional ways for using a spear (is very similar to a Chinese straight sword):
1. Piercing, thrusting upward
2. Hacking, bringing downward
3. Splitting, going right to left and then downward
4. Jabbing
5. Thrusting upward
6. Chiseling, cutting the edge back
7. Groping, holding the spear or sword parallel to the body
8. Throwing, wielding the spear or the sword flatly right to left
9. Rushing, holding the point upward
10. Deflecting, by horizontal cross-cutting
11. Hooking, with the point dangling downward
12. Upholding, parrying with the spear or the sword crosswise
13. Spinning, to and from maneuver
14. Scraping, with the edge half cutting
15. Stretching, by poking the point upward
16. Whirling, with the point moving circularly

As a historical note, advanced Chinese straight sword and advanced Chinese spear training included the targeting and striking of the nerve points on the opponent's body. This phase of lethal training is usually privately taught to the most advanced and loyal students.

Side Note: An associate's favorite solo training exercise is to center the point of the spear in the front middle point of your target,  maintaining the front hand on the middle section of the spear and the back hand on the tail of the spear while being positioning in a specialized "right angle" sitting posture (nicknamed as the "San Ti" posture).

As mentioned before, a proficient spear player should never be underestimated in combat.  Nevertheless, the general adage of martial arts combat is that the player of the weapon makes the weapon, not that the weapon makes the player.  Knowing the exceptions to this adage is what divides the proficient field strategists from the masses of average field strategists.

Mastering the Spear
From a Big Tangible Picture viewpoint, the spear is the directional key that unlocks the treasure trove of relevant Chinese martial arts methods such as body work, tactical comprehension, etc.  (The Chinese straight sword does the same thing from a different perspective.)

The focal point to mastering the spear and certain weapons (that are taught in the internal martial arts systems) is to know the interrelationship in the body methods (shen fa) between the hand forms and the weapons.

The Benefits From Learning the Spear
Metaphysicially, the general spear exercise instructs the player the attribute of focused directness through its emphasis of point thrusting maneuvers and the centering of one's attention on the point of the spear while mindfully performing the controlled accuracy of each strike and being aware of one's own terrain and beyond.  

Following is an abridged list of the items that a  good spear exercise does for the spear player 
  • Creates body control through the torso; 
  • Develops angular control; 
  • Emphasizes sticking energy; 
  • Emphasizes coiling energy; and 
  • Integrates the concept of whole body action into each spear movement.
While the above list is admittedly partial, this practice usually results in the implementation of the most absolutely efficient movements. 

Understanding the "bio-feedback" psychology that originates from the practice of spear and the sword is the key to mastering the internal martial arts. Not many people understand that point for the apparent reasons of intellectual laziness and the need for instant gratification.

Side Note: The practice of the spear can also be  applied to other strategic matters if one understands the physics of strategy from a three-dimensional perspective.  It complements the general learning of field strategy like a heavy punching bag to a western boxer or a kick boxer. However, this process takes many months to learn and to master.   ... In our world of immediate demand of instant gratification, mastering the comprehension of "the physics of strategy" through the practice of the spear becomes irrelevant to those who are embedded with the thoughts of immediate success.

Not All Spear Sets Are the Same
In the Chinese martial art world, there are many flower spear exercises that contain many flowery spin movements and minimum "whole body" thrusting. There are more staff-like movements in those spear sets than there are "spear like blocking and thrusting" movements. 

A properly designed spear exercise demonstrates the importance of extended centerness through the conceptual-based physics of directness. 

Through the practice of a good sequence of techniques,  a "customized" weighted spear also becomes an efficient (and an inexpensive) weight-lifting device.  

We will discuss more on the connection between the specific technicality of the spear and the physics of strategy in a future post.

The Reality Check 
In a confrontation scenario, the strategic approach of the ultra class spear player is usually consisted of implementing a series of rapid and baffling turns and attacks. Its combat maneuvers and movements should be executed abruptly against the opponent. Often enough, the opponent would not be able to build a defense or mount an offense against it.

To the amateur spear player, the proper benefit that derived from the proper practice of the spear is prevailing in a physical confrontation at the local pool hall. However, this pseudo benefit is quite impractical. 

When was the last time anyone really needed a spear-like object in a physical confrontation? 

Retrospectively, carrying a spear out on the street for self defense reasons, is purely obscure and futile in our modern setting for the apparent reason of non-practicality. The preferential move in our "law and order" society is to carry the business card of their favorite "legal eagle" and utilize it in a near-confrontational situation.  This tactic does not prevent the possible bruising from the opponent.  But it is a good "psy. influence" maneuver.

Suggestion: Six Harmonies Spear Video
To the budding students of the Chinese spear, the Six Harmonies Spear video training is available at Wing Lam Enterprises (www.wle.com). It is highly recommended for those spear newbies who are looking for a well-developed starter set. 

Click here [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9u5zJefh_M ]  to view the entire spear set.

Wing Lam Enterprises also markets other spear training and other martial art videos.  (We highly recommend this web business site for e-commerce. Also, Sifu Lam is a super nice guy. )
"To master any spear or straight sword thrusting technique, one integrates the body and its function. He or she must concentrate their attention on a target point without ever letting their eyes wander. Your qi and mind will sink, and your inside and outside (referring to the grand Six Harmonies concept) will coordinate. Focusing your mind and eyes onto that one point is the most important thing when you begin to practice." 
 - Anonymous Spear/Sword Player.

One could achieve the conceptual "Six Harmonies" state through the practice of centerness.  While some martial art schools have believed that it is better to master the grand "centerness" concept before learning any non-open hand implements, the trends of the marketplace determine what is really needed. 

We highly recommended the learning of the spear for the purpose of extending one's strategic awareness, not for the reason of combat. Those who wanted to confront and clash, we highly recommended the employment of a "Legal Eagle" not a "Desert Eagle."

Currently, the spear exercises of most Chinese martial art systems feature both the "point-thrust" method and the various "baton twirling" techniques from single- and double-headed staff exercises. Our research has shown that during the Ming Dynasty most of the spear exercises contained more spear-like thrusting movements than twirling staff techniques.

Some of the systems that correctly emphasized the proper spearplay are the Chinese internal marital arts systems (Bagua, Taiji, Xingyi, Six Harmonies and Eight Methods) and some northern Chinese external martial art systems (Baji, etc). However this circumstance usually depends whether the teachers of those systems teach that particular implement and the proper fundamentals.

The following list outlines why the spear is known as "The Emperor of Chinese Long Weapons":
  • it is a superb implement for training the centering of one's concentration while building the accuracy and the speed of various spear techniques;
  • it is a favorite training implement of many advanced-skilled martial artists;
  • it is historically known for its remarkable effectiveness on the battlefield;
  • there are more weapon exercises for spears and straight swords than there are for sabers and staff; and 
  • it is usually one of the two primary weapons used in most Chinese weapon sparring exercises.
The Value Proposition Behind the Practice of the Spear 
As previously mentioned, the value of the spear in modern warfare is close to zero. (Suggestion: In a pre-conflict situation, the superior strategic move is to secure a good lawyer who will represent your view.) 

The true value of practicing the spear is the development of extending one's mindful centerness.  It is difficult to describe this metaphysical state unless one has properly practiced the art and science of centerness

As mentioned previously, one can develop a proper strategy, only if he/she is in the proper state of centerness. One can get it through the practice of straight sword and spear. (There are a few other technical distinctions between the practice of the sword and the spear.  Ask your teacher if he/she knows what they are. It should be quite apparent to those who possessed a deep understanding of them.)

Side Note: Mindful Centerness
This meta-physical strategic model is based on the principles of relax, ground, center, calm and whole. You can read more about these principles by clicking here.

By being "mindfully center", one could extend this practice to these other implements:
  • the sabre;
  • the straight sword;  and 
  • the staff.
In some cases, the emphasis of centerness could minimize the potential spiritual conflict within the bladed instrument user. However, we will discuss that topic in a future blog post, especially how one could also achieve this metaphysical state of centerness while doing other task-objectives. 

Minor Jotting
In life, the ambitious strategist must strive to be "the spear player", not the "'sideline' spear carrier." History has shown that the role of becoming a spear catcher is not a good idea.  ... Good field strategy begins by understanding the "Five Critical Strategic Factors" behind the biology, the chemistry and the physics that are operating within one's current terrain. ...  Think about it.  ... Good luck to those who are interested in their possible pursuit of spear playing.  

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The Absolute Chinese Martial Art Training Guideline



- Anonymous

" Practicing martial art without effort, (creates the enlightenment of) by reaching the physical stage of seniority, means that there is emptiness. 
(In other words, he/she would realize that nothing was ever accomplished.)

Practicing effort without practicing martial arts (creates the enlightenment that ) the non-aged body is empty.  ..." 

Note: In other words, he/she would realize that the body is empty of the internal essence (jing and qi).

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