There are 18 main categories of Chinese martial arts weapons.
These weapons are broadly and popularly referred to as the “18 Weapons of Kung Fu.”
Several versions of the Eighteen Weapons have existed since the Qing Dynasty.
The first version includes the saber, spear, sword, halberd, trident-halberd, staff, fork, harrow, whip, mace, hammer, axe, hook, sickle, rake, crutch, bow and arrows, and rattan shield.
In the second version, the first fifteen weapons are still present, but the last three are Jue, Dai, and bows & arrows.
The third version categorizes the weapons into nine short weapons and nine long weapons.
The nine short weapons are the saber, sword, crutch, whip, axe, mace, hammer, cudgel, and pestle cudgel.
The nine long weapons are the spear, halberd, staff, fork, deer-horn knives, hook, trident-halberd, lance, and rings.
Note that long-range projectile weapons such as the bow and arrows and defense weapons such as the rattan shield have been excluded from the Eighteen Weapons.
This shows that bows and arrows are not practiced by modern martial artists who primarily teach martial arts forms.
The last version which is held by contemporary martial arts circle refers to the Eighteen Weapons to be the saber, spear, staff, sword, hook sword, battle-axe, Chinese halberd, deer-horn knives, whip, fork, mace, hammer, talon, trident-halberd, lance, cudgel, crutch, and meteor hammer.
Looking at the above different versions, you can see that at least twenty-five kinds of weapons have come under the Eighteen Weapons.
This does not include the various concealed and exotic weapons.
So, while the 18 as an exact number of categories of weapons may be disputed, it is however an indication of the categories of Chinese martial arts skills and weaponry.
The 4 major Chinese weapons are the saber, the staff, the sword, and the spear.
Although not all of these weapons are used nowadays as a learning tool, different variations within each category make up the hundreds of weapons used in Chinese martial arts.
Chinese Martial Arts Weapons List (18 Weapons of Kung Fu)
Here is the list of Chinese martial arts weapons.
In ancient times, battle-axes were one of the earliest weapons used in chariot battles.
It has a spike mounted on the top, and it can be used to stab, just like a spear.
A battle-axe uses a different stabbing technique from that of a spear.
The spear slides forward with a fixed rear grip touching the foregrip, while the battle-axe has both grips fixed and the force comes from both.
This is the so-called “death grip”, similar to the staff jabbing technique.
It requires considerable arm strength to play battle-axe.
There are crescent blades on the short-handled twin battle axes.
Due to their big head and thin poll, they are also called Ban Fu or broad axe.
The length of the handle does not extend over the elbow.
Chinese Halberd (Ji)
The Chinese halberd, or the Ji, is of different types.
There is the short-shaft double halberd and the long-shaft single halberd.
Long-shaft halberds include,
- Blue dragon halberd (qing long Ji)
- Snake dragon halberd (she long ji)
- And rectangular halberd (fang ji)
The rectangular halberd has two crescent blades while the other two have one crescent blade.
The snake dragon halberd possesses a bow-shaped head.
Ji is named “the chief of all weapons”.
Ji play does not have a rotating technique compared to spear play as in the case of swordplay without the wrapping-around-the-head technique compared to saber play.
There is a saying that often compares Ji to a dragon;
“The dragon head can hook, the mouth can trap, the body can hug, the claw can snatch, and the tail can slap.”
The crutch comes in different shapes and sizes.
The small crutches are twin crutches whiles the big one (da guai) is a single crutch.
This big-sized crutch is also called ox heart crutch (niu xin guai), which is four or five chi long.
Some call the big crutch the ox horn crutch (niu jiao guai) because of the short cross handle on one side.
The twin crutches have various types called T-shaped crutches (ding zi guai), Su Le crutches, and Li Gong crutches.
The T-shaped crutches are normally about two chi and six cun long with a small T-shaped stake on the handle.
Li Gong crutches are shorter but resemble T-shaped crutches.
The crutch play has different unique techniques and postures.
The wielder may leap forward as if jumping onto the boat leaving the riverbank, or leap into the air on the support of the crutches.
We have the;
- Wolf fang cudgel (lang ya bang)
- Five flower cudgel (wu hua bang)
- Monk cudgel (xing zhe bang)
- Sentry cudgel (shao bang)
- Pestle cudgel (chu bang)
- Shaft cudgel (gan bang), etc.
The wolf fang lance resembles the wolf fang cudgel. The wolf fang cudgel however has a shorter handle.
The monk’s cudgel is just as tall as the wielder’s height and rather thick.
The two edges of the cudgel are wrapped with bronze and iron hoops.
Cudgel has a similar technique to that of the staff.
As stated in the General Book of Wushu (Wu Bei Zhi),
“Cudgel is the same as staff, and can be distinguished in the way that today’s staff is the shaft cudgel and white cudgel in old times.”
Sentry cudgel which is made of rattan is as long as four chis and was used by guards and night watchmen in garrisons in ancient times.
It resembles the eyebrow-level staff but is shorter.
According to an old saying,
“Staff is as long as it levels the eyebrow, and cudgel is as long as it levels the chest.”
There are many types of cudgels just as there are as many sayings about the cudgels.
Deer Horn Knives (Yue)
The Deer Horn Knives also called Meridian Mandarin Duck Knives (zi wu yuan yang yue) consist of two steel crescent crossings.
This weapon is combined with hand combat techniques, trapping an opponent’s weapon in aid of tying them up, disarming them, or breaking their weapon.
One advantage of knives in comparison to a longer weapon is that it is a direct appendage of the hand.
They can be moved with greater precision and speed.
And considering their ease of concealment, they can easily be used to catch an opponent off guard.
The fork is one of the long-handled weapons that were used on the water in ancient battles.
Some of the best-known forks are the ox head fork (niu tou cha), the tiger fork (hu cha) with a straight and long central prong, and the two on the sides resembling the ox horns.
Numerous forks have been mainly developed into three kinds, namely;
- Two-pronged – called dragon palpus fork (long xu cha)
- Three-pronged – called triangular fork (san jiao cha)
- Five-pronged fork – called flying fish fork (fei yu cha)
There are different kinds of hammers.
- Long-handled single hammer
- Short-handled twin hammers
- Chain hammer
Hammers are also named after the shapes of their heads, such as lying melon, standing melon, and octagonal and square-shaped hammers.
The long-handled hammer (which has two types) is also called gold melon (jin gua).
The lying melon hammer (wo gua chui) has a melon-shaped head mounted horizontally on the top of the handle.
The standing melon hammer (li gua chui) has a melon-shaped head which is mounted vertically on the handle top.
The short-handled twin hammer is also of two types.
- The eight-flanged hammer (ba leng chui)
- Melon-shaped hammer (gua xing chui).
The handle length does not extend over the elbow when in hand.
Since the short-handled twin hammers are usually heavy, they require greater strength to practice.
Hammers are used for their raw and mass impact energy.
This brought about the saying, “a general using hammer cannot be overcome with physical strength.”
Hook Sword (Gou)
This weapon is a multi-bladed weapon with varieties that include,
- Single hook
- Twin hooks
- Long-handled hook
Often, hooks are named after their shapes, such as the eagle bill hook sword (ying zui gou), with its hook resembling the head of the shoulder pole (a Chinese carrying tool).
There is also an antler-shaped hook sword (lu jiao gou) with spikes on the hook.
A small hook is attached to the end of the shaft of the long-handled hook sword.
In hook play, rotating techniques or wrapping around the head are not allowed.
A hook play can be compared to waves since it is characterized by its rhythm and variety of techniques.
Single hook play is different from the single-handed saber, single whip, or single sword.
It is regarded as a difficult weapon to master since it requires accuracy in demonstrating the function of the blade’s variety projecting from different directions.
Few people use it for practice.
This is a heavy and long-range weapon. A variety of them are,
- Wolf fang lance (lang ya shuo),
- Head-shaped lance (zao yang shuo),
- Finger-shaped lance (shou shuo),
- Palm-shaped lance (zhang shuo),
- Weight lance (quan shuo) and
- Steelyard arm lance (heng shuo), etc.
The wolf fang lance has a handle that is two meters long and a melon-shaped hammer with six to eight iron nails rows fixed to the end of the handle.
There is a three-flanged iron auger under the handle.
The head-shaped lance shares similarities with the wolf fang lance but there is a difference in the shape of the hammer.
The latter has a head-shaped hammer made of wood or iron.
To Exercise with a lance, you require a considerable amount of strength.
Hence the saying, “only those who are strong can wield the trident-halberd, the lance, and the hammer.”
The Jian is a one-ended weapon that looks like a hard whip but with no tip at the head and no joints on the body.
The cross-section of the Jian has a diamond formation with a grove on it.
This is why it was also called the concave mace (ao mian jian).
The iron ruler is another weapon with a similar shape to Jian but it does not have a concave surface on its four sides.
It is thinner at the end and thicker on the top, and was mostly used by constables in the old time because it could be easily concealed.
Meteor Hammer (Liu Xing)
This is one soft weapon with,
- Single meteors (dan liu xing), or
- Twin meteors. (shuang liu xing)
The single meteor hammer comprises a one-and-half-zhang long rope, and one bronze hammer in the shape of a melon (as big as the egg of a duck) at the end.
The meteor hammer play is similar to a phoenix and dragon flying through the clouds.
A skilled wielder can have the rope wrapped around various body parts such as the chest, neck, back, elbow, legs, shoulder, wrist, waist, or feet before unwrapping it to release the hammer by jerking the body powerfully.
The hammer shoots forth quickly like a meteor this way, thereby making a deadly impact on the target.
The twin meteor hammer, which is considered a difficult weapon to master has a five-c/77-long rope and a small hammer on each end.
Meteor hammer play is fast, tempest, dazzling and unpredictable.
The saber comes in different sizes and shapes. These are.
- Blue dragon crescent blade saber (qing long yan yue dao) also referred to as the big saber
- Phoenix bill saber (feng zui dao)
- Eel head saber (shan tou dao) with a broad blade
- Willow leaf saber (liu ye dao) with a narrow blade
- Goose quill saber (yan ling chi gang dao) with steel goose-quill-shaped blade, etc.
Buddhist Monk’s Knife (jie dao), whether single or twin, is the saber used by monks for self-defense and guardianship of the Buddhist Dharma.
Different martial arts schools also have sabers of different sizes and shapes.
Saber is also known as the “Commander or General of Weapons” and is likened to a “fierce tiger.”
Saber play requires power, hardness, flexibility, and agility.
The 4 essentials for saber play are:
- Vigorous and forceful
- Fast as a shooting star
- Resolute and agile
- Supple as a willow in the breeze.
The spear is called “the king of all weapons” and it comes in different types;
- Flowery spear (hua qiang),
- Sharp-pointed spear (jian qiang),
- Double-headed spear (shuang tou qiang), and
- Spear with a hook (gou lian qiang), etc.
In practice, the flowery spear is most used.
The big spear (da qiang) is the most important type of spear.
The shaft of the spear was made of bamboo or iron in the past but wax wood is now used for practicing nowadays. Wax wood is smooth and straight.
Those with a thicker base and a pointed end (toward the top of the wax wood stalk) are ideal for spear shafts.
The head of the spear is made of steel and varies in shapes such as duckbill and willow leaf.
To stop the flow of blood from the blade from getting to the wooden shaft, the spear tassel is also called a blood shield.
It can be made of human hair, palm fiber, or rhinoceros tail.
The flowery spear is traditionally said to be seven chi long (one chi is equivalent to 33cm) and the big spear is one zhang (equivalent to 3.33m) and eight chi long.
In fact, the spear length varies with the height of the wielder.
Spear play is swift, agile, and unpredictable, hence, its other name, “the thief of all weapons.”
There are many kinds of staff, including the;
- Big staff,
- Eyebrow level staff (qi mei gun),
- Short staff, lashing staff,
- Two-section staff and
- Staff with a dart.
The big staff is the longest with eight to eight and a half chi length.
The play of big staff involves power, grand postures, and demonstrating vigor.
Rotating patterns are not allowed.
The three-section staff which is also called the first patriarch staff (tai zu gun), or curled dragon staff (pan long gun) is constructed from three wooden staves connected by chains of rings.
It can reach seven to eight chi in total length.
The three-section staff can be rotated by grabbing the middle section or wielded by grabbing both ends.
One section can be used for lashing while grabbing the other two sections with both hands.
Also, two sections can be used for lashing while grabbing the last section with one hand.
Staff play with fierce movements is forceful and intimidating.
The staff is called “the father of all weapons” mainly because of the big staff or the eyebrow-level staff.
There are different swords such as,
- Single sword
- Twin swords
- Short sword
The sword is regarded as “the gentleman of all weapons.”
In ancient China, scholars wore swords and used them for physical training and defense.
Swords were categorized into martial and civil swords with the difference of the latter with a tassel.
Swordplay represents gracefulness and is likened to a dancing phoenix and flying dragon.
It combines hardness with softness, elegance with ease, music with rhythm, and motion with stillness.
Techniques such as lifting, dodging, jumping, and leaping are combined with various unpredictable footwork and body movements.
This weapon is divided into long, short, single, or twin types.
One long talon is called the golden dragon talon (Jin longzhua) with a handle that is over two meters long and a hand-shaped claw at the end.
While the middle finger of the claw is straight, the four other fingers are crooked.
The iron-brush talon (biyan zhua) is another long talon and is shaped so that the index finger and middle finger are straightforward like sword fingers, while the ring finger, the thumb, and little finger stay on the iron brush.
A type of short-handled twin talon called tiger claw twin talons (hu zhua shuang zhua) has a handle that is one-meter-long, and a head in the shape of a hand with bent fingers mounted on the handle top.
There are also a few soft talons.
One is the eagle claw talon (yingzhua fei zhua) which is made of iron in the shape of an eagle claw and tied to a long cord.
Another is double flying talons (shuangfei zhua), which have one talon on each end of the cord.
You can find a crab-claw-shaped-talon on the quill sealing flying talon (bi yan fei zhua).
There are different shapes of the Tang, namely;
- Phoenix-wing tang (feng chi tang),
- Swallow-wing tang (yan chi tang),
- Ox-head tang (niu tou tang),
- Gold-gilded tang (liu xing tang),
- Saw-tooth tang (ju chi tang) and
- The tang with a dart (liu xing tang).
Twisting (nian) is the main technique of the Tang play. Vertical rotating is not allowed.
The twisting technique involves small or big circles.
Sayings like “Tang jabs with twisting force” or “make sure that Tang never leaves the shoulder” show Tang techniques.
When wielding the Tang, you can interchange the front and rear grips.
The left or right grip is sometimes in the front.
The whip is categorized as a soft weapon. They are;
- Single whip
- Double whips
- Soft whip
- Hard whip
The single whip is of two types;
- Bamboo joint steel whip (zhu jie gang bian), is composed of sections resembling bamboo joints.
- Water mill steel whip (shui mo gang bian), which has thirteen irregular-shaped cubic sections.
Both its handle and end can be used as grip and for striking.
The double whip is also known as the male and female whip (ci xiong bian), and the one for the left hand is lighter than the one for the right hand.
The soft whips can have seven, nine, or thirteen sections, joined end-to-end by rings to form a flexible chain.
This weapon can easily be concealed; it can be folded and put into the pocket or wrapped around the waist.
It is considered a difficult weapon to learn.
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