The Method of Stick Fighting
"Do the stick form," said shifu.
Actually, he barked it out in Chinese, ”Da gun zi!”
I quickly walked to my favorite patch of concrete by the entrance to
our school. It was early morning and my spot was still
cool refreshing shade. I could hear a distant pounding, I think it
My early morning training ground.
Two years of daily practice of this form and every morning’s first
performance of it still felt as if I was about to jump into an icy
He squinted his eyes and watched me take position.
different about his squint today…“CONCENTRATE KEVIN!!!,” I told
After my second move of the introduction I didn't notice him
standing there scrutinizing me, by the time I got to my third move I
had practically forgotten that he was there. My controlled race
through the form had begun.
His grunts and comments seemed to pass to me from another universe
as I had to keep all of my concentration on my own motions.
Less than two minutes later I stood there, sweat streaming down my
face, trying to hide the fact that I was out of breath. He went to
get his own stick.
"Today we start the 2 person set / Jin tian da duei lian."
So it began, my entrance into the traditional Chinese method of
fighting with the long stick. As usual there would be no time to
catch my breath.
“You do the same thing again. / Ni da de hai shi yi yang.”
He stood at attention about 15 feet away. We both took our position
and stared across the lot at each other
“Begin / Hao…kai shi.” We assumed the first fighting position of Six
Harmony Stick/liu he gun.
"I attack first! / wo xian lai" He shouted as he started charging
towards me with his stick whirling in the air.
According to Chinese infantry generals of old the first targets in
the opening movements of combat were usually the knee or the leading
thumb. The thumb seems such an insignificant thing when battling for
your life. Apparently there is a long history of the survivor saying, “I nicked him in the
thumb and he couldn’t keep a good hold of his weapon any more so...”
Just at the last moment his twirling stick unexpectedly changed into
a straight stab to my knee.
is why I lift my leg in the beginning," I thought as my body
instinctively reacted to his attack (at least I like to think it is
Over the next hour or so we were able to cover a huge amount of
ground in the training method of Six Harmony Stick fighting.
The applications of the moves
were devised in such a way that I didn't need to know what move he would be striking with next. Each
of my blocks could easily be
altered at the last moment to adopt to the circumstances.
This aspect of stick fighting mirrors
the Mantis Boxing concept, "Adopt yourself to the changing
could work against almost any attack of his with just a minor amount
of variation. It was as if the creator of these moves had found the
perfect combinations that allowed me to deal with his attacks whether I
knew what was coming or not.
After I had trained with shifu in private for several months it was
time for him to pass on the teaching to my highly skilled elder,
Huangnan. Normally my elder would have learned the two person set
before me, but owing to my living in the school itself with shifu
living just a skip across the lane allowed me to train the accelerated curriculum.
Every Sunday morning I would get up and have a light breakfast with
shifu. Usually something like steamed bread and soy milk. We would
take whatever weapons we were
training with and he would drive me to
We trained under the trees seen in
the top of this picture.
Warm ups at school, sitting in the coiled leg
On this particular Sunday both shifu and I watched Huangnan perform
Six Harmony stick. He was naturally talented and pulled it off much
better than I ever could. He was ready to learn more.
Shifu began Huangnan’s instruction in the two person set the same
way as he had taught me. He went through the first ten moves about
two times. Huangnan had to be able to learn it immediately or Shifu
wouldn't teach it.
“Kevin, you go / huan ni!” Suddenly it was my turn, but I had never
learned that side of the set. Since that side had no solo version,
"how can I do it?" I thought.
Shifu instructed me with a combination of terse
commands and a few movements thrown in. He rarely repeated a move
more than twice. I knew from experience that if I couldn’t get
the move after seeing it once or twice that would be the end of that learning
For a particularly difficult move he stepped in front of Huangnan to
demonstrate, it is called cut, lift and cleave/ jian, ti, pi.
First shifu swings his staff to Huangnan’s right knee which is in
Huangnan swings his stick past his knee while lifting it off of the
He uses the swinging
momentum to whirl it around and
cleave the top of shifu’s head.
Hopefully shifu will block it using the lifting block.
Lifting from Shaolin's Ming Dynasty
Shifu must hold his stick just right for the cut attack so that he
preserves the proper position for his lift defense. He follows his
lift defense with
a cleave to Huangnan’s head.
Here you can see Huangnan
has just finished blocking by his right knee and
is swinging the stick around to cleave Shifu’s head.
After I had watched Shifu and Huangnan go through this move twice he
wanted me to do it. An incorrectly executed block would get my head cleaved open.
Here I am trying to do the move exactly as
Shifu just did it. This is the teaching method of old, called
learning by example. Not much to that principle, but it illustrates
the importance of proper instruction for the art to be transmitted
from master to disciple.
The next moment, the one that the camera
missed, I was able to defend myself and preserve the shape of my
But I must admit that there have been a few
times when I didn’t make it in time, just part of the learning
Hey, nobody said that kung fu is easy!
Huangnan and I sit next to Shifu
after class in a small group picture[