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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 covered in cool refreshing shade. I could hear a distant pounding, I think it was my heart.

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 pond.
He squinted his eyes and watched me take position.


Hmmm, something different about his squint today…“CONCENTRATE KEVIN!!!,” I told myself.
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
liu he gun
“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.

"So that 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 instinct).

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 circumstances."

My move 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.

The Temple

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 Confucius Temple.


We trained under the trees seen in the top of this picture.

Warm ups at school, sitting in the coiled leg stance.





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 session.



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 front.
Huangnan swings his stick past his knee
while lifting it off of the ground.

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 manuscript.





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 head.

But I must admit that there have been a few times when I didn’t make it in time, just part of the learning process.

Hey, nobody said that kung fu is easy!

Huangnan and I sit next to Shifu after class in a small group picture[


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