Little-Known Self-Defense Weapon Offers Exercise Benefits Too. The tai chi walking stick was developed by Grandmaster Tchoung Ta-tchen. This is a novel form and practice that he developed over many years. He certified his American teachers to pass on this method including David Harris, Andrew Dale, Don Scott, and Harvey Kurland.
Traditional kung fu teaches 18 traditional weapons and a variety of secondary weapons. The internal art of tai chi ch’uan, however, teaches just four traditional weapons: straight double-edged sword, curved single-edged broadsword, spear, and halberd. There are several non-traditional weapons as well, such as the double sword, flute, fan, and short staff. One of the least known is the walking stick, which the Chinese call tuan kune.
Some students practice weapons forms for exercise or to be able to put on exciting exhibitions, while others do so for self-defense. The tai chi ch’uan walking-stick forms are among the few that provide exercise, self-defense and a method for bringing mind and body into harmony.
The walking stick forms are part of the Tchoung style of tai chi ch’uan, developed by Grandmaster Tchoung Ta-tchen. Originally from China’s Hunan province, Tchoung was an officer in the Kuomintang army and battled the Japanese. He trained with many masters and learned several obscure styles, such as the green-duckweed sword, gate-of-sorrow sword, green-bamboo-sticks-of-the-beggars style, three-power sword and mountain sword. Tchoung became well known in Taiwan and later was head of the tai Chi Ch’uan Health and Defense Institute of Taipei and as a representative of the Chinese tai Chi Ch’uan Association of Taiwan.
From his experience teaching in Taiwan and abroad, Tchoung believed that traditional weapons were not appropriate for use in the modern world. If a man walks into a post office carrying a spear or a sword, Tchoung would say, people will look at him as if he is crazy. Although weapons such as the spear and sword have been used effectively in combat for thousands of years, they are not practical in the 20th century. But Tchoung believed the walking stick was a practical, easy to use self-defense weapon – especially for older people. It was for this reason that he developed and taught the walking stick forms.
Students do not begin their study of Tchoung-style tai chi ch’uan by learning the walking-stick forms; they must learn the system in a specific order: First come chi kung, ding gong/zhan zhuang (standing meditation) and the basic exercises. Then come the old yang-style form and the short form. Emphasis is placed on the essence of tai chi ch’uan: relaxation, breathing, turning the waist and shifting the weight. The basic concept follows the theory of differentiation of yin and yang.
After mastering the solo forms, students begin learning push hands and san shou, a two-person form which teaches the applications of the movements. Then they learn the fast tai chi ch’uan form and the tai chi sword. Finally they come to the solo and partner walking-stick forms. A cane may be substituted for the walking stick at this point.
Many benefits come from practicing the walking-stick forms. The most important is learning to relax and work on basic tai chi ch’uan principles with an implement in hand. This teaches students a higher level of relaxation and concentration as they learn to extend their mind through the end of the stick.
The health benefits of handling the walking stick are more tangible. It overloads the muscles of the arms and shoulders, thus strengthening them. Seniors enjoy using the walking stick because it gives them additional exercise benefits over normal tai chi ch’uan training and can help prevent osteoporosis.
Tchoung taught the walking-stick forms to students after they had learned the straight-sword form because using the stick involves a similar type of “snake-like” energy with an emphasis on turning the waist and relaxing the arms. All movements are actually generated by the feet and the waist. Stiff or muscle-oriented movements involving only the arms are not correct and result only in one’s flailing the stick.
The dimensions of the walking stick or cane should be as follows. Stood on end, it should reach as high as the waist. One end should be rounded, but a hooked cane can easily be used and some teachers actually prefer it. (The hooked end can be used for catching, throwing, and striking pressure points, but it is slower in transitions and can snag your own arm if used improperly.) The handle end, which is used for thrusting, can be thick and heavy, for the added mass will give greater striking power. Beginners, however, should start with a lighter stick to avoid injuring their forearm muscles.
Because the walking stick cannot cut like a sword, its use is directed toward snapping, striking, thrusting, and joint-locking. Many of the movements are similar to those in other tai chi ch’uan weapons forms, but the delivery has a different energy and focus.
The walking-stick forms differ from the tai chi spear and halberd forms in that the walking stick is primarily a one-handed weapon and lacks a sharp tip for thrusting. It requires coordination between the body and the silk-reeling energy; this coiling, spiraling energy is an essential part of the basic training.
As stated above, learning the tai chi ch’uan walking stick is progressive. Advanced students usually begin with 24 basic exercises that include specific stretches, warm-ups, individual patterns and partner drills. Practicing these basics lays a good foundation for the solo form.
After learning the basics, students start the Tchoung-style solo walking stick form. This teaches how to flow and coordinate the footwork with the movements of the weapon. It also includes a variety of angles, parries, and strikes.
While practicing the solo form, a high stance is used for greater mobility. There are some balancing and leg-strengthening movements, and quick changes in direction and stance height are emphasized.
After learning the solo form, students learn the “three-powers” walking-stick form. There are two variations of this two-person form: One is done with the traditional waist high walking stick, and the other with an armpit-high staff. At this stage, students concentrate mostly on the practical self-defense applications of the movements.
By practicing the stick forms, applications and drills, students learn to use the weapon for self-defense. A certain amount of technical skill and strength are necessary to use it effectively, however. Only through the proper use of mechanics does power flow from the entire body according to basic tai chi ch’uan principles.
The walking stick is a practical defensive weapon that is not meant for sport. When the drills and forms are diligently performed, students will be able to use the stick effectively even under stressful conditions – when accuracy and coordination would otherwise be impaired.
Most students and teachers of tai chi ch’uan, however, practice the forms by themselves for their physical benefits and mind-body training. To realize these goals, the walking stick must become an extension of the body that can be used to bring it into harmony with the mind. In this way, the training becomes an effective way to develop mental discipline.
In reality, most tai chi ch’uan students are interested in improving themselves, not in defeating an opponent. The walking stick forms are an extension of that philosophy. Being able to duel with walking sticks is not the primary goal of most peoples training. Good health is. After all, you may train until you can defeat 1,000 opponents, but will that add years to your life?
In tai chi ch’uan, preserving the practitioner’s health is the highest goal. Practicing the walking-stick forms can take you one step closer to it.
Kurland, H., “tai Chi Walking Stick”, Kung Fu Illustrated, August 1996