The history of weapons and their importance in modern practice. It was with the advent of Bodhidharma that Kung-Fu first appeared in China’s monastic life. From their teachings the monks have created a martial art series from which many current schools can trace their lineages. Martial training included, among other things, unarmed forms and handling of weapons. The first to be used was the stick, even before the practice of martial arts, mainly by wandering monks. This weapon aligned perfectly with the Buddhist belief that avoids causing the death of a living being. For a long time it was the only one to be practiced by the monks. One of the earliest writings concerning the temple's participation in a battle was in the 7th century during an expedition led by Li Shi Min (later Tang Taizhong), whose mission was to secure an area near the temple. Trapped by bandits, the prince was rescued by thirteen monks armed with sticks.
In the 14th century in the Yuan dynasty, the term "18 Shaolin weapons" appeared in a song. For the first time we had evidence of the inclusion of other weapons in the temple. It is therefore almost 800 years after the foundation and 600 years after the monks' first military accounts that the repertoire of weapons would have expanded to include the blades. During the Ming Dynasty we found several texts relating the presence of monks during battles. At that time monks were an important part of any troop raising. It was also at this time that they would have put more emphasis on their bare hand practices to facilitate practices with other corps.
The schools stemming from the temple have preserved, in general, 18 weapons of which ten return in several styles given their cultural or historical importance. For example the long handle saber (Kwan Dao), the spear (Jie), the sword (Jian), the saber (Dao) and the stick (Bang). Then there are regional or iconic weapons in style, for example butterfly swords for the Wing Chun and deer horn knives for the Hong Gar. In the past, the carrying of weapons was proof of statutes. Whoever wore a sword exposed to the world that he was a warrior ready to defend himself. Which was essential at a time when there was no police. The dangers were many. With modernization; the police, the emergence of firearms and political stability, weapons for personal defense have been largely obsolete. We no longer walk with swords on our belts. Wars are no longer fought with the bow and spear.
So why continue their teachings? Why would we want to practice arms these days? First, they allow muscular exercise, the use of force with an object and to project this energy out of the body and develop flexibility and physical skill for the artistic aspect of martial art. It is for these reasons that we find weapons of different weights. Second, practice requires great concentration and hand-eye coordination to avoid injury to yourself, others and not to destroy the practice site. It is intimidating for many to have in their hands an object that can cause harm to others and it is through this learning that the practitioner can progress on the Way. At the temple there was a term: ‘’ Qiang Za Yi Tiao Xian, Gun Da Yi Da Pian ’’ which comes down to; stick practice allows you to better perceive space. Third, for any school that claims to be traditional, maintaining style without altering is essential.
As seen above, the practice of arms has historic importance, so it is the duty of these schools to maintain the form of weapons in their entirety so that subsequent generations can benefit from them. It is therefore essential to maintain the teaching of weapons, especially in these modern times when the past is slowly disappearing. Just as Confucianism teaches us, to know your way you have to know where you are going but especially where it came from.
Louis-Philippe Brousseau, red belt