Understanding the Horsetail Whisk
The Horsetail Whisk (拂尘) is a special weapon. It is made by binding the hair from a horse’s tail to a long wooden handle. The horsetail whisk is associated with spiritual power. It is said that the person who holds the whisk is not an ordinary person.
The horsetail whisk originated as a fly whisk. A compassionate tool, it whisks away the insects instead of killing them. Many modern whisks are made from synthetic fibers. Although they are not natural, or as aesthetically beautiful, using synthetic fibers is more in line with the Daoist view of not causing harm to other living things.
In ancient times when a Daoist disciple would leave their temple to travel as a wandering monk, their master would give them three gifts, including a horsetail whisk. If the disciple was tempted to return to secular life, the whisk would serve as a reminder that these thoughts were like mosquitos buzzing around them, and could be swept away. Horsetail whisks are also used in Daoist ritual as a spiritual tool for purifying a space and remove evil influences. If you watch a lot of Chinese movies or television, you have probably seen Laozi or the Daoist sage Wang Chongyang carrying a horsetail whisk.
Use of the horsetail whisk is not unique to Daoism. The whisk is a symbol of Buddhist monastic rank. Some Zen Buddhist abbots hold whisks when giving sermons, the whisk symbolizing the power to give spiritual teaching. The whisk can also be found in the hands of Hindi, Jain, Daoist and Buddhist deities. It is even used in African Maasai society, and sometimes carried by modern African monarchs.
Over time, many of the day to day objects that could be found around a monastery started to double as training weapons. The horsetail whisk is no exception. As a weapon, the horsetail whisk can be used like a saber, straight sword, whip, and dart. Its movements are categorized as wrapping, pulling, snapping, whisking, poking, and sweeping. I first learned the horsetail whisk when I was 14 years old. The martial arts academy only had one actual whisk that only the head coach could use. The rest of us learned using towels or even pieces of clothing. You can imagine the towel fights we had when class was over and the coaches weren’t looking!
Here is the Wudang horsetail whisk form:
- Turn around the body
- Yellow dragon covers its head
- Old tortoise tries the way
- Step in the position of the five elements
- Black tiger beats a way
- Sweep thousands of soldiers
- Turn over rivers and seas
- Put up the whip behind the horse
- Monkey shrinks its body
- Twist the bamboo
- Break Wu Mountain at the waist
- Poke away the clouds to see the sun
- Look around on both sides
- Monkey offers fruit
- Touch the sea
- Dragon waves its tail
- Horse kicks the leg
- Falling star chases the moon
- Subdue the dragon and the tiger
- Turn back to see the moon
- Attack the yellow dragon
- Whip the horse to run faster
- Balance Yin and Yang