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Understanding the Horsetail Whisk
9Apr6 Comments
Understanding the Horsetail Whisk
Zhou Xuan Yun April 9, 2017 6 Comments

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.


Other Cultures

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:

  1. Turn around the body
  2. Yellow dragon covers its head
  3. Old tortoise tries the way
  4. Step in the position of the five elements
  5. Black tiger beats a way
  6. Sweep thousands of soldiers
  7. Turn over rivers and seas
  8. Put up the whip behind the horse
  9. Monkey shrinks its body
  10. Twist the bamboo
  11. Break Wu Mountain at the waist
  12. Poke away the clouds to see the sun
  13. Look around on both sides
  14. Monkey offers fruit
  15. Touch the sea
  16. Dragon waves its tail
  17. Horse kicks the leg
  18. Falling star chases the moon
  19. Subdue the dragon and the tiger
  20. Turn back to see the moon
  21. Attack the yellow dragon
  22. Whip the horse to run faster
  23. Balance Yin and Yang

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Replies (6)

James Lee Pridmore April 10, 2017 at 4:26 pm

Beautiful form. Some questions: 1. Were horsetail whisk handles made of different materials (rattan versus oak versus metal handles)? 2. Did the temple teach students, at some point, to run chi through the whisk? Thanks! I really enjoy the blog posts!

    Zhou Xuan Yun April 23, 2017 at 10:34 am

    Thank you James. I have not seen metal handled whisks. I have seen them made from different kinds of wood. Daoists believe that peach wood has special properties. The Queen Mother of the West grows peaches in her garden in the Kunlun Mountains. Peach wood is associated with long life and spiritual energy, so some whisks are made from peach wood. How to use your Qi is an important part of all Wudang weapons practice. I wrote a little bit about it in this past blog entry.

Prince Allah April 12, 2017 at 10:11 am

Thank you Xuan Yun for sharing this article. It is very informative and enlightening. The history of this spiritual weapon is great to know. I enjoy all these articles Xuan Yun and I look forward to learning more about Wudang history and martial arts. Do you have any information about Xuan Wu Chuan?

Thank you again.

    Zhou Xuan Yun April 23, 2017 at 10:27 am

    I am glad you enjoy the blog Prince. Yes I do have more info about Xuan Wu Quan. Stay tuned for more about all of the Wudang forms in future blog entries!

Jeb Stuart April 12, 2017 at 7:49 pm

What are the other 2 gifts given to departing students by their Master?

    Zhou Xuan Yun April 23, 2017 at 10:30 am

    A belt (to help keep their robes up as they walked), and a sword (to defend themselves as they travel and symbolically cut off their attachments to the secular world).

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