Weapons are associated with violence. They exist to help someone defeat an opponent quickly and from a distance. Because of their connection to brutality, many people ask why Daoist priests train weapons. The answer is that many of the Daoist weapons were objects that the Daoist happened to have on hand for other purposes. Most weapons were invented to fight. However, most Daoist weapons were used first as tools. They had other purposes outside of combat. Since the Daoists had these objects on hand, over time, they found their way into martial arts practice. This shows us is that if you’re skilled in martial arts, you can turn anything into a weapon. Here are the most characteristic Daoist weapons:
Straight Sword（剑） Jiàn
Throughout Chinese history, people have used swords to fight. It is easy to look at a sword and see it as only a weapon. However, for Daoists, swords also have a symbolic meaning. In ancient China, when a disciple became a priest, their master would give them a sword. The sword symbolized cutting off their ties to their former life in the material world. In Daoism, negative influences in your life (distractions, harmful emotions, etc.) are referred to as “demons”. These negative influences are symbolically killed with the sword. In addition to killing inner demons, Daoists also swords during ceremonies to slay evil spirits. These ritual swords are often made from peach wood, which is considered to have spiritual properties.
Monk’s Spade（方便铲）Fāng biàn chǎn
The Chinese name for the monk’s spade is “fāng biàn chǎn” which means “convenient shovel.” The different parts of a monk’s spade can be used in different ways. The curved end can be used to keep animals at a distance. The long pole could be used by wandering monks to carry their possessions as they traveled. Friar Sand, in the famous Chinese novel Journey to the West is often shown with his monk’s spade on his shoulder and his bags hanging over the pole. The spade end can be used for digging. In ancient China, wandering monks would travel long distances on dirt roads, to and from cities or more remote locations. They would use their monk’s spade to clear the road if they came upon any obstacles. Wandering monks would also bury dead animals they happened across. The would use their monk’s spade to dig a grave so that they could give the animal a proper burial. This is part of how they would do good deeds and help the people.
Horse Tail Whisk (拂尘) Fú chén
This weapon was originally an actual duster. In the West, dusters are made with feathers, but in China they were typically made from animal tails. Originally used by Daoist priests to swat away flies during meditation, and to banish spirits during Daoist rituals, the horse-tail whisk slowly became a martial weapon.
Weapons training is an important part of martial arts practice. Training with a weapon can help increase strength, fluidity, and power. When I teach weaponry to my students, I do not teach them in a set order. I always start my students with basic conditioning and fundamental practice, like stretching, kicks, punches, stances, and a few basic forms. This gives me a sense of the student’s practice, and what they need to improve. Some students are too stiff and so I teach them the sword to soften them up. Some students need to develop more power, so I have them start with the broadsword. Each weapon teaches a different lesson. The right weapon can help bring a student’s martial arts to the next level.