Few Kung Fu weapons are as versatile and adaptable as the bo staff. Ranging from 5 to 6 feet, this unassuming weapon allows Kung Fu students to quickly maneuver between offensive and defensive techniques during combat. Due to the length of their weapon, bo staff fighters are typically able to outreach combatants who use swords, tonfa fighting sticks, nun-chucks and other close-range weapons. Schools belonging to different Kung Fu traditions typically teach their own particular curriculum of bo staff techniques, ranging from blocks to strikes and staff swings.
Basic Staff Swings
Kung Fu staff swings can be practiced in any expansive open area, such as a martial arts studio, basketball court or the outdoors. To start, select a bo staff that is the best size for your height by balling your fist above your head and finding a staff that stands as tall as the top of your fist. Adopt a Kung Fu forward stance by taking a step forward with your right foot and pivoting your left foot so that it points out to the side at a 45-degree angle. Grip the staff so that your hands are between 2 to 3 feet apart in the middle, and position the weapon in front of your body until both of your arms are fully extended. From this opening stance, you can practice your staff swing by pivoting your hips and arcing the tip of your bo staff in front of your body from right to left. Make sure your feet remain rooted to the floor with your spine perfectly erect to prevent you from leaning forward. Once you feel comfortable with this basic swing, try attacking from left to right, up and down or in circular motions across your body as you step forward and backwards.
Extended Staff Swings
Most of the bo staff’s utility comes from its ability to quickly lengthen or shorten depending on your grip. This is what makes a skilled bo staff fighter a particularly tricky opponent, as he switches from short-range to long-range combat with a single jab or staff swing. To make the most of your bo staff’s length, you’ll want to also master the extended bo staff swing. Start by adopting your basic staff swing stance. Instead of gripping the middle of the staff, slide your hands down to the very bottom, increasing the length that you have to fight with. While you can keep swinging your staff with a wide grip as you did before, an alternative method is to place your hands 2 to 3 inches apart at the bottom of your staff. Now you have the entire 5 to 6 feet of the weapon at your disposal as you arc and swing your staff, treating it the same way you would a very long sword. Although extended staff swings increase your range of motion, you’ll find they’re typically slower and more cumbersome.
The Bigger Picture
Staff swings are fairly basic and intuitive and can typically be learned from a book or instruction video. However, for an authentic introduction to their technique and application, it’s best to seek out a licensed Kung Fu practitioner in your area. Like other Asian martial arts – such as Karate and Taekwondo – Kung Fu typically utilizes forms or kata to help teach students different weapon techniques. These forms combine sequences of offensive and defensive maneuvers that simulate actual combat situations. For example, in Southern Kung Fu systems, students will typically learn staff forms such as Double and Single Ended Staff Form, The Fifth Son’s Ba Gua Staff Form and Six and Half Points Staff Form, according to an article published in a 2005 issue of “Inside Kung-Fu" magazine. By learning these forms from your instructor, you can master a large variety of staff swings and other techniques.
Although a bo staff might look tame and safe next to a sword on a weapons rack, it should be handled respectfully and with caution. Like all martial arts, Kung Fu is an intensive aerobic activity that should only be performed with your doctor’s approval. When in doubt, ask your sifu or licensed Kung Fu instructor for instruction and supervision in performing staff swings.
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