The Korean Long Staff
This article originally appeared in the November 1999 issue of Martial Art Legends.
By Scott Shaw
With the dawn of the modern era and the advent of superior self defense weaponry, the focus on traditional martial arts weapons has sharply changed. No longer are weapons such as the sword and the staff thought of as primary tools in an individual's self defense arsenal. Instead, these weapons have evolved into becoming implements for a practitioner to refine their body and mind coordination, while mastering age old techniques in warfare.
In ancient Korean martial art texts, such as the Moo Yeh Do Bong Tong Gi, the staff is detailed as being one of the primary weapons an individual must master in order to become proficient in physical warfare. During the middle ages, the Korean staff was designed possessing a sharp edged stabbing or cutting instrument at one end. As time has moved on, the modern staff, known as, "Bong," in Korean, no longer possess this cutting instrument. This is due to the fact that the need to deliver a devastating blow each time this weapon is unleashed has been elevated. Today, the staff is still understood to be a weapon used as a tool for you to gain advanced mastery over your physical movements. Thus, integrating this weapon into your martial art practices not only allows you to expand your knowledge of ancient warrior techniques, but it will prove to give you advanced understanding of body dynamics, as well.
Understanding the Staff
For the modern martial artist to begin to master the use of the staff he must first and foremost understand the proper grasping techniques. Positioning of the hands is elemental in maintaining control over the staff and utilizing it to its utmost proficiency.
To begin to understand how to properly hold a staff, pick it up with one hand — approximately at mid shaft, and hold it a few feet away from your torso. Experience its weight and feel how if your are not holding it exactly in its center, it will be off balance and its weight will cause one side to travel towards the ground. This simple experiment will allow you to understand how important proper grasping of the staff is and how if you do not maintain proper control over its center of gravity it can easily set your entire body off balance with any physical movement you attempt to perform with it.
Grasping the Staff
To properly grasp a staff you should hold it with both of your hands — separated by approximately eighteen to twenty-four inches. This hold will allow you to maintain maximum balance and control over the staff, in all offensive and defensive applications. If your hands are closer than this, balancing the staff becomes difficult. Additionally, by holding your hands substantially farther apart, you lose the exaggerated striking distance the staff provides.
As you progress in your staff mastery you will come to understand that there are some techniques where a single handed grasp is applicable. The single handed grasp is only used in advanced applications, however, and should not be attempted until you have come to fully understand how the dynamics of staff balance and movement.
Whenever you use the staff, your grasp should not be so tight that you cannot easily slide and reposition your hands to new location on the staff in order to actualize striking or blocking techniques. You should additionally leave your wrists loose and fluid in order to allow them to natural compensate for the momentum and power any movement of the staff develops.
The Offensive Staff
Once you have come to understand how to correctly hold the staff you will want to move forward to the first level of staff training and develop the ability to offensively strike out with this weapon. Due to its length, staff strikes allow you extend your range of offense and effectively penetrate your opponent's defenses.
There are five basic striking techniques which can be used with the staff — each possesses its own advantages and application. The five basic strikes are: the side strike, the reverse side strike, the overhead strike, the upward strike, and the forward thrust. In each of the these basic offensive movements, it is best to maintain control over the staff by holding onto it with both of your hands, throughout the application; thus, maintain maximum control.
The Side Strike
The side strike witnessed your hold the staff with both hands. As your offense begins, you rapidly step in with your lead leg, as your lead arm simultaneously guides the end of your staff, in a circular motion, towards its target. The strike is actualized by impacting your target with the lead-in side of the staff. Ideal striking locations, for the side strike, are your opponent's head and his outer knee.
The Reverse Side Strike
The reverse side strike witness you rapidly step in with your lead leg, as with the side strike. The staff is simultaneously, circularly, brought inside of your body and target impact is made by quickly pulling back on the forward end of the staff and snapping its forward side, back, into your opponent's head or knee.
The Overhead Strike
The overhead staff strike has you rapidly move in on your target with the staff. You then circularly lift it up and over your target and powerfully bring the lead side down — ideally onto the top of your opponent's head.
The Upward Strike
The upward staff strike is ideally targeted at your opponent's groin. This striking technique is accomplishes by rapidly moving in on your adversary, as you simultaneously bring the lead end of the staff into positioning. Your lead arm then powerfully guides the staff up, making contact with its target.
The Forward Thrust
The forward thrust witnesses you drive the end of this weapon deeply into your opponent. This is accomplished by bringing the staff to a horizontal positioning. Your staff is quickly retracted by your arms and then, instantly, powerfully driven into its target, in a very linear fashion. This strike is ideally targeted at your opponent's solar plexus and his face.
The Defensive Staff
The staff is an ideal weapon to block the various styles of attacks which an opponent may direct towards you. Certainly, one of the best methods of utilizing the defensive staff is to strike out at your attacker, with an effective offensive technique, such as the forward thrust. With this style of defensive maneuvering you can halt your adversaries attack before it has the potential of becoming fully realized. In certain defensive situation, you will have no choice but to formally block an attack with your staff. In these cases, there are two primary blocks which are most effective: the horizontal cross block and the vertical block.
The Horizontal Cross Block
The horizontal cross block witness you bring the staff into a horizontal positioning, held with both of your hands. This blocking technique can be used in a low or an high blocking format.
To use this technique in low block format, to defend against such techniques as a front kick, the staff is brought to a horizontal positioning. The front kick is launched at you, you slightly step back and bring your staff is powerfully brought down impacting your opponent to the shin region of his kicking leg. It is important that his kick be intercepted by the staff between your two hands. In this way, you will maintain maximum control over the staff and its force will be magnified.
The overhead horizontal cross block is ideally used you halt the overhead strike of a club or a knife. To encounter this type of attack. The staff is again brought into horizontal positioning and rapidly brought up into the attacking forearm of your opponent. With this, the attack is immediately halted and further staff self defense can be unleashed.
The Vertical Block
The vertical block witness you bring the staff to an up and down positioning. The side of the staff is then driven into the attacking element of your opponent's body. This block is ideally used against such techniques as the roundhouse kick.
As with the case of the previous horizontal cross block, you should encounter your attacker midway between your hands. From this, you will maintaining control and possess the ability to quickly reformulate your positioning and deliver a powerful counter attack.
Combination Techniques with the Staff
When using a staff as an offensive or defensive weapon, a single technique is rarely enough to assure your victory in a confrontation. It is for this reason that once you master the basic strikes and blocks, with the staff, you should move forward and develop the ability to immediately follow one technique with the next.
In Korean, the word, "Kyung," describes a prescribed pattern of blocks and strikes organized into a precise group of movements in order that the student may come to better understand the usage of the staff. It is not necessary, however, for practice purposes, that you follow exactly prescribed movement. Simply by coming to understand, through practice, the various block and strike the staff can effectively unleash, you can formulate your own patter and, thereby, come to realize which techniques, be they offensive or defensive, most appropriately follow one another.
The use of the staff, in solo training exercises, not only allows you to become intimately aware of the how your body moves in association with the staff, but it also allows you to become consciously aware of how your mind experiences movement in association with this external object. This body and mind unification is the basis for you to enter into a state of movement meditation. Whereas the average individual never takes the time to truly come into harmony with their physical movements, the refined martial artist come to this naturally through their training and, thus, a meditative mindset is born.
Partner practice is a very effective method for you to come to truly understand the self defense dynamics of the staff. The staff can be very dangerous, however, when not used with proper respect. Therefore, before you begin any partner practice, you and your training partner must have mastered the basics of the staff and not simple enter into a free-for-all of smacking each other with this weapon.
To begin proper partner practice, it is essential that you wear protective gear. This is especially the case with head and hand protection. It is very common in the early stages of partner practice that you will inadvertently strike your opponent's hand while unleashing an attack. A misdirected staff strike can easily break the bones of your hands and fingers. Thus, you must wear protective hand gear. Protective gloves are readily available, even boxing gloves work well in this application.
At the point you begin partner practice, you should begin very slowly by discussing what technique you will unleash on your partner and how he will block it. He can then perform the same technique at you, and you block. You should very slowly build up from this, practicing one technique at a time. As you gain more mastery with the staff, you will be able to choreograph several striking and blocking techniques in one segment. It is only at the point when you and your training partner have truly come to understand the various applicable technique of the staff that you should begin very control free sparring.
Training with the staff is not defined by how fast you unleash a technique. It is based on how precisely and properly you deliver each movement. To this end, it is far better to maintain your meditative association with the staff and move through each technique slowly, than to randomly unleashing wild maneuvers which allows your body and your mind to become overpowered by the momentum and velocity of the staff and through your being out of balance.
Copyright © 1999 — All Rights Reserved
No part of this article may be used without the expressed permission of Scott Shaw or his Representatives.