Presented below are Sifu Yeung’s thoughts on the Chinese glaive, or Guan Dao (關刀), a weapon shrouded in much mystery and misinformation:
“The Guan Dao is a misunderstood weapon because it looks big and unwieldy most people believe it requires an enormous strength to wield and manipulate. And that is true to an extent as the historical Guan Dao used long ago back in the Qing Dynasty were extremely heavy and were solely used for demonstrating one’s strength and might. The imperial military examinations used them as “Testing Guan Dao”, and they could weight up to 72 kilograms. However, those Guan Dao used for performance were not the same ones that would be used for combat – could you imagine the impracticality of such a massive, sluggish and draining weapon being used on the field?
The whole point of using a field weapon is to advance into combat whilst producing efficient movements by using the least amount of strength possible to cause as much effect as possible, so that one may fight with it for prolonged periods. Thus in actuality, there may only be a handful of efficient techniques that one can use with the Guan Dao repeatedly in a combat situation and those are generally Pi (hacking/chopping) and Gua (hanging/swinging upwards) motions. If you watch a Guan Dao Taolu, you’ll notice how much techniques rely on a stable low and agile stance, coordination of the hips and core with the upper body and an upright back/spine. You will also notice that these techniques tend to maintain a strong relationship between the arms and the centreline of one’s body, enabling swift recovery and change of direction. Because of their practicality, you’ll also find the same handful of moves embedded within Guan Dao Taolu of most Northern Kung Fu styles that have a Guan Dao form.
Funnily enough, it is the more performance-based actions in Guan Dao Taolu that are the most tiring to execute, rather than the combat-functional techniques. These flashy actions require you to spin, shake, toss, lift and whirl around the weapon, sometimes only using one arm while at other times pretending to fight on horseback at the same time. These movements are entirely inefficient in terms of combat and conservation of physical energy, but they certainly look impressive and are usually well received as machismo demonstrations of excessive strength. These movements are their own aesthetic and serve to give the Taolu something to see. The unique performative techniques and chaining of moves provide each Kung with Fu style their flair and identity. To the trained eye, it’s interesting to see how each practitioner, school and style develop and perform with the Guan Dao. Even with two students performing the same routine taught by the same teacher, both can produce a different aesthetic as different as their personality and goals. I think having said all of this; I would take the opportunity to encourage Kung Fu connoisseurs to take a more in-depth look into the way a Kung Fu form is performed and analyse what the practitioner is aiming to display and pursuing. One can tell a lot about the practitioner’s style and discipline by the way they choose and handle a weapon – and that’s especially true for heavy weapons like the Guan Dao.”
Written in collaboration with our friends at Mizongluohan.