This article is mostly aimed at either beginners, parents, or athletes that will soon do their first competition.
One of the things that make Wushu so great to watch, and gives such a great feeling when practicing, is definitely its wide range of weapons. Basically anything could transform into a weapon back then (and even nowadays), from the straight sword (Jian 剑) to the staff (Gun 棍), the halberd (Da Dao 大刀 / Guan Dao 关刀), the double hooks (Shuang Gou 双钩) or the three-sections staff（San Jie Gun 三节棍）, etc.
Though your teacher should be able to tell you which weapon to choose depending on your age, goals, and level, sometimes they just let you chose whatever you like and you can easily get lost. No worries, we’re here to help !
Before you go online or to the store :
Follow below bullet points before you ask a seller for advices or before buying anything. Keep in mind that the best person to answer these questions if you are not sure is your coach, not the seller.
- Know your weapon : Do you need a straight sword or a Broad Sword, a Spear or a Staff, etc ?
- Know your style : Are you training in Modern Wushu or Traditional Wushu ?
- If modern : That’s easy. If you need a straight sword or a spear then you are doing Changquan. If you need a broadsword or a staff, be sure to know if you do Changquan or Nanquan.
- If Traditional : Which style / Which region (north / south) / Internal or external ?
- What is your weapon for : Beginner’s training, training without competition, or competition training and performance ?
- Know your height (for online shopping)
Now that you have all the information needed, time for the next step.
Height of the Weapon
The height of the weapon is very important, especially if you plan on using it for competitions. In competitions, each weapon family follow international or national regulations in terms of height and flexibility. In traditional styles, your coach may also have his / her own preference depending on the style.
Keep in mind that a shorter weapon is easier to use and that you will be quicker with it, however judges will reject you if it doesn’t meet the size standards.
Short weapons : swords and broadswords (IWUF Regulations)
For swords and broadswords what matters is the length of the blade, not the full length including the pommel. If you go to a store, you will be able to try the weapons there, if not here is how it works.
Some websites will generally provide a size chart for each weapon, depending on the height of an individual. But this method is not perfect as everyones arm length is different even with the same full body height.
Measure the needed blade length :
Stand up, arms relaxed alongside your body. Measure the length from the center of your left palm to the middle of your ear = This is the size of the blade you should look for, for straight sword and northern broadsword.
For southern broadsword (Nandao 南刀), the blade can be slightly shorter with the tip of the blade at the same height as your earlobe.
If the height you found is in between two blade lengths, measure again, then choose the highest length of both if you found the same result. Be aware that judges will refuse you to compete with a weapon too short, but will be fine with a weapon slightly taller.
Long Weapons : staffs and spears (IWUF Regulations)
- Northern staffs should match your body height, or slightly longer (approx. 10cm or your height + the length of your fist placed on your skull).
- Southern staffs can be as above but note that southern staffs are thicker.
If it’s not indicated on the website, remind that southern staffs (Nangun 南棍) are usually a slightly thicker than the northern staffs. Confirm with your seller before purchasing.
Stand up, one of your arm raised up, fingers pointing to the sky. Measure the total length from your feet to the top of your fingers = that is the length of the spear (spear head included) you should look for.
Note that spears bought online are often delivered with the spear head not attached to the staff. However the seller should make sure the length is correct once attached.
If you are buying a classic tapered ashwood staff or spear, and are not sure of the length, go for something longer since most practitioners shorten the lengths themselves for the perfect match. You can always shorten a weapon too long while can’t do the opposite.
If you are buying a carbon fiber staff or spear, the length of the staff will be corresponding to your body height. Just chose the one matching your height the best : 160cm, 170cm, 180cm … For example, if you are 172cm, go for the 170cm staff.
Same for the spear but you will have to take into account your size with the arm raised and fingers pointing to the sky.
Note that carbon fiber staffs and spears are very expensive but also way harder to break. If you practice staff at a high training frequency with a classic tapered ashwood one, be prepared to break a few staffs. Good news is they’re usually very cheap, and very good to start with. We recommend you buy a few at the same time if you plan on training a lot.
Quality and Flexibility of the Weapon
Often when you get into a store or on a website for the first time, you are surprised by the range of weapons of the same family. For you, all the staffs were staffs and all the swords were swords. Take the straight sword for example : Besides quality, you may see swords for different styles (“Guiding” swords, double swords, snake tongue swords, Taiji swords, …). So the first question you ask yourself is which one should you get ?
Now that the height has been taken care of, it’s time to chose the type of weapon depending on your practice, but also on your budget ! There are different blades flexibility (and therefore, thickness) for each type of practice, the thickest and heavier ones being usually the most expensive ones depending on the finishing touches.
The most flexible ones being for modern competition, and the thickest ones either for traditional practice, performance or decoration. There is also blades that are in between those two and can be used for modern or traditional Taiji, beginners in any style, or traditional styles.
Keep in mind that the thicker the blade, the heavier it is.
We would recommend to buy a blade not to flexible nor too thick for beginners and children. They are perfect to learn the basics, train your wrist and blade trusts. These are also often the cheapest options so that you’re not throwing away your money before being sure you love this weapon, and also if your child is still growing up and need to buy a new blade every season. But of course you are welcome to do what you want with your money ! However if you plan to compete in traditional styles, be aware that you can be refused by the judges if your blade is too flexible.
The blades for modern competitions are usually very flexible, and usually quite expensive ones. These very thin blades often break and get twisted at the tip after a certain time of practice, but are the most perfect ones for modern competition at high level. But the thickest and heaviest weapons remain the most expensive ones, as they need more material and have higher freight costs.
Balance of the Weapon
This question is more related to short weapons with blades, and is more a question of personal comfort than anything else. No judge will refuse you if your weapon has poor balance. But a well balanced blade can change your life and radically improve your practice once you’ve reached a certain level.
However, if you are a beginner or a child, starting with poor balanced weapons is not a problem and won’t really impact your manipulation. Plus it will help strengthen your wrists. Then when you will be reaching a high level or competition level, go for a well balanced weapon.
Note that the standardized (Guiding 规定) weapons also come with a standardized balance.
How to know if the balance is correct : Place your weapon over your index and find the center of balance. For a blade, you want the balance to be between the guard and the bottom of the blade. Or anywhere between the two red dots below, depending on your preferences.
Amongst the mandatory accessories for competition but also sometimes for training, you can find :
- Accessories for swords (tassels) and broadswords (silk / fabric flags for northern broadsword), that can also be a way to adjust slightly the balance of your blades. They come in a wide range of styles and colors you can chose from. Ask advice from your coach anyway as he might have some preferences.
We recommend to add a grip to the pommel of your weapons for a more comfortable practice and to avoid any slippy hands.
- Accessories for spears (horsehairs, ball bearings for the sound, and different head shapes). All 3 are requested in modern competition with below spear head shape options (the classic one being way enough and cheaper). Other shapes can be purchased for traditional styles. Check this with your coach.
- Accessories for staffs are usually only sticky plaster to avoid the staff to break easily or to fix the spear head to the staff, and grips that we see more and more in international level competition, put over carbon fiber staffs to avoid slippy hands as well.
Nowadays, online retailers usually provide these “mandatory” accessories when they sell you a weapon. However, always double check that its included to avoid paying too much freight. We recommend to have all of above accessories depending on the weapon(s) you will be purchasing.
Some retailers also sell you the weapons with a transport bag. To avoid showing your weapons to everyone in the street, we strongly recommend you to at least purchase one large weapon bag with enough features to transport all your blades, small weapons, accessories and staff / spear, at the same time. Even if you plan on buying only one weapon for now, you never now if you will have to buy more and more of them.
If you wish, below are a few bonus advices to help you take care of your weapons :
- Blades : use some oil like WD-40 or others after each practice. Put some oil on an absorbing piece of fabric and clean your blade with it, avoid it to rust due to contact with sweat, or water if you train outside. Don’t waste your money in super expensive “blade-care made” oils, except if you’re buying a collection weapon.
Avoid training with your blades outside if it’s raining. If you ever train under the rain, make your blade dry right after your training with a dry fabric, then use clean it with some oil as explained above.
- Staffs / wooden weapons : Always prefer to stock your wooden weapons lying down on the ground or on a shelf. Avoid putting them in a standing position for too long, as they will get deformed and break easily due to twists appearing inside the wood.
Make sure there are no tiny holes in your wooden weapons as it is a sign of woodworms.
All the weapons can support heat, but try to keep them in a dry place if possible.
Wish you a great weapon training !