In Taijiquan training, pole shaking is a fundamental exercise that can be seen with variants in multiple styles. My first taijiquan training was in Yang Shi Taijiquan under various lineages before starting Chen Shi Taiji and learning various exercises from those lines. Cross-referencing these Taiji exercises against one another and against other various pole shaking methods I have learned from other arts like Shaolin, Wing Chun, and Bagua has given me time to research the principles of the training. In this writing, I hope to discuss the methods and their purpose for martial training.
Biomechanically the movement of the exercises are all based on the same method of movement. The core of the body (Dantian) will engage and the hips will turn cascading movement throughout the body to the hands. The pole itself should be an extension of the hands which is accomplished first through the proper grip, secondly proper movement, and third proper intention.
The grip must be “like holding a live fish. Too strong and it will slip, too loose and it will wriggle away.” (Piercing Cloud Master Jason Deatherage). The grip must specifically be closed from the small to the large fingers in a rolling fashion and the lead hand positioned correctly. The lead hand must have the index finger’s first knuckle resting on the top of the pole in the ready position. The impulse from the body will travel to the bones of the hands where each mistaken movement in any joint will ‘leak’ the force in directions other than into the pole. The seat of the index finger at the top of the palm is key to directing the force to the tip of the spear. The grip is also concerned with connecting the pole directly to the bones of the player. The ends of the long bones of the arms, the radius, and ulna, must connect to the pole firmly in order to transfer the force of the body to the pole. With these two important aspects of the grip correct the body’s power will be transferred to the pole and directed to its’ tip.
Movement is always a matter of correctness and the use of a pole or spear in a pole shaking exercise acts as an amplifier to one’s own mistakes. Incorrect connection and the pole will not shake. Incorrect intention and the pole will not shake. Bad grip and the pole will not shake. The wrong direction of intent through the pole and it will not shake. Each movement in any of the pole shaking exercises is like this. Each position has a moment where the pole is meant to show us our mistakes by shaking or not. This becomes a feedback system for the player to make micro-adjustments in the body method. The cascades of muscular contraction, ripples of movement through the joints from the centre of the body to the extremities must take place for any power to reach the pole and thus, shake it. I will not discuss in the movements of each pole shaking movement in this writing. Most are so like one another they bear almost no differences style to style. Most are based on a single ancient spear drill, however, Lan, Na, Zha.
Lan, Na, Zha translates to “Obstruct, Seize, and Stab.” This is the heart and soul of long pole and spear training. Three movements that when done well, keep an opponent at range, defeat them, and when trained gives all the benefits of structure and power of pole shaking.
Lan 拦 -Obstruct is a circular movement that creates power away from the body
Na 拿 – Seize is a smaller circular movement ending in a sharp downward power
Zha 扎 – Stab is any thrusting movement and should shake the pole at its completion
Lan and Na appear as though clockwise and anticlockwise circles with the pole while Zha appears simply as a stab. But even with proper grip and proper movement, without proper intention nothing will be accomplished in training.
I recommend you find these movements on video for reference. The following a slow video of myself doing small hand during my #100daystraining personal challenge.
Renegade Taijiquan Small Hand Pole Shaking
No matter the movement of the body and the level of engagement. One’s proximity to the present moment and clarity of mind seriously affect the training. There is ideally nothing in the mind during practice other than the practice itself. This should take place in stages first dealing with the grip (shape), then proper execution of movement and all that entails. Even when a student has trained these first two and appears to know the exercise, benefits only begin when the intention is clear.
The intention during pole shaking training is, in general, to connect and then project the force generated by the body to the end of the pole and onwards. Specifically, each movement in pole shaking has a direction and flavour to study and practice. Lan is to obstruct and is performed as a small powerful circle away from the body (positive circle, Shun) and directs the power (Jin) out the side of the pole to strike an opponent. Na is to seize or stick to an opponent’s weapon or body. The bridge or moment of touch, however, is not soft nor slow. Instead, it is a circular movement (negative circle, Ni) towards the body and then suddenly downwards towards the earth. This is generally seen as striking an opponent’s weapon hand or stripping their weapon from them and throwing it to the earth. Zha is to stab with the head of the spear and it is the final piece to the training of body connection, power, structure, and intent. Zha is performed with a direct thrusting movement with the entire body structure aligning behind the thrusting spear in order to fajin (express force) directly through the pole and out its end. When training this extend the mind out the end of the spear to a nearby wall or tree and then as the Zha is brought back to the ready position. Reel in the mind from outside, back through the tip of the spear and to Dantian as you reach the ready position. This teaches Chang-Jin “Long Force” and the pole will shake violently when the grip, movement, and intent are all correct. Proper pole training takes this as a base and begins applications and accuracy training for martial arts use.
Without proper intent, the body can be only said to be half functioning at best. Fully engaging the mind is an often-overlooked part of training and it needs to be emphasized that the mind is the fuel the body burns. Neither is of any use without the other. This is an example of the reason martial arts tend to integrate meditative practices into their training.
I wanted to share this as pole shaking has been one of the most transformative groups of exercises of all my training life. If it has helped me then it should help other people as well in their training. I believe that sharing our arts is what will keep them alive, not keeping them secret. So this is my effort to do so and hopefully inspire others too as well.
Yes, this is an article from my online course at patreon.com/rjma and if you dig it, there is a lot more material there. If you are feeling Christmassy help support a weird kung fu guy, it’s only a buck.