Dancing the Wu Shin
Learn how to develop Zen's 'No-Mind'
The Three Types of Destructive Energy used in Martial Arts
The Hidden Meanings Behind The Flash
The King, the Fool, and the Fox Reading and controlling non-verbal communication in the sparring ring
Do you know what you're really learning?
Balance and the Martial Arts
Learn the deadly combination of strategy and attitude
Strategy for the Streets What would Sun Tzu do in a Street fight?
Two Man Staff Drills from China
Spinning Staff Techniques
How to Do a Pole Vaulting Side Kick
Stefan Traces The Origins of Kung Fu to Thailand's Mountain Tribes
No nonsense advice on what works in real life.
A Case Study of Sensory Enhancement for the Blind and Vision Impaired
For more than 3,000 years the most dreaded and effective fighting machine was the mounted soldier. The fearsome sight of a heavily armed cavalryman charging across the expanse was enough to send the average infantryman running for his life. Sometime around 400 B.C., the Macedonians developed the phalanx, a tight formation of infantrymen carrying 18-foot pikes as a defense against cavalry. While the phalanx protected the foot soldiers from cavalry it was basically a defensive tactic and could do little to counterattack the cavalry. This created a kind of stalemate that lasted for more than 1,000 years.
The Mongols devised a strategy that put the advantage back with the cavalry. Instead of charging the phalanx with lances or swords, the Mongols carried bows and would ride circles around a phalanx while raining arrows into the formation until enough soldiers were killed. The formation would collapse. Thus, the mounted soldier was again the premier fighting unit until well after firearms were introduced. But in China a technique that had its origins, ironically, in child’s play, was developed that gave the foot soldier a chance to unhorse a cavalryman. The methodology was simple enough: you just kick the rider in the head so hard he falls off his horse.
But how do you kick a moving target seven-to-eight feet off the ground? That’s where the child’s play came in. When we talk about pole vaulting we naturally think of a track and field event, but for children in rural areas throughout the world, pole vaulting is just a fun addition to cross-country travel. As a child growing up in the wilds of the Canadian north, my friends and I would spend much of our time exploring the neighboring forests. Before entering, we would all cut a sapling about an inch and-a-half thick and seven-to- eight feet long and, using our scout knives, we would whittle the trunk into a smooth pole.
This gave us both the moral support of having a weapon handy in case of chance encounters with dragons, and a quick way to cross the numerous streams and creeks that criss-crossed the terrain. Whenever we came upon a stream we would place the pole in the center of the stream and then pole vault across, thus avoiding the dreaded soaker. I had forgotten this skill until 20 years later when I was outside Chang Mai, Thailand. While riding a motorcycle through the countryside I saw young Thai children pole vaulting across the irrigation ditches used to water the vegetable fields in the same way we used to cross the creeks. And therein lies the answer to unhorsing a mounted soldier. You just pole vault to his level, then kick him off.
In the 18 Lohan pole style this rather-rare technique is known as the flying phoenix kick. While it was an innovative counterattack against a mounted opponent, it was basically a guerrilla tactic used to unhorse scouts and patrols and was not practical against a full-scale cavalry charge. But it was well-suited to China’s rugged terrain and to its long tradition of guerrilla warfare. Throughout its history, China’s rebel fighters took to the mountains in their struggle against corrupt emperors. Their imperial horsemen would be forced to ride single file through narrow trails with little or no room to maneuver. Under those conditions the flying phoenix kick would have been effective indeed. It is known that the rebel armies would usually include fighting monks from various denominations including Shaolin, and that may be why this technique survived as a part of the shaolin weapons routines. While there is little need for this technique in one’s self-defense repertoire it does make a flashy addition to a staff form, improve balance and coordination, and, most importantly, provide infinite enjoyment.
Safety and the Staff
Another safety concern is floor surface. On hardwood or tiled floors the end of the staff is likely to slip out from underneath you and you could have a nasty fall. The safest place to practice is outdoors on the grass, but if you must practice indoors you should first experiment with either rubber tips on the end of the staff such as those used on canes and walkers, or place rubber-backed door mats on the floor. On tatami or high-density foam flooring you should also place mats on the floor, not for safety, but to prevent poking holes into the flooring. Test unfamiliar surfaces by practicing a few low-level vaults before attempting the high-flying kicks.