chinese martial arts weapons

10 Most Versatile Chinese Martial Arts Weapons

Chinese martial arts or wushu has a long history of incorporating weapons into its many styles and schools. The distinctive look of many of these weapons hints at a mysterious ability. We’ll look at 10 of the most versatile Chinese martial arts weapons to see why.

10. Hook Swords

Sometimes referred to as tiger swords, these swords date from the Qing dynasty with paintings of them dating to the 17th or 18th century.

They have a distinctive look as the hook is on the tip of the sword, and the crescent-shaped handguard also doubles as an offensive part. Extending from the bottom of the handle is a protrusion referred to as a drill.

Often found in the Shaolin martial arts arsenal, there are 4 shapes or forms traditionally used. These include the sword and dagger, but also the hook and tomahawk.

9. Sai

While many would associate sai with traditional Japanese martial arts, historical records show the weapon had widespread use throughout China and other parts of Asia.

Indeed, it is thought that the sai is a variation of a trident that was popular in India, and was eventually brought to Japan via Hinduism or Buddhism.

The sai is a compact weapon that is usually wielded in pairs. Due to the short blade, it is mainly used for stabbing, but also has great defensive utility, particularly given the large prongs that enable attacks to be caught.

Interestingly, the sai’s handle is solidly built in order to be used as a further offensive weapon option.

7. Rope Dart

One of the more iconic Chinese martial arts weapons, the rope dart uses a heavy metal tip and rope to make a long-range weapon.

The rope length is variable and generally measures around 9 feet. 

The interesting feature is that due to the presence of the rope if you throw and miss your target, it is easy to reel it back and try again.

On top of this, advanced users of the rope dart can use different parts of their bodies to launch the rope dart with impressive speed. This includes using the feet, knees, and elbows.

6. Tonfa

The tonfa is certainly one of the more versatile martial arts weapons out there. Even now, the tonfa or its variants sees worldwide use, particularly in the police and military.

The tonfa is generally made of wood, featuring a perpendicular handle on a stick. It follows the same design as a baton, with the weapon aligning with and using the support of your forearms for defensive and offensive measures.

The tonfa can be used in three distinct ways, opening up a variety of strikes that can look deceivingly unpowerful. The defensive posture in particular is notable, as it rests against your forearms.

6. Staff

The staff is one of the oldest weapons and may seem primitive, but sometimes simplicity is best. A staff was traditionally made of wood and offers range and power in a compact package.

Some variations had metal tips or points, and come in one and two-handed versions.

Staves allow you to keep an opponent at a distance, as well as a strike from a safer position.

5. Erjie Gun

While most people know this as the nunchaku, this is the Japanese name for a weapon that has deep roots in Chinese martial arts.

The erjie gun consists of two short sticks, usually made of wood about a foot long, joined with a chain.

The destructive power of the erjie gun is clear; they have been banned in many countries, even just for possession. They can be used to impart terrific power at speed, catching an opponent off-guard.

4. Dragon Head

The dragon head is a pole weapon with a distinctive curved blade featuring a notched spike on the back of the blade.

The notched spike is used to defend and catch enemy attacks, possibly even helping to break wood-based weapons.

The dragon head also features a weighted counterbalance on the end of the pole, helping stabilize the weapon to fully maximize its range and power. The dragon head’s main power comes from its precision due to using two hands to make powerful thrusts.

3. Jian

The jian has one of the oldest histories in Chinese martial arts, dating back to the 7th century BCE

The jian is a classic straight sword, double-edged, and comes in one-handed and two-handed versions. Although much earlier uncovered examples of jian had a minimal hilt, later versions saw this enlarged.

While a jian often had a pommel, it also often featured a tassel or fabric which acted as a lanyard. This allows the weapon to be used in different ways that may cause the grip to be loosened, but the lanyard can be used to regain your grip.

Just like the staff, the sword is one of the most versatile and useful weapons in human history. Many branches of Chinese martial arts focus on the jian, with different techniques for different length sword blades and either a one-handed or two-handed attack.

2. Qiang

The qiang stands with the dao, jian, and staff as one of the four major weapons in China. Coming in variations measuring from 6 feet to over 50 feet, the spear has all the same versatility of staff, but with the added sharpened tip to do damage.

The spear is one of the best defensive weapons, with its length enabling the user to get out of immediate danger while still being an offensive threat.

1. Dao 

One of the most iconic wushu weapons, the dao is a short broadsword with a slight curve. They are single-edged and feature the blood channel on the blade, which helps the dao to be removed after entering the target.

Sometimes referred to as a saber, a dao can refer to many different types of swords. An interesting feature that has come to prominence since the Ming dynasty in the 1300s, is the reverse hilt. This hilt shape flows from the idea that it improves cuts and thrusts with a dao.

Like the jian, daos can also feature the lanyard to help the user maintain a grip on it.