Ancient Tools of the Pai Lum Tao Warrior
by Glenn C. Wilson
Through its historical journey from China to Singapore to Hawaii and finally to the Mainland U.S., Pai lum tao is second to none in its reverence for ancient Chinese weapons.
Few areas of the world have had as turbulent a history as China. And throughout this history the mastery of weapons was a must. It was much more than knowing the philosophy of the execution of a weapon; it was life or death. The weapon of the soldier, Imperial guard or peasant farmer had to be mastered to near perfection for mere survival. This type of environment set a precedent and a standard which could not be shunned. When the inevitable came to pass, the lightning speed, articulate technique, precise timing, and the adrenaline pounding in the warrior's heart became their fate.
These standards of belief have followed Pai lum tao to its modern existence. Through its historical journey from China to Singapore to Hawaii and finally to the Mainland U.S., this system so popularized by the legendary, late grandmaster Daniel Kane Pai is second to none in its reverence for the ancient Chinese weapons.
When eager Pai lum tao students pick up their first weapon, the basic philosophy is merely an extension of the body and is quickly engrained in their memory. A practitioner can never hope to master a weapon's moves if he cannot accept the "tool" as part of him. He must see, feel and hear through the weapon. This is truly a concept which confuses the eager practitioner.
No Pain, No Gain
While the student concentrates on the "basics of movement," he acquires a new respect for the object which has been placed in his hands. As blisters, cuts, bruises and sore muscles are acquired, the student understands the simplicity as well as the complexity of Pai lum tao's historical weapons.
As in empty-hand training, the discipline of mastering the art begins with stance. Hours of "low-stance" drills are practiced to assure stability, strength, flexibility and mobility. The practitioner will spend countless hours working vigorous patterns to the ancient sounds of the Chinese Floor Drum.
The traditional Pai lum tao patterns known as "monkey walk", "dragon sway", "eight directions" and "white lotus blooms" insure the student a firm foundation in which to build his weapons training. Once the "okay" is given by the sifu, a wondrous new journey of knowledge begins.
Why weapons training? The tool of the warrior of the ancient days and survival today offer different benefits to most practitioners. In the ancient years you must have had superior skill, the element of surprise, greater power and the stronger will to live to survive the times.
Do we really need such training today? Some would argue "no," while others would insist we need it now more than ever. One thing is for sure, though, and that's discipline, conditioning, and flexibility, and self-assurance are essential when trying to master regular weapon tactics.
A Study in History
The philosophy of the warrior and his weapons are read by everyone from executives to high school students, from government officials to layman on the street. In many large organizations and businesses around the world, this study of the ancient warrior and his tools of survival are required. They study more so for the philosophies, principles and lessons of worth than the uses and applications. With a pure sense of understanding the nature, we must confront these things on a daily basis. Keeping this in mind, the Pai lum tao student sets forth in his journey to better understand his past, present and future.
The first weapon introduced is the medium staff, also known as the dragon staff. This staff is a white wax wood and should be about four inches taller than the student. At first, the student will be introduced to the history, logistics, and theories. He will then begin the bonding process. During this period of training, the student will hold, carry, spin and fully extend the dragon staff to help understand the staff's nature.
The staff is among the oldest weapons used by our ancestors. Organized movement of using a foreign object began the first time man picked up a stick to defend himself against predators. The first staff form is the ancient "lo han" form, which is practiced for many hours to insure quality and proper preservation of movement. next comes the white lotus/crane heritage. With these two beautiful, lethal forms, the Pai lum tao student has a wealth of knowledge in which to begin his historical weapons journey.
One of the most important aspects of staff training is the element of wood. This element can be found in many other weapons, such as the two- and three-sectional staff, spear, Kwan dao, horse cutter, and monk spade.
Maintaining the stance while moving the wood is foremost. The staff, being an extension of the practitioner's body, can only be as powerful as its root. Emphasis is placed on waist whipping to assure the power and effectiveness of the strikes. Such strikes as the long and short poke, snake movements, dragon fly swipes, four corner blocks, butterfly spins and whirlwind are the beginning steps for the student's journey.
The Iron Warrior Takes Over
The use of metals changed fighting forever. The saber is known as the "iron" of the warrior. No longer was sheer power required. An effortless slashing motion whistling throughout the air was enough to cut down an attacker. Mere bruises and broken bones gave way to bleeding and infection. Therefore, the ancient warrior must keep himself from getting cut at all costs. The motions and execution of the slicing, filleting, hacking and jabbing are practiced for hours to give a student the "razor's edge" when it comes to disciplining his skills. These are skills that will carry over into other weapons training as their empty-hand routines. They will enhance the very principles needed to master their personal quest.
Next, the eager student learns the "plum blossom saber." They will acquire a greater respect for this razor-sharp tool. The intricate slices, jabs, hacks, and blocks will become their daily obsession. These moves have served the ancient warrior with unyielding faithfulness. The practitioner quickly learns the rhythm of his movement is just as important as the speed, accuracy and power of the delivery. The saber must move in harmony with the body's movements.
In Pai lum tao the blade, or "iron", is pure poetry in motion. Such classic sets as "lo han", "bok leen pai", "pai yung" and "white lotus" became the passionate obsession of the white dragon practitioner.
The spear is a union of elements: wood - the basic element or root; metal - the tongue of the dragon used to slice, puncture and lacerate; air, fire and water - are the elements used in the creation and can be felt in its pure application.
Spear is among the most important lessons to be learned. In executing the spear you must let your body flow like the water dragon. Then when the opponent is open, the dragon thrusts out his lightning. With this blinding strike, the spear cuts through the unexpecting target. This is the philosophy of the Pai lum tao spear.
Such foot patterns as "eight diagram", "dragon waltz", "cat's play" and "snake craw" are the foundation of the elegant and complex ballet. Ballet? Yes, for few weapons forms can match the beauty, elegance and effectiveness of the spear.
The staff, saber, and spear are merely keys to understanding another aspect of martial arts. Though we do not travel in the footsteps of our ancestors, we dare not forget their valuable lessons of survival.