Poles, staves, and cudgels have been used in fighting since before we had languages to define them. Most martial arts incorporate some form of staff training. The most common is the staff, or bo. These are generally five or six feet in length – the sort of tool one might use to carry pails of water, or a simple walking stick.
In Wing Chun, the pole is a weapon, not a tool. I was originally taught they derived from the push-pole used to propel a junk or patty boat, and that may still be true. However, as most old world martial artists were traveling mercenaries or performers, it is more likely the pole was taken up purely as a long range weapon. If you are going to use a stick as a long-range weapon, why limit yourself to five feet. There is a saying, “A foot longer, a foot stronger”. Much like fighters in the ring, the opponent with the longest reach has an advantage. However, it is possible for a pole to become too long, making it too heavy and unwieldy.
The Wing Chun pole, or Dragon Pole, measures between eight and nine feet in length. It is usually tapered, around one and a half inches in diameter at the base, down to about three-quarters of an inch in diameter at the tip, however straight poles are used.
The name of the common Dragon Pole form is “Luk Dim Boon Gwan”. Gwan is sometimes spelled Kwan. In English it is referred to as “The Six-and-a-half Point Pole”. A word-for-word translation is clumsy. It would be “Six Point Half Pole”. Clearly, it is not half of a pole. What would that be, a stick? The title does not refer to the pole’s length. It refers to the number of strike points the forms demonstrate. This does beg another question, however. What is a half strike, or half of a point? I suppose it could be some ancillary target, such as the distracting smack on the toe in order to gain advantage for a more devastating strike point.
There are at least three major variations of the Luk Dim Boon Gwan form, each of which has its own variations due to changes caused by lineage, instructor preferences and quirks, translation, and other natural mutations.
The Yip Man version closely matches the Jee Shim Weng Chun Kuen version. Like all of the versions, it does vary over different lineages.
The Sum Num version descends from Yuen Kay-San. It is very short, with very little repetition. It defines the six and a half points and the techniques for striking them, and little more.
The Weng Chun version may descend from San Kam of the Red Junks down to Fung Siu-Ching. Variants of this, such as the Jee Shim Weng Chun Kuen pole form, match the same six and a half points, but are typically longer in performance. This may lead back to the idea of the Red Junks and the wandering martial artist, often earning a living through performance.
The Six-and-a-half Point Spear is derived from the Luk Dim Boon Gwan. Like the Dragon Pole, the key attack is the thrust. Key defenses are Tahn (high inside deflect), Fook (high outside deflect), and Bong (tip down rotation). Other defenses include Gan (press), Lan (to bar), Jum (to sink), Dim (point hit or touching hit), Huen (to circle), and Jut (to jerk).
The striking area of the Dragon Pole is the last foot to tip. Using the shaft removes some of the advantageous length the pole provides. Moreover, angular strikes, sometimes called flute strikes, take longer to reach the target, are more easily seen, more easily deflected, and eliminate any penetrating power of the pole.
Stances are designed to enhance the power of the pole itself, depending on its use. If the pole is defending or deflecting, stances may narrow to allow movement. If the pole is striking, the stances may widen to create a stronger base to increase penetration power. As with all things Wing Chun, efficiency, and economy of motion are key. There are no fancy twirls or pole spins, except perhaps for performance sake.
Kuen Kuit roughly translates as “Punch Wisdom” or “Fist Philosophy”. The Kuen Kuit for the Dragon Pole is, “Kwan Mo Leung Heung” – “The pole does not make two sounds”.