by Phillip Starr

I was teaching a class on use of the Chinese broadsword and a young man approached me with his sheathed weapon. He explained that it was a steel blade and asked if he could use it instead of a wooden replica. I asked him to unsheathe it and when he did, I saw several rust spots on the blade, indicating that this sword hadn’t been maintained at all for quite some time. I told him that he could use his broadsword and then spent several minutes chewing on him for failing to care for it.


Many gong-fu stylists own one or more weapons, from staffs to swords, and practice various forms with them. However, I have been surprised at the number of them who don’t bother to properly care for these tools. Metal weapons are unpolished and often pitted with rust, wooden weapons are sometimes just tossed into a corner. No respect is shown them at all. “But these aren’t REAL weapons” is the most frequent excuse I am given.

In a Japanese dojo, the weapons (most of which are wooden) are kept placed neatly on a rack against one wall (never the front wall where the kamiza is placed). Although a bokken is wooden and modelled after the steel katana, it is recognized as a very real weapon. It has been used in the past as a weapon and it’s perfect for practice; if it breaks, it’s easy and relatively inexpensive to replace. The same is true for most of the other weapons.

Chinese training halls really don’t exist in China, Most training is held outdoors and students, if they’re learning the use of a particular weapon, bring their own from home. These weapons are often unmaintained; oiling metal things such as swords is all but unheard of. This is terribly unfortunate. And brass polish (such as Brasso) is unheard of. I insist that all of my students who own traditional treat them with proper respect and keep them maintained. Even if a sword is wooden or, like the iaito (sword used in iaido training), unsharpened or made of a zinc alloy, they are to be treated as real weapons.

For instance, long wooden weapons, such as staffs and spears, should NEVER be leaned against a wall as this may foster warping, especially if the environment is warm and humid. If they can’t be kept on a proper rack, they can be laid on the floor beside a wall (where they’ll be less likely to be stepped on). Metal weapons should be polished and oiled regularly to prevent rusting and pitting.

Our weapons are “tools of the Way”; tools that can help us better understand our martial art and carry us further along the way. As such, they should be treated with the proper consideration and dignity.

Check out this video on how to clean and maintain a sword. 

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