Questions regarding polearm martial arts

Discussion in 'Beginners Corner' started by Ivondras, Jun 12, 2018.

  1. Ivondras

    Ivondras White Belt

    Jun 12, 2018
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    Hello everyone

    Recently I've been looking into polearm martial arts. This is because of three reasons.

    For an acting part in a video short I want to able to look at least somewhat competent with a weapon in my hands, and I don't think just choreographing and editing will do the trick. There's no distinct requirement when it comes to the culture of the martial art, but the character itself is a mix of turkish, arabic and spanish.

    Secondly I recreationally partake in reënactment and life action roleplaying events, and I'd really love to be able to apply some actual technique in the combat that takes place there, despite it being fake, and a bit clumsy because of the foam weapons.

    Lastly, after looking up videos and reading up, I've actually started to take up a genuine interest in the martial art itself. It's something I'd be willing to pour a lot of time into, not only for the requirement of the role, or the convenience of being able to apply it to play-fighting, but for the personal development it can offer me, both physically and mentally. And obviously, it seems like a lot of fun!

    Now here come my questions:

    What types of polearm/spear martial arts are there? I've seen things like bojutsu and sojutsu, but there's loads of different styles with different names from different cultures, and categorizing them has been rather difficult, which makes it hard to determine what is best for me.

    That last part I could use some help with as well. Considering I'm an absolute beginner to any kind of martial art, and I'm looking to use an ottoman spear, what would be my best bet when it comes to all the different kinds of martial arts?

    Finally, whats the best way to train? I was going to start with basic instructional videos, but maybe there are schools for this type of martial arts specifically? I've heard of karate dojos teaching polearms from time to time, but so far not exclusively.

    I hope you guys can help me out. Thanks in advance!
  2. oftheherd1

    oftheherd1 Senior Master

    May 12, 2011
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    First, I don't really know anything about spear or staff work.
    I suppose you might find European or Asian arts other than Chinese that use them, I haven't heard of them that much. I don't know where you are, but I expect it would be difficult to find teachers of European arts, who teach spear or staff usage. I think Chinese arts would be more likely to teach them, but again, not knowing where you are, TMA might also be hard to find.

    We do have some TMA students who may be able to recommend better than me. What I don't know is at what stage of your learning you would be taught weapons.

    Good luck in your quest.
  3. oldwarrior

    oldwarrior Green Belt

    Jun 1, 2018
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    If it a jutsu the it Japanese

    Bojutsu as you will know is the art of the staff ...Sojutsu is the art of the spear you might here it called yari jutsu too... Will you find a ryu teaching might be a hard one there are but it only part of the curriculum ...Katori shinto-ryu is the only one I personally know off but I have never used a spear may have more luck with Bojutsu but it not a spear ... there is the naginata but again I don't know where your at if there will be any ryu teaching ...

    You may be able to get a jist of of videos but as all those weapons need control be careful as if your around others some one mat get hurt would be better served in choreographing and go over ad over and over so no one gets stuck lol...

    It would take you years to get to proficiency so you could react and not either get hurt or hurt some one

    If you want to study for yourself then go for it and I hope you succeed

    Just be careful please that you don't or anyone else gets hurt
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  4. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    Feb 18, 2008
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    Melbourne, Australia
    Hi Ivondras.


    Ha, don't underestimate choreography and editing... as well as camera angles... they've made many a less-than-stellarly skilled person seem highly dangerous!

    With regards to the culture... I think it does matter (if you're striving for something close to passable authenticity... or at least plausible authenticity...), as the culture is what gives shape to the art... both in form and methodology (including teaching/training methodology). Of course, you seem to have chosen/been given a character with a few "exotic" European and Mid-Eastern cultures to look at... none of which have really had any kind of pole-arm traditions for many centuries (they were largely rendered obsolete with the advent of mass-produced and reliable [well...] firearms). While there are some documented methods and concepts for pikes and so forth, most of the HEMA (Historic European Martial Arts) groups that have them tend to be from the Germanic traditions... rather than the Italian or Spanish.

    Honestly, for this requirement, choreography might be the best idea... I'd watch a lot of Game of Thrones for some good ideas... the battle between the Mountain and the Viper being a standout.

    For that, groups such as the SCA often run workshops specialising in such areas... other than that, trying to source an actual teacher/school is going to be the only way to genuinely get it... but arts such as these are rare... as I'm sure you've found...

    Cool. As mentioned, though, these arts are few and far between... but if you let us know whereabouts you are, there might be something around we know of.


    Ooh, lots... aside from Bojutsu (staff arts) and Sojutsu (spear arts... not often referred to as "yari-jutsu", especially not by anyone who trains in the arts, but it does occasionally turn up), there is Naginatajutsu (use of a Japanese halberd), and various forms of the previous arts (such as Owari-kan Ryu using a kuda-yari, Hozoin Ryu being famous for jumonji-yari and kama-yari, Shingyoto Ryu and Toda-ha Buko Ryu being the only two extant schools teaching kagitsuki-naginata, Shingetsu Muso Yanagi Ryu being unique in their ko-naginata [small naginata], various nagamaki [similar, but a bit different to a naginata... and quite rare], and so on), as well as certain specialised weapons (such as kumade, a long handled rake, the torimono sandogu (three police arresting tools, being the sode garami, satsumata, and tsukubo) making up the Japanese side... then there are a number of methods found in Chinese arts, such as tasseled spear, kwan-dao (or guan-dao, depending on the preference and dialect), and any manner of specialist items such as moon-spears (or crescent spears), rakes (also found in Japanese arts), long versions of maces, spiked balls on long handles, and far more... then there are Zulu traditions of light spear work still found... a few Indian traditions that use spear-like weapons... some German HEMA manuals (and groups studying them) featuring polearms such as halberds and pikes...

    If you're looking to train with an Ottoman Spear (I'm assuming you mean the broad, leaf-shaped blade variant, or the crescent and leaf form, rather than the thrown javelin form, yeah?), you're essentially going to need to do a hell of a lot of research, potentially learn pre-modern Turkish, and basically reconstruct things as best you can... in other words, there is no way to learn Ottoman spear. Possibly the closest you'd get today would be the Swiss Guard Pikemen... but that might not be the easiest thing for you to join!

    As mentioned, the culture is highly influential in the way an art develops and is going to be vital in any understanding of a weapon. Therefore any art you choose that is not based in 14th/15th Century Ottoman culture is not going to be necessarily applicable, and certainly not authentic to the usage of an Ottoman spear. But, to start, there are some things to consider.

    Firstly, what is the design of the weapon? How big is the blade, how long is the haft, are there any specific edges, or is it just a point? Are there tassels or adornments, and, if so, are they practical in their usage, or more votive? Are there variations?

    Next, who is using it? Is it a high-rank weapon, or for the common soldier? Is it a personal weapon, or only used en masse on a battlefield? What are the people wearing? Is there armour, or any restrictive clothing? Is the weapon worn with any other (shield, side arm/sword/dagger)? Who is the practitioner facing? A group or just a single opponent? What are they armed with? What are they wearing?

    The culture... what do you know about it? Are you familiar with things like traditional arts, such as theatre or dance, which will give indications as to the movements likely to be incorporated into the usage of weaponry and combative methods? Do we know the preferred method of transmission of information of the culture? Written word? Oral tradition? Formalised patterns of movement? Songs? Any combination of the above?

    Lastly, any contemporary forms... is there anything from a similar place and time still around that we can refer back to as a frame of reference? Did other surrounding cultures have similar weapons? Do their methods still exist? Are there any documentations from other cultures about the one we're looking at from the time period? Are there records of tactical methods of the culture as observed by others? How well do you understand combative principles?

    The best way is with a teacher... but not a karate teacher who chooses to incorporate something that isn't a part of their art, as that path is fraught with well meaning but clueless people who have no idea what they're doing.

    Yes, there are schools... they simply aren't likely to be down the street from you, however. If you're really serious about this, you may need to ask yourself just how serious... to keep to simply Japanese schools, the following arts are still around... but might require significant travel, if not complete relocation to study:

    Sojutsu - Spear-centric schools (these systems have the Japanese spear as their central weapon, although they often have a wider syllabus than just the yari):

    Owari-kan Ryu Sojutsu
    Hozoin Ryu Takeda-ha Sojutsu
    Saburi Ryu Sojutsu
    Fuden Ryu Sojutsu

    Naginatajutsu - usage of the Japanese halberd or glaive... a short curved blade on a long pole/haft. Again, there is often a wider syllabus beyond the usage of a naginata:

    Jikishinkage Ryu Naginatajutsu
    Tendo Ryu Naginatajutsu
    Yoshin Ryu Naginatajutsu
    Toda-ha Buko Ryu Naginatajutsu
    Higo Ko-ryu Naginatajutsu
    Chokugen Ryu O-Naginatajutsu
    Atarashii Naginata ("New" Naginata... a modern form)

    Bojutsu - use of staff weapons. These include staves of various sizes, depending on the school, and, again, often involve other areas to their teachings as well.

    Shindo Muso Ryu Jojutsu
    Chikubujima Ryu Bojutsu (Jojutsu)

    Sogobujutsu - composite schools who have large syllabus', which may be centred around a particular weapon, but are more rounded, including the use of long weapons (nagamono): These weapons included are listed in brackets after the names. I have also included schools that are not strictly sogobujutsu, but have their nagamono teachings as separate to the central weapon/skill (such as Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu, a sword school that also teaches bojutsu):

    Kukamishin Ryu (Sojutsu, Naginatajutsu, Bojutsu)
    Tenshinsho Den Katori Shinto Ryu Heiho (Sojutsu, Naginatajutsu, Bojutsu)
    Kashima Shinryu (Sojutsu, Naginatajutsu, Bojutsu)
    Araki Ryu Gunyo Kokusoku (Sojutsu, Naginatajutsu, Bojutsu)
    Tatsumi Ryu (Sojutsu, Bojutsu)
    Takenouchi Ryu (Naginatajutsu, Bojutsu)
    Suio Ryu (Naginatajutsu)
    Hontai Yoshin Ryu (Bojutsu - Hontai Kukishin Ryu)
    Takagi Ryu (Bojutsu - Kukishin Ryu)
    Shingetsu Muso Yanagi Ryu (Ko-naginatajutsu)
    Shingyoto Ryu (Naginatajutsu)
    Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu Kenjutsu (Bojutsu)
    Maniwa Nen-ryu (Sojutsu, Naginatajutsu)
    Asayama Ichiden Ryu (Bojutsu)
    Various Takamatsuden schools - Bujinkan, Genbukan, Jinenkan, and a number of independent off shoots (Bojutsu, Sojutsu, Naginatajutsu - Kukishin Ryu dominantly)

    This is, of course, not a completely exhaustive list... in some cases, there are schools around the world (of various specialisation or quality)... in some, there is one dojo, and one only, and if you want it, go to them! Then you can start to look at all the Chinese systems... and continue from there!

    I hope this was informative in some way... bear in mind, we're a martial arts forum, so our interest (and expertise, such as it is) will be skewed towards the more serious martial arts, rather than the LARPing style and re-enactment focus you mentioned first... but do feel free to ask anything you might want to... you never know who might know something here!
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  5. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

    • Supporting Member
    Sep 21, 2005
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    San Francisco
    Chris, as usual, has give you a whole lot of good information.

    I will only comment from the perspective of Chinese martial arts.

    Many of them include weapons in their practice, and that can include pole-arms like spear, staff, double-head spear, and others, some of which can be pretty unusual and exotic.

    The quality of what different schools do can vary quite a lot. Some are doing good stuff and doing it well. Some are doing good stuff, but doing it poorly. Others are doing junk, and the quality becomes irrelevant even if they display high levels of athleticism with it.

    Typically in a school teaching high quality martial arts, the weapons training will come later after you have had time to develop some reasonable skill with the empty-hand methods. This is because there is a foundational understanding that you need to develop first, and learning the empty-hand method is easier and safer to do. The weapons should employ that same foundation, so once that is in place then weapons training can progress.

    So it may require making a committment to join a school and become a student with a real level of committment, and it might be a couple years or more before you begin to learn the weapons. Simply showing up and asking to learn the weapons right away is unlikely to get a good reception.123

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