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Upon learning that Sifu Allen was asked to edit out over 50% of his feature article on Double Axes for Inside Kung Fu, a Sifu John Allennumber of our extension students requested that the entire article as originally submitted be made available on our website.

Previously, Sifu was never asked to edit any of the many features he composed for IKF magazine. The editor, Dave Cater, has always been very cooperative and generous to Green Dragon and printed all of the material as prepared. Apparently, on this occasion space simply did not allow for the inclusion of all the points that Sifu Allen expressed. As a consequence, the manuscript in its entirety is available here.

It is recognized throughout the Chinese Martial Arts community that the technical knowledge of Sifu Allen – especially concerning fighting forms, weapons, and exotic exercise programs – is second to none; many would say that Sifu’s frame of reference in these areas is extraordinary.

Additionally, Sifu’s writing style endeavors to tie up all loose ends by anticipating any question(s) in advance that the article might prompt. Editing understandably not only thwarts the style of this approach, but nullifies the intended emphasis and renders many of the conclusions to appear to have insufficient evidence to support the arguments/ positions espoused.

Moreover, Sifu Allen also wanted to insure that his mentor, Grandmaster Gene L. Chicoine, 10th Deg. and the successor to the preeminent Grandmaster Tung Cheng Ch’ang, was credited with providing the opportunities for Sifu Allen’s ten-year odyssey resulting in the acquisition of such a large variety of rare and demanding weapons sets. This often entailed interceding on Sifu Allen’s behalf in potential life-threatening situations wherein Grandmaster Chicoine willingly volunteered to engage in any kind of combat despite the nature of the threat! Despite specifically requesting that this acknowledgement not be deleted, it was cut above and beyond the manuscript already reduced by over one half in compliance with IKF’s request!

Erh Lung Yeng-Fang Yu Ch’uan
The following centers on two inter-related subjects, the Chinese Ta Fu, generally translated “large axe” and the fighting form which gives the most complete and elegant expression of it, transliterated as the ERH LUNG YENG-FANG YU CH’UAN, roughly translated as “Two Dragons Strongly Defend the Jade.” This is one of those unique combat sets arising as a result of the secretive White Lotus consolidation in the 18th Century, and the basis for any of the photos accompanying this article. Note: Do not confuse the White Lotus System in question with the ‘secret society’ of the same name, or any contemporary school or style.

Intensive training with heavy double axes was an opportunity made available to Sifu Allen very early in his kung fuAxes experience (late 1960’s after 7 years in Shotokan) and rapidly became one of his favorite weapons to master out of the Shaolin “Basic 18.” At that time Sifu was studying under a Master with whom he would spend 15 years of unbroken time, but whose teaching philosophy was to severely restrict instruction with weapons to special students or exceptional circumstances. Consequently, Sifu Allen embarked on an odyssey lasting over ten years (1965-1975) that eventuated in the privilege of learning under a number of eminent Masters representing a variety of styles and systems, in part including a spectrum ranging from Northern 5-Animal to Southern 5-Family Shaolin, from Choy Li Fut to Tien Shan Pai, and from Hung Style to White Lotus—the latter being his chief focus for the past 20+ years.

This unusual experience was facilitated by the welcome intercession of Sifu’s mentor, Grandmaster Gene L. Chicoine, 10th Degree, President and Director of the International Shuai Chiao Association and adopted son of the preeminent Grandmaster Tung Sheng Ch’ang. Grandmaster Chicoine interceded on Sifu’s behalf numerous times, several of these with potential life-threatening consequences, wherein Grandmaster Chicoine insisted on standing in for Sifu Allen, willingly volunteering to entertain any kind of combat challenge despite the nature of the threat!

Students from around the world learning from Green Dragon’s DVD’s and/or videotape instruction repeatedly write in to ask for Sifu’s favorite fighting forms or weapons sets, or to request that Sifu rate combat forms in some kind of priority. In that regard, the axe set ranks among what he catalogs as his “top twenty” out of the 400+ fighting and/or exercise sets he’s been privileged to acquire in his 53 years in the Oriental martial arts.

The benefits to this fighting set are too numerous to mention within the confines of one article. As with most material, the comprehensive nature of the form no doubt derives from the unusual origination of the White Lotus System in general, especially the fact that outstanding Northern techniques and maneuvering were combined with the best of related Southern material in a consolidation done only once in history on an order of this magnitude—only the Yao Fei consolidation in the 12th Century A.D. and the 44-year quest (1522-1566 A.D.) of the Shaolin Monk Kioh Yuan undertaken to identify superior training methods he could bring back to the Monastery were reminiscent of this totally distinctive future event.

This is yet another example of those rare fighting forms that can be classified as “Master’s Level” sets. That is, this one form contains such a fantastic cross-section of axe techniques that a complete command of almost all possible combat applications known to this weapon are represented in just this one demanding form!

Just the physical power gains derived from such a long (approx. 100+ steps!) and complex fighting set executed with weapons that may weigh in excess of six to eight pounds each are understandably enormous—especially so in the upper body as the hand, wrist, forearm, upper arm, and shoulder workout required are matched by few other weapons sets. Only very heavy garn-type weapons such as Iron Bamboo, Choy Li Fut’s Six-Sided Rods, or Golden Melon Clubs (if weighted) can come close to delivering the same upper body strength that is forged by this type of double short-handled axe work, and the others cannot bring such versatility to the combat scenario.

Though the power and stamina advantages to be gained would alone make this set worthwhile, this is also one of the most VERSATILE combat axe sets as well. Uniquely, the Erh Lung Yeng-Fang Yu Ch’uan utilizes all eleven parts of the axe structure, an uncommon feature in other weapons of this kind.

Part of the AxeRather than just being composed of a variety of “chopping and hacking” motions (refer here to the photo of the axe and its component parts), the edge (1) is employed in a wide variety of slicing and cutting techniques; the sides of the blades (2-3) for blocking and protecting the vital areas during certain movements on both offense and defense; the upper and lower points of the blade (6-7) for blocking, trapping, and holding; the wide back of the blade (8) for hammering and smashing; the shaft of the axe for blocking and over-all manipulation; the upper-point on the shaft (10) for spearing and gouging; and the lower point on the shaft (11) for many of these applications except for slicing and cutting. Needless to say, the versatility represented when all eleven parts of the axe are properly employed make the double axes able to handle almost any mode of attack or defense. NOTE: THE PHOTOS ACCOMPANYING THIS ARTICLE ILLUSTRATE TWO-MAN COMBAT APPLICATIONS EMPLOYING ALL ELEVEN SURFACES OF THE AXES AND ARE TAKEN DIRECTLY FROM THE FIGHTING FORM IN QUESTION.

Several forms of the Ta Fu were forged with the blades intentionally hollow. Since the back of the axe head generally measured from 1 ¼ to 2 inches thick, and the width of the tapered blade from eight to twelve inches, the interior space left considerable room to fill the axe head with loose materials, usually sand or steel shot, which could ultimately result in axes that ranged in weight from six to fifteen pounds! The axes utilized in the illustration from Green Dragon Studio are filled with steel shot and weigh 6 ½ pounds each.

This was facilitated by constructing the point assembly on both the head and end of the shaft in a manner which allowed them to be unscrewed, an arrangement which easily permitted the adding of weight to both the head and shaft as desired. This was another of many unique methods, such as steel arm or wrist rings or jar lifting by which kung-fu students were introduced to programs tantamount to modern progressive weight training. As the element used to fill the hollow sections could be added in whatever proportion and at whatever rate the Master deemed suitable, such provisions not only led to tremendous general strength, but developed that strength along the very routes that effective use of the weapon required.

In keeping with past articles from Sifu Allen which proved to be somewhat controversial, such as the necessity of physical strength for the martial artist (see IKF, September 1989 and IKF, December 1995) and the practicality of using only ‘real’ weapons for training (see IKF, June 1989 and March 1992), nothing fills the bill in these areas better than hard work with double axes. In the second consideration, use of real weapons, its another case where the actual capability to realistically use the weapon(s) would be impossible where the flimsy nature of modern Wu Shu type weaponry completely betrays the true character of classical Chinese weapons indicative of the pre-1930’s historical era.

Green Dragon’s senior male Black Sash, Bill Peterson, performs this double axe fighting set in less than 85 seconds with the 61/2 pound axes pictured! Without sufficient physical strength in the upper body, even moving through this form is not possible for the average martial artist.

Thunder Axe Techniques

Why did such complex material evolve with axes? One way to answer this would be to contrast the use of the axe in Europe with that of the Orient. Both areas found that swords, and even the mace, would not always penetrate heavy shields and all kinds of armor. Both found that arrows will penetrate armor, but not heavy wooden shields. Axes will pierce both, and hence, are superior to staff, club, mace, spear, or sword in that regard. Further, these other weapons will break with violent use, axes never. Likewise, the shock value generated by axe use transfers so much energy through an opponent’s shield that it weakens the shield arm in seconds and quickly wears an enemy down.

As with so many other innovations, the Chinese avoided several problems or weaknesses that were characteristic of the Indo-European areas. First, in Europe and Scandinavia almost all technique focused on the chopping and cutting motions naturally emphasizing the sharp edge of the blade. Since all combat employed only a single axe any circular technique was generally utilized only to assist in directional changes and to continue to build momentum for more powerful strokes.

Moreover, two-handed use of one axe naturally led to larger and heavier weapons with longer handles, a development militating against complex circularity and speed in execution. In the absence of finesse and sophistication, the axe was employed for sheer power alone as clearly emphasized by the Vikings, and the focus was restricted to the offensive mode only. As a consequence of these considerations, warriors preferring the axe were usually the bigger and stronger in the ranks.

The Battle of Hastings in 1066 A.D. was a classic illustration of these drawbacks. The Saxons, whose primary weapon was the large single axe, were battle-tested and outnumbered the invading Normans. In an event which impacted the history of England, the Saxons should have won, and almost did. Only the skillful use of cavalry while pinning the Saxons down with arrows finally witnessed a narrow victory for the Normans after a day of savage, close-quarter fighting (the large ferocious war horses so favored by the Normans were a new experience for the Saxons). Even so, the small margin of Norman success indicates the formidable advantages inherent in the axe.
Even the addition of a spike on each end of the shaft or using a double-bladed axe didn’t give rise to circular movements and a balance of both cutting and slicing motions, nor induce a tendency to think defensively as well as concentrating on an explosive offense.

Thunder AxesConversely, the Chinese typically initiated several additional innovations: use of double axes, a high degree of circular compounding, a balanced offense and defense, and, as per the accompanying photos, employing all eleven surfaces in combinations designed to deal with any combat situation.

Even one axe properly employed, say in single 8’s for example, forces the opponent to work his shield arm to block in a manner not allowing for efficient use of his sword arm. If the axe is going against staff or spear, once maneuvering effectively inside of the long weapon, there is little chance for recovery against the axe. The closing man-to-man combat sequence from the excellent early 1950’s MGM version of Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe” is an excellent illustration of this principle. Though the apparently victorious Norman Knight, Brian Dubois Gilbert (George Sanders) intends to apply the coup de gras to the Saxon Night, Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor) with a mace and chain, he disregards the all-important recovery time element when using soft weaponry, swings the mace from right to left at the head of Ivanhoe (poor target choice!) closing his own centerline in the process (fatal error)—Ivanhoe has only to drop his head, move inside the range of the mace and chain and dispatch Gilbert with a powerful circular stroke with the battleaxe!

Used in circular fashion, so emblematic of White Lotus, a good warrior with one axe averaged at least four to six strikes within two seconds. Going to double axes advances this to eight to ten strikes! Further, the beneficial momentum generated from circular routes helps position the attacker in the chosen zone of penetration.

Summarily, some thoughts on weapons training in general, all of which apply to double axes in spades. Among the first things to consider are the components of fitness. In this day of excessive litigation when the careless pouring of a cup of hot coffee on yourself at McDonald’s yields a multi-million dollar settlement (!), it goes without saying that to show up in public with any of the 18 classical weapons associated with Northern 5-Animal Shaolin would result in abject panic!

It may be understandable to some that brandishing Oriental weaponry in the public sector can precipitate unsettling behavior due to the obsequious nature of our generally spineless citizenry, but what to have on hand to use in one’s own defense is just one in a growing list of personal liberties we’re now denied in this era of ‘political correctness’—not to mention denigration by our government by implying we’re too stupid and careless to decide what serves our own best interest.

Fortunately, the contributions to physical strength, stamina, agility, and precision in movement that is acquired with hard work on a cross-section of Chinese weaponry can stand alone as a rationale for teaching them. There is nothing to equal the combination of power, both internal and external, flexibility, and conceptual emphasis on circularity that derives from intense concentration on a variety of advanced weapons sets.

In over fifty years of training and teaching it became obvious early on that various weaknesses in novice trainees could be matched to an appropriate weapon which, when the manipulation had been mastered, would mitigate the deficiency and always in a much shorter time than with empty hand methods alone. A cross-section of weapons taught in an appropriate manner and sequence will dramatically assist in the inculcation of such hard to convey characteristics as elegance, fitness (both relate to speed), soft and smooth movement without diminishing power, staying low on the legs, and maintaining intense focus.

Secondly, the practical. Though few instructors teach the principle, THERE IS AN EMPTY HAND COUNTERPART FOR EVERY WEAPONS TECHNIQUE, BUT NOT THE REVERSE!! Learn any weapons fighting form, set the weapon(s) down, and you can instantly duplicate the routes and applications with empty hand work alone. Smashing easily converts to back or bottom fist strikes; cutting and slicing moves to open hand knife-edge applications; stabbing and thrusting to spear hand; hooking to crane or mantis hand; gouging to tiger hand, etc., etc… Large route or extended techniques work together the same way, often exactly—i.e., figure 8’s are executed in the same manner whether the hands are holding a weapon or not. Especially in the animal styles, the hands can be readily configured to resemble whatever application a specialty weapon affords in terms of its construction. Therefore, with small modifications EVERY WEAPONS FIGHTING FORM LEARNED IS AN EMPTY HAND FORM LEARNED AT ONE AND THE SAME TIME! Needless to say however, one can’t learn an empty hand form; be handed a set of six pound axes and be expected to bang off an advanced axe set—it doesn’t work in reverse.
In addition to the developmental and the practical, there is utilization for self-defense, however limited. Due to every consideration from ‘political correctness’ to terrorism, not to exclude our political and intellectual ‘friends’ on the left who actually do believe that guns cunningly load and fire themselves at children when no one is watching, it’s not kosher to arm oneself appropriately to the threats our ‘benevolent’ society presents.

The ultimate morality is not who can save themselves from assault, injury, or a life threatening situation through weapons training, and the subsequent skillful employment of same if duly provoked, but rather divorcing oneself from the inherently ‘evil’ nature of all weapons themselves—this to be in compliance with the idiotic sensitivities of bleeding heart liberals who don’t understand that a non-offensive baseball bat is really one hell of a self-defense tool, not that we want to sully the reputation of Mickey Mantle by such admission.

On this last point weapons training for women, small men, or those with limited experience, still provides the way to the ultimate ‘equalizer’. While Green Dragon’s staff can teach the broadest range of Chinese weaponry, generally classed as 36 short and 36 long, Sifu Allen insists that all students develop comprehensive knowledge and efficiency early in their experience with staff, baton, and knife. This is because expertise with these develop the ability to use all manner of readily available implements in place of the actual weapon in question. When sufficient experience has been accumulated with these three, then any long-handled tool from broom to mop to rake, any medium-length implement from cane to umbrella to pointer, and any short device from fan to metal ruler to a Bic pen become potentially lethal weapons; and, moreover, weapons which are deceptive with their apparently innocent masquerade that can metamorphose for use in self-defense only if intense training in maneuver and manipulation has been received.

Expertise with the more advanced, exotic weapons requires years of additional training. The nine senior students on Green Dragon’s staff pictured in this article have 148 years of combined experience in weapons instruction. Singular dedication to intensive training undertaken for an extended period of time can produce remarkable capabilities in a student when it comes to utilizing common household utensils as lethal combat tools. The ‘death by teacup’ sequence from the film “Chronicles of Riddick” (Vin Diesel) can be transferred from the realm of fantasy to the world of reality.

As stated in a previous article for IKF, the same fascination of man for weapons that has existed since the mythological period in Chinese history remains today only in those styles that can offer training in a large cross-section of authentic weaponry. All of these factors provide sufficient justification for spending a good percentage of intense training time exploring the diverse benefits that only the mastery of Oriental weapons will provide.

Director & Co-Director
Green Dragon Studio
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