SIX (AND A HALF) POINTS OF POWER: Best Wing Chun Long Poles 2020

My instructor Keith (front) and me (back) demonstrating Wing Chun’s luk dim boon gwun, or six-and-one-half-point-pole set during one of Chinatown’s annual summer fair celebrations.

The Wing Chun itself system is very small in its’ core teachings and curriculum, and is designed that way for a very specific purpose. There are only three empty hand sets,  the muk yan jong or wooden dummy set, and two weapon sets: one for longer range and one for shorter.  Together they comprise a complete progression taking one through all facets of self-defense and close-range combat skill.  Each one is vital to the mix and contains lessons which will enhance your ability to protect and defend yourself and your loved ones. 

Once the foundation and basic principles, techniques and concepts have been ingrained in your muscle memory by way of the forms, dummy and chi sau drills, weapons are introduced in order to reinforce those ideas and key principles by applying them to something outside and independent of your physical body. 

The first weapon set that is taught is for longer range; the luk dim boon gwun or “six and one-half point pole” set.  Its’ value to the practitioner as a tool to reinforce the concepts of body unity and angle cutting both for self-defense and full-contact fighting is immense and can only be appreciated with constant dedicated practice.  Choosing the proper pole to learn and apply the techniques, concepts and principles in the pole form to your own Wing Chun experience is a very important decision and must be treated as such.


How To Choose The Perfect Pole For Your Needs

When deciding on the best Wing Chun long pole to suit your needs, three main factors or questions must be addressed:

  • LENGTH – How long should the pole be? The standard traditional Wing Chun pole has a length of 108 inches (why I have no idea). I have seen Wing Chun poles from anywhere from 8 to 12 ft long, however a length between 8.5 – 9.5 feet seems to be a standard.
  • MATERIAL – What is your pole made of? Wing Chun poles are often quite heavy, not like the standard lightweight rattan staff used by several other arts.  The Wing Chun pole is as much a conditioning tool as it is a weapon of self-defense or combat, and its’ form is every bit a conditioning set since the tendons in the wrist and arms are strengthened as well as those of each of the individual fingers in both hands.  The material a pole is made from also determines the density and thickness of each pole, since not all long poles are created equal. Training poles tend to be much heavier and stronger since they will have to stand up to repeated contact and banging together as two partners engage in round after round of drills. Demonstration poles generally speaking tend to be lighter and of a softer material since very minimal contact will be made and these are mostly for show.  For purposes of this review we will focus on those of the training variety since they can be used for demonstration as well as daily practice both solo or with a partner.
  • COST / PRICE – How much are you willing to invest in a quality training pole?  Due to their size and high strength to weight ratio, Wing Chun long poles are not cheap.  As a rule, you should always seek to purchase the highest quality pole you can afford. Most practitioners use the long pole at demonstrations  where only slight contact is made for a few minutes at a time, however, by only training with a demonstration pole of lighter weight they rob themselves of the conditioning benefits built into pole training itself.  My thought is this: by purchasing a training pole, all of your bases are covered: you have a pole with all of the strength and structural integrity to withstand a great degree of abuse as well as the polish and finish of a performance ready piece of equipment.

Why The Long Pole Is Essential To Your Wing Chun Training

Before we get into which poles I feel are the best for your training needs, let’s talk for a moment about why the Wing Chun long pole is so important to your training.

Wing Chun as an art and a system of self-defense is based on close-in fighting. Every aspect of training from the first day is it geared towards in-your-face contact with another person intent to do you harm. It always struck me coming up the ranks as a bit of a paradox that at the highest levels of Wing Chun we use two weapons forms, and (seemingly) antiquated and outdated ones at that.

Now that I understand the system more thoroughly I can see not only their place in the system and importance in skill development, but also why the two weapons chosen were what they are. All weapons are extensions of the hand.  What the long pole teaches is the cutting of very acute angles through the idea of body unity, or moving your entire body as one unit.  Each shift in your core, no matter how small or insignificant, will reflect in a distance of several inches at the tip of the pole.

Watch the following demonstration of the long pole set and notice how he uses the leg as a fulcrum to produce force while keeping the body tight and compact.  This tight, compact structure is what makes pole training so valuable for Wing Chun; once structure gets looser and the motions get loopier, the set loses a great deal of its lessons, instead taking on the shape of other, more conventional staff sets requiring much more motion to produce results.

This is why the the luk dim boon gwun or “six and one-half point pole” set is the first weapon form taught once the hand forms and dummy set are completed, and with good reason.  It has been said that you do not truly know something until you can apply it to an unrelated topic. What the weapons forms, and specifically the long pole form, is how to maneuver your body as one unit so that the angles cut are as a small and acutely as possible to affect a larger shift in your opponent’s structure. 

This principle can be seen in the tan gwun technique, for example, whereby the Wing Chun practitioner, using his leg as a fulcrum for the lever that is the pole, rotates his wrist inward no more than an inch but traveling down the 9 or 10 ft. length of the pole results in a movement of around 12 to 18 inches.

I always like to think of it as akin to how a veterinarian will perform surgery on a squirrel with tiny surgical instruments or the way surgeons use very small tools with microscopes or magnifying glasses on to maneuver these tiny instruments to perform the necessary surgery on the artery of a heart transplant recipient.

Check out the following clip of the late Grandmaster Wong Shun Leung, patriarch of my lineage of Wing Chun, teaching the pole set and taking an extra second to clarify the correlation between the tan sau empty-hand technique and the tan gwun pole technique below:

If both parties are holding a Wing Chun pole and engaging in drills or technique training, that means at a minimum they are around 18 to 20 ft away from each other.  This distance is crucial as it allows you to see just how effective a small shift in your body can be when applied correctly.

By training this way, you reinforce your empty hand techniques used and applied in much closer range by allowing yourself to see how each small motion creates a “ripple effect” of sorts, something damn near impossible to pick up on in the heat of a self-defense scenario, chi sau session, kickboxing match or full-contact lei tai fight.

Now that we are all on the same page as to why the long pole is such a valuable and necessary component of training, let’s have a look at the best Wing Chun long poles to integrate into your own personal training regimen and equipment, but first,one more aside…

To Smash or Not To Smash

“Smash Training” is, basically speaking, where you are slamming the tip of the pole into the ground as hard as you can – usually in an attempt to hit something (walnuts, coins, chalk, opponent’s toes, etc.) It is a form of training accuracy and power that some lineages perform. Of course, such training quite often breaks poles. Any poles listed below for smash training will be notated, however as Wing Chun folk, we have little to no use for such “smash training.”

For a pole to be recommend for smash training it must be determined that it needs to be very strong.  This is represented by what is known as having a “Janka rating.”  Such a pole needs to be very strong but still with some flexibility so it does not snap, and it needs to be a little thicker than the typical pole. That extra thickness makes a huge difference.

For the Janka rating test, the pole is slammed around 20 times into the ground with as much force as possible – rotating it slightly with each hit, so any structural weakness is tested.  Wooden long poles that break during this testing are not sold, However, just because it does not break during such “smash training” testing  testing does not mean that such training can or should be recommended with such a pole.  Wood is not indestructible, and poles will always break if hit hard enough.

Wing Chun pole work will involve solo forms, solo drills against objects such as poking or thrusting the tip to strike at hanging bits of wood, partner drills, partner pole sparring and eventually, pole vs butterfly swords sparring.  We do not engage in “smash training,” however in the interest of being as accurate and as thorough as possible I have included this notation to address this practice.

OK, now let’s get on with the list.


The Best Wing Chun Poles of 2020

Bruce Bao Heavy Hopea (Giam) Iron Wood Long Pole

This long pole is made from Heavy Hopea (Giam) Iron wood, and has a Janka Rating of about 2250 pounds of force (in other words, pretty damn strong.  Growing throughout Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea, these trees are reported to grow upwards of 45m in height, with trunks reaching 120cm in diameter or more.

Heavy Hopea is commonly used in boat building and marine construction, domestic and commercial flooring, decking, heavy construction, joinery, mine timbers, wharf construction, building and construction, handles and sporting goods.

Specifications:
Length: 104 inches (8 ft. 8 in. or 2.64 m) due to current shipping regulations.
Weight: HEAVY on average a pole is 6.6 – 7.7 lbs (3.0 – 3.5 kgs), but it does fluctuate some based on density.
Diameter (approximate): 1.57 inches (4cm) at handle gradually tapered to 1.18 inch at tip (3 cm). 1.5 to 1 inch is also common. These measurements are approximate as each pole is hand made and slightly different.

– This pole is varnished for maximum protection, which will aid in keeping your pole protected against repeated use for years.
– This pole was professionally dried to maintain correct moisture and minimize cracking.  We all know wet wood warps and eventually weakens, which is no bueno for training.  Dried wood is stronger, straighter and more durable which will allow you to engage in round after round of aggressive pole training.
– This pole is hand-crafted and the wood for this pole was legally harvested.  You can’t beat hand crafted detail, and the fact that the wood was legally harvested means by purchasing this pole you are doing your part in ensuring workers are compensated fairly and that the natural resources are not being unnecessarily depleted.
– The wood resistant to rot.  You can practice in all seasons and, provided you maintain your long pole (more on that later) it will last for years and years.

Suitability:
This pole is great for exercises (heavy), form work, partner pole work, work with swords, etc. This is not really suitable for smash training.


Bruce Bao Kwan Din Long Pole

Wood:
This long pole is made from an Ironwood that some Sifus think was originally used by the famous Red Boats and is also called Kwan Din (I personally do not think this is the legendary Qwan Din that Buick Yip uses in his long pole listed below, but rather a similar species). The wood is hard and does oxidate like Qwan Din, with the heartwood turning a deep brown over time. Regardless, this is an excellent pole.

Specifications:
Length: Approx 104 inches (8 ft. 8 in. or 2.64 m) due to current shipping regulations.
Weight: On average a pole is 6-7 lbs (2.7 – 3.1 kgs), but it does fluctuate some based on density. Many are over 3kg.
Diameter: Approx 1.5/1.57 inches (4cm) at handle gradually tapered to 1.25 inch at tip (3.8 cm).
Measurements are not exact as each pole is hand made, but should be close.  The tapered end is a bit wider than the tapered tip of the above pole, as this is a bit of a thicker pole in general.

Features/Notes:
– This pole is waxed/oiled. You can consider varnishing it for maximum protection, which is recommended to seal for maximum durability and usage.
– This pole was professionally dried to maintain correct moisture and minimize cracking.  This will allow you to engage in many rounds of weapons training and sparring without fearing damage occuring from normal usage
– This pole is hand-crafted and the wood for this pole was legally harvested.  Doing your part to support fair trade, craftsmanship and decent wages while protecting natural resource all while getting a hell of a nice long pole?  Seems like a no-brainer to me.
– The wood resistant to rot which, as stated above, means that you can practice in all seasons and, provided you maintain your long pole (more on that later) it will last for years and years.

**One special note on this line of long poles: the surface of the wood turns a dark color over time when it comes in contact with oxygen. During shipping, or training, the surface may slightly rub and you will see a lighter wood color – this is normal and that lighter wood will darken over time.

Suitability:
This pole is great for exercises, form work, partner pole work, work with swords, etc.

NOTE: This pole is thick enough to use for smash training…why you’d want to is beyond me, though!


Bruce Bao African Sapele Mahogany Long Pole

This long pole is made from African Sapele/Sapelli/Sapeli.  For all you natural wonder buffs out there, the Scientific name is entandrophragma cylindricum.  Sapelli is a very popular African redwood often called “Sapelli Mahogany,” since it is in the same family as Mahogany although it is harder and denser than Mahogany.

Specifications:
Length: This pole averages a few inches shorter than our previous poles listed at around 8 ft. 6in. or 2.6 m per current shipping regulations.
Weight : Approx 2.25 – 2.4 Kg ~ 5 lbs (varies with each pole).
Diameter: 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) at handle gradually tapered to 1.18 inch at the tip (3 cm). These measurements are approximate as each pole is hand made and slightly different.

Features/Notes:
– This pole is varnished with a clear coat, always a plus for any pole you plan on using for more than solo or forms training.
– This pole was professionally dried to maintain correct moisture and minimize cracking.  Repeated usage will stress the structure of the pole; by pre-drying this pole, cracking will be much more difficult provided the pole is used properly and cared for correctly (more on that later).
– This pole is hand-crafted and the wood for this pole was legally harvested.  You cannot beat hand crafted detail and by only purchasing legally harvested wood we can all ensure that natural resources are not being stripped without adequate resources replaced.

Suitability:
This pole is great for exercises, form work, partner pole work, work with swords, etc.  I would not use this pole for any type of “smash work,” instead sticking to only the Wing Chun exercises themselves – honestly, there’s no reason to smash a long pole into the ground, anyway- at least not for Wing Chun.


Buick Yip – Qwan Din Long Pole

Now these poles are no joke!

These poles come from Qwan Dim (Quan Dim) that was used on an old boat. The wood is can be 100 years old! These really are are one-of-a-kind poles and for real Wing Chun practitioners, let’s just say this is a dream pole!

Qwan Dim (Quan Dim) is a heavy dense wood that is commonly used in making oars, like the long oars in the sampan, and it can be put into water permanently and will not rot. They are also heavy and flexible (imagine the long oars rowing against water constantly).

According to Wing Chun legends, the martial art was partially updated during the time its practitioners were part of the Red Boat Operas. This is the period of time in which the long pole was added as a weapon into the Wing Chun system. Considering these boats used long poles made from Qwan Dim to help with their movement and navigation, we believe this is the wood of the original Wing Chun Lum Dim Boon Gwun pole, called the Six and a Half Point Pole, Dragon Pole, or Long pole.

This pole is a little under 104 inches (2.64 m) and is slightly tapered. Technically, the poles should be longer than this – up to 15 feet according to Yip Man – but due to the scarcity of the wood and current UPS, FedEx, DHL, and USPS shipping regulations, getting one shipped to you that is 15 feet long consists of two options: slim and the other one that rhymes with none (I actually have a solution to this length issue for training purposes, that I will address in a separate post).

These poles (and all poles, actually) should be stored vertically.  Do not lean your pole against a wall or let it lie flat, both can cause the poles to warp.

Qwan Din turns from a medium brown color to a dark color fairly quickly. This is normal and you can see the change happening in the pictures. This effect is quickened by the oils in your hands when you use the pole.

Note on Availability: Qwan Din is a very hard wood to obtain for long poles and currently, there are no good sources of wood available. As soon as the trees grow and mature we’ll be able to offer these poles again, but that may take a while! So if the poles are available and you want one order it right away!


Generic White Oak Long Pole

A staple in many Wing Chun schools due to the reasonable price and availability of oak wood, this long pole is made of the hardwood White Oak.  The first pole I ever used was actually this very one.  Nothing fancy-just a solid, stable, no-frills pole.  It’s shorter length and lighter weight make this an ideal starter pole for anyone just beginning their pole work.

Specifications:
Length: This pole is noticeably shorter than those listed above, at just 98 inches (8 ft. 2 in. or 2.48 m)
Weight : This pole is noticeably lighter, topping the scales at approx 4.5 lbs, making this ideal for beginners or as a backup or “knockaround” pole to have.
Diameter : 1.5 inches at handle with a gradual tapering to 1 inch at the tip.

Features/Notes:
– The base and tip are slightly rounded, making it easier to handle.
– This pole has a clear varnish already applied, meaning this pole is ready to go right out of the box.
– This pole was professionally dried to maintain correct moisture and minimize cracking.

Suitability:
This pole is good for all “normal” pole work. (i.e. form work, partner pole work, work with swords, exercises, etc). I have found these oak poles to be good overall poles. The downside (for some people) is the length and they are and how much they taper makes them “thin” (the tip comes to 1″ instead of 1.25 inches.) However, they are some of the most popular poles sold in the Wing Chun community. This pole is a normal thickness, so it is not thick enough for smash training.


2-Section Training Pole

It is a given that the biggest obstacle to overcome in your Wing Chun long pole training is the sheer length of the damn thing!  How can you take this pole anywhere unless you drive a pickup truck or cargo van? Want to run through the pole form at the beach or at the forerst preserve outside?  Think again, pal.  Fortunately insofar as forms training is concerned, this pole solves that problem.

This new patented long pole is easy to be disassembled into 2 parts, portable, easy for transportation, easy to be installed, and easy for training.  Joined at the mid-line by a male/female connected screw, the 2 parts form a pole 8.75 ft  long that weighs around 6.5 lbs.

The taper of this long pole is from approx. 1.25 to 1.5 in. at the handle end, to to approx. 3/4″ to 1 in. at the tip; a bit smaller of a taper than standard Wing Chun pole but, since it’s just for demo and form work, who cares?  The important stats – length and weight-are still within the norm range so that is all you should be concerned with for training and conditioning purposes.

The pole is made out of china boxwood that is one of the hardest wood in China, although I would not use these poles for any partner, weapon or (obviously) smash training.  These poles are best suited for solo forms training or for non-contact long pole demonstration work.


Taking Care Of Your Long Pole:  Do’s and Dont’s

Getting ready to perform yet another demo. The long poles I am carrying are years old and have barely shown any signs of wear, despite regular use. Lesson: you get what you pay for, so invest wisely.

The following tips will prolong the life of the poles:

– Use oil or re-varnish them at least once per year. This reapplication helps keep the moisture out (which prevents warping and cracking).
– If it comes unvarnished, it is highly recommend that, if unvarnished, you varnish your pole and if varnished, you oil your pole well upon receiving it. Unprotected wood warps easily.
– Store 100% vertically with the tip down, or flat on the floor. Otherwise, poles can warp.  There are several weapon or pole racks on the market today.  Plunk down the dough for one.
– Wrapping the tip (or base) with tape can help keep them from splintering and cracking over time.

Treat the pole right, it will treat you right.  You wouldn’t drive without regular oil changes and tune-ups, so don’t train without maintaining the vehicle by which you will arrive at your Wing Chun destination- and this is true not just for the long pole, but for all training gear and equipment.


Conclusion: What Makes the Long Pole So Important

Performing the long pole set. It always makes me chuckle how such a small and unassuming form contains so many hidden technical and conceptual gems.

In conclusion, the Wing Chun long pole -while at first glance seeming antiquated, outdated and completely unrelated to Wing Chun purpose and application (to the untrained eye)- actually represents one half of the highest level of training of the system, the other being the swords (more on them later).  It is only right, therefore, to do your diligence and choose the best pole to serve your needs. 

Choosing the proper Wing Chun long pole for you requires that you honestly address and answer the following three questions

  • LENGTH – how long should your long pole be?
  • MATERIAL – what material should your pole be made from based on your usage needs?
  • COST – How much can you afford to spend on a long pole to enahnce your lifelong training?

Once you can honestly and succinctly answer the preceding questions you are and then in the position to make the most informed decision possible as to which long pole best serves your purpose.

Remember, you do not truly know anything until you can boil it down to its simplest concept and then take that concept and apply it to something seemingly unrelated because you are now able to view the conceptual commonalities between the two seemingly unrelated topics.  This requires a discerning mindset, which is actually a hallmark of serious and dedicated Wing Chun practice.

Once you have built a firm foundation and have a solid grasp of all empty hand techniques, principles and drills, you are then ready to begin training the weapons forms. In doing so, the concepts of weapons training and how they relate to Wing Chun as a system of self-defense as well as the application of those techniques for activities like tournament participation, full contact fighting and even MMA (yes, these concepts are just as applicable to MMA competition as any other training methodology!) seep into your subconscious mind and express themselves in every other aspect of Wing Chun training.

By beginning your weapons training, you have begun to fit the last piece into the circle that is total Wing Chun.  You will have touched the “final level,” Bruce Leroy!

(if you need an explanation of that little gem, google it while I stand here and shake my head).

Train Smart, Stay Safe

Sifu Bobby

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