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Armed Escorts and the Tiger Hooks

Updated: 1 day ago

Shaolin Hu Tou Shuang Gou 빪頭雙鉤

Here are some online declarations by alleged experts about the Chinese Hook swords.

". .. (hook sword are) ceremonial items. "

"Tiger hook Swords have a dubious history . . ."

". . . tiger hook swords are, somehow, a fantasy weapon . . ."

". . . The tiger hook swords might have had their origin in Chinese novels and opera."

" . . . and definitely not (used) in real sparring."

" . . . it's more of a fantasy weapon."

First some context.

By the eighteenth century, the expansion of trade in Imperial China had led to the establishment of private guard organizations known as biaju 鏢局. The companies were run like businesses and provided protective services, ensuring safety for merchants traveling through remote northern plains. One record in the 1700s identified thirteen such

companies in Beijing. Moreover, the increase of trade and transportation in North China saw a rise in professional thieves who specialized in robbery, spurring a growth in these armed escort organizations during the Qing period. Traveling could take weeks or months, whether using horses and camels, carts with one, two or four wheels, or boats.

The concept of escorts and bodyguards is old, but the first 'armed' escort company / bodyguard agencies was founded around the eighteenth century. Martial arts masters started calling themselves biaoshi 鏢師 (escort-masters) and began forming armed escort companies, usually with a lineage that could be traced back to a founding martial arts master. These companies specialized in weapons training and combat skills. By the end of the 19th century, these escort companies were becoming more competitive as they focused on services such as escorting letters, delivering money, transporting merchandise, personal protection, and home security. Xinglong Biaoju 興隆鏢局 was the earliest documented formal escort company, established in 1735 in Beijing.

Weapon proficiency was a major part of these martial arts-based escort services. Not only were these abilities necessary for using the weapons, but showing off the weapons while traveling was a form of intimidation scaring off any potential robbers or thieves. The methods that bodyguarding companies employed to advertise and intimidate can be seen in the banners called Biao qí 镖 旗, which were displayed alongside weapons during deliveries. Additionally, banners and other kinds of weaponry would often be exhibited in entryways and offices act as kind of A kind of 'window display' to attract customers. You can look at images from the Tong Xing Gong Escort Agency - now a museum in Shanxi Province and an early postcard below to get a better understanding.

Take note of the visible weapons in the offices of 同兴公镖局 Tong Xing Gong Escort Agency, which was founded by Wang Zhengqing in Shanxi Province in 1855. While living in Beijing, Wang studied Shaolin wushu from Master Liu Liu and later Jia Diankui, Liu Liu's senior brother.

The offices of 同兴公镖局 Tong Xing Gong

Wang Zhengqing 王正清 (1801-1877)

Above is a detail of a postcard from 1912 depicting the entrance of a Quanzhou escort service showing a typical display of weapons. Quanzhou was a major port center of trade for centuries. (Source:

The double tiger hooks/hook Swords Hu Tou Shuang Gou 빪頭雙鉤 was a costly weapon to

make, so it wasn't really seen very often. However, this type of weapon was most likely created during the time when armed escorts were thriving in 18th century China. They would mainly be employed by those trained in Northern Chinese martial arts. My Shaolin teacher informed me that these weapons were mainly used by armed escorts. Note that brigands were sometimes referred to as "tigers." Perhaps the most widely known story about tigers in China comes from a story in the classic 14th-century novel Outlaws of the Marsh, in which the warrior Wu Song kills a tiger which has savaged many travellers.

The double tiger hooks were not usually carried but could be hung or stored on a cart. Although many martial arts schools have solo practice sets, very few have contact sets. Our Shaolin tradition still practices a contact set with the two weapons, and below is an incredibly rare photo from 1917 of two students from Beijing at the International YMCA college (now Springfield College) in Massachusetts doing a contact set. It's possible they trained at the Shanghai Jingwu Association, given their uniforms. Below are two screen captures from the contact set taught at the Henan Shaolin Association. Also, below is a montage of stills from online videos with various individuals sparring with the hook sword. Even with individuals not formally trained in Chinese hooks swords, this weapon's effectiveness is strikingly clear.

Are tiger hooks effect in combat? Are they being used in 'real' sparring? Yes, and yes!

Shaolin Hu Tou Shuang Gou 빪頭雙鉤

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