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Shaolin's Eyebrow Staff

Updated: Jul 22, 2023


Left: a detail from a late Qing dynasty fresco in Baiyi Hall at Shaolin Si. Right: page spread from Exposition of the Original Shaolin Stick Methods" 少林棍法阐宗

Because there are so few documents on Shaolin, people put too much reliance on books such as "Exposition of the Original Shaolin Stick Methods" 少林棍法阐宗. As a result, in some cases, this limited information is applied in a blanket fashion and presented as authoritative. In the "Exposition of the Original Shaolin Stick Methods" case, it is important to understand that Cheng Zongyou*, the source of this book, although well-educated, was not a monk or from a military family but from either a farm or merchant family. Cheng's study was limited in that he and some of his relatives went to Shaolin Monastery to learn combat to protect their farms from the threat of invaders. From Cheng's book, it is apparent that what he learned at Shaolin was a long tapered military style staff and not Qi Mei Gun 齊(齐)眉棍, the unique staff of Shaolin Monastery.

Note the shorter staff (above and below) are details from late Qing dynasty frescos in Baiyi Hall at Shaolin Si. Qi Mei Gun (eyebrow height staff) was referred to as an 'a weapon to enter the mountain' Called 'jin men gun' 進門棍 (translated as, 'staff at the entrance gate'). This style of staff was, as a rule, not taught to outsiders. Although there are some similarities between the tapered long staff and the 'Qi Mei Gun,' these are two different weapons, each with its own sets.



A monk with an 'eyebrow' staff is depicted in a mural in Baiyi Hall at Shaolin Si.

In ancient times, Shaolin monks practiced different kinds of staff weapons. Qi Mei Gun 齊(齐)眉棍, is a kind of staff (this is not a set name) which was unique to the Shaolin Monastery. During Shaolin's early history, knives and edged weapons were not allowed in the monastery and were illegal, except for those used for cutting firewood and kitchen utensils. However, because Buddhist monasteries, particularly the large public ones, contained large granaries and other provisions, they were attractive targets for robber bands such as the Lülin (Green Forest Bandits) and renegade bands of rebels and invaders; staves were used to defend the monastery. According to our older generations, these non-alarmed staves were kept at the entrance gate. Those who had learned martial arts for one year were taught staff fighting so that they could protect the monastery. The correct length of this staff is measured to the user's eyebrow - that is why it is called a '齊眉棍': same height/level with the eyebrow staff. Both Songshan Shaolin and the southern Shaolin styles used this weapon. However, the old Songshan Shaolin Qi Mei Gun sets are quite different from the Southern sets in terms of technique, how the weapon is held, and how power is generated. The 'southern' Shaolin, Qi Mei Gun, is a 'double-headed staff' and, therefore, mostly gripped both hands with palms down. The Songshan Shaolin, Qi Mei Gun, has a single 'head' and 'tail' and is mostly griped with one hand, palm up, and the other, palm down.


*Cheng Zongyou 程宗猷 (1561-1636) is noted for his publication "Shaolin Gunfa Changzong" or Elucidation of Shaolin Staff Techniques, as well as the Gengyu Shengji (Skills Beyond Farming), which described various other weapons systems, including Japanese kenjutsu. His techniques recorded in Shaolin Gunfa Changzong were the first transmitted only orally.

Cheng's early years are somewhat obscure; he was born into a wealthy family owning land in the southern part of what is now Anhui Province, and his education was likely literary instead of military. It is suggested that Cheng studied at Shaolin monastery and wrote about some of his training, but he also learned techniques related to Japanese swordsmanship from other tutors who had studied with Japanese experts.


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