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Thread: Ritual Weapons of Chinese Folk Religion

  1. #1
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    Ritual Weapons of Chinese Folk Religion

    I'm unsure how many people are familiar with the concept of spirit-mediums (Ch: jitong, 乩童; Hokkien: tangki 童乩) in Chinese folk religion. For those who don't know, they are believed by their respective communities to channel the spirits of gods and bodhisattvas, giving believers direct access to the divine. What's interesting is that they use the "Five Treasures" (wu bao, 五寶), a prescribed set of ritual weapons, to inflict wounds on themselves. Self-mortification serves two purposes: 1) The weapons are believed to charge the medium with spiritual power when the blades/spikes pierce the flesh. This aids the medium in his battle against malevolent forces; 2) The resulting holy blood is believed to ward off evil. It is often smeared on paper talismans to call on heavenly forces.

    The main reason I'm making this thread is to share a picture of a set of Five Treasures that I just acquired in Wanhua District, Taipei City, Taiwan. These are by no means heirlooms. But the quality of the weapons is not important, only their intended use in folk rituals. These include a spiked ball, a spiked mace, a sawfish nose sword (the biological product has been replaced here by a modern metal variant), a seven-star crescent moon axe, and a seven-star jian.

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  2. #2
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    I had that axe!

    I'm not sure where it came from, but I plucked that axe from a random bin of discards in the Tiger Claw warehouse. It was probably a sample from some vendor. Mine had a natural wood handle and the axe head wasn't polished like that, just left with chromed metal, but it had the exact same seven star pattern. Definitely the same weapon, only yours has been upgraded.

    I'm not sure what happened to it. I kept it by my desk for years, just in case, ya know? (actually it wasn't sharp but I kept it because it amused me). When the mag folded and I had to pack up my desk of 20+ years, I may have packed it, or I may have gifted it away. I don't remember.

    As for the Jian, I've seen similar versions from that same maker - full length versions. I recognize the fittings and the scabbard. That metal scabbard was exceptional. And those Jian were nice - well balanced for practice. How's the blade on that?
    Gene Ching
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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneChing View Post
    I'm not sure where it came from, but I plucked that axe from a random bin of discards in the Tiger Claw warehouse. It was probably a sample from some vendor. Mine had a natural wood handle and the axe head wasn't polished like that, just left with chromed metal, but it had the exact same seven star pattern. Definitely the same weapon, only yours has been upgraded.

    I'm not sure what happened to it. I kept it by my desk for years, just in case, ya know? (actually it wasn't sharp but I kept it because it amused me). When the mag folded and I had to pack up my desk of 20+ years, I may have packed it, or I may have gifted it away. I don't remember.
    Cool! It's a shame you lost track of it. It's interesting that a vendor was selling them in the US. I've only seen them used in said rituals here in Taiwan and Singapore.

    Quote Originally Posted by GeneChing View Post
    As for the Jian, I've seen similar versions from that same maker - full length versions. I recognize the fittings and the scabbard. That metal scabbard was exceptional. And those Jian were nice - well balanced for practice. How's the blade on that?
    The blade isn't bad. The stars are brass pins that pass through both sides and are ground to a smooth finish.

    Here's a picture of Taiwanese tangki using their jian.

    https://imagizer.imageshack.com/v2/1...922/p7MqYc.jpg

  4. #4
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    Fascinating topic, ghostexorcist. Worthy of your forum name!

    Quote Originally Posted by ghostexorcist View Post
    Cool! It's a shame you lost track of it. It's interesting that a vendor was selling them in the US. I've only seen them used in said rituals here in Taiwan and Singapore.
    I'm sure it's somewhere. I just can't remember if I passed it on or kept it. My former office is stored in maybe a half dozen boxes and it pains me to search through those. Still sad about losing the print mag and my full time position there. It was a great job while it lasted and I'm grateful that I'm still doing some of it part time for the web.

    Tiger Claw got a lot of fascinating samples over the years - we have designated buyers in China that seek out new possible products (although I'm not sure what's happening with that now due to the pandemic). Many of the samples, like that axe, were of interest to people like us, but there's no market for them. Consequently they'd end up in the Tiger Claw parking lot sales, unless I spotted them and grabbed them.

    You know, I always wanted to run more stories about ritual weapons and martial arts in folk religion. I feel that's a major influence on Kung Fu that's sorely overlooked, just like Chinese opera.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
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  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by GeneChing View Post

    You know, I always wanted to run more stories about ritual weapons and martial arts in folk religion. I feel that's a major influence on Kung Fu that's sorely overlooked, just like Chinese opera.
    So true. Ritual weapons are a very interesting subject and there's a huge overlap with what are called power-objects in Native American studies. I had to regift one of those kung fu canes with a sword inside because that thing had a mind of it own...

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneChing View Post
    I'm sure it's somewhere. I just can't remember if I passed it on or kept it. My former office is stored in maybe a half dozen boxes and it pains me to search through those. Still sad about losing the print mag and my full time position there. It was a great job while it lasted and I'm grateful that I'm still doing some of it part time for the web.

    Tiger Claw got a lot of fascinating samples over the years - we have designated buyers in China that seek out new possible products (although I'm not sure what's happening with that now due to the pandemic). Many of the samples, like that axe, were of interest to people like us, but there's no market for them. Consequently they'd end up in the Tiger Claw parking lot sales, unless I spotted them and grabbed them.

    You know, I always wanted to run more stories about ritual weapons and martial arts in folk religion. I feel that's a major influence on Kung Fu that's sorely overlooked, just like Chinese opera.
    I can write something for the online magazine if you'd like.

  7. #7
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    Thanks!

    Quote Originally Posted by ghostexorcist View Post
    I can write something for the online magazine if you'd like.
    I was hoping you might say that. Email me at gene@kungfumagazine.com and we can discuss this. Here's our submission guidelines.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  8. #8
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    Weapons superstitions

    I'm not overly superstitious, but as a former sword maker and weapons vendor, I've always been mindful of ritual and etiquette. I had our Feng Shui columnist write The Feng Shui of Sword Display for us.

    Quote Originally Posted by YinOrYan View Post
    I had to regift one of those kung fu canes with a sword inside because that thing had a mind of it own...
    That being said, you cannot gift blades haphazard. It's symbolic of cutting off the relationship. You must sell them for a penny. My parents gave me a kitchen knife when I moved out as a symbolic gesture.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by GeneChing View Post

    That being said, you cannot gift blades haphazard. It's symbolic of cutting off the relationship. You must sell them for a penny. My parents gave me a kitchen knife when I moved out as a symbolic gesture.
    Well it was not exactly a gift to me. I was driving through a blizard in the Canadian wilderness and stopped and a gas station in the middle of nowhere. When I went back to my car a little girl that looked a fairy whips the sword out of the dragon cane and points at my throat, so I said "that's nice, how much to you want for it?" A loud man's voice from the forest screamed some amount. I took the money out of my wallet and gave it to her and she handed me the thing disappeared...

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