Chinese Hook Sword: History and Use in Martial Arts
The most exotic-looking Chinese weapon, the hook sword features a crescent moon handguard and a hook at the end of the blade. It is also known as fu tao or gou and usually comes in pairs, hence called the double hook swords. We’ve compiled a guide on what to look for in a hook sword, its history, and use in Chinese martial arts.
Characteristics of the Chinese Hook Sword
The hook sword gained popularity due to its unusual structure. Its parts were carefully designed to complement one another. Unlike regular swords, it consists of four weapons combined in one: the hook, blade, crescent, and spike.
Here are the unique characteristics of the sword:
Traditional Chinese swords have a sharp tip, but this sword has a small hook near the tip, similar to canes or a shepherd’s crook. Rather than for attacking, it is used to lock, control, and catch weapons. When used in pairs, the hooked portion can be linked together to increase the attack range.
The sword has a sharp blade, similar to the double-edged jian, though it may be thicker. The overall length of the hook sword can be around 100 centimeters, with its blade length around 60 centimeters. Like any sword, the blade is efficient for cutting, slashing, and controlling the enemy’s weapon.
The Crescent Guar
Regular swords have rounded handguards or crossguards to protect the hands, but the Chinese hook sword has a crescent moon handguard that is also sharp. Its crescent blade can be more than 30 centimeters long and 10 centimeters wide, which can block or slice at close range.
While many types of swords have a pommel on the end of hilts, the hook sword has a sharpened, dagger-like spike. Its spike can be more than 20 centimeters long and functions as a dagger. As a martial arts weapon, it requires extensive training to keep from cutting your own hands.
What Makes a Hook Sword Better Than Other Swords?
Unlike regular swords, like the Chinese jian and the Japanese katana, the hook sword is extremely versatile. In fact, each section of the sword has multiple defending and attacking functions.
The Chinese hook sword is efficient against other weapons.
The saber was not an uncommon weapon in private matches or on the battlefield, so the wielder would use the hooked end of the sword to trap the saber’s blade. While controlling the opponent’s weapon, the practitioner would attack using the spike and the crescent sections of the sword. Also, the hooked portion of the sword was efficient in controlling the enemy’s shield.
Practitioners frequently use hook swords in pairs.
If four blades were not enough, the Chinese hook swords can be used in pairs, giving the wielder the advantage of having eight weapons on hand. When linked together, the double hook swords can increase the attack range, in which the wielder would swing one sword and extend the other. Also, the wielder could lock and control the enemy’s weapon with one sword and use the other sword to attack. However, some martial arts forms only use one sword.
In battles, the hook sword served as a shield.
The hook sword was efficient for fending off a saber or a spear-wielding opponent. Compared to the ordinary shield, it was not limited to just parrying and blocking. In fact, its crescent and spike sections make it a formidable weapon.
The hook sword is one of the most challenging weapons to disarm.
Disarming an opponent using a broadsword or a long sword is easier because it is possible to control the hand that holds the weapon. However, the Chinese hook sword has a bladed, crescent moon guard that attaches above the handle. Even with extreme speed and quick reflexes, the crescent guard itself functions as a deadly weapon that injures an enemy.
The hook sword is versatile to use with other weapons.
In some cases, the practitioner used the hook sword along with a saber. When the enemy’s defenses were breached, one would use the saber for slashing. The hook swords can also be thrown short distances.
They are often well-tempered, forge-folded high-carbon steel.
Back in the day, high-quality hook swords were more expensive to make than the traditional long swords and sabers. Still, most hook swords used in training were well-tempered, high-carbon steel. Today, you can find these swords in varying materials suited for different purposes.
History of the Chinese Hook Sword
Throughout history, the Chinese used a variety of weapons with hooks and crescents designed for different purposes.
Evolution of the Chinese Hook Swords
Hook swords developed from the double-edged jian and had various modifications before having their design today. Originally a separate hook was placed near the upper section of the straight blade, leaving a sharp tip above it. In another variation, there was a hooked handguard around the sword’s handle.
Finally, the sword’s sharp tip above the hook was removed, and the sword’s tip was restructured into a hook. Today, all edges of the hook sword are sharp, including its bottom end, which can function as a dagger. Most examples of the Chinese hook sword can be traced back to the late Qing dynasty, which suggests that the sword is a relatively modern weapon.
Names of Hook Swords
The Chinese call the hook swords by several names, often describing their structure. One of its archaic names is fun tau ngao, which means phoenix-head hook sword. Today, it is known as fu tao ngao, meaning tiger head hook sword.
Sometimes, it is called a hu tou gou or tiger hook sword. Since practitioners commonly use these swords in pairs, they are called shuang gou, which literally means double hooks. In the West, it is called twin hook sword or twin hooks.
In Kung Fu or Wushu
The significance of the Chinese hook sword extends far beyond its characteristics and techniques. It reminds the practitioners of the basic principles of kung fu, which is a close-in fighting art. It is contrary to other martial styles, in which the opponent is kept at a distance while blows are exchanged.
Hook swords are Northern Chinese weapons, but many practitioners also utilize them in southern styles. Practitioners of the northern styles prefer to use the crescent and the spike in fighting while maximizing the potential of the entire weapon. Except for the handle, all edges of the sword are sharp and serve as a slashing weapon.
In Northern Shaolin Schools
The hook sword, commonly referred to as gou, is one of the 18 Shaolin weapons. Shaolin monks use the sword to disarm an opponent and its crescent-shaped handguard to attack. Some of their weapons include the deer horn knives, the zi-wu, which feature two crescents crossing. They also use the guandao, a halberd with a crescent-shaped blade, the rope dart, the monk spade, a nine-sectioned steel whip, and different types of staff.
In Tian Shan Pai
A northern style of kung fu, the Tian Shan Pai is known for its double block attacks and hidden footwork steps. Apart from empty-hand forms, the art teaches several weapon forms. Practitioners use the hook sword for hooking and pulling, usually to dismember wrists, elbows, ankles, and block and catch weapons.
In Ba Gua Zhang
Also called the Eight Trigram Palm, the Ba Gua Zhang is one of the most distinctive Chinese martial arts. Its movements focus on a circle, in which practitioners follow the octagon shape of the ba gua or trigram—a symbol used in Chinese divination and philosophy.
Apart from the hook sword, martial arts weapons include the Chinese jian or double-edged sword, the dao or broadsword, and the staff. Practitioners also use the spear hook sword called lu jiao dao.
What Hook Swords Are Used For
The hook sword is one of the kung fu weapons, widely used in both northern and southern styles. In the Tian Shan Pai system, practitioners utilize the traditional use of the sword, especially the crescent and spike. In Ba Gua Zhang, practitioners use the hook sword in sparring and fighting outside of solo practice.
Some kung fu practitioners utilize the hook sword in southern styles, though they tend to focus on the conventional techniques, treating it like a saber and disregarding the crescent and the spike sections of the weapon. Since it requires a highly specialized skill, practitioners learn its techniques after mastering other weapons.
Also, others choose martial arts weapons that are most practical, such as the jian, saber, spear, or staff. The butterfly knives originated in southern China, widely used in Wing Chun, Lai Tung Pai, and other martial arts of external Shaolin origin. Compared to butterfly swords, hook swords can be slightly inconvenient, and it is not easy to find scabbards that fit them.
Most recognized for its crescent handguard and a small hook near the tip, the Chinese hook sword embodies the close-in fighting art of kung fu. Today, the hook sword remains one of the most versatile martial arts weapons that allow practitioners to master several techniques.