9 May 2016

Exotic weapons from 'San Cai Tu Hui (《三才圖會》)'

San Cai Tu Hui (《三才圖會》), compiled by Wang Qi (王圻) and his son Wang Si Yi (王思義), is a late Ming encyclopedia that contains everything from day-to-day tools and transportations, clothes, palace and ritual implements, martial arts, weapons of war to plants and animals, foreign people and countries, medicine, history as well as astrology. It is an excellent and invaluable resource for researching social structure and customs of the Ming Dynasty, as well as general worldview of Chinese people during the Ming period.

Some weapons recorded in San Cai Tu Hui are not found elsewhere. Note that these weapons were considered exotic even during the Ming period, and hardly anyone used them.

From left to right: Liu Ke Zhu, Tie Gu Duo, Gou Lian.

  • Gou Lian (鈎鐮): A Gou Lian Qiang (鈎鐮鎗).
  • Tie Gu Duo (鐵骨朵): Even though its name usually refers to a mace, the weapon shown here resemble a trident with two extra downward-pointing prongs.
  • Liu Ke Zhu (留客住, lit. 'Detain a guest'): A spear with four hooks or barbs, apparently used to entrap people.

From left to right: Long Zha, Jian, Qing Ren Ba.

  • Qing Ren Ba (請人拔, lit. 'Staff to see a visitor out'): A quarterstaff. 
  • Jian (鑑): Alternate writing of Jian (鐧).
  • Long Zha (龍吒, lit. 'Dragon howl' in context it means 'Dragon claw'): A weapon similar to Shuang Fei Zhua (雙飛撾), with a dragon claw-shaped catcher.

From left to right: Gang Cha, Xing Chui, Mei Zha.

  • Mei Zha (梅吒, lit. 'Plum howl', in context it means 'Plum flower claw'): Similar to Long Zha, but with a claw shaped like plum flower.
  • Xing Chui (星鎚, lit. 'Star hammer'): A meteor hammer.
  • Gang Cha (鋼叉, steel fork): A steel fork.

From left to right: Gang Bian, Wai Yue Ya, Nei Yue Ya.

From left to right: Wu Cha, Wen Cha, Er Lang Dao.

  • Er Lang Dao (二郎刀, 'Glaive or Er Lang Shen'): A San Jian Liang Ren Dao (三尖兩刃刀). However, this example only has one point instead of three.
  • Wen Cha (文叉, lit. 'Scholar's fork'): A steel fork.
  • Wu Cha (武叉, lit. 'Martial fork'): A steel fork. It is distinguished from Wen Cha by having its right prong points downward.

From left to right: Chang Jiao Zuan, Chun Jie, Tong Quan.

  • Tong Quan (銅拳, lit. 'Bronze fist'): A long handled war pick/war hammer shaped like a fist holding a large nail, or sometimes a brush-shaped spike. In modern Chinese martial arts communities, this weapon is known as Zhua (撾). Incidentally, this weapon is very similar to German Dolchstreithammer.
  • Chun Jie (杶結, possibly means 'Chinese mahogany bud'): Judging by its name, this is most probably a mace-type weapon.
  • Chang Jiao Zuan (長腳鑽, lit. 'Long-legged drill'): A type of bident.

From left to right: Mu Pa, Tie Pa, Hun Tian Chuo.

  • Hun Tian Chuo (混天戳, lit. 'Heaven-muddling poke'): Possibly the most exotic and ridiculous polearm, ever. 
  • Tie Pa (鐵扒, lit. 'Iron rake'): A Pa (扒) with its entire head made of iron. Subtype of Tang Pa (鎲鈀).
  • Mu Pa (木扒, lit. 'Wooden rake'): A improvised polearm modified from agricultural rake. Subtype of Tang Pa.

Xiu Kou, Niu Zi and Tie Quan.
  • Xiu Kou (袖口, cuff): A pair of weapons bearing striking similarities to tonfa and Mae Sun Sawk.
  • Niu Zi (扭子, button): A pair of metal rings. They may be related to Gelang Lanun (Malay: Pirate ring), a silat weapon that is said to be introduced to the Malay world by Chinese pirates.
  • Tie Quan (鐵拳, iron fist): A pair of knuckle-like weapons.
(Special thanks to Antonin Nowak for pointing out the possible relation between Niu Zi and Gelang Lanun to me.)


  1. I bet a Chaotic Heavean Poke would hurt a lot.

    1. Sure it does, although its multiple spikes and hooks are quite redundant.

  2. what's difference between 鐵鞭 and 鋼鞭

  3. @s ss
    No difference actually. Just different names for the same thing.

  4. I have a question.
    I have seen some old Cha (叉) that have cutting edges. Like this one.

    Were they more common in the past, than the rounded, conical tipped ones that martial artists use now? Or were these edged ones just some kind of aberration?

    It's fine if you don't have the answer, I've just been really curious about it, and I was hoping you could shed some light on this.

    1. Indeed I don't have a definite answer, but I do think the large, rounded ones ("tiger fork")are by far the more common. Modern wushu fork seems to based on a variety of Ming and Qing forks without much standardisation (generally anything that "looks cool").

      My gut feeling (?) tells me that the fork you showed me has some religious connonation, although I have no way to tell if that feeling is true or not.

    2. Thanks for the quick reply, and the info.
      It's really ironic. I look for what I think are combat weapons, and I end up finding a ceremonial weapon. It's obvious that I still have a lot to learn. It never gets easy does it?

    3. No no, that's just my gut feeling, due to the fork's similarity to trisula, such as this one


      So don't take my word for it. The weapon may still be a practical combat weapon. It is not uncommon for practical weapons to be decorated with religious motif.

    4. Is their any difference between a cha and a tang pa, or are they synonymous?

    5. @梅县ANON
      You can check my "telling apart Chinese polearms" article.

  5. I had a question to ask regarding a unconventional weapon. In the west known as zhua, and not the one with the nail, but the one with a open claw, how common was it? Do you know some things about it? Was it more commonly two handed or one handed?

    1. You mean the "backscratcher"? I don't think it was very common at all. Most backscratchers I've seen dated to late Qing, so I doubt it existed in the Ming period. The backscratcher is usually one-handed.

    2. I asked that because it was used by the Nakhi of yunnan and I found it strange given its already rare usage among Han,so I've figured I would ask you

    3. I view the weapon as being gimmicky and not very effective. Surely getting clawed by one will hurt like hell, and it may have some uses as a swordcatcher, but something like a fighting sickle (also common during the same period) seems way more useful in general.

    4. Funny you mentioned that as one of the weapon used by the Nakhi was a straight sickle with a hook tip and a series of hook tooth along the inside of the blade. It was a tool but mentioned as being used in combat too.

    5. could you please link to some pictures?

  6. Xiu Kou also looks quite similar to Bagua rooster claw knives https://www.selfdefenseguides.info/duck-knives/methods-and-applications-of-ba-gua-specialty-weapons.html from Baguazhang, so they are at least from before 1850 and I would imagine quite at close quarters.

    As for the Cha someone asked about. The picture wouldn't load but, it mentioned that it could cut. The fork that I know of that can cut is the trident axe, here you'll find a guide about the weapon from Shaolin austrlia. https://www.shaolin.com.au/Weapon-Trident.html

    1. Unlike other exotic Chinese weapons such as Tiger Hooks, I've never seen an actual antique rooster claw knives, so I am doubtful if the history of that weapon really is that long.

  7. Oh I didn't mean to say that it was old. I don't think they existed before Baguazhang was founded, which was somewhere around 1800, so at least about a 150 years.
    The similarity however is pretty obvious. I brought them up because they arent very well known and (although this is not the same as exotic) quite an odd and unconventional shape. (at least I don't know of any other weapons that were used like this(tonfa's and such are far less intended to have ''killing intend'', sure you can bludgeon with them but for a quick deadly strike not so much)

  8. Sir, I want to contact you regarding your research but your contact page does not accept my email. Please advise how I may connect with you. Thank you and kind regards.

  9. Hi, was the Tie Gu Duo a mace or a trident? Or both? Do you know of an example of a mace referred to as Tie Gu Duo?

    1. Tie Gu Duo usually refers to a mace (any mace).

      The trident with the name here is out of the norm. Since tridents are not called by that name usually.


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