Qigong/ChoyLeeFut > Choy Lee Fut Steel Fan: the “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” of Kung Fu Weapons

Choy Lee Fut Steel Fan: the “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” of Kung Fu Weapons

By Howard Choy

The Chinese have a saying regarding weapons, 

"The shorter it is - the more dangerous. The more ordinary looking - the deadlier it is"

This saying is also perfectly appropriate for the steel fan. The Chinese often turn ordinary household implements, like a pair of chopsticks, a wooden stool, a rice bowl and even a pair of sandals into a deadly weapon. It is considered a short weapon, about 14 inches long, very innocent looking and not that much different to an everyday paper fan, except the ribs are made of stainless steel instead of bamboo strips, and the paper is replaced by toughened silk. When you carry one unopened no one can tell it is a weapon at all. Even when you open it to fan yourself it looks quite ordinary and harmless. However, in the hands of an expert, the innocent looking fan can be a lethal weapon. 

One such expert was Monk Jou Yud of the Shaolin Temple. He lived during the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), and raised the art of the steel fan to a new height. His legacy was passed down onto Chan Heung, the Founder of Choy Lee Fut Kung Fu, through Monk Choy Fook. Chan Heung's grandson, Chan Yiu-Chi, also adopted the fan as his favourite everyday weapon. He was often seen carrying the fan as he taught Kung Fu and as he went to Yum-cha with his students. Chan Yui-Chi's grandson, our teacher, Chen Yong-Fa, inherited the art through his family.

The steel fan is quite a handy weapon to have, it is easy to carry and inconspicuous. When the weather is warm, you can use the fan to cool yourself and chase the flies away. When you are in danger, you can use the steel fan as an effective weapon for self-defence. 

Because the ribs are made of steel, you can use it to block and deflect much larger weapons by wrapping the fan against your forearm and turning it into an "iron bridge hand". You can use it for "chin-na" (grappling) and you can use it for "dim-mak" (acupressure point striking). When folded, the fan can be used like a short dagger - to cut, to jab and to slash. When unfolded, the fan can be used like a spring-loaded knife to stab, to slice and to spear your opponent.

Combining it with your body movement and footwork, you can turn the short fan into a long weapon by launching yourself at your opponent while throwing open  the fan, turning a soft implement into a hard weapon with the flick of your wrist.

You can also flick open the fan as a fake, the action makes a loud noise that will distract your opponents attention while you kick or throw a punch elsewhere. The open fan can work like a saw to slice with the tips of the ribs opened up into a semi-circle. While the fan is open you can use the broad surface like a backhand slap against the face of your opponent.

When folded, you can throw the fan like a bowie knife at your opponent from a distance. It is indeed a very versatile "secret" weapon, favoured by gentlemen scholar/martial artists of China.

The Choy Lee Fut steel fan has either 18, 24, or 36 ribs. Sometimes, the tips of the ribs are tapped to a point to increase it's effectiveness. The two outer ribs are often sharpened to make them behave like the sharp edge of a sword for cutting or slicing.

Often, a beautiful landscape scene with Chinese calligraphy is painted onto the toughened silk fabric to conceal its deadliness. It has a Jackal and Hyde split personality, characteristic of all "kei mun" (ingenious and unusual) weaponry. 

Since it takes a high level of kung fu to use the fan well, it is classified as a tertiary level weapon in the Choy Lee Fut system. The fan is considered an "internal" weapon, because it uses the "soft" to overcome the "hard" and the short to overcome the long.

For the Choy Lee Fut student, there are three steel fan forms to master. They are called "Seu Seou Sin" (The Breaking Hands Fan), "Gum Loong Sin" (The Golden Dragon Fan) and "Fei Loong Sin" (The Flying Dragon Fan). In "Seu Seou Sin" the fan is used mainly like a hard weapon, in "Gum Loong Sin" the fan is used mainly like a soft and flexible weapon, while in the "Fei Loong Sin" it is used mainly for "dim-mak" (acupressure point striking).

At a higher level of training, the steel fan is used with a copper-man dummy to improve a student's acupressure point striking techniques. The copper-man dummy is constructed in such a way that when the correct acupressure point is hit, it makes a distinct clicking noise. The idea is to strike as many points as accurately as possible in the shortest time. The student has to strike points with force and accuracy, otherwise the clicking sound will not be heard clearly.

Our teacher often said;

It is easy to strike the points but difficult to locate the points.

To do "dim-mak" well, the student has to study the meridian charts, to know its locations by heart and what damage each one can cause. The surface area of an acupressure point is very small, 2-3 mm at the most, so accuracy is very important, especially when you  try to hit a fast moving target.

The trick is to deliver the strike with "ging" (penetrating force), while maintaining speed and accuracy. In the Choy Lee Fut manual for steel fan dim-mak it is stated that when using the fan;

the mind must be coupled with the heart,
the heart with the strength,
the strength with the qi,
the qi with the fan,
the fan with the eyes, and
skill with dexterity.