Performed with a long flexible pole, ideally of White Waxwood shoots cut at the right age from the coppiced tree, the techniques of Gun (staff) and Qiang (spear) create a magnificent interplay of sweeps and thrusts.
It is the same form with or without a spearhead : White Ape Staff (bai yuan gun) and Pear Flower Spear (li hua qiang). It is a demanding application of Chansijing principles. More so than with sabre and sword which essentially extend the arm, the spear expresses integrally the twinings originating deep inside the body. With sound posture from ZhanZhuang practice and utter pliability acquired through the Twining Silk exercises, the spear in your hands expresses jing being churned out of dantian.
The form is long, but once you are familiar with the moves, it takes you as if in one breath from beginning to end. The key is the pattern of Martial Flower (quan wu hua) : five steps turning counter-clockwise and five steps turning clockwise. Once you are fluent in this pattern through practising these ten steps in continuous rounds, your entire body relaxed in its strides, the spear is no longer an object to be manipulated; your natural movements constitute its propulsion.
Whereas brute force may pass off as power in sabre, and gracefulness as skill in sword, the spear form reveals nakedly the level you have reached in your training. The form, and by this I mean the shape, outline, substance of the wood staff in your hands, with the fine tip - its every thrust and sweep, each clockwise and counterclockwise block, reflect how you are centred.
A cautionary tale : every now and then, usually in a small group lesson when there is time, Chen XiaoWang may call out one of his students (the lucky one) and tell the person to settle into ZhanZhuang with the eyes closed. After a while, Master Chen tells you to open the eyes and look in the mirror. He shows you where you are askew; he then indicates precisely where the imbalance originates, often in the lower spine, and says, "You see, this is your central problem. You do not know it, but all the time in every movement this makes you go ge-dang ge-dang, like a car with one wheel not working."
Going ge-dang ge-dang in spear form is very painful to watch! But when it becomes unbearable to the doer, development of technique can truly begin.
It is not the weight and mass of the instrument that is of importance in the spear form; rather, it is to achieve a litheness and liveliness through its entire length. The long pole is played close to the body and changes sides at just a small angle from the vertical : this is often explained in terms of its early use for fighting in rank formation, but the constant twirling all around the lone fighter utilising tip and butt creates a near impregnable elliptic. And every now and then, the spear's whirling power is exhibited in the full 360 degree sweeps.
Thus the Qiang is the most superb of the weapon forms, where you are able to be the still point of the turning world.