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The sanjiegun, triple staff or three-section staff (??? , san jié gùn, shawm jeet gwam), is a Chinese flail weapon that consists of three wooden or metal staffs connected by metal rings or rope. The weapon is also known as a coiling dragon staff, or in Japanese as a sansetsukon (???). A more complicated version of the two section staff, the staves can be spun to gather momentum resulting in a powerful strike, or their articulation can be used to strike over or around a shield or other defensive block.
Historically made of white oak or Chinese red maple, modern staves are constructed from rattan, bamboo, various hardwoods or aluminum. For optimum fit, each of the three sticks should be about the length of the combatant’s arm and have a combined diameter that easily fits in the hand. A sanjiegun is typically constructed from three wooden staves with a diameter of 1.25 inches (32 mm). These are connected by chains of rings, usually of five inches (127 mm) ; modern versions use ball-and-socket joints.
The total length of the weapon is about the same as the Chinese staff, the gùn and greater than that of the single staff known in Japanese as a bo; Its larger size allows for an increased reach compared to the Japanese weapon. Many of the techniques are similar to that of the staff, so spinning moves over the head and behind the back, such as helicopter spins and neck rolls, can be practised with a regular staff. The three-section staff has the advantage of being used both as a long-range weapon or a short-range weapon. Acting as an extension of the users arm, the three sectional staff can strike, block, choke, stab, sweep legs, and whip, often with different sections of the staff acting at the same time. The chains or binding ropes of the staff are used to entangle an opponent and their weapons.
While some martial artists have held that the three section staff was used on the battlefield to entangle horses’ legs or to strike around shields, the complexity of the weapon and the length, ease of use, and other advantages of such traditional battlefield weapons as spears, polearms (such as the yan yue dao), swords and so forth meant that the triple staff was more likely restricted to personal self-defense.
One significant weakness of chained weapons in general is a lack of control. The strike of a sanjiegun ends not upon impact but on recoil; even the greatest martial arts masters must use valuable time regaining control of their weapon or avoiding its strikes.
The Three Section staff tends to require a steep learning curve, and like all flexible wepons often inflicts pain on the user throughout training and use.
The three section staff is said to have originated from Master Sanda of the Honan Temple it was made popular by Chao Hong-Yin, the first Emperor of the Song Dynasty (960 A.D.). Before becoming emperor, he was a Shaolin trained martial artist known for being an adept bodyguard and escort. Once while guarding a lady of the royal family and her entourage on a journey to Beijing they were attacked by five bandits. Chao quickly turned and struck the first attacker in the head with his “gun” (staff). Such was the force of the blow that it broke Chao’s favorite weapon into two pieces – one long and one short. The bandits were awestruck by Chao’s skill and power and fled into the forest. Naturally, Chao was displeased with the condition of his precious staff but in the next town he had the local blacksmith reconnect the two pieces with iron rings and created a “Dai-Si-Jo” or “two-section big stick” also known as a “Big Sweeper”.
Unfortunately, the long section of the staff had been weakened during the attack and it soon broke in two again. Once again Chao had the broken sections rejoined to mimic the san jié gùn or “three section staff.”
Chao realized the devastating potential of the weapon — it was small and easily carried and concealed, it could be used for stabbing or striking like a broadsword, it could be used as a whip and it was very useful for joint-locking techniques.
Chao’s fame with this weapon spread and soon other escorts and bodyguards were also using the three section staff. It soon became the signature weapon of escorts who would carry a banner with a picture of the weapon as a warning to potential thieves that the person or persons being guarded were well-protected by a highly-trained martial artist.
The first written account of the three-section staff is found in the literary work known as the Sanguo Zhi, also known by its English name Records of Three Kingdoms.
The three-section-staff is featured regularly in Chinese martial arts films. Maybe the most famous example was in the film The 36th Chamber of Shaolin which include a fictionalized account of the creation of the weapon.
The main protagonist, as well as his double, in the video game Suikoden V is using a three-section-staff
Huo Yuanjia uses this weapon in a final fight with a Japanese samurai in the movie Fearless.