Tai Chi Fan is a very beautiful practice. It’s like an intentional dance that emphasizes body awareness and mindful meditation. Observers and participants both can become easily entranced in the methodological and calming forms. Using weapons in Tai Chi is a historically common and significant practice. Swords, spears, and fans are the weapons that are most often used in practice.
The fan form of Tai Chi in particular has its own elegance and uniqueness. While watching the Tai Chi Fan form what struck me most was why and how anyone would use a fan as a weapon. I concluded that they served primarily something to mask your next move behind. Culturally and historically the fans used in the form represent and function as so much more.
Tai Chi Fan
Fans first started off as what they are primarily used for today: warding away insects and keeping oneself cool. Thousands of years ago palm leaves and bamboo were the main materials of which fans were made. As the materials evolved, so did the meaning.
Historically, fans gained cultural significance and turned into a status symbol. Fans told a story about its owner–colors, design, size, and material all became representative of something significant. Legends and myths, too, included fans as symbols of one thing or another.
The fan was, and can still be, used to mask honed metal, darts, or small blades.
Once steel was introduced and used as ribbing for the fan, it itself became a highly serendipitous weapon.
The Tai Chi Fan form emphasizes the weaponizing components of the fan: it is used to hide hits, visually confuse one’s opponent, and conceal other weapons. Additionally, with a flick of one’s wrist the fan can collapse and make a loud noise, which would function as a distraction. Fans can be used in close combat as an object to perry hits or even block other weapons.
The practice merges the culturally stoic meaning of the fan and the deeply rooted meanings behind Tai Chi. Like any of the Tai Chi forms, fans take focus, balance, poise, and awareness to be an effective tool in self defense. Fighting with a fan takes an impressive amount of concentration and dexterity.
Today, fan form tai chi is still widely practiced. Nylon and silk fans are used by beginners, and once their skill grows they begin using fans that are ribbed with iron or steel. As symbols fans continue to hold a great amount of meaning and artists do not hold back on creating stunning pieces of art on wall fans.
Just like it started out, a fan still would not necessarily come to mind as a weapon. Tai Chi often has that perception in common too. With both however, once realized they can become potentially lifesaving and even lethal forms of self-defense. In this way, a fan is the perfect weapon to compliment Tai Chi: they are both seemingly innocuous yet when put into the right context absolutely a valid form of self-defense.