The three-sectional staff, triple staff, three-part staff, sansetsukon in Japanese, or originally sanjiegun ( 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 panlong gun, “coiling dragon staff”. 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.
Although there is no historical evidence to support it, a popular modern-day legend states it was made famous by Zhao Kuangyin, the first Emperor of the Song Dynasty (960 AD).
Historically made of white oak, waxwood 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 (usually 60 centimetres (24 in) – 70 centimetres (28 in)) and have a combined diameter that easily fits in the hand. (usually about 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 bō); Its larger size allows for an increased reach compared to the staff. Some 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. Other weapon techniques the three section staff makes use of are similar to that of a pair of sticks used escrima, a simple short chain, a whip and the two section staff. It is therefore advantageous for the user to have some familiarity with these weapons. The three-section staff has the advantage of being used as a long-range (whip), intermediate range (flail or two section staff) or a short-range (pair of escrima) weapon. Acting as an extension of the users arms, the three sectional staff can strike, flail, block, choke, trap, disarm 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 it has three ranges, the three section staff is best used as a short range weapon against long ranged weapons. In this configuration, a skilled practitioner can nearly simultaneously block an opponent’s strike, trap his or her weapon and disarm them while executing their own strike with the free side of the staff.
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, difficulty of use, lack of sharp tips or edges 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. At long and intermediate ranges, 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. Due to the length of the staff sections relative to the length of joining chains, the weapon suffers less from a lack of control than other more flexible chain weapons. In short range mode there are no control issues because sections one and three are firmly in hand and section two is unable to move independently. Training with the three section staff is particularly difficult because it is a multi mode complex weapon and is not recommended for beginners. Foam covered versions are now sold to aid in training but the blows received from the ends on recoil are relatively rare. Instead, the greater danger is the painful impact of the chains or metal parts of the staff that the chains are anchored to upon the hands of the user. This occurs when the staff is improperly used in short range mode and the relative positions of staff sections are rapidly changed, serving as a strong deterrent to casual users. However, motivated self teachers will find the three section staff and other flexible weapons to be the easiest to learn effectively. This is because flexible weapons provide instant feedback to the user. When used improperly, flexible weapons will either impact upon other than the desired target, put the user off balance, injure the user, or otherwise be obviously out of control. Through experimentation, technique may be perfected. In contrast, fixed weapons can often be utilized incorrectly for quite some time because they provide little or no feedback.
To experience the versatility of both single-staff and three section staff, some manufactures have created a combination weapon made out of metal. The three sections, linked by chains as customary for this type of weapon, screw together to form one single staff. The transition to full staff to sectioned staff can be done in mid-combat with a few twists. Against an opponent, the transition is often masked adding an element of surprise to the following attacks.
The ends of three section staffs sometimes break but can be replaced with wood pieces of similar weight and thickness to the other parts.
The three-section staff was brought to Okinawa from Fujian Province by Shinko Matayoshi, who incorporated it in Matayoshi Kobudo with two kata (sansetsukon dai ichi, sansetsukon dai ni) after 1935. Kobudo sansetsukon typically have shorter (usually 50 – 60 cm.) yet thicker (about 4 – 5 cm. in diameter) staffs. It is not to be confused with san bon nunchaku .
There are many stories about how the three section staff was invented. Some say because of Buddhist tradition, a monk would only have a simple staff. When the staff broke, they would put a chain and continue to use it
Others say that a king or a monk had a favorite staff that when it broke, he kept on using it with a chain connecting the broken pieces.