When getting a Wing Chun Long Pole (aka the Dragon Pole), there are a few factors to consider. Here are our quick thoughts on things to consider when purchasing a long pole.
- Type of Wood
- Using it for air and pole work or smash training?
- Strength vs flexibility
- Thickness and Taper of Pole
- Length and Weight
- for strength/conditioning training
- for precision training
Type of wood is one of the most important factors. What most people look for in wood is density. In researching pole woods we ran across the Janka Hardness Test ratings. This test is used mostly by people looking for good, tough, hardwood floors. “It measures the force required to embed an 11.28 mm (0.444 in) steel ball into wood to half the ball’s diameter.” We felt this was a good measure for long poles as well. If the Janka hardness is 2000+ that means it requires over a ton of force to imbed that steel ball 1/2 way into the wood (2204 for a metric ton, 2240 for a UK ton). Since most people do not generate a ton of force (or even half a ton) with their long pole strikes it means the pole will hold up well to abuse. (Please note, however wood is wood and you can always damage/break it if you try or abuse it).
Smash Training Work – First, if you are interested in smash training we did some testing on poles, and you can read about it here. We recommend two things for smash training 1) Janka rating over 2000 and/or 2) an extra thick pole. Being that the wood is 9 feet long and only an 1.25-1 inch in diameter you need a REALLY strong piece of wood if you are planning on smashing it into objects repeatedly. We highly recommend getting a pole 1.5-1.25″ tapered as the 25% extra thickness adds a lot of extra strength.
Light Pole Work – If you are doing work in the air (the form) or only light hitting other poles then almost any wood will work, but we recommend something with a Janka rating of over 1000 regardless. This way light sword vs pole work wil not damage your pole too badly. And these poles can often hold up well in smash training, but as you generate more and more power you might find you need to upgrade.
Strength vs Flexibility – On one side you have woods like Wax Wood which are extremely flexible (often seen in wu-shu spears and poles). These are way too flexible for a 9″ wing chun dragon pole, but can be repeatedly slammed on the floor with no adverse effect. Other the other side you have the super hard woods that are also hard to break but hardly bend at all and vibrate your whole arm every time you hit the floor. I suggest these are also not ideal. You need some flexibility to absorb force and so the pole is not brittle, and you need strength so you can thrust and block effectively with Wing Chun technique. There is no wood flexibility scale, but what we found was this: teak is on the flexible end and Jatoba on the strength end. Qwan Din had a good mix. We also liked Ash, which is a very underrated but good long pole wood. Black Walnut and Eucalyptus were not highly flexible. Oak and Sapele were okay (but we prefer ash and qwan din to these two).
Here are some Janka ratings for common long pole we reviewed as well as some other familiar woods. The bolded woods we carry and/or have tested in the past:
Ironwood (2655-3680 depending on the type. 2890 common rating) – we believe that Qwan Din is a species of Ironwood, but to NOT recommend it for smash training due to the fact it comes from older reclaimed sources; and that it is the traditional thickness (you want about 1/2 inch thicker poles all the way around for Smash Training).
Jatoba is 2350. (2760 in some) (we actually prefer this over ironwood for any smash training)
Purpleheart 1860 (2090 in some)
Hickory 1820 (tops in terms of N. American non-exotic woods; needs to be a high grade)
Rosewood 1780 (3170 in some)
Hard Maple 1450
White Oak 1360
Red Oak 1290
Black Walnut 1010
Red Maple 950
Silver Maple 700
Eastern Pine 380
Here is a .pdf chart with some more: Janka Ratings Chart.
Thickness and Taper of Pole – We prefer poles that have an even taper starting at about 1.25 in at the base and 1 inch at the tip. This is the most traditional. 1.5 to 1.25 is also okay. Poles at 1.75-1.5 are at the really thick end of the spectrum. Some pole makers use an uneven taper – where the pole on tapers at the last 20% of the length. This can be better if you want your pole to be heaver (for power training) or thicker (for smash training). The thickness will affect the flexibility of the pole, so if you want a more flexible pole, then get a thiner one and vice vera for a stronger pole.
Length – Traditionally the longer is better, for training if not for combat. The longer the pole the more unwieldy it is (forces your to have better control and develops your muscles more) and the heavier it is the more it develops your power. However, current worldwide shipping regulations have a cut off of 108 inches (9 feet; 2.74 meters). So almost all long poles are 106″ (leaves 1″ on each end for packaging). If you go even slightly over 108″ UPS/FedEx/Etc charge $50 and extra handling. Most vendors can make pole longer than 108″ by request, but be prepared to pay more for the custom work and the extra shipping fees. For all intents and purposes 106″ has become the standard long pole length.
Weight – the 4-7 lbs (1.8-2.7 kg) range is typical. About 5 is average. Lighter is better for speed, teens, and women. Heaver is better only for power training. Around 5-6 lbs is a good combat weight. Remember you need to smash and have precision when striking. Poles that are too heavy make your thrusting strikes too imprecise and poles too light can’t break bones as easily and might break themselves.
The manufacturer’s warranty – Due to abuse of the poles in training, almost no one replaces broken poles unless the poles have hidden wood rot. All of the vendors Everything Wing Chun uses tests their poles by banging them on the ground to look for hidden rot; and if one does break on a customer they will replace it. This occurs less than 1% of the time. If you pole has rot it will break very easily – it will not take a hard hit. You can also see the rot at the point of break. However if a pole breaks in your training generally it will not be replaced. People are very hard on poles sometimes and forget it is just a long skinny piece of wood – and it CAN and WILL break if you do not care for it.
Shipping – Shipping in USA for 1 pole via UPS is about $28-38. If you want your pole shipped in a PVC tube to prevent damage (a good idea!) then it is about $38. However, prices go up every year, they never go down. Good distributors can ship 2-3 in a tube. Be wary of people shipping for more than these prices, especially if not in a tube (which cost about $10). Poles are not a large mark-up item, and sometimes people pad shipping $20 or more. All Everything Wing Chun shipments come in tubes.
Care – If your pole dries out too much it will get brittle and snap. If your pole gets too wet, or kept in a humid area it can warp (especially when drying back out). Some people recommend laying them flat, others vertical. We are in the vertical camp at the moment. Store them tip down and perfectly vertical. Whatever you do, don’t store them where they are leaning on something – that is the best way to get them to warp/bend.
Straightening a Bent Pole – If your pole warps you can try to straighten it by heading the warped area over the stove, then bending it back and holding it in place while it cools. Repeat several times, or as necessary. You might look at something like arrow shaft straightening for ideas: http://www.stickbow.com/FEATURES/ARROWMAKING/straightening.cfm (see method 3). or board straightening http://www.ehow.com/how_4529689_straighten-warped-piece-wood.html .
I hope this give you some more info about poles and helps you make a better decision about while pole to get for your training.