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Premiere Episode of 'Man at Arms: Art of War'

Last night on the El Rey Network we had the series premiere of ″Man at Arms: Art of War″, hosted by Danny Trejo. The first episode was ″Weapons of Kung Fu″. The series is somewhat of a knock-off from the wildly successful History Channel series, ″Forged In Fire″. That program features 4 real-life blacksmiths who compete in a weapons making competition to win a $10,000 prize. ″Man at Arms″ however, goes into more detail about specific weapons, from their construction and their use. Produced by Robert Rodriguez, the movie director of films like ″Machete″ and the ″Grindhouse″ flicks, we have assembled a crew of experts to build and demonstrate weapons made famous in popular culture. Let us meet our experts and see how they build and use two famous Kung Fu weapons, the Ji and the Wind & Fire blades, or wheels.




To help Trejo we have Gene Ching, publisher of ″Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine″, Marko Zaror and Crystal Santos, stunt performers and martial artists. On the technical side, we have Kerry Stagmer, Master Blacksmith who runs the Baltimore Armory Knife Company. His team consists of Matt Stagmer and Ilya Alekseyev, blacksmiths and weapon experts, Bill Collison and Emiliano Carrillo, weapon builders and John Mitchell, the shop foreman.


Kung Fu literally means ″to be expert in″. You could apply it to almost anything requiring skill and much practice. From cooking to mowing a lawn. But those would not make great action films. No, we are looking here at Kung Fu weapons! First up are the Wind & Fire blades, also called Wheels. These are a pair of symmetrical, round metal weapons with 7 blades on the outer ring and a crescent blade in the interior of the wheel. Little is known about their use in actual combat situations in history. However, they are often seen in Chinese opera performances, usually used by the main characters. They look nasty and very dangerous, even to the user!


The second weapon is the Ji, a pole arm, perhaps the grandaddy of all pole arms. The Ji comes in many varieties, usually consisting of a spear blade on top of a long wooden pole, six feet or longer, with one or two side blades or axes, and a metal end cap on the bottom of the pole that is also useful as a blunt, impact weapon. Like the European Halberd or Pike, the Ji is primarily an infantry weapon, though could also be used by cavalry or chariot troopers. These were most definitely used in large scale battles, as well as in single combat.


The team at the forge works begins making the Wind & Fire Wheels. Kerry decides to make one using tradional forging methods and the second using modern CNC technology. Ilya starts by banging away at a round block of metal on a power hammer, using a round punch to knock out a hole dead center in the middle. Once he flattens it into a thin ring, Ilya slices the 7 blades from the outer edge for later forging. He then gets started on the main piece for the Ji. A single piece of metal is forged and shaped to make the spear point, an area in the mid section for the side blade crossbars and a long, triangular tail to be forged and rolled into a socket for fitting unto the pole. Kerry fashions a mandrel on a lathe to aid in forging the socket.


Ilya finishes the socket using much borax as flux to help make good welds. Meanwhile, Emiliano forges the crossbars and the two crescent-shaped side blades for the Ji. This gives Ilya time to complete forging the 7 outer blades on the Wind & Fire Wheel. Bill completes these, grinding the edges while John fashions the center crescent-shaped blade and its holder. Once the weapon is finished, Matt then creates an exact copy using a plasma cutting torch machine, controlled by a computer. This device makes the second weapon in a matter of minutes, whereas the traditional forging method took hours.


The two Wind & Fire Wheels are heat treated in a kiln and then quenched for hardening. Some leather is wrapped around the handle area and the weapons are ready for action. Gene demonstrates there use by performing the Shaolin Hook Form. Marko then tests the round, hand blades out on some bags of rice suspended by ropes. Gene warns him to keep his wrists straight. But one blade gets caught on a sack′s cloth and Marko gets cut, requiring some stitches.


The Ji is finished by Bill who shapes a wooden pole to accommodate the top and bottom pieces. Marko then uses the Ji on several human-shaped, sand-filled, cloth dummies, one of whom is mounted on a fake horse. Marko starts by bashing a human skull, then rips into the cloth dummies. It is easy to see why the Ji was such an effective weapon for lesser trained, foot soldiers. Marko is an experienced martial artist with some 30 years of training and he ′killed′ all of the targets in seconds. Even Danny Trejo takes a whack at a skull with the Ji.


So ended the first episode, the series premiere of ″Man at Arms: Art of War″. The new series on the El Rey Network was much fun to watch. As a fan of the History Channel′s ″Forged In Fire″, I remember seeing Ilya Alekseyev as a contestant. He won in the 4th episode of Season 2, building a spiked shield. We′ll see how this new series holds up in future episodes. Hopefully it will not be a dud like ″Hollywood Weapons″ on the Outdoors Channel.


For more REAL NEWS and views, follow Andrew Zarowny on Facebook, and on Twitter @mrcapitalist.


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