This is a copy of an emailed reply from Stephen Cramb to an enquiry
to TCAA re the history of weapons.
I am a Chen Stylist based in Brisbane. Chen Style of Tai Chi is an old system dating back over 400 years and 21 generations. All other new systems,Yang ,Wu, Wu,Sun Etc are around 100 years old and in the case of Yang is in it's 4th generation.
What that means is that for the newer systems the use of weapons is fairly low on the scale of importance and general focus of the training is to build a strong healthy body and mind. Lets face it , with the invention of gunpowder, wars changed dramatically and the reliance on hand to hand combat was pushed aside in favour of guns.
Going back to the older systems one finds that self defence was a very real motivator for training and weapons had a more practical use, kill the bad guys, save your self and family.
The Shaolin Temple is famous for it long history(1500 years) and it's reputation for fighting and weapon skills. Chen village is situated near to the Soong San Shaolin Temple and this has led to many exchanges of skills. Chen Tai Chi Chuan has many techniques borrowed from Shaolin and it's curriculum includes many weapons from Sword (single & double), Broad Sword ( single & double) short weapons to long weapons (Spear & White ape staff, Halberd or Kwan Dao to the monstrous 13 foot long Shaking Pole .)
The newer styles of Tai Chi from Yang onwards have included Sword & Broadsword and some schools also include Spear.
Another reason that Tai Chi does not place a lot of attention into weapon training is that it is considered the higher level of training to practice weapons.
At Shaolin, students had to be efficient in defending the temple from bandits so weapon training came at a low level. If one was strong enough to handle a heavy weapon he would also be stronger in unarmed combat so it was a training method to use weapons.
In Tai Chi Chuan we develop internal power not external strength so the focus of training is to relax the skeletal frame (not to use heavy weapons to built muscles). When a student of Tai Chi can clearly and at will control his internal power/energy and move it around the body then he is ready to extend the flow out of the hand and into a weapon, therefore weapon training is high level Tai Chi Training.
Usually the first weapon to study is the straight double edged sword, The King of Weapons. It is graceful, powerful , fast, considered to be a gentleman's tool whereas the second weapon is chopping hacking powerful cutting blade of the broadsword.
I wonder if I am heading in the right direction in answering your question on the history of Tai Chi weaponry?
Hope this helps