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Sword and leg co-ordination.

PostPosted: Mon Sep 03, 2007 5:29 am
by Simon Batten
In Western fencing, in a lunge, the movement starts with the point of the blade and is likened to a string being attached to the blade at one end and the leading foot at the other so that the tip of the sword arrives fractionally ahead of the foot and as the string quickly tautens, the knee is pulled into position, rather than being in complete synchronisation with the sword. This is in order to reach the target as quickly as possible with the blade as well as keeping the final point of attack ambiguous until the knee completely bends to achieve full commitment. I was wondering if the same principle applies in Tai Chi sword. I've always assumed that the co-ordination in T'ai Chi sword would be the same as in the hand form and have always practised so as to make the lunges fully co-ordinated but now I'm wondering again about the applicability of fencing to this and whether to change my practice slightly with this concept in mind. Of course the 'string' concept wouldn't be visible to the naked eye but is present at least in terms of intention. I can't find anything anywhere about this aspect in relation to Tai Chi sword and would appreciate suggestions, information and ideas. Kind regards, Simon.

PostPosted: Mon Oct 15, 2007 12:10 am
by Audi
Hi Simon,

I am not sure I completely understand what you are describing, but I have two main thoughts.

First, although at a certain level, Tai Chi movement is said to be like combined gears, with everything moving or still together, I think it is more accurate to think of Tai Chi movement as implying an organic integration.

For example, when a snake strikes, which muscles provide the force? If you can immobilize certain muscles that form a link in the chain of motion, will you immobilize the strike, or can the snake simply and smoothly transfer the necessary motion to somewhere else in its body?

In working with friends, I sometimes try to demonstrate punches in which I do not extend my elbow or shoulder, but just "extend" my legs and/or my waist. Usually, I punch with my arm and elbow already fully extended. To me, it feels as if I use whatever energy is available and do not really focus on any particular set of joints. To me, this feels like a different method than gathering my power to focus on a particular point extended out from my body. It feels more like arrow or spring motion.

In the same way, I am not sure if it ultimately matters whether you feel the point or knee "arrives" first. I think what is important is that they feel "integrated" and are guided by the "waist."

My other thought is that some descriptions of external approaches treat the opponent the same as if they were simply an object in motion. I think that most Tai Chi approaches incorporate the opponent's intent into the application. With such an approach, maximizing speed may actually be detrimental. We want the opponent to aid our strike and so cannot get out ahead of this aid. Timing and sensitivity may matter more than raw speed.

Does this make some sense?

Take care,

PostPosted: Mon Oct 15, 2007 6:50 pm
by Bob Ashmore
I've discussed your question with a fellow student that is currently taking Sword class with me. I did so because he is a fencer, in fact he used to coach a fencing team.
He has been having an extremely difficult time with Tai Chi Sword, because he, naturally I feel, uses a lot of his old fencing skills instead of paying attention to the principles of TCC to move around during the sword form. It's very easy to spot when he's going off form, because suddenly he looks like a picture you will see of any fencer in the world. Then he thinks about what he's doing and quickly rearranges himself back to Tai Chi form.
While he's not 100% certain where you are going with the "knee, sword point" scenario you mention, he says that different schools of fencing sometimes have different methods (boy, does THAT sound familiar!) so he may not be aware of the exact technique that you're talking about, or he may see it in a different way or call it something else.
But he said that doesn't really matter, because...
His take on the whole thing was to ask me to urge you to "forget" that you have ever fenced before you pick up a Tai Chi Sword and try to move forward through the Tai Chi form.
He says he wishes he could, it would make training with the Sword much, much easier.
The weapon may be similar in many respects, but the methods clearly are not.

Best I can do for you, as he's the only person I know who has insight into both fencing and Tai Chi Sword, and that was his only advice. I think it is very good advice.
Having experienced the immense difficulty of learning to move correctly in more than one style of Tai Chi Chuan where at least the underlying principles are similar, I can't help but feel that learning to move correctly in between fencing and Tai Chi Chuan would be an even more difficult problem.

Good luck,

PostPosted: Sun Nov 25, 2007 4:31 pm
by Audi
Hi Simon,

I have given more thought to your post and have reached an even stronger conclusion that I have not been taught to "lead" with the point.

In just about every move, I feel the Jin flow through my body into the sword. On the rare occasions I actually do everything correctly, my body will end up still, but the Jin will still be in the sword blade, making it quiver. I feel this motion even more strongly in staff work, where I can feel the vibrations come back from the staff into my body.

In the three leaps in our form, Agile Cat Seizes the Rat, the Mustang Jumps the Ravine, and the Fish Leaps the Dragon Gate, the sword tip does not arrive until the very last moment. As you begin the lunge, the sword tip is actually pointed upward. We do these moves with three different "flavors": one is short and nimble, another is long and powerful, and another is high. Aside from possible esthetic, mnemonic, and philosophical reasons, I think we do this to show that the final "lunge" can be set up somewhat differently and again emphasized the importance of the "set-up" over speed of execution.

The Immortal Points the Way is perhaps the sequence that comes closest to what I think of as a Western lunge. I am not certain how the sword should be held, but I hold it to match the angle of my sword arm. This means that the sword point does not fully arrive until my arm is flat and level with my shoulder. If I want to show Fajin, I issue it from my body only as my knee arrives. I feel that it come from my torso (maybe spine).

I also think that many moves require an element of whipping so that the Jin is finally released from the body with a movement of the wrist that will change the placement of the sword point. This concept is probably clearest in Dusting in the Wind, which shows the Ji (striking) energy, or in Casting the Fishing Rod/Waiting for the Fish, where the wrist is used to spiral the energy coming from the waist from Gua (hanging deflection) to Dian (pointing).

Take care,

PostPosted: Fri Feb 01, 2008 4:33 am
by Simon Batten
Audi, I'm sorry to have taken such a long time to reply. In fact I have not had internet access at home since around 12th September which must have been around the time I posted this message. I had a dispute with a former ISP which has now been resolved and I am back online from home again. In the meantime I had to use public computers and didn't have enough time to post to web forums. I take your point about co-ordination especially in the barehand forms, but am still having some nagging doubts about whether that overrides everything when it comes to weapons forms. Of course I'm really referring to full-speed applications when it comes to the lunge and split second differences in the time of the extension of the arm and follow through with the leg, but of course I agree that Tai Chi sword as much as the hand form involves complete integration of all the moving parts, particularly co-ordinated by the waist (in fact, I think the waist is if anything even more important in Tai Chi sword perhaps, owing to the force the turn of the waist contributes to a block/parry - whereas in Western fencing, parries are effected just with a movement of the forearm or wrist, but then of course in fencing, one is only countering a very thin sporting weapon and not a heavy sword, let alone a spear or halberd). Kind regards, Simon.

PostPosted: Fri Feb 01, 2008 4:43 am
by Simon Batten
Bob: sorry to take such a long time to reply, but if you read my reply to Audi, I mention why I haven't been able to correspond for a while. I must say I thought that my observation on the timing of the arm and leg in fencing was fairly standard, but your friend sounds like a very advanced fencer so I'm sure he must be right and that there's not necessarily a fixed view on that. As far as forgetting about fencing is concerned when studying or practising Tai Chi sword, I agree up to a point, especially where it comes to parries which in Tai Chi sword are designed to counter heavy weapons and therefore require a strong turn of the waist , the fingers pointing upwards and the blade of the sword vertical (i.e. if you're right handed, palm in for a left parry and palm out for a right parry). This is completely different from fencing. On the other hand such things as left and right whirlwind with their wrist chasing, do correspond somewhat with the circular parry in fencing. Also, I found that having done fencing, I was much better able to envisage applications and of course since in fencing one is sparring with an opponent from day one, I think this helps enormously in ones mental imageing when practising the Tai Chi sword form. Kind regards, Simon.

PostPosted: Fri Feb 01, 2008 4:54 am
by Simon Batten
Audi, in response to your second message (and again, my apologies for taking a long time to reply)the version of the Yang form that I do includes these same three leaps, starting with the sword held angled slightly upwards in front of the body. Yoy then take off from right foot and the sword then circles clockwise in the air in mid flight before landing on the left foot and then coming down on the right foot and completing the lunge. This corresponds to a 'prise de fer' in fencing, i.e. the circling movement envisages parrying the opponent's weapon from right to left whether it be a sword or a spear and then while maintaining blade contact with the opponent's weapon, passing it over the top of the opponent's weapon and then round underneath again to control it (or 'envelop' it to use a western term) and then the opponent's weapon is flipped upwards which can result in him being disarmed if it is done with enough energy. Simultaneously you jump forward to stab him in the abdomen. I also agree with your points about the 'whipping' wrist motion but find this more applicable in for instance left sweep, right sweep where a whipping action immediately after the parry can contribute a great deal of speed to the subsequent slice to the opponent's waist. Kind regards, Simon.

PostPosted: Sat Feb 02, 2008 3:03 am
by Audi
Hi Simon,

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">I take your point about co-ordination especially in the barehand forms, but am still having some nagging doubts about whether that overrides everything when it comes to weapons forms.</font>

I do not think of the form as setting up rules for movement, but rather as teaching exactly what is involved in movement. The rules are in the theory. Once these two are mastered, your movement can than follow your intentionally freely and efficiently. In other words, I do not think the coordination of the form requires the same coordination in application. If you intend the tip to arrive first, you then will know how and when to do this.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Of course I'm really referring to full-speed applications when it comes to the lunge and split second differences in the time of the extension of the arm and follow through with the leg, but of course I agree that Tai Chi sword as much as the hand form involves complete integration of all the moving parts, particularly co-ordinated by the waist (in fact, I think the waist is if anything even more important in Tai Chi sword perhaps, owing to the force the turn of the waist contributes to a block/parry - whereas in Western fencing, parries are effected just with a movement of the forearm or wrist, but then of course in fencing, one is only countering a very thin sporting weapon and not a heavy sword, let alone a spear or halberd)</font>

Although I think the waist can add power, I think that the legs are the primary source. I also think the idea is not so much to "block/parry" but to use "stickiness" to control the other's blade. Movement in you waist and stickiness in your blade should make it hard for your opponent to move freely and sense your intent.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">pointing upwards and the blade of the sword vertical (i.e. if you're right handed, palm in for a left parry and palm out for a right parry). </font>

This sounds interesting, but I do not think our version of the form has these requirements. Many of our transitions are done with the blade flat (jiao3?). What is the purpose of keeping the blade vertical?

Kind regards,

PostPosted: Sat Feb 02, 2008 7:26 am
by Simon Batten
Audi: There are two reasons for keeping the blade vertical in these parries,viz i)the wrist being locked in this position contributes an enormous amount of inherent strength to the block or parry - you can try this out with an opponent; get him/her to lunge at you and block with the blade horizontal and your wrist supinated. Then try it with the wrist 'cocked' as I've described. Of course for low blocks though, the palm is in on both left and right for obvious reasons, but the blade is still vertical. I think you'll quickly find which is the strongest and which is less likely to result in you losing control of your weapon or even dropping it .... Of course it doesn't matter in fencing where after all you're only fighting with a representative weapon that's very thin, but of course in T'ai Chi sword you are blocking potentially not only other swords but also spear, halberd, etc... and ii) in 'the olden days' swords were an expensive commodity and for purely economic reasons it made sense to block with the flat of the blade rather than the edge, as the latter would mean you would get nicks in your blade and a few of these would soon result in your having to buy a new sword (at vast expense) ..... Kind regards, Simon.

PostPosted: Sat Feb 02, 2008 7:56 am
by Simon Batten
Audi: again, I'm afraid I can't fully agree with your point about the power in the sword form coming essentially from the legs and I think a distinction has to be drawn here between the different natures of fighting with a blade and barehand combat. In the barehand form, of course the power is tramsmitted from the legs ultimately in order to support counterstrikes. However, in the sword form, there is no necessity to strike with power as the blade does all the work itself. You simply don't need to thrust very hard with a pointed weapon into the opponent's soft areas to disable or kill, and of course in Tai Chi sword which is also an edged weapon, the top third of the blade which is used to cut was razor sharp. No hacking of slashing motion is used in Tai Chi sword and one should rather think of 'filing', rather like slicing a piece of soft fruit with a very sharp knife. The filing motion can be done variously with the blade filing away from you or drawn towards you. Disabling files are done to the wrist to sever the opponent's wrist ligaments and disable his sword hand or to his lower leg to lame him. Lethal files are to the neck, where the carotid artery on either side of the neck is filed. The opponent will then bleed to death in approximately sixty seconds (one aspect of the free hand that is not often discussed is in fact to shield your eyes when the blood shoots out of the carotid artery at high pressure, as you can be temporarily blinded and the opponent might still just be able to counterstrike before 'snuffing it'.) The waist is primary in my view in parries/blocks, to provide turning moment into the opponent's weapon, whether a long or short weapon and this is highly effective when accompanied by the 'cocked' wrist I have mentioned in my reply above. Here in the form one is normally moving into False Stance from a lunge, so the leg power is in my view immaterial and the force of the block comes from the wrist position and the turning moment of the waist. A case in point is the movement you mentioned, 'Clean Up Dust in The Wind' where you turn into the opponent's blade in false stance and then slide your blade down the opponent's blade to seal it at the hilt as you step forward, and then you can hit him with the secret sword fingers of your free hand on a pressure point (such as third eye, under the ear lobe, throat or even his actual eyeball). Of course, Part Grass in Search of Snake is the same technique but lower, to counter a strike to your abdomen rather than your neck. The internal power of Tai Chi sword in my view is really about the blocks, not the strikes. You don't need to accompany a strike with a sharp, bladed weapon with internal energy, but Tai Chi sword teaches you to transmit internal energy into the blade to temporarily stiffen it and make it therefore more effective in parries in addition to the fact that of course you are always going to block with the thick part of the blade nearest the hilt and certainly no further down than the middle. Kind regards, Simon.

PostPosted: Sat Feb 02, 2008 8:18 am
by Simon Batten
Audi: 'And finally', while I'm still thinking about these topics, to illustrate the 'cocked wrist' block, as I can't conveniently find an image of anyone else doing it on the web, I am providing a link to a photo you might already have seen, of myself doing it, for what it's worth (low internal left block):

Kind regards, Simon

PostPosted: Tue Feb 05, 2008 9:20 pm
by DPasek
<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Simon Batten:
...Tai Chi sword teaches you to transmit internal energy into the blade to temporarily stiffen it...</font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>


You seem to be confusing cheap performance swords with the real thing (high quality historical jian). Historic Chinese jian throughout the Qing and into at least the early Republic (and occasionally still by a few manufacturers today) were made of three layers, with the result being that they acted similar to plywood – not much flexibility! Perhaps you could say that the internal energy is transmitted to the tip of the jian to control or extend the application’s energy into the cut or thrust, but “to temporarily stiffen it” is incorrect.

I am typically somewhat reluctant to reply to possible style specific information on this forum as I favor Chen style (though I started with Yang style and have experience with it including having several teachers of Yang style sword form, drills, and sparring), but I want to make some points concerning this thread. (I am also not particularly familiar with Western fencing so I am perhaps not really able to address the initial question.) Also, since in the past you have posted form pictures for feedback, I hope that you will not mind some comments on the picture that you posted.

I think that Western sporting weapons (light, thin…) as well as the linearity of the interactions (the rules confining you to an alley), etc. may tend to change somewhat what may be effective in sport vs. how we train Taiji jian. Care should be taken when studying two similar arts in different contexts. I think that one would want the same changeability in Taiji jian as is exhibited in Taijiquan, and suspect that a straightened sword arm leading the lunge with the body and legs would be less changeable than the more integrated method exhibited in Taijiquan hand forms. Remember that Taij jian sparring frequently uses defensive stepping that takes one off-line of the attack, and the counter is frequently executed from an angle. I am uncertain if this is accurate since I have not had the opportunity to spar with a Western trained fencer, but I suspect that someone committing to a lunge as in Western sport fencing as you described it may be more vulnerable to counters from an angle. If you have the opportunity to test this out, please let us know the result. Also note that one of the most common targets of Taiji jian attacks is the wrist (not the torso as in Western sport fencing), and that this may result in significant differences in how vulnerable the lunge (as you have described) may be.

I do not really like the use of the term “vertical” in describing a jian block since the jian should continue to threaten the opponent even during a block. However, the “vertical” block with the tip angled forward towards an opponent, as shown in your picture, is ok.

Now for comments on your picture:
1) Starting with the jian position, notice how you are only protecting your head and throat. You will need to check with your teacher as to the intent of this posture, but I would think that the handle could be lowered to protect more of the body while still protecting the head. If you are blocking a straight thrust to your head by sinking your body below the level of the thrust while deflecting the sword to the side, then perhaps it is ok, especially if you have the sensitivity to stick with the opponent’s jian after contact and thus be able to lower your jian if they try to thrust lower (or redirect the jian into a slice against the left side of your torso, etc.). Note that it is very easy to thrust at an opponent’s head and, if you detect a high block, let the weight of the jian drop the tip down to finish the thrust to the abdomen. It is also fairly easy to change from a thrust into a slice (moving around under the deflecting sword) if the blocker is not sensitive. With the jian as high as shown in the picture, I may be more likely to angle the jian even more towards the opponent such that the tip would already be in position for a counter thrust (assuming that the increased angle is possible while maintaining the contact with the deflected jian). The reason for this is that unless the tip half of the blade is being used to contact the opponent’s jian, then it does not need to be that high (as it is above the level of your head) and can instead be directed more at your opponent.

2) The level that you sink to in your stance is about at the lower limit for maintaining the ability to transmit power from the ground up through the leg into the torso (a test of which would be to have someone use one finger to push down on your shoulder; if you can not raise up out of the stance, then you are too low). In your case, however, your low stance seems too low for your level of ability as it causes problems in your posture (try the above mentioned test). Notice how your back (left) foot is rolled inwards, how your rear sticks out, and even how your neck does not look like it is comfortable looking forward (probably due to relative inability of your hips to rotate preventing your shoulders from lining up above the hips).

3) The thumb of your right hand holding the jian is braced against the guard rather than wrapping around the handle. Why? Is this how you were taught to hold the jian in this posture? It is difficult to determine how flexible your grip is as most of the hand is hidden, but I suspect that your wrist may be bent rather that being aligned with your forearm, and I suspect that you have somewhat limited your wrist’s maneuverability, the changeability of the jian through changes in the handle facilitated by changes in how the fingers control the handle, etc.

Hope you do not mind the critique over this public forum.

Only trying to be helpful,

PostPosted: Thu Feb 07, 2008 5:42 am
by Simon Batten
Dan: I take some of your points here. On the fencing question there tends not to be much sideways stepping as the contest is confined to the piste. Also, in epee there are many point strikes to the wrist (rather than slices, as in Tai Chi sword, as of course epee is a point weapon). On the merits of my posture in the photo as far as the defensive application is concerned, the position is Hold the Moon against the Chest (first part), involving a defence not, as you envisage, to the head or throat, but to the abdomen and involves dropping down like this to counter a low strike with the thick part (the 'forte' in fencing) of the blade. You then rise up into Golden Rooster stance and slash the opponent's neck. Naturally, if I was executing a standing defence to the abdomen, I would be holding the sword lower than this. In fact a standing defence of the sort I was mentioning in the previous posts was what I wanted to post an illustration of, but I couldn't find a photo of myself doing one so couldn't post one and had to make do with this. I'm aware that I'm leaning to one side and this could be because my heels are in line. The only alternative to that is to have the feet spread further apart but then that has the disadvantage of opening more up frontally as a target. In addition, there's no harm in leaning into the parry somewhat to contribute further power and stability to the block. I can't agree with your point about using the top part of the sword to parry under any circumstances. The flexible top should never be used for this purpose - it's not strong enough. On the point about temporarily stiffening the sword, it was many years of practising this that enabled the Tai Chi sword masters of the past to counter any weapon using just a piece of bamboo. On the question of my rolling back foot, I'll have to have another look at the photo and revert to you on that. Thanks for the criticism, which I always like to bear in mind and consider, which is why I posted photos of some of my form postures for criticism on this forum a while back, and I received some extremely useful feedback by way of comments and criticisms. In fact I had a series of photos taken for the purpose, of which this was just one. One day I hope to be able to upload a video of myself doing the forms for the same purpose, but I don't have a camcorder at the moment and don't know anyone who's got one either. Kind regards, Simon.

PostPosted: Thu Feb 07, 2008 5:54 am
by Simon Batten
Dan: having just looked again at the photo, I think the reason why my back foot is rolled forward is simply because the garden ground there is very even. I normally practise on tennis courts and I am unaware of rolling my foot forward in this way on those at all. I've just got into the position here in my sitting room in my socks and my foot was flat so I think it's just the photo and the unevenness of the ground. Yes, I do tend to hold my sword like that, with the thumb in that position. The most important thing is to grip the sword with the two inner fingers. This makes for more liveliness and freedom of control. I've found that wrapping the thumb round the hilt inhibits that to a considerable degree and tends to result in almost a 'dead fist' type of grip with no life in it at all. Whether this is historically correct from the Tai Chi point of view I couldn't say but it works for me. I've tried using the sword with the wrapped around thumb but my hand just felt completely dead and the sword felt completely lifeless and cumbersome; it felt like gripping a sink plunger. Holding the sword with the thumb forward like this also gives you the possiblity of very fine movements of the tip of the blade just using the thumb and forefinger, with the other fingers just as support. Also the extended thumb is better for lunges where the wrist is supinated, as the blade is more supported. Kind regards, Simon.

PostPosted: Thu Feb 07, 2008 6:17 am
by Simon Batten
Dan: Two quotations from Dr Yang Jwing Ming's book 'Taiji Sword, Classical Yang Style': 'Since the sword is double edged, using either edge to block will dull or nick the blade. With the sword, only that third of the blade nearest the hilt is designed for vigorous blocking. Therefore, a defensive attack, without blocking, is the best sword technique, and a sliding block, followed by an attack, is the second best. The least desirable defence is to block using the dull area of the blade.' (p.20)r, the Yang style Tai Chi sword form contains all three of these types of defence. The photo I posted illustrates the second type, viz. a sliding block (in this case dropping down and sliding the opponent's abdominal attack sideways and back). Also, Dr Yang says (at page 80): 'Remember that the one-third near the handle of the blade is relatively dull, and can be used for violent blocking. The middle third is relatively sharper. This section can be used for coiling and neutralising. The last one-third, near the tip, is razor sharp, and is mainly used for attacking by sliding, cutting, chopping, stabbing, etc.' On the subject of Chen style sword, I learned about half I would guess of the Chen style some years ago with a Grandmaster in London. The wrist shots I remember tended to be low defences involving enveloping the opponent's weapon and then flipping it up to disarm him or cut the underside of his wrist, but there were also many turns and anticatory attacks against opponents behind. Kind regards, Simon.