Sword grip

sabre, sword, spear, etc

Sword grip

Postby DPasek » Fri Aug 09, 2013 5:16 pm

In Brennan’s newly posted translation of Yang Style Sword according to Chen Yanlin (from
太極拳刀劍桿散手合編) he gives the following:

“The hand that holds the sword must be relaxed and flexible. You must not grasp with all five fingers too tightly, for that would be a hindrance to using the sword in a lively way. You need only grip it with your thumb, middle finger, and ring finger. Your forefinger and little finger should be constantly loose. There should be an emptiness in the palm so that it is like holding a writing brush.”
http://brennantranslation.wordpress.com ... en-yanlin/

While I agree with what is stated, as recently as this year’s Kuoshu tournament a friend of mine who was looking at possibly purchasing a sword (jian) was shown “the proper way to hold a sword” in what I consider to have been a misinterpretation of the “like holding a writing brush” phrase. He was shown a grip where nothing but the tips of three fingers contacted the handle (thumb on one side of the handle and two fingers opposite). Although the phrase “You need only grip it with your thumb, middle finger, and ring finger” may seem to support a literal “like holding a writing brush” interpretation, my understanding is that a grip like that would be wrong.

While light reproduction swords may be able to be held and controlled in the manner shown to my friend (like holding a writing brush), a realistically weighted sword would typically be 1.5+ pounds (700+ grams) and is much heavier and has a much thicker handle than does a writing brush. Is there something in Chen’s Chinese writing (or from some other source) that may clarify this point? Is the phrase meant to be taken literally? How is the sword grip taught in the Yang Family Association?

I have been taught that the sword (jian) grip differs from the saber (dao) grip in that the sword grip should be much more lively than the saber grip, and an important difference is that the hollow of the palm should remain ‘changeable’ and thus not firmly touch the handle of the sword (while it often does when holding a saber). But this does not mean that only the tips of the fingers are used! Someone wielding a sword should have flexibility in their grip (even when using a realistically heavy sword), but should still maintain constant control of it even when the sword is struck forcefully by an opponent. Thus, in the way that I learned to hold the sword, the entire thumb, from the tip to the pad on the palm at the base of the thumb, can be used to hold the sword. Likewise, more than the tips of the fingers can be used to hold the sword.

Any clarifications on this point would be greatly appreciated.

Dan
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Re: Sword grip

Postby Bob Ashmore » Mon Aug 12, 2013 6:05 pm

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1p0C4vdPds

Start watching at about the six minute mark for a brief description of how to hold the sword as explained by GM Yang Zhen duo.

Bob
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Re: Sword grip

Postby Audi » Tue Aug 13, 2013 6:21 pm

Hi everyone,

Dan, I think I might have some of the same questions as you and do not know the answers. I may, however, be working from a slightly different set of understandings.

What I understand is that our grip of the sword should vary depending on the movement and the energy to be expressed. For instance, in Left and Right Step Over and Block (左右跨拦 Zuo you kua lan), I believe we have to grip the sword somewhat tightly. The same grip is not possible in Block and Sweep, Right and Left (右边拦扫 You bian lan sao, 左边拦扫 Zuo bian lan sao), because the angle the sword has to make with the forearm forces a looser grip.

I also understand that the index finger and little finger combine, sort of like a Yin-Yang pair to swivel the sword grip in the palm, with the thumb, middle, and ring finger helping to hold the pivot center. This action allows the contact with the palm to act like an additional joint to provide greater flexibility beyond what the wrist alone can provide. This greater movement is important in many places. For instance, to get the right energy of Pointing (点 dian3), I think this last second pivot is important in order to express the energy correctly and differentiate it from a chopping or cleaving/splitting energy. I think this may also be why Chinese find apt the analogy to holding a calligraphy brush, where the extra articulation the fingers provide to wrist and whole-body movement allows for greater expressive power.

As for how this would work with heavier swords, I do not know. I myself, however, have some doubts about whether there is true precision in any dichotomy between reproduction swords and "realistically weighted" swords. Swords have varied tremendously from century to century and culture to culture to meet different needs and to take advantage of improving technology and techniques. Our sword is explicitly meant to be light, nimble, and precise,even when compared with the saber, and so generally is not meant to withstand a direct blow. The saber, on the other, hand has more powerful spirited movement. I am not sure what precise environment our sword is designed for and so cannot judge how "realistic" it is or isn't.

As for holding the sword with the fingertips, I avoid this as much as possible; however, when I have to hold the sword at a small angle to my forearm, as in Block and Sweep (拦扫 Lan2 sao3), I can't see a way of avoiding the handle moving from the center of the palm towards at least the pads of the fingers. You can also see an example of this at time index 26 seconds in the link Bob provided. The video is not clear, but you can just see that Master Yang's fingers are not exactly perpendicular to the sword grip, but are slightly open and angled toward the tassel ring as he prepares to do the hike up/upper cut (撩 liao1) technique to the rear. This movement again shows the type of articulation I think we are supposed to make with the contact point of our grip.

I hope this helps.

Take care,
Audi
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Re: Sword grip

Postby Bob Ashmore » Tue Aug 13, 2013 8:17 pm

Yang Jun's teaching DVD on Sword has a very good explanation of how to grip the sword d for Traditional Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan. It starts about the 5 minute mark on the DVD, in the Introduction section.
The video zooms in on his hand and shows very clearly how he's holding the sword and he very clearly states how the fingers and thumb grasp the hilts; where on the hilt to grasp and which fingers are used both for grasping and controlling (he holds up his extended thumb, forefinger and middle finger) and which are used mostly for controlling the blade direction (the other two fingers, clearly indicating ring and pinky fingers).
He also clearly states how firmly to grasp the handle; "flexible, light and not too stiff".
I watch how he grips the sword closely as he performs each individual movement though. I understood that these general methods were the basic guideline and then there would be some grip variation in the different postures. Mostly I noticed that he constantly holds the thumb, fore and middle fingers in a loose but fixed manner, while some movements require differing positions of the ring and pinky fingers on the handle.
But this is a good place to start.

Bob
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Re: Sword grip

Postby DPasek » Wed Aug 14, 2013 5:40 pm

Thanks for the replies.

Audi wrote:I also understand that the index finger and little finger combine, sort of like a Yin-Yang pair to swivel the sword grip in the palm, with the thumb, middle, and ring finger helping to hold the pivot center. This action allows the contact with the palm to act like an additional joint to provide greater flexibility beyond what the wrist alone can provide.

Audi, I like your description, and this type of grip is what I mostly use in my practice.

Bob Ashmore wrote:The video zooms in on his hand and shows very clearly how he's holding the sword and he very clearly states how the fingers and thumb grasp the hilts; where on the hilt to grasp and which fingers are used both for grasping and controlling (he holds up his extended thumb, forefinger and middle finger) and which are used mostly for controlling the blade direction (the other two fingers, clearly indicating ring and pinky fingers).
He also clearly states how firmly to grasp the handle; "flexible, light and not too stiff".

Bob, thanks for taking the time to review your video materials and giving this description for us. This is not quite the same as the grip described by Audi, but all of us seem to emphasize the flexibility and changeability desired in the grip, so I have no problem with this variation since different teachers likely have slight differences in how to achieve the desired flexibility and changeability in their grips. While my grip is primarily like what Audi describes, perhaps I use the grip that you describe sometimes, like when the index finger is the Yang one in what Audi describes as the Yin-Yang pair of the index and little fingers.

I would add to Audi’s description that when the jian is held in the palm of the hand during certain techniques, that there should still be a hollowing (yin ‘suction’ away from the handle rather than being pressed firmly against the handle) of the center of the palm (see the laogong point in the following illustration):

Image

The following is an example of Chinese sword sparring (with wooden sparring swords having reasonable historical [late Qing, early Republic] accuracy) where one participant has his jian knocked out of his grip during full speed, full contact (with protective gear) sparring:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4ad8nUAaz4

Here is a short clip showing five aspects of traditional sword training:

http://www.grtc.org/resources/videos/elements-chinese-swordsmanship/

Personally, I have training in forms, basic cuts, partner drills, and have limited free sparring experience, but with no test cutting experience yet. I feel that many practitioners who use modern replicas that have a balance point close to the guard (unlike late Qing jian) which allows for very quick and easy movements for performing forms, leads to ineffective techniques when free sparring. It is difficult to explain this in words, but my experience is that the point of balance farther out on the blade facilitates the blocking and controlling on an opponent’s weapon during free sparring, especially when at full speed and power. I suspect that a close point of balance would also negatively affect cutting, although I have no personal experience with this.

In regards to balance, weight and length for jian used in Taijiquan, I feel that historically accurate balance may be the most important. Some teachers advocate that the jian used for Taijiquan be as long as can be effectively used, longer than would be typical using wushu performance standards (i.e. as held in the opening ‘reverse’ grip, the tip of the blade should reach the top of the ear; or, with the tip touching the ground, the pommel reaching the navel). I personally do not think that the length of the jian is particularly important as long as it retains a reasonable point of balance, but a longer weapon would increase the weight (in addition to whatever sparring advantages are gained with longer reach). If modern materials and manufacturing techniques produce a well balanced jian with less weight than late Qing examples, I could imagine that they would work reasonably well, but many of the available modern reproductions that are available to the average consumer are unsatisfactory, in my opinion.

Dan
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Re: Sword grip

Postby Bob Ashmore » Wed Aug 14, 2013 8:05 pm

Dan,
This thread is relevant to me right now because I am teaching a beginners sword class and we just started a couple of weeks ago. I have gone over the grip several times with my students in the last few weeks with varying levels of success and so I thank you for the opportunity to review what Yang Laoshi says more closely as it will help me teach this to my students.
I will go into tomorrow nights class with a better understanding of how to teach this and that's always a good thing.

As for balance of the sword blade...
I've spent a great deal of time swinging swords around. In my misspent youth I used to practice medieval swordsmanship, primarily with the European style longsword. There are a lot of variations in that type of sword as to length, weight and balance. Each sword design is used to meet a specific set of circumstances and each has its own good and bad points for overall usage.
The Chinese Jian is no different. There are as many styles of Jian as there are drops of rain in a thunderstorm, each designed according to so many factors that it simply boggles the mind to try to understand them all.
Understanding that, let's face it, you aren't going to learn to use all of them.
At first you will learn the basics of the type and design of sword that your teacher tells you to use, obviously. This will vary from teacher to teacher and according to school, type of lineage, tradition, etc.
In the long run, it doesn't really matter which type of sword you start out with though. What is important is to learn the basics of sword and learn them to the best of your ability.
After you have learned the basics, then you can begin to experiment with different sword designs until you find the one, or two if that happens to you, that you feel works best for you.
I have played around with many different types of Jians and I have my own preferences for which I feel is best suited to me.

All that said, I got very lucky in my method of finding a practice Jian.
So lucky that I doubt it could ever happen to me again.
Long story short, one of the members of our local group went on one of the Association trips to China.
I do not remember which year he went... 2008? Maybe 2009?
Not coming to me. It was several years ago anyway.
Before he left he asked us all if there was something he could pick up for us while he was in China.
I immediately asked him if he would mind trying to find me a "decent practice" Jian as all I had was a cheap wall hanger at that time. I was new to TCC sword so it was "good enough" to use while I learned the form and the basics but I was quickly finding it to be entirely inadequate after I had learned the basics.
He said that if the opportunity presented itself, he would do so.
He is roughly the same height as me and we have just about the same basic arm and hand size.
I told him to find a Jian that was comfortable to him but maybe felt just a touch heavy as I am a bit more husky than he is.
OK, a LOT more husky. But that's beside the point...
He went and when he came back he presented me with a shiny new Jian, straight from the Lung Chuan forge. It was an Association "high carbon" blade, one of the older ones before the re-design, that he said he found in a big barrel of those older blades that they let everyone pick through since they were switching over the designs. He said when he picked it up it just "sang" my name to him, he couldn't find anything wrong with it, it felt a bit "heavy" to his hand so he got it for me.
At first I was kind of surprised at his choice, as it was one of the "short" blades and I'd always preferred the "medium" blade since it corresponded with the traditional length of "held reversed in Preparation form it should reach the top of your ear".
When he first handed it to me, before I drew it, I immediately thought, "Oh, well. I can let my fellow students borrow it when they don't remember theirs" and just kept smiling.
Then I drew it from it's scabbard and started playing with it.
Oh.
Wow.
It was absolutely perfect for me.
The point of balance is about three and a hair inches up the blade and the pivot point rests solidly at the middle point between a thrusting and a cutting blade, allowing a good capacity for either use with a single blade. (this is very rare for a Jian, I've never felt it in another Jian)
It's sweet spot is almost exactly on the percussion point, making it a very gentle blade to use when making a full force cut or thrust. Again, rare in a Jian.
My practice of sword has made exponential leaps since I found a sword that works very well with me, personally.
While it is a high carbon "combat" blade I have never sharpened it and most likely never will.
I practice with this sword every single day and I take it with me all over the place. It really wouldn't be a good idea for me to sharpen it as several times I've been approached by the local police when I have been practicing in the parks near my home and the first thing they ask me is, "Is it sharp?"
When I answer "Nope." they inevitably feel the edge, grunt and go away.
Apparently if it was sharp I would have a much different reaction out of them, so I don't sharpen it.
Which is a shame, to me personally, but that's how it is and all.
I have another "high carbon" blade that I have since picked up that doesn't have the same overall good qualities. It is balanced a bit closer to the hilt at 2 and a half inches, it's percussion point and sweet spot are somewhat separated and it's pivot point is much better suited to thrusting than cutting.
Still, I use it to practice with a "live, sharp" blade so that I keep my respect for the edge quite high and doing cuts with it is much more difficult, which should help any "real" kind of thrusting I do be a bit more robust when/if that time ever comes.

But I digress.
Each swordsman will need to find his own version of a "sweet sword", the one that sings to them and gives them the capabilities they desire to suit their own requirements.
Smaller, lighter people usually prefer a smaller, lighter sword. One that balances near the hilts so as to give them greater control.
Larger, heavier people tend to go for the heavier swords balanced closer to the point.
It's all relative to your particular needs.

Which brings to mind an Italian army issued saber I was recently given as a gift by one of my student which was actually designed by Del Fratte to combine the qualities of weight and balance in different ways depending on where you place your thumb on the handle/hilts.
But that's another story for another time.
Sorry, I get off on these tangents from time to time.

Bob
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Re: Sword grip

Postby DPasek » Thu Aug 15, 2013 2:35 pm

Bob Ashmore wrote:The point of balance is about three and a hair inches up the blade

Hi Bob,

I wish you the best with your sword class – have fun!

The sword (jian) that you mention sounds to me like it has a point of balance (POB) that would be slightly too close to the hand guard by historical standards (late Qing, early Republic) for Chinese swords, but it is not as bad as many reproductions that are on the market. That said, however, it IS important that it feels good, lively, controlled, etc. in your hand, so it sounds like you may have a very good sword for your personal preferences.

I have posted my opinions on the POB for swords, and the effect on various aspects of usage, in the following thread:

http://www.yangfamilytaichi.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=283

While I mentioned a POB about 4-6” beyond the guard in the above post, a more consistent way to measure the POB would be to measure the distance from the junction between the handle and the guard, and would then translate to about 6-8” (depending on sword length, etc). This is a better measurement since sword guards have a variety of designs (e.g. an ‘ace of spades’ design would be longer than a ‘bat-shaped’ design), and addresses better the distance from the hand to the POB. If you were measuring the 3” of your sword from where the blade meets the hand guard, then it would likely be at least another inch farther out when measured from the junction between the handle and the guard.

Dan
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