How does one handle a traditional sword?

sabre, sword, spear, etc

How does one handle a traditional sword?

Postby ChiDragon » Sat Feb 06, 2016 4:25 pm

Greatings!

The Sword Grip thread was a very interesting discussion which leads to another new subject. How does one handle a traditional (TS) sword?

Handling a lightweight sword like the official competition Tai Ji sword only reveals the beautification of the forms; but it does not master the art of a traditional sword as a martial artist. The weight of the sword must be overcame by the handler. Surprisingly, the significance of the sword grip is pertinent in handling a traditional sword.

How it was done?
What are some of the criteria that we need to be considered? Like who, what, when and how? May I invite some of the knowledgeable members to share their thoughts? Thanks!
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Re: How does one handle a traditional sword?

Postby ChiDragon » Sun Feb 07, 2016 7:54 pm

I have been admiring the swordsmen in the movies and how they handle the sword like a piece of feather. After years of Tai Ji practice, I had bought a traditional sword and learn to respect its weight. Then, I said to myself I'll master it one day. I have realized to master the sword that I must practice Tai Ji diligently. Hence, that will give me body strength to overcome the weight of the TS. The body strength is only a prerequisite to pick up the sword, without hurting the wrist, but not suffice to handle it. Learning to respect the sword is to know its characteristics to begin with.

I had spent sometime looking into the characteristics of the sword. Since the weight is the major concern, the first thing to be considered is the point of balance (POB).

Here is the sword:
<<<<>>>(>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Handle--I---6"---I<---the point of balance

Without any attachment to the traditional sword, the point of balance is six(6) inches from the trailing edge of the hand guard. However, the POB can be shifted toward the hand guard by adding an attachment at the end of the handle such a tassel.

The most obstacle in handling the sword is its weight. The goal is to keep the weight to a minimal at all times. The sword can be made for the handler to feel lighter by moving the POB closer toward the guard. Nowadays, besides the swords are made lighter but also the POB was shift 50% toward hand guard. To me, that was cheating. It is because one hasn't mastered the sword without considering its weight.

The goal in handling a sword is to keep it at a position where it is the lightest at all times. We have already determined how to make it feel lighter in, a static mode, by adjusting the position of the POB. The next thing is to know where and how to hold it minimize the weight.

After a sword was fine tuned, meaning that the POB has been adjusted properly, the best place for the grip is behind the hand guard. The handle portion behind the hard guard is narrower than the body of the handle. The reason for the design is to make accommodation for the thumb and index fingers to have a good grip. So, the ring formed by both fingers is allowing to grip the sword from flying off the hand. With the sword in the ring which constitute an universal joint, so the sword can be moved in a swivel manner. The middle finger may be used to control the angle of the sword; and the rest of the two fingers, the ring and little fingers, will provide a full grip on the handle when necessary.

Please keep in mind, the tighter the grip which will make the sword feel much heavier. In addition, moving the grip toward the end of the handle which will make it even more heavier.
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Re: How does one handle a traditional sword?

Postby ChiDragon » Tue Feb 09, 2016 5:22 pm

The concept in handling the sword is to keep its weight at the lightest at all times. To understand the dynamics of the sword; there are two static conditions in regarding to its weight must be investigated. So, the practitioner will not become fatigue too quickly. The weight of the sword varies at different positions. The techniques in holding the sword are also different.

In the two static conditions, the weight is the heaviest in the horizontal position which requires a full grip with all the fingers; and the lightest is at the vertical position which only require the thumb and index fingers to form a ring to hold it in place. However, in the dynamic mode, the grip will have to be changed in accordance with each position of the sword in the air.
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Re: How does one handle a traditional sword?

Postby DPasek » Tue Feb 09, 2016 8:35 pm

Reproduction swords (jian) have primarily been developed for performance rather than for combat. To explain the different handling characteristics between reproduction and historic swords would require an examination of the differing requirements between performance and combat. The lighter reproduction swords with a POB closer to the handle make a sword easier and more comfortable to handle, but there must be a compromise away from functionality for combat, otherwise the historic swords would also have been made to take advantage of these easier handling characteristics (I am trusting that the historic swords were what was found to be functionally the best for combat).

If someone’s interests are more towards performance, and a desire is for greater control and comfortable movement, then these issues will probably not be of interest. But my approach is that Taijiquan forms were developed using historic weapons rather than the modern performance reproductions, and so I wanted my practice to reflect historic weapons. All I was able to purchase in the 1980s was a light performance reproduction that I realized was unrealistic, so I had a blacksmith friend make a heavier crude metal sword to practice with. At the time I did not have access to information like today, so it ended up being heavier than historic, but not too bad and the POB was also good enough for my purposes. I used this heavy sword to practice solo forms using my body to propel the sword and minimizing the use of my wrist. There were several places in the form that I modified after discovering that I was using too much wrist (the weight of the heavy practice sword strained my wrist), although the modifications may not be noticeable to observers unless I pointed them out. Now, with the access to information provided by the internet, accurate historic information is available, as well as historically accurate reproductions and even antique swords.

I do not know of any historic sources that explain the weight and balance choices for historic swords, but there are ways to speculate about it. One is to practice test cutting. There are now quality live blades based on historic swords available for test cutting practice, but to answer the question of the differences with lighter swords or ones with differing balances would require access to a variety of swords and enough practice with each to be proficient with handling each of them before they could be reasonably compared in test cutting under various conditions (soft targets, bamboo, wrapped bamboo, etc.). I only have one test cutting sword (which is close in characteristics to my antique) and I do not plan on purchasing others in order to compare them, so I will be unable to answer whether a 50% lighter or heavier sword would cut as well, nor whether one with a balance 2-3” closer to the guard (or farther towards the tip) would change the ability to cut targets. All I can say now is that if controlled properly with good technique, modern test cutting swords that follow historic characteristics can cut test targets quite well.

Another question that should be addressed is the handling characteristics of swords with various weights and POBs against other weapons during free sparring. Again, I do not have sufficient experience to be able to answer this. My personal sparring experience has primarily been sword against sword (and minimal sword/jian against saber/dao sparring) and none with sword against staff or spear or other historic Chinese weapons. My sparring has also primarily only been controlled (at most about half speed or power) sparring rather than full contact sparring. But here I do have some variety in the wooden sparring swords that I own. The first that I obtained in the mid 1990s is quite light and with a POB that is not too different from performance type reproductions; the next three I obtained are near the light end of the historic swords range with slightly varying POBs that are close to the historic range; the last two were custom made and are historically accurate for both weight and POB.

Although I primarily use the two historically accurate sparring swords now, the three others with less weight still handle comfortably for me after a little time spent handling them. The slight variation in the POB for these 5 swords is not enough for me to be bothered by them during free sparring, but none of them vary enough from historic norms to be comparable to performance swords. If you are able to detect a significant difference in handling characteristics between the POB when using your index finger versus using the middle finger, then I suspect that you did not spend nearly enough time getting comfortable with each grip (the grip that you are currently comfortable with will naturally feel better than a new grip, regardless of the POB of the sword).

The one sparring sword that I have that is more comparable to a performance sword does have differences during sparring from the other swords that I use. These may be of interest to readers, even though they come only from my limited experiences. This sword is easier to deflect off target requiring more adjustments to remain effective; it seems less ‘lively’ despite it being lighter and easier to manipulate with the wrist. The heavier swords, in my hands, do more of the work, for example when pivoting around the opponent’s weapon; I tend to guide the sword more than with the lighter blade, the lighter blade requiring more manipulation to direct the tip for an effective attack. This is primarily noticeable in sparring play, not in solo form practice, but I think that it is very important.
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Re: How does one handle a traditional sword?

Postby ChiDragon » Wed Feb 10, 2016 5:40 pm

Why the loose grip? To make a long story short, the reason for the loose grip is to let the sword glide in the air and guided by the grip. The idea is to let the weight of the sword to be free fall in space rather than having all its weight in the hand. So to speak.

In the dynamic mode, most of the time, the sword should be felt at the lightest in the hand. It can be done by taken advantage of gravity. Instead of griping the handle tightly, it should be done loosely. So the sword will glide freely in the air. The sword gliding in the air tends to fly off the hand. However, the loose grip by the thumb and index fingers will keep it in place with less contact. Hence, the hand does not feel the weight of the sword, at all, during free fall. It is because the sword is not in full contact with the hand except the first two or three fingers.
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Re: How does one handle a traditional sword?

Postby fchai » Wed Feb 10, 2016 9:31 pm

Greetings chidragon,
Yours is an interesting dissertation. My sword grip is one which is comfortable, allows me to move the sword in any manner I choose and which is relaxed. I suspect that if the grip one uses allows total freedom of movement and expression, then it should be appropriate for the particular physiology and bio dynamics of the practitioner. Interestingly, I frequently find close parallels between Taiji and golf. Just as each person adjusts their golfing technique, such as the gripping of the golf club, so I suggest might it be for the Taiji practitioner. Every person's hands are different, mine is on the small side, probably more flexible and supple at the wrist, etc. As a golfer, I also tend to naturally have a relaxed grip and let the sword do the bulk of the work. As with Taiji, I have the mind/intent control and guide my physical actions. However, I have never sparred with weapons so do not know if my approach would apply in those conditions. Your dissertation is interesting to me as it makes me question and analyse how and why I do what I do.
Take care,
Frank
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Re: How does one handle a traditional sword?

Postby ChiDragon » Wed Feb 10, 2016 11:11 pm

fchai wrote:Greetings chidragon,
......My sword grip is one which is comfortable, allows me to move the sword in any manner I choose and which is relaxed. I suspect that if the grip one uses allows total freedom of movement and expression, then it should be appropriate for the particular physiology and bio dynamics of the practitioner.


Greetings Frank,

The thread is about a traditional sword with the POB of 6 inches from the trailing edge of the guard which weights about 1.5 to 2 pounds. Is your sword under this specification? It can be verified by placing the sword on top of the index finger and measure the distance from the index finger to the trailing edge of the hand guard. I am just curious about the comfortable grip that you are having with your sword. Just for my own amusement, do you think you could make the measurement to fulfill my curiosity. Thanks.

Beat regards,
Jim
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Re: How does one handle a traditional sword?

Postby fchai » Fri Feb 12, 2016 3:32 am

Greetings Dan,

My sword's POB is about 5 inches from the handle end of the guard and weighs 1.76 lbs.
Cheers,
Frank
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Re: How does one handle a traditional sword?

Postby fchai » Fri Feb 12, 2016 6:47 am

Greetings Dan,
Forgot to mention that the POB included the tassel at the pommel of the sword.
Take care,
Frank
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Re: How does one handle a traditional sword?

Postby fchai » Fri Feb 12, 2016 6:50 am

Oops, sorry, Jim! Can't understand why I kept thinking Dan. Lol.
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Re: How does one handle a traditional sword?

Postby ChiDragon » Fri Feb 12, 2016 6:32 pm

Greetings, Dan

The traditional swords are definitely made for combat. At the time, that was the only kind of sword used for practice also. However, the practitioner requires a greater inner strength to handle it. They were the real Kung Fu masters. From the internal practice(內功,nei gong) abilities, they can handle the traditional sword like a piece of feather.

" But my approach is that Taijiquan forms were developed using historic weapons rather than the modern performance reproductions, and so I wanted my practice to reflect historic weapons."

Based on your quote, it sounded like the sword was before the taichiquan. I believe it was the other way around. The choice of weapon was based on the present ability level of the practitioner, such as the experience in years of practice. It the ancient, there was no light weight sword made for practice other than the wooden one. One might say that the wooden sword is equivalent to the, nowadays, competition sword.

"I do not know of any historic sources that explain the weight and balance choices for historic swords, but there are ways to speculate about it."

You are correct about that. The ancients do not have the scientific technology to make blue prints for a sword. The blacksmith only made the sword per the specifications of the swordsman. The POB was just happened to be a perfect spot of the sword for a particular swordman.

". One is to practice test cutting. There are now quality live blades based on historic swords available for test cutting practice, but to answer the question of the differences with lighter swords or ones with differing balances would require access to a variety of swords and enough practice with each to be proficient with handling each of them before they could be reasonably compared in test cutting under various conditions (soft targets, bamboo, wrapped bamboo, etc.). "

Here is another thing I would to address. I believe that the "live blades" you are referring to were for cutting test. I would like to point out that the cutting test was to check out the sharpness of the blade. Besides, under the various conditions was to test the skill of the swordsman in determining how well the performance was done.

"Another question that should be addressed is the handling characteristics of swords with various weights and POBs against other weapons during free sparring. Again, I do not have sufficient experience to be able to answer this."

I would like to say that there are no comparison between the traditional and competition sword. The competition sword, smaller POB weights about one pound, were made for the performance of the forms but not for combat. So, there won't be so much stress which was applied to the wrist of the performer to cause fatigue during the competition.
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Re: How does one handle a traditional sword?

Postby ChiDragon » Fri Feb 12, 2016 9:50 pm

The practice with a traditional sword was not to be taken lightly. It requires to practice Taijiquan for many years to strengthen the body, like muscle tone, wrist, horse stance, footwork, the movements of the waist and arms; and most importantly is the breathing. It is very important to breathe in the air while the sword was drown back toward the body.

At the beginning, for technical reasons, it is advisable a light sword or a wooden one to be used for practice. So, the weight of the sword will not be a deterrent for the familiarization of the movements.

The POB only effects the construction of the sword, mainly its weight. A sword with a small POB was known and understood it's for show only rather than combat. Normally, a competition sword weights about one pound. For combat or cutting purposes, one would prefer to have a POB farther away from the handle to increase the momentum for the counterattack.
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Re: How does one handle a traditional sword?

Postby ChiDragon » Sat Feb 13, 2016 6:49 pm

fchai wrote:My sword's POB is about 5 inches from the handle end of the guard and weighs 1.76 lbs.
Forgot to mention that the POB included the tassel at the pommel of the sword.

......My sword grip is one which is comfortable, allows me to move the sword in any manner I choose and which is relaxed. I suspect that if the grip one uses allows total freedom of movement and expression, then it should be appropriate for the particular physiology and bio dynamics of the practitioner.
Frank


Greetings, Frank
That is quite a respectable sword to be manipulated with. You seems to handle it well. :)

Happy swordsmanship,
Jim
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