Yang Zhen Duo and Yang Jun have stated that the essential principles of the empty hand form and the weapons forms are the same. I have been somewhat slow in feeling the truth of this in my practice, but had a recent experience of this that I would like to share for comment.
I was recently having a friendly sparring session with a fellow student. I say sparring, rather than moving push hands, because we were both using kicks, strikes, and locks, although usually in a controlled fashion. Even though we were sparring, I was trying to be very careful about using only T'ai Chi techniques and principles, to the extent I understand them.
Because of some very significant differences in our ages, martial experience, and skill sets, I was simultaneously somewhat confident of not being severely injured, but somewhat afraid of receiving painful body blows. In all, I was unusually focused on using good technique.
In my perception, my partner was favoring speed-based techniques from disconnected positions, and I found that in order to connect properly and maintain proper sticking, I was forced not only to keep my elbows downward, but to "droop" them (zhui). Any other strategy created openings that my partner could exploit with painful body blows or where speed and reaction time became the dominant elements.
Right after this session, I participated in the equivalent of fixed step push hand drills with wooden straight swords. This was my first experience with two person sword play. Much to my surprise, I found the same elbow feelings even more necessary. I could only stick to my opponents' blade if I allowed my elbows to droop and swing freely.
My first instinct to avoid being at the pointy end of my partners' sword was to use my eyes, reaction time, and arm strength to parry their thrusts. After only a little experimentation, it became quite clear that this was a losing, or at least highly risky strategy.
I could feel that using strength or speed with the sword seemed to allow the opponent to fold around my attack quite easily and use my strength and speed against me in a counter attack. This feeling felt much more obvious than in empty hand practice.
When I transferred my focus from my eyes and reaction abilities to the feel of the contact point with my opponent sword, I was much more satisfied with my parries. It was quite an eery, but neat feeling, to watch the point of my opponent's sword sweep slowly past my throat, but have to keep my mental focus on the feeling in my waist, elbows, wrist, and the contact point with my opponent's blade.
One interesting aspect of my observation was that although my eyes could tell me when I was in trouble or threatened, they did not suggest what to do about it, since the eyes were not directly linked to my muscle movement. On the other hand, using touch sensitivity to feel out the trouble or the threat immediately suggested countermeasures, since both the defensive and offensive aspects of this focus involved feelings of angles, pressure, and motion.
The importance of the waist was another revelation where theory became fact. In empty hand practice, I had always associated waist movement with power. In this session, it became very clear that even though that degree of power was usually not necessary for the sword, issuing power from the waist was necessary to allow my arms to have enough sensitivity to control the opponent's blade. Using the waist, sticking, and angle sensitivity felt much better than relying on wrist and arm strength or on speed and momentum.
Does anyone have similar experiences they would like to share or any comment on these thoughts?