Sword Applications

sabre, sword, spear, etc

Postby Audi » Fri Aug 23, 2002 11:26 pm

Hi Hans-Peter,

Thanks for the further clarifications.

I still have some confusion about what you are terming the wrist extension during Ji and Jie. At the beginning of the techniques, are you saying that the direction in which the sword is pointing should lag behind the direction the forearm is point in? Should the direction of the forearm lag behind the direction of the upper arm? At the end of the techniques, should the angle of the sword exceed the angle of the forearm, as in Dian, or merely extend to leave the sword, forearm, and upper arm in a straight line?

If you have a wrist extension in Ji and Jie, as well as in Xiao, will the movement of the arm appear any different? Does Pi differ only in direction?

In “Immortal Points the Way,” Yang Zhenduo lists Ci (“stab”) as the application? How do you come up with Xiao (“peel”). Do you perform this posture very differently, or do you have in mind a different interaction with the opponent?

By the way, I have an unrelated question about how to grip the sword. All I can currently recall the Yangs teaching is that the grip needs to be lively and mobile, but cannot recall which if any of the fingers should be given precedence and which if any of the fingers should touch either. Do you know; and if so, does this differ from the Saber?

Take care,
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Postby Hans-Peter » Fri Aug 30, 2002 7:53 am

Hi Audi,

I'm not sure if I understand your question concerning "lags" of the sword in relation to ji and jie right. I have an idea about what you search to understand since most swordplayers ask about this, especially when they have learned the outer form and now trying to link all postures together to a fluid demonstration of the form. So I feel that there a many "lags" in swordplay which are very complex and difficult to describe. Often you'll have an obvious visible lag between the direction the body moves or turn and the direction the sword moves. Take the final dai in right & left block and brush as an example. Before the block to the right is completely finished, the torso already move forward towards left (the sword still goes right).Then the sword follows - with a lag.
Since this is so obvious in building the posture, I'd call this a "macro-lag".
But there are also many "micro-lags" in the postures. So during ji and jie there are surely lags, even when they are not so obvious.

Mentioned that sword, hand, forearm and upper arm are building a kind of chain, I don't feel that they always move together as a rigid unity. The do this in certain sections of a technique, but not always. If you look at the wrist movement during a pi, the angle of the wrist to forearm changes. When you start pi from above, let's presume that the angle between forearm and basic phalanx of the thumb is around 160 degrees.
While pi down you'd probably first move the complete chain downward without changing this angle. When the sword is stopped by a bone or muscles, your arm has reached the final position but you can still cut further with the parts of the first sharp blade-third. You'll do this cut with the wrist, so after this cut - at the definitive end - the angle between your forearm and thumb basic phalanx is 180 degrees or larger.

You can do this in nearly all chopping, striking or cutting techniques, more or less obvious. Pi differs from ji and jie since it goes straight down and the blade is vertical in the air - shangren is pointing upwards - since with ji and jie shangren is diagonally in the air. Since you cannot benefit from a waist-turn in pi, the internal energy in pi is also different to ji and jie.

Gripping the sword is a very personal aspect. I know some different gripping styles - all have certain weak-points. What all have in common, that the sword is gripped with a special kind of "empty feeling" in the hand. The sword is never gripped very tightly. Furthermore since the sword has two sharp edges, your grip should make it possible to turn the sword easily in your hand - but you shouldn't make it easy for your opponent to disarm you. Under these guidelines you should find your grip. If you'd play Chen style sword which emphasizes more in attack, you'd grip it a little bit more tight as if you'd play Wu style sword, which emphasizes very much in neutralizing and defense. Since I feel that Yang style sword is something in the middle, I mostly use the following grip:

I grip close to the base of the handguard and hold the sword mainly with thumb and middle-finger. The other fingers changes as needed. Once they looses contact (e.g. when turning the sword in the hand) once they give more support. Therefore I have a certain kind of contact between the tip of middle-finger and thumb basic. When I need more support (maybe for a heavier attack) or when I want to control my opponent better, I place thumb and indexfinger on the handguard (thumb sideways, index on top, like a "V"). The tiger-mouth is the straight prolongation of shangren. Please note that this is the "basic-grip". I vary this grip due to techniques in many ways.

I think that the so called "Wudang-grip" is also suitable for Yang style sword. Here sword is held mostly with thumb, middle- and ringfinger, all other things mentioned above are still the same.I don't know how YZD holds his sword, >I guess it could be in this way (when looking at his videos and VCD's).

Please excuse - it's just a simply mistake. I also do "ci" in "Immortal points way". I have just hammered the words into the machine without manuscript and switched it.
Too many pi and ji and ci for an old man....

Your always welcome
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Postby Audi » Tue Sep 10, 2002 12:35 am

Hi Peter,

Thanks for your response, which is definitely advancing my understanding. Let me more precise about more of my confusion in the hopes I can go even further.

It seems to me that the energy of the bare-hand form, as performed by the Yangs, is overwhelming like a bow and not very much like a whip. Although I know some who do Taijiquan with very loose whip-like feelings, I personally no longer do this. I can see martial application for this approach, but have difficulty squaring it with much of what I understand to be traditional Taiji tactics. How can one relate peng energy or uprooting to whip-like attacks with the arms? How do I defend with a whip? Those who advocate this approach also seem to have an understanding of Taiji that is different from what appeals to me, for instance, disdaining defense and focusing predominantly on attack.

When one adds weapons to this mix, however, the picture seems to change somewhat. Many of the sports I have any acquaintance of and that involve the use of implements seem to incorporate whip-like movements, or what I think you refer to you as using the joints like sections of a chain: e.g., tennis, baseball, golf, javelin, etc. By whip-like motions, I mean that there is a noticeable lag between the motion of parts of the body and the motion of the implement. Exceptions that come to mind are throwing a shot put, throwing a discus, and pole vaulting. Despite these exceptions, it seems entirely reasonable to me that Taiji sword would include whip-like motions and all the good practitioners I have seen seem to do so. (By the way, I have a different opinion of Taiji saber, which seems generally closer to the bare-hand form.)

What still troubles me is what kind of whip-like motions to put where. The sports I have mentioned all have a concern for power that does not seem to suit what is needed for a predominantly slicing weapon wielded with delicacy.

As you have stated, the chain-like movement of the joints is practically impossible to describe in words. Another difficulty is that these types of motions come in different varieties. One does not hit a ping-pong ball, a racket ball, a squash ball, a golf ball, and a baseball in the same way. The joints have different relative firmness and the “lag” in the implement is not the same. Similarly, I can understand, for instance, that one does not use the same firmness in the wrist for “pi” (“chop”) and “dian” (“point?” or “dot?”).

One strategy to learn these techniques is, of course, simply to copy the motions one sees in one’s teachers. Although I try to do this, it does not suit my learning style. I learn best by understanding principles and cannot trust my eyes or my memory unless I can see a principle behind what I see or hear described.

Three postures in particular seem unusual to me: Swallow Skims the Water, Dusting in the Wind, and White Ape Presents the Fruit. In each of these moves, it seems to me that the body telegraphs the movement of the sword (i.e., prematurely betrays what path the sword will take and so allows the opponent to prepare a counter in advance). In each of these three moves, it seems as if the wrist and the connection between the fingers and the sword are in motion while the rest of the body has completely stopped. My experience with fencing is extremely limited and so I cannot understand the advantages of this and do not know how much of this motion to emphasize.

In “dian” it seems that the extra bending of the wrist allows the sword to reach angles that otherwise would not be possible. Is this what is happening in Dusting in the Wind? In “pi” I can see how a little wrist motion adds a little horizontal slicing motion to the vertical hacking/chopping energy produced by the arms. Is this the same for “ji” and “jie”?

Thanks for your explanation of the grip, which seems reasonable to me. One last question I have is about the transition between grips. The sword form has multiple instances when a grip with the sword on the left side of the body and the palm down switches to a grip with the sword on the right side of the body with the palm up (and vice versa), e.g., Lion Shakes Its Head, Left and Right, and the five repetitions of Falling Leaves. This transition seems very vulnerable to me, because one must almost release the handle somewhat in order to change the grip. Can you explain why this is not a problem? Why can the opponent not seize this moment to disarm you? Is contact with the opponent’s blade not an issue at this moment?

Take care,
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Postby Hans-Peter » Fri Sep 13, 2002 10:45 am

Hi Audi,

I appreciate to read your kind words.

You touch many differnt aspects of swordplay and I try to reply to them in a systematical approach again. To my knowledge there's no publication available which I could use, so I'm not sure if it works. But maybe we'll find another way for more effective discussion while using a kind of system.

In swordplay many different principles exist. They concern not to the "sword in general", they concern to different levels. Each level has it's own principles. As for the barehand-fighting and each other weapon, there are the following levels to differentiate in Taiji-sword:
1. Top level (=Taiji skills, eg. adhere, connect, lead into emptiness, avoid double weighting etc.)
2. General sword usage level
3. Sword FIGHTING level
3.1 Strategy level
3.2 Tactic level
3.3 Technique level
4. Tools/Instruments-level
4.1 Solo Form level
4.2 Partner exercises-level
4.3 Free-style level
4.4 Special exercises level
4.5 Qi gong level

So if you like to discuss principles, decide about which level you like to discuss. When you e.g. talk about performing movements whip- or bow-like, you'll probably talk about an aspect of level 4.1 - i.e. you talk about how to perform a given form. When you ask about girps, pi, ci, ji etc., you talk about level 3.3. When you ask about why performing a transition from posture A to posture B in a given way, why to hold a sword during transition this way etc., you discuss principles of level 4.1 - not principles that belong to the fighting area of level 3. You may already now realize that many things you do in the form will have no or only less applications in real fighting. Maybe this is hard for you, but you cannot become a swordfighter andonly from practicing the form, no matter how much or how technical perfect or how internally differentiated you'll ever play the form.

Level 1
That's the TOP level since here you have all Taiji-skills, relevant for the barehand form too. Take double weighting as an example and realize, that on this level you can only discuss if this is a good principle. If you want to discuss a principle that would help you to avoid double weighting in sword usage, you have to discuss on level 3.2, since I actually believe that double weighting can only occur while engaged with an opponent, and therefore isn't a question for level 4.1.
Level 2:
Here we talk about attitudes which characterize the usage of the sword. Many songs of the sword exist. I wouldn't say that the sword is a predominantly slicing weapon. I would only say it's a "gentle" weapon. Each swordplayer determinates for himself, if he uses it predominantly for certain techniques. A master wouldn't limit the possibilities of the weapon.
Level 3:
Here are the principles for sword-fighting.
Level 3.1:
Many strategic principles exist. As a core principle I would consider "Follow the sword with your body and cover the body with your sword". The first part means, that you should handle the sword with your whole body, not only with arm or hand. If you can act this way, the pure hand-movements become secondary in a certain way. The second part means, that you must hide from your opponent what you want to do next. You must use your sword to mislead him about your intentions. You can imagine hwo nimble, flexible and agile one must be to do this in a proper way while facing another deadly weapon. You cannot train this with formplay. All schools have special exercise for this (e.g. "washing with sword").
Level 3.2
Here a the tactical principles of sword-fight, which tells you HOW to transcribe the oprinciples of 3.1 into movements. Many exist. I don't know how you imagine a sword fight, but it's surely not chain of techniques applied in a longer sequence. There are many ways to meet the opponent. Let's focus on two common ways:
a) Both blades touches near the tip section, similar to push hands. Then the swords circles around, never loose contact and the fight is on. Somewhen one will attack - and this in many cases the first and last attack.
b) The opponets stand in safe distance. If one attacks the other tries to neutralize or to avoid the attack and answers with the counterattack. Also this is probably the last action of the fight.So or so.
For a and b you'll have to be very agile. Transitions between postrures as they appear in the form dioesn't appear here. Therefore you don't telegraph anything in the way you've mentioned. You surely would - if you'd act as in the form. But you don't do the form in the fight. I hope it's also obvious for you, that the skills needed for a and b must be trained espacially beside the formplay. Every school has corresponding training metghods for this aspect (circling, free-style etc.).
Level 3.3:
Here we discuss physical or biomechanical principles for given techniques. Why hold sword this way in technique x, why bend wrist in technique Y etc. - always in a biomechanical or physical sense. Please note here, that from the isolated technical point of view, the Taiji sword form has a poor repertoire of techniques if compared with the Shaolin-school, which in my opinion shows the pinnacle in all fighting-techniques - if weapons or barehand. But this is not wonderous, since the Taiji master defeats his opponent with his Taiji-SKILLS, not with techniques. Many don't understand the difference and they cannot see, that the higher the skills become, the less technique is needed. If imagined that the highest possible Taiji skills would mean, that noone could attack you, which technique would you then need to defend yourself?

BTW - When you say, that whip-like executed techniques would be favorable in swordplay, but not in barehand, I think you limit your possibilities again. For sword it's said: "Once high in the air like a dragon, next second down on the ground like a phoenix". I like your "bow"-ideas for barehand, but why wouldn't you agree in "once like a bow, next second like a whip". Look at Single whip in barehand: not long ago a chinese master whom I adore very much mentioned to me, that the spine has to be the handle of the whip. The waist is the hand that holds and shakes this handle and the left arm/hand is the end of the whip that whips out. Otherwise single whip wouldn't be a whip. But that's real Taiji.

Level 4:
It's said: "Sabre for Jin, Sword for qi, Spear for shen". That means that the sword for should be played for nourishing qi and increasing qi-flow, not to increase fighting skills in first sense. The qi-flow could be increased if the joints opens up. The form is designed to assure this. Therefore you have the hand and body-turnings the way they are.
As said before: you're right about the "weak points" of transitions - but only if you bring them in relation to fighting. If viewed under fighting necessarities, you didn't have to look at special postures to find weak points. Just think over a palmnup thrust which appears many times in the form. Among fencers this grip is known as "french grip" and it telegraphs that the opponent has not very high skills. Due to physical laws of lever, a relative light downward chop on the blade would disarm you, since the weapon springs out of your open hand. An experienced fighter would hold a sword or knife always palmdown or sideways. But for the qi-flow and the yin/yang theory you need all those handpostures. So keep this in mind when you play the form. The form helps to reach the flexibility needed for level 3. "Swallow skims water" is an example for it. It dioesn't train a special fighting situation. It trains you to avoid the attack of a spear while squatting down and to attack instantly with a technique. The Yangs have decided that this counterattack is a "ci". Other forms have other techniques for it, "beng" as an example. The form also trains your wrist to act lively, nimble and free in every direction, a skill that you need very much in level 3 - think about circling as a tactic. The form is a perfect tool but just for this - and at last for training your yi. In every kind of formtraining you should use your body to train your yi, not your yi to train your body. I think this is often misunderstood.
BTW-I actually don't think, that the Broadsword is more related to the barehand form than the sword. Dao needs more exclusive concentration on fighting skills, the sword needs concentration on a much wider variety of elements. To me it seems, that among western world teacher5s the Dao is favorized to be the first weapon, but chineswe masters would suggest the jian to be the first in most cases. Don't look at the postures, but look at the character of both. Here I think that sword character meets the barehand character in a better way. Therefore it's the sword that will help you to improve your Taiji skills in EVERY respect.
Hope I've given you some things worth for you to think over.
My best

PS: Excuse my mistakes - again due to time problems I've made no manuscript.
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Postby Audi » Sun Sep 22, 2002 10:44 pm

Hi Peter:

Thank you for a very dense, rich, and thought-provoking post. It deserves a better response that what I can probably prepare, but let me describe a few reactions.

I agree fully with your point that sword play (Taijijian), and barehand play (Taijiquan), can and should be viewed at different levels. I would also add that it is important to understand how the different levels relate to each other. To see if we are agreeing in this, let me give an example.

Many beginners ask about the importance of speed in Taijiquan. Is Taijiquan done slowly? This question deserves different responses if one is talking about form, push hands, sparring, competition, or fighting. We do form slowly to get a firm foundation in the principles of Taijiquan that can best be explored at a slow pace. We also do it slowly because it is less likely to cause injury and puts different demands on the muscles as we strive to maintain precise balance. We do push hands drills at a comfortable even pace to learn how to flow through the changes. We do free-style push hands or sparring at varying speeds to get a taste of fighting in a safer and more controlled setting. We compete at a speed that fits the rules of the competition and that shows off our control.

For people who have some idea of these nuances, I usually try to explain that I understand the goal of Taijiquan to be to learn how to join with the opponent’s energy in such a way that great speed is unnecessary. As a result, Taijiquan training rarely emphasizes the acquisition of speed by itself, and the pace of Taijiquan is usually determined by some other fact considered more important. In fact, I would go so far as saying that training for speed of technique at most stages in one’s Taiji learning will necessarily cheat one’s development in other areas of Taijiquan. All this does not mean, of course, that Taijiquan is never performed at a fast pace. One’s speed of movement in two-person practice must generally match the speed of movement of some part of the partner’s body. It does not need to exceed it or match the speed of the partner’s extremities (i.e., hands or feet).

When you say or imply that doing only the Taijiquan form will not allow one to acquire all the basic fighting skills, I agree. My subjective opinion at this point is that the form is not an effective vehicle for learning how to interact with another person’s energy. Having said this, I disagree with those who view that much of the form choreography is inconsistent with combat techniques. I do not think that the form is merely exercise for the mind and body unrelated to push hands and combat concerns. Qi gong, push-ups, meditation, or stretching can be useful for Taijiquan. For me, the form is in a different category of exercise.

For me, it is important that the barehand form be closely related to combat techniques. I judge the correctness of my movements partly based on what I view to be combat applications. In doing this, I am not “training” or “drilling” combat applications and would view doing so within the context of the form as counterproductive to my development. For me, Taijiquan is about constant adaptation and innovation, which is the opposite of drilling set responses to situations and imposing a particular outcome on a situation.

In my opinion, the combat applications are important to learning all the nuances and possibilities of the Taiji energies, not in developing direct combat competence. This is what I understand by your excellent reference to “using the body to train the ‘yi,’ rather than using the ‘yi’ to train the body.”

Some people perform the transition between Roll Back (lü) and Press (ji) while moving the left arm in a big circle that initially arcs the left hand downward and to the left rear diagonal. My understanding of this practice is that those who do this are practicing “relaxed” movement and moving in circles. Although I cannot say this is bad Taijiquan, I cannot justify this type of movement in a combat sense. If this method is complemented by other ways of examining Roll Back and Press, such as in Push Hands, Da Lü, etc., I can see how it can work to train one’s Taijiquan. Since paired practice is the weakest aspect of my training, however, I have ceased using this type of form method and rely on keeping some combat sense in my form. I also cannot figure out how I can effectively use form divorced of combat principles to train my “yi” without supplementing it with things I do not have ready access to. In other words, how is this sort of practice superior to doing undiluted qi gong?

An important part of what I get out of doing form is that I do not view Taiji as being concerned with “moving in circles” or using “soft” movements. For me, Taijiquan is about receiving energy, transforming it slightly, and circulating it back to its source. To correctly perform any of the postures, I need to understand and feel in my body and mind, how the posture allows me to receive the opponent’s energy, transform it, and return it smoothly back to him or her in a way that advantages me.

I feel I have enough understanding of the barehand form that I rightly or wrongly can explain how 90 % percent of the postures and transitions do this. I can do this for maybe 60 % of the saber form. When it comes to the sword form, I can explain only 5 to 10% of the postures. At present, the form seems to me like a long string of attacks, with an occasional evasive maneuver here or there.

Similarly, in both the barehand and saber forms, I rightly or wrongly have a very clear idea of what both my dominant and supporting hand or doing almost all the time. In the sword form, however, the best I can say is that my left hand is attempting to match the movement of the sword, a function that allows for much more uncertainty about details.

I understand your response to this as being that the sword form is not designed with this in mind. In your opinion and in Erik’s, the postures are arranged for convenience of execution, not according to combat principles. I am reluctant to accept this view, because, as I have said, my experience of the barehand and saber forms is different. I can see how the sword form may require more subtlety and delicacy, but am not sure why it would need to be designed so differently.

Another of my difficulties is the so-called “secret sword fingers.” I understand this to have two functions: one, to allow the performance of attacks at pressure points (dim mak/dian mai), and two, to match the “qi” generated by wielding the sword in the right hand. I am reluctant to accept the first function at face value, since I cannot see why such a potentially useful function is completely omitted from the rest of the standard Taiji curriculum. The secret, after all, is not vey secret. As a result, I see it as merely a secondary application of the second function.

If I am correct about the function of the fingers of the left hand, it means that any subsidiary uses of the left hand will be obscured. Whereas grabs are often signaled in the barehand form by seating the wrist or by forming a fist, the sword form provides no such clue. Even in the saber form, changes in the left wrist or contact between the left hand and the back of the saber often give clear indications of how the energy of the left hand and of the saber is directed or can be directed.

You mention that I limit my possibilities by not embracing the possibilities of whip-like energy. Let me make a few comments. In talking about this energy, I am not referring to the way in which a length of bamboo or a willow branch can whip too and fro. These retain firmness and resilience. They still relate to “Peng” energy. I am referring instead to the way in which a rope or rawhide whips, where the rope or rawhide must be totally lax or limp and there is a delay between the initial impulse and the final “crack” of the whip. The analogy of the master you mentioned applies to the former quite well, and I do not disagree with that approach per se.

Many people talk about a whip in Single Whip, for obvious reasons. However, please be aware that there seems to be no consensus about which hand holds the whip. I have heard authoritative views with respect to both hands. Also, one of my dictionaries says that “bian” used to have as one of its meanings something like an “iron staff used by riders on their horses.” This image seems more appropriate to me for the action of the left hand, which has an unusually vertical orientation for a “peng” application. On the other hand, the image of a rawhide whip seems more appropriate to how some people form the hook hand with the right arm. This seems particularly the case for those who see “relaxation” as being the total elimination of muscular force.

I can also see how the image of a rawhide whip with a stiff handle can describe the shape of the right arm and hand that results from the movements prescribed by the Yangs. The right arm would resemble the stiff handle, while the hand and fingers resembles the soft rawhide hanging down. “Single” then could connote the image of the arm projecting out by itself for a substantial portion of the posture movements.

In your comments about level 3.2, you seem to describe a duel. While I have no theoretical objection to this, is it possible that the form is more appropriate to a free-for-all or combat on a battlefield, where attacks can come from multiple directions and multiple opponents?

In talking about the sword being a “slicing” weapon, I meant to convey that I have been told that the sword was not meant primarily to cause injury in the way an axe or a guillotine could, but by using friction along the edge or point. In English, I would say that one is supposed to cut, rather than hack. Do you think pressure or power applied at right angles to the edge is a major aspect of sword play?

I also meant to convey that the flow of Jin is very clear in the saber, which you seem to agree with your statement about using the saber for Jin, the sword for Qi, and the spear for Shen. Both the sword and the calligrapher’s brush are supposed to be wielded by the entire body; however, delicacy and subtlety seem to be more prominent in wielding them than power.

Your comments about the “French Grip” and “Swallow Skims the Water” are very interesting. I would be curious as to what others would have to say. If the “French Grip” is indeed inferior as you assert, is it possible that there is some aspect of Taiji tactics that compensates for this that is not obvious from the form?

When I view Taijiquan “techniques” with Karate eyes, I often see numerous defects or inferior choices. The techniques look unnecessarily weak, slow, or inflexible; however, I assert that Taiji does not have any techniques comparable to Karate ones. Karate tends to maximize the Yang aspects of a structure and generalizes its use to all situations. When one examines a Taiji solo technique, one is observing at best one fourth of what is going on from this perspective. In my view, Taiji works at maximizing both Yang and Yin power and concerns itself with how both of these relate to the opponent. There are thus four variables to harmonize, and compromises must be made.

I also find surprising your comments about the sword being more similar to the barehand than the saber. On the same facts you mention, I have heard the exact opposite conclusion. I am under the distinct impression that the Yangs favor the saber as the “easier” weapon, but I may have heard this only second-hand and the comments might be directed more at the form itself than combat mastery of the weapons. Isn’t there some saying like “One hundred days to master the barehand, a thousand days to master the saber, and ten thousand days to master the sword?

Take care,
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Postby Michael » Thu Sep 26, 2002 9:21 am


Though I cannot say for sure, having studied Western sword (foil, and eppe), the "French grip" is used for competative dualing with LIGHT weapons with it's advantage being one of speed to attack straight ahead and to parry. If using it in "real" combat one would have more finger contact---esp with heavier blades. One would last ten seconds with a heaey blade and a three finger grip.

When using heavy weapons there can be definite problems if one were to maintain such a grip at all times. Now having said this, the thrust with the palm upward is faster than a palm down straight thrust due to muscle tension. Palm down is appropriate to coming in from the side, in or across. A thumb up grip on a sword is effective from below, either straight in or angling upwards and when slicing down. It does have problems with making certain parries. It is ideal with shorter blades such as short swords and knives.

EACH grip can be vulnerable to a blow from the side away from the thumb if there is a lot of moisture present or if one is fatigued. A blow coming upwards usually has less power than one from the side or downwards. At least that is my experience.

The use of the palm up thrust with the "French grip" using heavy weapons would normally be used going over the opponents sword (not below it---Peter makes a good point here) and once it is has begun to be withdrawn. And as I said before, with heavier weapons your grip will have more finger area in contact with the "handle" than one would have with light ones.

One needs a great deal of power to just knock a sword from someones dry, firm hand. This would require a little bit of a "wind up" which would put him in a very vulnerable position. As Peter mentions, leverage against the end of your blade can be a problem (in the case of a palm up thrust) IF your timing is off or you do not respond by turning your forearm to the inside (thumb up or palm down) and by withdrawing. Feel has a lot to do with it. That is why I would not advocate a palm up grip thrust under the opponents sword for this and other reasons.

Each orientation is appropriate to different situations, and each has weaknesses.

[This message has been edited by Michael (edited 09-26-2002).]
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Postby Hans-Peter » Fri Sep 27, 2002 9:43 am

Hi Audi,

thanks for your premium quality reply. As I mentioned before in another thread, I feel that you have grasped the Taiji-idea very completely, probably much better than I have and you always find so fine words to express your ideas-it's really wonderful to read your posts. So I certainly agree with all the things you've said, I only like to view some of your statements from a slightly changed new point of view. Maybe this will again provoke you to think over some concepts.

Speed in Taijiquan really deserves different resposes.When you say that the goal is to learn to join with the opponent's energy in such a way that great speed is unnecessary, does this really work in a real fight?
In a fight you'll have to apply a certain power to your opponent to end the violation. The laws of physic says:
Power = mass x acceleration
(accelaration = way : time)
So if you are a leightweighted fighter and the mass of your armmuscles is low, but you need a given power to break the opponents bone, you can only do this by increasing the accelaration, i.e. speed up your punch. This is necessary, although you've neutralized the opponent's energy with lu prior to the punch. Just from this small example I would say, that speed is an important factor of Taijiquan when viewed from the fighting point. Before I've started to practice internal arts, I studied so called external arts for 26 years-so much more years than my Taiji-years. I'm still not sure if this helps me in understanding Taiji or if it hinders more.But just in the very beginning of my internal training, I've been told
that also in Taiji-fighting all skills can be explained with physics and biomechanics.
Only the approach is different to external martial arts. The external fighter tries always to increase his speed and probably his mass to the highest degree and he'll use it in every case. My idea of Taiji fighting is, only to use just this amount of force, that is needed in the given situation. A Taiji master would be able to decide even in the hottest fight, if it's necessary to kill the opponent, or only to break his arm or to throw him to the ground - and he would be able to apply just this amount of power that fits his decision, while an external fighter would blow his punch in it's maximum version
(if he wouldn't be one of those few external fighters who also have reached the state of Taiji over the "external road"). Surely, you can also work on the mass-factor, which is in Taiji-sense to increase the mass while leading more blood in the arm (relaxation, qi-flow). You can also increase the "way-factor" while spiraling - but most effects would be established with the time-factor.
I think this is a real interresting part of Taiji-theory, not widely discussed and it would be worth a discussion on a special thread.BTW-the teacher who mentioned this to me was chinese, not european. But generally I'd agree to you, that Taiji "form playing" has to be done never in a fast pace.But if you want to become a "warrior" you'll have to add other exercises to your form play, where these aspects are practiced.

But now let's look to the Taiji sword and speed. I would generally state, that chinese swordmanship mostly relies on "fast actions" done with very high "accuracy". That's the overall principle that should guide your imaginations concerning Taiji sword. In a sword-combat fast actions are absoultely necessary to survive, since even the sipmlest techniques are very difficult in a certain way. A thrust is relative simple to execute, but on the other hand it brings your blade very far away from your body, which makes you very vulnerable for a counterattack. So even a simple thrust is a very complex action and you'll have to think a lot before doing it. Basically spoken - to think a lot is another principle for Taiji sword.

Your ideas about lu sounds very good to me. Also in sword fight it's important to neutralize the incoming sword with a lu-technique before counterattacking. But now try to imagine if speed is necessary for this lu or not. Think about two opponents with low sword skills facing each other in duel-position. If one attacks with a thrust, the other would try to deflect the incoming blade is early as possible. So he'll use the middle-section of his blade for making contact with the opponents blade and deflect it to the side. When he now tries to counterattack, the point of his blade has to move around 1 m to the opponents body. Enough time for the opponent to deflect himself and counterattack again. Viewed from the outside, you'll see the typical swordfight as in knight-movies - one hit after another. Large circles of the swords. What would a highly skilled swordfighter do? He would remember, that lu is to let the opponent loose his root and to open him up. He also would consider physical laws. Therefore he wouldn't make contact so early with the opponents blade. He would let the thrust come very close to him, so that the opponent has opened very much.Furthermore he now cannot stabilize himself again. Then the master must deflect with the last section of his blade, since this happens very close to his body. But this gives him the second advantage-very good leverage. The tip of his sword therefore is much closer to the opponent, it has probably just 50 cm to go to reach him. Therefore the sword could be much faster. Viewed from the outside you'll see only a single action - and a small circle of the masters sword. If you want to put such thoughts into your swordform-practice, just do it.
You only should recognize - not to make contact to early, which is: "let the opponent come out enough before you start lu". This example should help you to see, that the form play is different due to the skills of the player, even if both do the same postures, but both are correct in the sense of word.I hope you understand what I'm trying to make clear here.

You say, that the form seems to be a long string of attacks for you, with occasional evasive manoevers. This isn't the case in Taiji-sword. The postures also have a yin and a yang part. All the concepts of barehandform should be used here too. If you view the form of a master, it's probably difficult to detect to yin-parts, due to the words I've said above. You'll find Lu in the sword-form as dai (or shou or xi). But this is much more difficult to describe than the yang-parts, since they really differ a lot due to skills (see the things I've mentioned above).

What's the job of the "swordfingers"? I think many mystical fairy tales rank around them, due to the problem that only very few have ever been taught in their use. The swordfingers can act in many different ways, some of them are:
-hit the opponent, grasp him or his weapon,
-placed on the but of your swords-handle to
fix the sword in an appropriate angle
-placed on your swords-handle to stabilize your sword for so called "heavier" techniques, as e.g. percussive cuts
-balance of body-weight, balance of internal energy
All in all I would say, that swordfingers are held in the uncomfortable manner you know to let you always remember, that the left hand also has to be alive and shouldn't be considered as kind of dead, which could easily happen since the sword is handled only with the right hand. It's the same as for a soccer-player whith a very good right foot - he still has a left foot and shouldn't forget this leg, otherwise he couldn't walk or would stumble easily. Once you've internalised this, you probably didn't need to hold the fingers in the known way (some sword styles as e.g. Sun, don't use the swordfingers in the known position, others as Wu differentiate and have special uses for them).

Yes I've described a duel. I'm afraid I must destroy your thoughts about the jian as a military battlefield weapon. To my knowledge, since Ming dynasty even generals haven't been armed with swords (normal troops have probably never been). Also since around 185o all military school books are focused mainly on fire-weapons, even sabre is mentioned there only with few words. Since most sword forms just were created in Ming Dynasty I must assume, that swords all times have been civilian weapons and therefore the main use of the sword was in duels. This fits with what I've learned: "Many opponents (=battle) use dao, one opponent (= duel) use jian". So I would still say, the sword posses all techniques:
thrusting, slicing, chopping, although in a certain way I could agree with you when favorizing it as a slicing weapon. Due to the overall principle of chinese swordmanship,the sword has to be mainly used against soft parts of the body, with is mostly done with cuts and slices. But not while the sword is unable to chop - the real swords are not flexible as you know it from common Taiji-swords - but chopping would leave the chance that the blade catches itself in a bone, joint or a muscle, which would slow down the speed of the blade. And speed is most important in "chinese" swordmanship.

There's nothing I could add to Michaels comments on "French grip" -


very well done, I'll keep your words in printed version. What I've tried was not to say: "never use a palm-up thrust". I just wanted to make clear, that if you just look at formpostures in a pure technical sense, you'll find the first thing to think over just in this kind of gripholding in a thrust - to make clear that you'll find countless other exmples. But as said before - the form has other jobs to do than determinating technical standards.
Remember the principle - "you have to think very much in swordplay". That means - as Michael said - every grip has advantages and weak points. Use it just in the right way due to any given situation in combat - and you'll live very long. That means, in some cases I'll of course would do a palm-down-thrust (i.e. when there's no danger that my blade will be hit from above) in other cases I also use the good old palm-left (!!) (Michael: not only a palm-down)grip from Shaolin Da Mo jian with vertical blade(i.e. when speed of action isn't most important and the opponent still could use his weapon to hit from above). Audi, you can consider this in formplay, but you musn't when you train this in sparring.

I still think that sword is a better support for the barehand form than the dao. I think too, that YZD favorizes the dao first. But this could have many reasons. Here you'll also find schools that only have dao on schedule, others have only sword, others have both.Since they must live from Taiji, they would do the things people ask for. I think that just due to reasons of education, I would consider as best:
1. Barehand, 2. Jian, 3. Staff,Spear 4. Dao.
This is an ideal for one, who devotes his life to martial arts. This one would probably be an indoor student and this question doesn't arise, since he would probably study all weapons together. But imagine that dao needs a certain amount of physical condition to handle properly. In China I think weapon-training was the weight-training, since there were no fitness-studios. To act perfectly with a dao, you better have trained your condition before.
Lightest is sword, than spear or staff is the next degree. After this you'd probably was able to handle the dao. Furthermore I'd like to mention, that the Yang-dao-form is relative slow. This isn't true for all other styles. If you look at Chen-style, I think the dao-form is more difficult to learn. Another point is, that the dao-form uses some actions, where the weapon is turned around the body or over the head and the left hand touches the blade. This is dangerous in swordplay, since both sides of the blade are sharp. So maybe this was considered also, since masters feared that automatizised movements from dao-form could bring injuries in swordplay. Anyhow-swordplay is demanding much more than dao in the sense of a complete system, which fits very good to the barehand form. The personal situation of any student should be considered different.In general sense I actually believe, that the swordform helps to potentize some barehand skills. I'll give an example for listening energy: In pushhands you'll cross the wrists and listen. In swordplay beginners cross the blades. But masters don't cross blades. The stand apart and listen to the opponent without touching. They will listen to the air between them. This resembles perfectly the Taiji idol of being still but in motion. This is a completely different level than listening with blades crossed. But if you've achieved this level, what do you have to fear in barehand fights? The Dao has a completely different approach to combat, although some postures are very similar to the barehand form, while sword postures often are not.
But by thinking about this, you should also keep in mind, that the sword form you know probably was constructed between 1920 and 1930. As I've been told, the designer it was General Li Jing Lin together with Yang Cheng Fu, who added the Taiji touch to Li's form. Li's teacher was a Taoist, therfore this Yang sword form is often considered as "Wudang Form". When you'll view the sword form of the highly respected Li Tian Ji from China, a student of Li Jing Lin, you'll notice the close relationship to the publich Yang sword form, also Li Tian Ji calls his form still "Wudang Sword" (not to switch with the traditional sword forms from Wudang Shan). Before 1920 another Yang sword form was practiced in Yang family, which was called "Kunlun Jian" or "Mi Chuan Jian". It's known that Yang Ban hou played this form (it's not known if Yang Luchan or Yang Jianhou played sword). Some still practice this Yang sword form. It is very different to the nowadays public known form and has completely different names for techniques.
So I think you cannot make any mistake when you play the Yang sword just in the way you benefit most. You cannot violate traditional rules, since there a not such rules due to reasons mentioned above. All the things you have to consider are these Taiji classics, which you know perfectly. The only mistake one could ever make is "not playing" the sword form. If you'll do it and think a lot, you'll improve every day.
Best regards

BTW - another example that comes in my mind concerning the "thinking a lot-principle": many teachers will tell you, not to block with the edge of your blade, but always with the blade's flat. Therefore you'll play your form with this rule in mind. In reality, there are indeed reasons, which makes blocking with edge becoming first choice. It is as example given the case, if you fight against a weapon with a wooden polearm. Although you cannot come so close to your opponent to kill him with a cut, blocking with the sharp edge could leave a very deep cleave in the wood, so that it becomes impossible for the opponent to use his weapon freely, since it could break easily. At least your opponent must change his strategy which brings you more advantages. Remember - swordplaying means thinking a lot.
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Postby Audi » Fri Nov 01, 2002 5:06 am

Hi Michael and Peter:

Michael, thanks for the additional information on grips. Do you view the Taiji swords as heavy or light, short or long in light of your descriptions?

Peter, you said:

<< In a fight you'll have to apply a certain power to your opponent to end the violation. The laws of physic says:

Power = mass x acceleration
(accelaration = way : time)

So if you are a leightweighted fighter and the mass of your armmuscles is low, but you need a given power to break the opponents bone, you can only do this by increasing the accelaration, i.e. speed up your punch. This is necessary, although you've neutralized the opponent's energy with lu prior to the punch. Just from this small example I would say, that speed is an important factor of Taijiquan when viewed from the fighting point.>>

Peter, I agree with the idea behind your formula, but have a different view in several respects of how it applies to Taijiquan. First, as I have posted before, I think Taijiquan is primarily concerned with relationships, rather than absolutes. Accordingly, I would say that one should not examine the power a practitioner of Taijiquan can generate by him or herself, but rather the relationship between the power the practitioner generates and the power generated by the opponent.

My opponent and I have a combined mass that is not the same as our individual mass. We also combine to produce a velocity that is different from our individual velocities. These combined variables are what really should be used in your formula. While I think the approach of most so-called external arts tends to treat the opponent more or less as an inanimate target and therefore irrelevant to the formula, I think Taijiquan routinely incorporates the energy of the opponent into its methods and ways of thinking.

Another difference I have with your statement is that you seem to see Lü as the equivalent of a block or a deflection that is then followed up by another technique. For me, Lü is a particular method of altering the energy manifested by the opponent, basically converting the opponent’s forward energy into rotational energy with the practitioner as its center. This alteration can be defensive, offensive, or a little bit of both, depending on what the opponent does. As a result, I do not attempt to break my opponent’s arm by applying Lü followed by another technique. I try to break his or her arm by making his or her energy go in such a way that it will be trapped in a position where it will almost break itself.

Normally, one can add a little Lie (“split”) energy to the Lü energy in order to break the arm. The time and motion needed, however, are very small. I do not have good words to describe it, but it’s almost like a whole-body cough. Time is not much of a factor because one begins the “finishing” technique only after a connection has already been made and the opponent’s energy is trapped (“na jin”). The shift from “transforming/dissolving/neutralizing energy” (“hua jin”) to “issuing energy” (“fa jin”) takes no more time than it takes to cough. One need not be so much concerned with putting one’s limbs in any particular position relative to one’s surroundings or relative to the floor as with getting them into a particular position dictated by the opponent’s movements. Again, it is the combined or relative speed that is of concern, not how fast you can cover distance.

Lift Hands and Step Up is another illustration of this principle, as least as performed by the Yangs. As I understand the posture, one does not so much try to catch the opponent’s arm in mid-punch, but rather to guide the punch in and than use sudden rotational energy in the waist (“Lie Jin”) to break the opponent’s elbow. This posture also illustrates quite clearly that the power comes from the legs rather than the arms. The arms are not slack, but transmit the force provided by the legs.

If the external arts you studied for so long were like the basic Karate I studied, you spent hours throwing punches to build up muscle and to lock particular movements into your muscle memory. In doing this, the scope of movement and use of your arm muscles probably dwarfed the scope of movement and use of the muscles in other parts of your body. The whole “disposition” of the body was probably arranged to maximize this particular movement of the arms. For instance, you chambered the opposite arm in the same way every single time, hundreds and thousands of times. At best, you were allowed to vary the motion of only one or two joints in only one arm to change the height and/or direction of the punch.

I am unwilling to say that Taijiquan is superior to Tae Kwon Do or Karate; however, my understanding of Taijiquan is entirely different from my understanding of these other arts. The “disposition” of the body in Taijiquan is arranged to optimize power in the legs, waist, and back. The position of the arms is almost an afterthought, in terms of power generation.

I can think of at least eight different ways (and counting) in which the opposite arm is “chambered” in the Taiji form to support a strike. With so much variation, none of them can be required by any of the shapes assumed by the striking arm. Instead, they appear to be required by the overall flow of the postures. No joint has a fixed trajectory associated with a technique. For instance, after many years of study, I am unaware of any particular fixed way of preparing to execute a “Taiji” punch. I am also unaware of any final position my opposite arm should assume. After my first hour of studying Karate, I knew the basics of how a punch was to be thrown and could answer both these questions.

Although many would disagree with me, I find that the raw mechanics of the Karate punch I learned and the Taiji punch I play around with are different. I use my muscles differently, and it is more than just a matter of being more “relaxed” or not “tensing” my muscles. I am not claiming any great ability in this, only a difference in technique. I find that my Taiji punch needs no momentum and no distance to generate satisfactory power. My legs need to extend slightly, but not my arms. Again, this is not “better” than my Karate punch, only different. With no need to generate momentum, I cannot view speed as central to the Taiji technique.

This is why I view talk of “releasing power like an arrow from a bow” or using “explosive energy” not as statements of ability applicable to all martial arts, but as particular descriptions of the quality of energy desired in Taijiquan, even from beginners.

Practitioners of the Taijiquan I am trying to describe are not overly concerned about generating local power in their arms, because power is derived from the legs and body mass. The average 75-year-old has sufficient “stomping” strength and body mass to break an opponent’s nose, break an elbow, etc. The trick is to bring this power up from the legs into the arms and hands. Doing form develops significant leg strength over time to support the techniques.
I have been taught that, although Taijiquan has eight basic hand and arm techniques, only the four primary ones are theoretically necessary. Since almost no one can consistently live up to theory, the other four techniques or “energies” are practiced to supplement the four primary ones.

As I understand it, techniques like punches, kicks, etc. are not even among these eight basic techniques and are never the core of Taiji techniques. They are ancillary movements that optionally combine with the eight basic techniques.

My understanding is that one never launches a punch or kick to try to slip through the opponent’s defenses. To do so would leave one vulnerable to any opponent who may have faster technique. One launches such techniques only after achieving some partial control over the opponent’s movement energy by using one of the eight basic techniques. One is therefore more concerned with the perception and control of energy then with speed.

As I understand yin-yang theory, the more my opponent manifests a particular strength, the more he or she will manifest a particular weakness. Our job is to focus our intention, our “yi,” on this. We do not focus on the speed of the punch coming at us, but on the disposition of the opponent’s body that makes such a punch possible and the weakness this will reveal. These aspects of the opponent change relatively slowly and certainly more slowly then the speed of the punching fist or the kicking leg.

We try to defend and attack against the root of the punch, not the punch itself. We can defend against a kick by applying Cai to our opponent’s arm and upsetting his or her balance and destroying his or her root. I have read once or twice that Wu Style is fairly explicit about this type of mental focus.

External arts do use leg power, but in my opinion they seem to use the legs and body mass only as an add-on to the power in the arms, not as the foundation of the power itself. A Karateka thinks nothing of standing in a bow stance and throwing a punch with one hand and then immediately following it with a punch with the opposite arm. He or she can do this indefinitely without making any change in the legs and without shifting weight. Only the hips provide some counter-rotation. Such motions are extremely rare in the Taiji forms I am familiar with and never involve the transmission of significant power.

Since Taijiquan does not look to the arm muscles for power, arm speed also takes on less importance. We do not need to generate arm speed, because we use “leg speed” (which includes waist speed). On a related note, this use of leg power is yet another reason I see for Taijiquan’s virtual neglect of the horse stance. This is the one stance in which it is hard to have power flow between the legs and thus hard to transmit power to the arms. In all the other stances, we always have a leg bent and capable of instantly transmitting power to the arms. How else can one generate power in such an unlikely stance as the one that occurs at the end of Step to Seven Stars?

This different approach to speed also has implications for fighting distances. For Taijiquan, we do not need to chamber or wind up our arms to generate “jin” or power in our arms, because one of our legs is always “wound up” or “winding up” as it stores power from the opponent and from our own movement. As long as some part of our upper body is in contact with the opponent, we can use our legs to issue power through that point without further gross movement of the upper body.

(“Xiang lian bu duan” or “Link everything up and do not be choppy” or “Be continuous and do not break.” If you have not done so recently, read Yang Chengfu’s explanation of this principle elsewhere on this site. He explicitly contrasts this method with what so-called external styles use.)

When we spar using Karate or similar techniques, we must put a premium on the speed with which we can move our limbs from a point close to or next to our bodies to a point where we can reach the opponent. How fast we can close distances is vital. When we use Taijiquan, we must put a premium on where we contact the opponent, how we join with his or her center of movement energy, and how we follow his or her energy. How long we can maintain the contact and how correctly we can do so is the issue. Once the initial connection is made, this is not so much a matter of raw speed, but of judgment and experience.

Peter, you also said:

<<My idea of Taiji fighting is, only to use just this amount of force, that is needed in the given situation. A Taiji master would be able to decide even in the hottest fight, if it's necessary to kill the opponent, or only to break his arm or to throw him to the ground - and he would be able to apply just this amount of power that fits his decision, while an external fighter would blow his punch in it's maximum version>>

This seems to be a common view of Taijiquan, and I cannot say it is wrong. Implicit in this view is the idea that masters of Taijiquan somehow know just the amount of force to use in a given situation and are supremely efficient in their use of energy. My view is different, even though it sounds similar.

I see the Taiji approach as being similar to learning to balance on a tightrope. The better one becomes, the less gross movement is necessary, but focusing on minimizing movement is in itself not a good focal point for the mind. Making small movements does not guarantee good balance. One simply attempts to balance and uses whatever level of movement is necessary. There is no shortcut or trick, only a method.
Whether your movements are large or small, quick or slow, is ultimately irrelevant to the task at hand. The process of balancing is essentially the same whether one is waving his or her arms, trying to stand still, or even running.

If one is good enough, how much one moves around while balancing is determined by other things than one’s need to balance. Perhaps you want to juggle or wave to the circus crowd. You incorporate these moves into your balancing, but they are not necessary components of it. In fact, the small body adjustments you use to balance are spread throughout your body and are not really localized in any one place.

I was more familiar with the type of body control you speak of in my study of Karate than in my study of Taijiquan. Explicit control over the speed and power of my punch was absolutely central to my Karate training, but I can hardly recall this being discussed in a Taiji context. I have never seen someone show Taiji “control” by launching a full-speed punch that stops within an inch of a wall or an opponent’s body. I find this approach to be alien to my view of Taiji. An expert kayaker has exquisite control over his or her strokes, but would never think of such control independently of the water.

You also said:

<<What would a highly skilled swordfighter do? He would remember, that lu is to let the opponent loose his root and to open him up.>>
Your ideas here seem almost identical to what I expressed for the empty hand. The only thing that I would add is that I believe it is difficult and sometimes misleading to speak of Taijiquan in mechanical terms rather than in terms of movement energy. This is not because Taijiquan does not obey physical laws, but because the training method of Taijiquan does not address body mechanics directly, but through the prism of “internal” principles such as the Ten Essentials. Such principles are not aspirational, in my opinion, but rather are at the heart of the basic method.

I realize that talk of “energy” makes many “practically minded” people uncomfortable. One reason is because some practitioners of Taijiquan talk of “energy” in ways that violate laws of physics. Another reason is that many people have trained in more “straightforward” martial arts that manage very well without vague talk of “energy.” I think chess can helpful as an analogy.

Calculation is certainly an important aspect of chess play; however, this is only a minor part of the chess method. Good chess players use words and phrases like “zones of control,” “pressure,” “cramping,” and “freeing up play.”

Pure calculation is an insufficient basis for good chess play, as has been shown by the difficulty even supercomputers have had in beating human opponents. The board game called go is even more extreme in this respect. Computers have barely begin to touch it. Talking about Taijiquan without talking about energy is like talking about chess or go as if these are games of simple logic rather than of developed intuition and conceptual frameworks.

Peter, you also said:

<<Yes I've described a duel. I'm afraid I must destroy your thoughts about the jian as a military battlefield weapon. To my knowledge, since Ming dynasty even generals haven't been armed with swords (normal troops have probably never been).>>

I did not mean to suggest that Taijiquan was developed for military use or in a military environment. My understanding is that it developed in a region and at a time characterized by higher levels of lawlessness than most of us now experience. Attacks on travelers were common. Periodically, masses of people would revolt and occasionally pillage the countryside. In such environments, when one cannot count on protection from police or other authorities, the ability to protect oneself becomes important in a way that is different from what most of us now experience. These same considerations were important in Europe in early modern times before police forces were created.

This type of background is one of the reasons why I believe Taijiquan neglects ground techniques. Wrestling on the ground with a single opponent is not really an option when you are under attack by multiple opponents willing to beat you to death or murder you with whatever weapons come to hand. On the other hand, the ability to throw an opponent to the ground or even push him or her temporarily clear of the action can allow help to reach your side and cover your back during a riot.

The logic of the sword form that I have assumed is that it had this sort of environment in mind. Imagine that you are traveling with twenty companions in 17th Century China and are attacked by twenty-five bandits. The outcome will be in doubt. Perhaps, you surrender and hope for the best, or perhaps you resist. If you resist, you cannot count on the possibility of facing only one opponent at a time and need to be prepared to face an assortment of weapons wielded by a number of opponents using different methods and skills.

What I have read about the saber versus the straight sword is that the former was easier to learn and therefore more suitable for ordinary soldiers. They could more easily bring their raw strength to bear and did not have time to train difficult weapons. Also, a soldier has little use for finesse, whereas a civilian might want more flexibility to discourage, disarm, injure, maim, or kill an opponent, depending on circumstance.

You also said:

<<In swordplay beginners cross the blades. But masters don't cross blades. The stand apart and listen to the opponent without touching. They will listen to the air between them.>>

I find this quite interesting, since I had understood the opposite. I have only a little experience in barehanded Taiji sparring, and almost none with the sword. In barehanded sparring, I have found it essential to maintain a much higher degree of contact with my opponent than I would have imagined advisable or possible when I studied Karate. My use of space feels completely different. I had assumed the same would be true of swordplay.

Take care,
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Postby Hans-Peter » Tue Nov 12, 2002 12:18 pm

Hi Audi,

thanks for your highly inspiring words. I can agree with most you've mentioned, the difference is only that I view some aspects from a different point of view. Meanwhile we're talking about such fundamental aspects of Taiji, which would make it absoultely necessary to define our points of view exactly, to understand the differences. It would be very difficult for me to do this in your language. My basic intention was to give informations on the techniques used in the Yang sword form. I've tried to name them for every posture of the form you probably do and used the informations I've collected over the years while practicing different sword forms. I've tried to give apllications and reasons for certain techniques. I've tried to show, that to my knowledge, the commonly played Yang sword form was constructed not so long ago and uses movements and postures I know from other sword forms. For every posture of the Yang sword form I can find an equivalent in another sword form.. in Baji sword, in Cha Chuan sword, in Wudang sword ... or in others. The apllications are the same, no matter if external or internal form. The difference on a basic level is in the approach of the forms. On a high level I cannot see a difference between the external and internal forms - no matter if weapon or barehand. So I focused an the technical aspects, which in my opinion are the same for all the forms.

I'm aware that most Taiji players think of Tui Shou when the think about fighting in Taiji-style. I've tried to give you something to think over as I described the duel-situation of a sword combat. My experience with other Taiji players is, that most of them don't imagine a Taiji sword combat in such a way. Many of the guys I know say, that they do the sword practice with another feeling since they keep this in mind. Since I do a lot of sword free sparring, I've mentioned this to you. This doesn't mean, that your fundamental view of Taiji has to change anyhow. I see good chances that you can integrate this and other aspects I've mentioned in your view but also keep your general approach of Taiji - which I like very much - unchanged.

Although I wouldn't say you're wrong - I'm not completely on your side concerning the things you've mentioned about the physical laws and their usage in Taiji. But maybe this is since these aspects are not discussed as intensive as they needed to be discussed. If we would do it, we probably would find many similiarities. But at this point I'd like to say, that I currently belong to this fraction of Taiji-practioners, who thinks that Tui shou with joined wrists at least are not helpfull for the development of real combat fighting skills. Sometimes I think that they even develop just the counterpart. I also think that Tuishou (with fixed wrists) is not necessarily a must for Taiji. I know a guy who was very attracted by Tuishou competitions some years ago. He trained Tuishou just in the way Taiji students would train it. After years now I cannot defeat (is this the right word?) him. But he knows nothing else about Taiji, no form, nothing. When doing a free fight with him, he has no chance. Normally I always win, even when using just Taiji skills. Here he has no technique to neutralize a blow from my unconnected arm or to keep his zhong ding when I apply Lu. That has led me to the conclusion that Tui shou is just Tui shou and combat is combat, two different things.
Since I'm open for any new ideas abou this aspect, I'm not sure that I'll keep this opinion for the rest of my life, but currently I see it this way. Under this impression I also practise my sword play.
I wouldn't connect blades in a real combat
(maybe only since I know that I'm not so good in this kind of fight). Due to what I've learned while practicing other sword forms, I prefer the duel situation and I would say, that 80 % of my Taiji sword practise is just practising the two actions I specialized in:
- for an attack to my right: I wait as long as the opponent left his zhong ding, then I beng up the opponent's sword and make apply one final technique
- for an attack to my left: I use a small variation of "Little dipper" with a cut of the thumb side edge
In the other 20 % I practice the forms and other trainig tools I've mentioned earlier.
BTW - I also do this for the barehand forms
(here mostly Single whip and Ban Lan Chui).
In sword free sparring it's very difficult for my opponent to overcome just these two techniques, even if he is much younger, more agile. So I hope this is also Taiji. I feel that these two favorite techniques are absolutely covered by the Taiji-principles. I know from some chinese Taiji masters, that they also train in related ways, although I'm aware that mostly the discussion goes in another way. I've only tried to show that there are many aspects which commonly are not so widely discussed that could be considered in Taiji sword play, if one really wants to develop high level sword skills.
I enjoy your words very much and learn a lot of them and I'd like to let you know, that by times I use essentials which I read out of your statements when explaining things to others.
Take care
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Postby Audi » Sun Dec 01, 2002 3:16 pm

Hi Hans-Peter,

First, let me thank you again for this enlightening exchange. As I said, my “practical” experience with weapons is quite limited, so I value whatever I can learn from someone who as such experience.

By the way, while browsing one of the links to a discussion forum provided by one of the newer people joining this forum, I think I recall reading a discussion of General Li Jing Lin’s association with Yang Chengfu. It described some student of Yang’s who later had an opportunity to study with Li or else see him in action. The student reported that his (Baji?) sword technique was the same as Yang’s, except that he “allowed his sword to separate a few inches (two or four?) from the opponent’s blade.” I thought of you when reading this, wondering if you knew anything about this story, what mechanically was being described, or about Baji (sp.) sword; however, I foolishly neglected to bookmark the location of the site, assuming incorrectly I could relocate it at leisure.

What you report about your friend’s push hands and sparring experiences is quite interesting. I am not familiar with anyone who has studied push hands without doing form. From the training theory I have been told, such a person might be able to learn about how others move, but would not learn about his or her own movement. On another thread, I explained what I understand to be the traditional Yang training sequence, which does not seem to support push hands as an isolated practice. I guess what I am trying to say is that I would not expect someone who simply trained in push hands to know much about how to spar.

I cannot claim to know how it all fits together. I would not say that my push hands is very strong and so cannot speak from experience as to how exactly it should fit with sparring. I am particular unsure about the theory and mechanics behind “connecting” movements. On the other hand, I think I have seen enough to imagine some possibilities and discard others. The classics seem to stress touch and sticking so strongly that I am reluctant to give up the prominence of that idea without seeing more. In any case, it is very good to hear from your actual experience. As you say, so little is said about these things that it is hard to know what is what beyond the basics.

By the way, in talking about sticking in sword play, I should clarify that my current ideas about the saber are somewhat less rigid. I visualize most of the postures as flowing in a more or less circular way with only intermittent contact between the blades. Of course, even here, I imagine a sticking quality once contact is made.

Take care,
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Postby Hans-Peter » Sun Dec 15, 2002 8:20 pm

Hi Audi,

again I was out of town for a while and now found your reply.

Yes I also know this story about Li Jing-Lin and have also read it somewhere in the web. I think I can help you soon with a link. Furthermore I have the whole story in an extended form in an old Chen style journal. I currently train under a chinese teacher who claims to come from the Li Tian Ji - lineage and after I talked with him about this story he told me that this is probably not 100 % correct ( but - conversation with him is a little bit difficult due to language problems). But anyhow - I'll soon reply with a link.

Furthermore I can say, that I also pratice(d) Baji and also Baji sword. I think what you talk about is a Baji sword form that was invented by Li Shu wen. I've learned the Baji chunyang-sword, which has similiarities to the common known Yang sword form but is not as similar as the Li Tian Ji- or Li Jing-Lin Wudang sword is to the Yang style sword.
I'm not completely sure, but you should visit
www.emptyflower.com and go to the forum. I think there have been some sword discussions some months ago.

I think there's another site which holds interresting informations about Yang Taiji and sword especially for you:


If you go to the articles section you'll find "Traditional Taiji Quan from the Yang Family". Here you'll find some clips for downloading as well as for the old Yang sword form as for the currently played form. They are not very long but you'll probably find them interresting.

Hope my links will help you a little step further walking on your Jian Dao. I'll be back if I can find more relavant links. Also all your questions are still welcome and I'll do my best.

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Postby Audi » Thu Dec 26, 2002 8:07 pm


Thanks for the links. I was unable to find anything under the first one, other than some information on Xing-Yi. The second one was more fruitful, however. It gave me some of the "missing links" to figure out why my Yang Style sword form looked so dissimilar to others I have read about or seen.

Take care,
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Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2001 7:01 am
Location: New Jersey, USA


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