Excellent! Thank you for your work in locating and posting your scan of the Wu Yue Chunqiu passage. You are absolutely right that what Zhang Yun rendered “fair lady” is not the jade maiden (yu nu) we associate with taiji, but hao fu. The Hanyu Da Cidian glosses this simply as “meimao de funu”—a beautiful woman. The James Liu exerpt cited by Barbara Davis renders this as “fine lady” (Liu, The Chinese Knight Errant, pp. 85-86, quoted in Davis, Taiji Sword, p. xi). Wile renders it as “modest woman.” Here’s Wile’s translation of part of the passage scanned:
“The art of swordsmanship is extremely subtle and elusive; its principles are most secret and profound. The tao has its gate and door, its yin and yang. Open the gate and close the door; yin declines and yang rises. When practicing the art of hand-to-hand combat, concentrate your spirit internally and give the impression of relaxation externally. You should look like a modest woman and strike like a ferocious tiger. As you assume various postures, regulate your ch’i, moving always with the spirit. Your skill should be as obvious as the sun and as startling as a bolting hare. Your opponent endeavors to pursue your form and chase your shadow, yet your image hovers between existence and non-existence. The breath moves in and out and should never be held. Whether you close with the opponent vertically or horizontally, with or against the flow, never attack frontally. Mastery of this art allows one to match a hundred, and a hundred to match a thousand. If your Highness would like to test it, I can demonstrate for your edification.” (Douglas Wile, T’ai Chi’s Ancestors: The Making of an Internal Martial Art, pp. 3-4)
I don’t quite share your estimation of the passage as “rather thin stuff.” In fact, it is often cited by Chinese martial arts historians. It is not cited, however, as some sort of locus classicus of martial theory, for in fact the theory can be found rather widely distributed among various bingfa (military strategy) manuals and philosophical texts. What is unique in this brief passage is that it enunciates the theory usually applied to collective groupings of soldiers in terms specific to individual skill in sword or hand arts. We find distilled in this little story a number of elements that figure into the later theory of taijiquan and other martial arts: the attention to free breathing (huxi), the notions of yin and yang, qi and jingshen. The imagery of the opening and closing of doors is intriguing, as are the contrastive terms “shun” (with the flow), and “ni” (against the flow) which are important terms at least in Chen style taiji theory, and the ever important notion of avoiding direct frontal attack (although that particular rendering may be debatable here).
Thanks again for sharing the original, Jerry.