Tai chi we know has many forms, many styles and Schools. It
also has variations beyond the ‘standard’ concept
of what tai chi is: amongst others there are tai chi Ruler,
tai chi Walking, Pushing Hands, tai chi Fan, tai chi Stick
and tai chi Sword. Some are meditative or for exercise, some
are combative. Fan and Stick for example use ‘everyday’
or items that are not considered in their first function as
a weapon, but Tai chi sword is interesting in the fact that
it is a both an exercise form and a combative variant that
includes a definitive edged weapon.
Not that it stops there. Within the classification of ‘sword’
there are three main types: the Tao (or Dao), which in this
case means ‘knife’, although it actually refers
to a broadsword or sabre. This ‘knife’ has a single
edge and is curved like a cutlass; similar in many ways to
the Japanese Katana, and it is this curve that gives it also
the label of Sabre. However, versions of the Dao come with
very broad blades over three inches wide – the Broadsword.
The Dao is usually the first weapon that a student works with
before moving on to the next category, although this is a
very effective weapon in its own right it is considered easier
to master and more forgiving to the novice.
Next is the Chien (also referred to as Jian), which describes
a double-edged straight sword of between 17 to 32 inches long
(45 to 80cm) with a long hilt. This is the classic weapon
of the martial art wushu films and in Chinese culture it is
considered the weapon of the Scholar or elite warrior, and
is often referred to as the ‘gentleman of weapons’.
In combat terms, both the Dao and the Chien are short-range
weapons. The third category of tai chi sword weapon is the
Gun, which refers to a long staff of at least four feet or
more, or the Chang (or Qiang), referring to a spear which
may be much longer. These weapons are the long-range arsenal
of the battlefield.
In addition to the Sword types, there are different styles.
For example some stem from the classic Yang tai chi Form including
a 32-form, then there’s the Chen Family’s version
and a Sun style. Wudang Tai Chi sword is a combination of
sword forms, and there’s a Simplified version where
all the stylized leg and arm movements have been removed.
Tai Chi sword is practised in its health and exercise form,
like tai chi as a series of slow fluidic moves (although the
Dao form - sabre, broadsword - may be somewhat faster) and
it is also practised in combat as a fighting form, which is
essentially a form developed from Pushing Hands but this time
with weapons. The notable feature of sword practice however
is its hierarchy within the tai chi pantheon: Serious Sword
masters do not allow students to begin in this discipline
without having at least three years’ expertise in tai
chi – both the meditative form and Chuan (combat form)
– in fact in some cases it is as much as ten years.
This has changed in recent years as the spread of tai chi
as a ‘sport’ has engendered many Schools to offer
Sword as part of their curriculum with little or even without
any previous experience.
It is not in my opinion a coincidence that the Long Yang
Form of tai chi takes about three years to learn in its entirety,
and Gary would say that only then do you really start to ‘learn’
it, which may take much longer. The argument is that a deep
grounding is required in the forms of tai chi, chi Kung and
Pushing Hands before Sword can be tackled with any degree
of real understanding. The Sword is an extension of the body,
part of the fluidic movement and harmonization of meditation
and action that forms the core of tai chi. Chi energy is transferred
from the arm through the sword to its tip, but it is done
via the rest of the body so everything is involved.
In this respect it differs greatly from the Western sword
martial art of Fencing. I fenced for many years and the foil
or epee (ultra thin, incredibly flexible laminated blades
with a cross section shape of a square, the delivery part
being the sharp pointed end) was an extension of the arm,
with movement and guidance controlled by the wrist –
anything further would create body movement that would increase
the time it took to execute the move and thus reduce the speed
of your attack or defence, allowing your opponent ample opportunity
to take advantage. With tai chi Sword, where the blades are
thicker, Less flexible and the delivery end is mostly along
the length of the blade itself it is the body that controls
the weapon, not the arm – and certainly not the wrist.
Thus chi flows uninterrupted from the ground, through the
feet, into the dantien, up the torso, through the arms and
into the sword. If tai chi principles were applied to fencing,
the reliance upon wrist action would break up the flow of
chi. Conversely, applying ones whole body to operate a foil
or epee would result in constant defeat. The swords, blades,
sizes and their use are vastly different between the two martial
arts as are their methodologies.
There is no doubt that tai Chi sword is an extraordinary
and very rewarding practice and if one is lucky enough to
get a good master, the benefits of mind and health are enormous.
There is loads of stuff about it on the internet, just try
Googling for ‘tai chi sword’ and see what you
get. For a look at videos of the various Sword forms, use
the http://video.google.co.uk site to search - demonstrations
of amongst others the Wudan Form, Yang 32, and Simplified
form can be found.
The Tai Chi sword Form http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/Philosophy/Taichi/sword.html
Jian article in Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jian
Tai Chi sword, American Kang Duk Won Karate http://www.americankangdukwon.com/tcsf.html
The Sword of Tai Chi Chuan Harvey Kurland http://www.dotaichi.com/Articles/TaiChiSword.html