Way of the Tai Chi Sword - Yang Style Taijijian by Sam Masich

Apparatus training is an essential part of the Yang Style Taijiquan curriculum. Of the two short weapons, Dao, or Sabre and Jian, or Straightsword used in Taijiquan’s syllabus, the latter is by far the most intricate and developed in its method. In martial lore the Straightsword is commonly respected as The King of Short Weapons. Known also as the narrow blade, or double-edged sword, the Straightsword was often seen in traditional Chinese culture as a way to cut through veils of illusion, ego and attachment and is associated with spiritual refinement as much as with martial efficacy. Straightsword masters, male and female, are frequently revered in Chinese history as both highly skilled martial heroes and illuminated people.

A command of the tradition Taijiquan weapons, Sabre, Straightsword and Qiang, or Spear, enables practitioners to take the early concepts from barehand solo and partner work much further, bringing the work to higher levels of skill. This in turn matures the understanding of the early stages of the curriculum. For example, in the barehand work we come to understand the basic structure of the Gong Bu, or Bow Stance. This enables us to learn solo form and Push Hands drills correctly and progress to weapons training. But when we begin to study Sabre or Straightsword, we see that the Bow Stance behaves quite differently than in barehand circumstances. It often needs to be longer and narrower to support the use of the blade. Having learned and corporealized this we can then explore the stance variations in a barehand context which in turn enables us to develop new sword-like barehand skills. Thus in order to deepen understanding of barehand work, apparatus training is used.

It is also commonly taught that a main significance to studying weapons is to develop in the practitioner a greater ability to extend Qi. This idea of using the weapon as a vehicle to extend Qi has often led to erroneous concepts regarding the sword and it is common to see practitioners having experiences with the blade while possessing little in the way of real sword expertise. The phenomenon of extending Qi into the weapon is a really byproduct of the development of thousands of subtle sword skills resulting from subtle mind-body control abilities.

In contemporary Tai Chi training it is most common to see Straightsword learned and practiced before, or even instead, of Sabre training. A decided preference amongst teachers and players in preference of the sword can in fact be seen in Tai Chi society. There is however, much evidence to suggest that in Chinese martial arts in general, the training of the Sabre would ideally precede the training of the Straightsword. Sabre teaches basic blocking angles, power training, new but simple stepping patterns, and the most basic use of a short weapon. Technically speaking, this provides a prerequisite for the more advanced skills of the Straightsword such as Sticking, Sliding, Sealing etc. The problem is however that the Sabre is comparatively graceless and holds little aesthetic appeal for many practitioners. Therefore, Straightsword technique remains by and large one of the most misunderstood areas of the Taijiquan curriculum. It is important therefore to either regain the tradition of Sabre before Sword or, for instructors that know the difference, to teach the basics of short, single edged weapon use alongside the unique techniques of the straightsword.

In the Song of the Tai Chi Sword it is said,

The Way of the Sword is from the beginning difficult to learn.
Like a Dragon or Rainbow it is subtle and mysterious.
Should it be used like a hacking Sabre, the immortal Zhang Sanfeng die of laughter.

This reinforces the argument for clear technique and for distinguishing between the Sabre and Straightsword methods. Taijijian, or Tai Chi sword is often called Tai Chi Thirteen Sword referring both to the structure of the blade and to13 basic blade use methods.

The swords structure is delineated as follows:
1) Pommel (Head)
2) Handle
3) Guard
4) Rear Inner Edge
5) Middle Inner Edge
6) Front Inner Edge
7) Rear Outer Edge
8) Middle Outer Edge
9) Front Outer Edge
10) Inner Tip
11) Outer Tip
12) Spine (Inner & Outer)
13) Point.

The 13 sword energies are:
1) Whip (Chou)
2) Lead (Dai)
3) Lift (Ti)
4) Obstruct (Ge)
5) Strike/Beat (Ji)
6) Pierce (Ci)
7) Dot (Dian)
8) Burst (Beng)
9) Stir (Jiao)
10) Pressure (Ya)
11) Split (Pi)
12) Intercept (Jie)
13) Wash (Xi)

Thus Taijijian is more than just a sequence of movements. It is a total study of the weapon including efforts to master its structure, use and behavior.

While the blade will never again reign supreme in an age of technological weaponry, it retains a place deep in our psyches imaginings of honor, courage and discipline. In this sense its study is more relevant than ever. Even when we train traditional martial skills with the blade we know that our primary purpose for brandishing the weapon is for self-cultivation rather than actual battlefield use.

To follow are the names of the 54 postures of Yang Style Taijijian.

Yang Style Taijijian

Taijijian Commencement (Taijijian Qi Shi)
Step Up and Enclose With Sword
Immortal Deity Points the Way
Three Rings Envelope the Moon
Major Polestar
Swallow Skims the Water
Right and Left Block and Sweep
Minor Polestar
Swallow Enters the Nest
Clever Cat Catches a Rat
Dragonfly Touches the Water
Yellow Wasp Enters the Hive
Phoenix Spreads Double Wings
Left Whirlwind
Minor Polestar
Right Whirlwind
Waiting for the Fish
Parting the Grass to Search for the Snake
Embrace Moon to Bosoms Centre
Send the Bird to the Woods
Black Dragon Waves Its Tail
Green Dragon Comes Out of the Water
Wind Swirls the Lotus Leaves
Lion Shakes Its Head
Tiger Holds Its Head
Wild Horse Leaps Over the Stream
Turn the Body and Rein in the Horse
The Compass
Wind Flicks the Dust
Follow the Waters Current to Push the Boat
Shooting Star Reaches the Moon
Celestial Bird Flies Over the Waterfall
Lift the Curtain
Left and Right Whirling Sword
Swallow Pecks the Mud
Great Peng Spreads One Wing
Fish for the Moon at Sea Bottom
Embrace Moon to Bosoms Centre
Night Demon Explores the Sea
Rhinoceros Looks at the Moon
Shoot the Wild Geese
Green Dragon Explores With Claws
Phoenix Spreads Double Wings
Left and Right Straddle and Block
Shoot the Wild Geese
White Ape Presents Fruit
Left and Right Falling Flowers
Jade Maiden Weaves at Shuttles
White Tiger Wags Its Tail
Carp Jumps Over the Dragons Gate
Black Dragon Twists Around the Column
Immortal Points Out the Road
Wind Sweeps the Plum Blossoms
Hands Exalt the Ivory Scroll
Embrace Sword Return to the Beginning

(Shang Bu He Jian)
(Xianren Zhi Lu)
(San Huan Tao Yue)
(Da Kuixing)
(Yanzi Chao Shui)
(You Zou Lan Sao)
(Xiao Kuixing)
(Yanzi Ru Chao)
(Ling Mao Bu Shu)
(Qingting Dian Shui)
(Huangfeng Ru Dong)
(Feng Huang Shuang Zhan Chi)
(Zhou Xuanfeng)
(Xiao Kui Xing)
(You Xuanfeng)
(Deng Yu Shi)
(Bo Cao Xun She)
(Huai Zhong Bao Yue)
(Song Niao Shang Lin)
(Wulong Bai Wei)
(Qing Long Chu Shui)
(Feng Juan Heye)
(Shizi Yao Tou)
(Hu Bao Tou)
(Yema Tiao Jian)
(Fan Shen Le Ma)
(Yingfeng Fu Chen)
(Shun Shui Tui Zhou)
(Liuxing Gan Yue)
(Tian Niao Fei Pu)
(Tiao Lan Shi)
(Zou You Chelun Jian)
(Yanzi Shen Ni)
(Da Peng Dan Zhan Chi)
(Hai Di Lao Yue)
(Huai Zhong Bao Yue)
(Yecha Tan Hai)
(Xiniu Wang Yue)
(She Yan Shi)
(Qing Long Tan Zhao)
(Feng Huang Shuang Zhan Chi)
(Zou You Kua Lan)
(She Yan Shi)
(Baiyuan Xian Guo)
(Zou You Luo Hua)
(Yunü Chuan Suo)
(Baihu Jiaowei)
(Liyu Tiao Longmen)
(Wulong Jiao Zhu)
(Xianren Zhi Lu)
(Feng Sao Meihua)
(Shou Peng Ya Fu)
(Bao Jian Gui Yuan)

© Sam Masich

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