Tuesday, March 27, 2007

New Blog: Supreme Ultimate Sword

I've made a new tai-chi-sword blog. I got tired of writing the literary-style posts here at 100 days of swordsmanship and made a blog that is a little more technical. Please check that one out. If you have been reading the literary posts here at 100 Days of Swordsmanship and have enjoyed it instead of thinking it's useless fluff, please let me know and I may start it up again!

Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

New Year, New Training

So, out of the blue I'm back training Tai Chi Sword. Perhaps some people made New Year's resolutions somewhere because I got this sudden call from a guy I gave my card to saying he wanted to train swords. I say okay, I'm up for it, and he says "this weekend?" What the hey, I think and let the usual suspects know.

We pulled it together and got together Sunday. Turns out the new guy knows the whole sword form and he showed it to us. It's a little different than the one we've been learning, and we discussed some of the issues we've been ruminating on as a group: use of the scabbard, applications that arise from each stance, etc.

In the end I proposed that we use the form as described by Chen Weiming in "Taiji Sword and Other Writings," translated by Barbara Davis as our base and funnel all our research into fleshing out the form as described. As legend has it, Chen Weiming learned sword from Yang Chengfu, one of the core practitioners of Yang Style Taiji. Apparently, Yang Chengfu didn't teach much about the sword. It's unspecified whether he didn't like to teach it or if he didn't really know that much about it, but the result was that Chen Weiming went out on his own and learned sword applications from a Wudang sword master. This suggests there may have been a break in the Yang Style lineage where some or much of a generation did not receive full instruction on the sword. This might explain why so many sources conflict with each-other on the exact moves and have little to no instruction on the application. I wonder what 2007 will bring us as we study?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Total Body Power

Traditionally, one practices Jing, or power by practicing hitting things. Hitting things in different ways builds different kinds of Jing. You might hit a heavy bag to build muscle Jing, you might practice a one-inch punch to develop your short-range Jing, or you might practice sharp contact pushes in push hands to develop Fa-Jing. While these exercises are pretty good for training how to extert and acellerate different parts of your body in an attack, they don't always teach body unity very well.
I heard of an interesting technique for increasing punching power through body unity this week. Go to a gym with a heavy bag. Instead of trying to punch the bag as hard as you can or trying to fold the bag, Push the bag away from your with a nice, big shove. When the bag swings back toward you, punch at it with the objective of stopping it dead when it hits your fist. It shouldn't roll off, it shouldn't bounce away, it should just stop. You in turn should not be pushed back, knocked off balance, or twisted or crumpled by the impact of the bag on your fist.
The theory of this practice technique is that it will teach you to use your whole body to brace your punch. By striking the heavy bag in the traditional way, you learn how to accellerate your punch and perhaps sink in your weight, but you might miss out on the benefit of unifying your body behind your punch. By letting the bag hit your fist and by aiming to completely meet and dissipate it's energy through your own superior body structure, you learn to involve your stance, your geometry, and your core muscles behind your punch.
Now imagine if you could do that same in your swordsmanship? Get a wooden sword, chop down the point so that it's blunt and won't puncture your bag, and try the same thing. Now you may begin building the power to pierce hard targets such as armor!

The Dot in Tai Chi Sword

When learning the bayonet in the military, they teach you to stab, twist, and retract. In Tai Chi Sword, there is a fundamental move called "Dian" or "To Point." However, references say that it doesn't mean to point like one might point their finger but to draw a point like one would do when writing calligraphy. In Chinese calligraphy, when you draw a point, you twist the brush at the end of the mark to cleanly end the mark, making it look like a teardrop. Could this be a core mechanic of the Dian?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Renewal of Mission

"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." Henry David Thoreau

Perseverance and tenacity can be traps. We can get mired in it when we are working on tough, long projects where we make the change from the mentality of "I'm trying a new thing" to " if I stick to this it will pay off." Does this happen in careers and marriages? I propose that not all "stick it out" situations have to be tolerated. When we begin to feel the drag of a project that is losing momentum, isn't that a great time to regroup, seek inspiration, and renew our excitement?

I recently took out my fencing manual again. While reading on the application of "circular parries," I started to think about how it might match the Jiao, or wrapping move in Tai Chi sword. The way a circular parry works is simple but very effective. Imagine you can do a regular parry such as a Parry 6. That is, guide the attacker's mid-level thrust so that it just misses outside the shoulder of your sword hand. To do a circular Parry 6, move just like you're performing a Parry 6, but follow through and transcribe a full circle with your blade tip, ending again in Parry 6. The effect of this is that is catches and envelops the opponent's blade and when you finally stop your parry, the whirling action that they've been caught in doesn't just make them miss but actually throws their blade far off line, leaving them open for your Riposte, or counter attack.

Is the Jiao an evasion with your hand and a circling attack to your opposite's hand or wrist, or does it envelop, control, and cast away your opposites blade like a circular parry?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Brief Side Trip to France

The other day I was surfing through cable channels and I came upon a FitTV show on "Deadly Arts." The show followed a woman through France meeting various practitioners of French martial arts. One segment of the show focused on French cane fighting, that is fighting with a cane or walking stick. Apparently there is a lively stick fighting tradition in France. What drew me in was the way they moved. Many of the moves are very similar to moves one might see in Tai Chi Sword. Their basic wind up to strike looks very much like a Dai parry, and their movement makes way for height changes, punches, and kicks, which seems to match the implied moves within the form. Here's a video:


And another by the same guys, called "Swordflasher Productions"


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

More on New Holds

So with your saber grip, your pistol grip, and our Dai parry, you have a wide range of angles your sword can make with your arm. Should you allow the angle to happen at the wrist or in the hand?

I've taken to letting my sword rotate around my ring adn middle fingers. For the saber grip, you can basically grip the sword in your fist so that it makes a 90-degree angle to your arm. For the pistol grip, you let your index and middle fingers loosen and push forward with your thumb so the angle becomes flatter, from 90 degrees to 120 or more depending on what's comfortable for you. For the Dai parry, let your little finger and ring finger out a bit so that as you lift your hand back it can sink and make the angle less than 90 degrees. Don't let the sword get too loose in your hand and you'll be able to switch smoothly between grips and adapt as the situation calls.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Now with More Holds

I got to do some fencing against some good Western swordfighters, and I got whupped soundly. I learned a lot during the sparring though, including how to see the way my opponent controlled the line with the tip of his sword and how he could hide his range—techniques I use in empty hands fighting, but that I hadn't seen yet in sword fighting. It's one thing to know a technique, but it's another entirely to have that technique used against you just before they stab you in the fencing mask with an aluminum practice sword!

I learned about some shortcomings in the guard I use that night. The grip I use for my sword is similar to a saber grip. It's sturdy, but it gives up range and while it's good for blocking attacks aimed above the waist, it's actually slow against low attacks. Imagine the line the tip of your sword makes going from high to low to block a cut at your knee. That's a long distance, and I tell people I'm teaching fencing that DISTANCE=TIME.

If I adjust my grip so that the blade is flatter, I gain some range and the sword becomes more neutral between high and low attacks, minimizing the time it takes to block high or low. Let the blade fall forward in your palm. Anchor it with your ring finger and loosen your index finger as if you were holding a pistol. Take note! While this grip means less time blocking high or low, if your opponent tends to attack high, the saber grip might actually be better!