Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Sword vs. Sword: Is the Gim Worth It?

There are three big assumptions that I am making about Yang Tai Chi sword: that the originators of the form knew what they were doing, that the current form we are able to see today is mostly the same as it was three hundred years ago, and that the continued use of the gim was due to an evolution in the fighting techniques around it that kept it effective in the face of weapon advances such as steel, improved guards, and blade curves.

In the west, longswords gave way to the small sword, then to the rapier and sabre as metalurgy improved, armor became less common, and the design of the weapons evolved. I've heard that the Civil War cavalry sabre is often considered the pinnacle of one-handed sword design for it's guard and effective cutting curve. Many claim the katana to be the pinnacle of hand-and a half or two handed swords. Where does this leave the gim then? Is it a comparable weapon or is it an inferior weapon?

I think the answer might be both. The guard of modern gim is inferior to that of katana or sabres, exposing the hands to quick, disabling strikes. However, the gim is also a fighting tool with certain characteristics. It's probably at least as good at cutting as the sabre and katana given the sanmei or wumei composite steel construction of late gim, and there exist fighting styles that attempt to draw out the strengths of the weapon. Tai Chi is one of them. Taken in context as an extension of a martial art, the gim might be equivalent or better than these other weapons in a one-on-one fight.

Keep in mind these things and others when practicing gim:
  1. The gim is primarily a one handed weapon. That suggests your other hand is free to do other things to work in concert with your sword hand, such as block, attack, and grapple.
  2. In Tai Chi, a gim practitioner is generally already a skilled martial artist since you learn the empty hand techniques before learning the weapon skills. The gim practitioner can therefore move freely from sword fighting to hand fighting and more.
  3. The gim has two edges, giving the weapon more attacking options than single-edged weapons.

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