24 Taiji Jian

A friend in my practice group comes back from Beijing with the most interesting forms. This time it’s 24-sword. I haven’t been able to find out much about it, except that it seems to be relatively new (2001?) and allegedly contains 16 sword techniques (jianfa)(I count 12) and 10 kinds of step. I’m using this video:

jutui24

I’ve come up with a list of the 24 movements. Some of them sound simple (#13 gong bu ci jian, for example) but involve quite complicated transitions. According to one page, it’s a Yang-style form, but it looks combined to me.

Here’s the list:

  1. 起势 Qǐshì
  2. 白鹤亮翅 Bái hè lìang chì
  3. 并步点剑 Bìng bù diǎn jiàn
  4. 野马跳剑 Yé mǎ tiào jiàn
  5. 歇步刺剑 Xiē bù cì jiàn
  6. 勾腿劈剑 Gōu tuǐ pī jiàn
  7. 虚步点剑 Xū bù diǎn jiàn
  8. 上步搅剑 Shàng bù jiǎo jiàn
  9. 弓步刺剑 Gōng bù cì jiàn
  10. 架剑蹬脚 Jià jiàn dēng jiǎo
  11. 独立点剑 Dúlì diǎn jiàn
  12. 弓步斜削 Gōng bù xiē xiāo
  13. 弓步刺剑 Gōng bù cì jiàn
  14. 阵脚刺剑 Zhèn jiǎo cì jiàn
  15. 转身抹剑 Zhuǎn shēn mǒ jiàn
  16. 架剑举腿 Jià jiàn jǔ tuǐ
  17. 马步推剑 Mǎ bù tuī jiàn
  18. 弓步刺剑 Gōng bù cì jiàn
  19. 马步扎剑 Mǎ bù zhā jiàn
  20. 弓步斜削 Gōng bù xiē xiāo
  21. 叉 步穿剑 Chǎ bù chuān jiàn
  22. 弓步和剑 Gōng bù hé jiàn
  23. 虛 步穿剑 Xū bù chuān jiàn
  24. 收势 Shōu shì

Chen Sword (49-step)

My class at Master Gohring’s Tai Chi and Kung Fu is reviewing Chen sword, and I’ve been searching out the names of the movements. The form we do is the late Grandmaster Cheng Jincai’s version, and here he is performing it (this is the only video I know of):

Chen Zhenglei’s version is more widely known and practiced, and there’s plenty of video for that. Here video of Chen Zhenglei performing Chen Sword:

chaoyang-jiajian

Chen Zhenglei (Chau Yang)

In addition, I’ve found a series of short videos in which Chen Zhenglei goes through the form a few moves at a time, with names and some instruction. The videos are in Chinese, but with a list of names and a modest vocabulary for sword techniques and stances, etc., I find I can understand quite a bit.

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4ef-8oCcIU (Moves 1-10)
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNta5a-lfhA (Moves 11-21)
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESnV8IVL0xA (Moves 22-28)
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7nkgG6QDNg (Moves 29-37)
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cd3MDlS-Q7k (Moves 38-44)
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bF-A8TJ1pCM (Moves 45-49)

A major difference between the two versions is the opening (起势 Qǐshì), which is basically everything up to taking the sword in the right hand. Another difference: In the early move called Protect the Knees (hu xi), Chen Zhenglai travels, while Cheng Jincai does not. A thorough comparison will take me a while yet. Anyway, the list of names seems to work for both.

The form has 49 steps; it is called 陈氏太极剑四十九式 (Chén shì tàijí jiàn sì shí jiǔ shì): Chen Style Tai Chi Sword 49-step form. The list:

ChenSword List of Movements (PDF)

I arrived at the list above by transcribing from the six videos. I also referred to the list of moves on Chen Bing’s excellent website (ChenBing.org). The Chinese on that list is all good, the Pinyin not so much—numerous typos, at least according to the dictionary I use (MDBG). I rely heavily on Pinyin, so I worked out my own. The English translations are mine and are not guaranteed (or even likely) to be accurate! This form is not so well known that there are established English names. As usual, I prefer to learn the Chinese.

By the way, Zhong Kui (鍾馗)  is the Ghost King (vanquisher of ghosts).  Luóhàn (罗汉) is Arhat, an enlightened person in Buddhism, one who has reached nirvana.     Yèchā (夜叉) is a malevolent spirt, Nézha (哪吒) is the protection deity, and Wéi Tuó (韦驼), aka Skanda, is one of eight divine protectors in Chinese Buddhism.

Chen ZiQiang also offers a step-by-step instructional video on YouTube, with names. I have elsewhere linked to a good (eye-opening!) article about him from KungFuMagazine,com: WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A TAIJI MASTER IN CHEN VILLAGE.

At about 5:40, he lists the nine sword techniques (Jian fa) in the Chen system: beng, gua, liao, pi, ci, dian, tuo, jia, and sao. So, for example, the instruction for Chau Yang is jia jian (the overhead block pictured above).

One last resource, which I think I’ll turn to after my class finishes its review of this form, is Jesse Tsao, who offers an English instructional video which can be downloaded or streamed.

Jesse is a lineage-holding Chen Master under Chen Zhenglai, so he is teaching that version of the form. I find that his videos are well worth the reasonable cost.

8 and 16 Forms

I found an interesting free local Tai Chi class taught by a Taiwanese gentleman in his seventies. I think he’s very good. He teaches the curriculum that begins with 8 forms, and then 16 forms, before proceeding to 24. I’ve already gotten some great corrections from him. It’s a rigorous class.

8formsaminwu

Since I know 24 pretty well, learning 8 and 16 is just a matter of learning the sequences. There’s plenty of good video. The person demo-ing in the video pictured above looks like Amin Wu.

The eight forms are:

  1. Dao Juan Gong (R/L) [Reverse Reeling Forearm*]
  2. Lou Xi Au Bu (R/L)  [Brush Knee Push]
  3. Ye Ma Fen Zong  (L/R) [Part the Wild Horse’s Mane]
  4. Yun Shou (L/R) [Cloud Hands]
  5. Jin Ji Du Li (R/L) [Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg]
  6. Deng Jiao (R/L) [Heel Kick]
  7. Lan Que Wei (R/L) [Grasp the Bird’s Tail]
  8. Shi Zi Shou [Cross Hands]

Notes: Dao Juan Gong is performed in place. Both Lou Xi Au Bu and Ye Ma Fen Zong have a 180-degree turn. Yun Shou is one step left, one step right.

*I don’t use Repulse Monkeys because when you add the footwork, it won’t be the same as the traditional form with that name. Besides, this is the more accurate translation. Repulse Monkeys would be Dao Nian Hou, which is the name used in the old form. That said, a lot of people would call this Repulse Monkeys. Avoid confusion; use the Chinese.

The sixteen forms are:

  1. Qishi
  2. Ye Ma Fen Zong (L/R) [Part the Wild Horse’s Mane]
  3. Bai He Liang Chi [White Crane Spreads Wings]
  4. Lou Xi Au Bu (R/L) [Brush Knee Push]
  5. Jin Bu Ban Lan Chui [Step Forward Block Parry Punch]
  6. Ru Feng Si Bi [Apparent Closing**]
  7. Dan Bian  [Single Whip]
  8. Shou Hui Pipa [Play the Lute]
  9. Dao Juan Gong (L/R) [See above*]
  10. Yu Nu Chuan Suo (L/R) [Fair Lady Works Shuttle]
  11. Hai Di Zhen [Needle at Sea Bottom]
  12. Shan Tong Bi [Flash the Back]
  13. Yun Shou [Cloud Hands]
  14. Lan que wei (R/L) [Grasp the Bird’s Tail]
  15. Shizi Shou [Cross Hands]
  16. Shou Shi

I used this video to get the sequence. Hai Di Zhen and Shan Tong Bi are both on the left, opposite of 24, which feels pretty strange. This, by the way, is a pipa, a Chinese lute:

pipa

**AKA Withdraw and Push, an accurate description but not an accurate translation.

Vocabulary for Sword

Learning Chinese for the purpose of studying Tai Chi is not as daunting as it might seem. For sword, for example, about thirty words cover a wide array of swordfighting techniques—most of the technical terms needed for studying sword, in fact.

YJMingBelow I have given the common English translations for the Chinese words, but everyday English tells you nothing. For example: Diǎn means point. But if you don’t know Tai Chi sword and I tell you to point the sword, you will not do diǎn! Because the English word point does not carry the right meaning for swordplay. If you spoke Chinese and didn’t know Tai Chi sword, I could tell you to diǎn the sword, and you still would not know what to do. Diǎn is a term of art. Why learn an English translation? When you can learn two or three dozen Chinese words and speak the language of Tai Chi?

An additional advantage to learning the Chinese terms is that if you have the opportunity to work with a Chinese teacher, as I did last summer, knowing these key terms will make communication so much easier—possible even when neither of you speaks the other’s language at all.

Below I have marked with asterisk (*) the thirteen essential swordfighting techniques in the Yang sword system. For more information about jiànfǎ, you could consult Scott Rodell’s book, Chinese Swordsmanship, or Jwing Ming Yang’s book,  Tai Chi Sword Classical Yang Style. Not that you can learn sword from a book! But these two are good references.

Vocabulary for Tai Chi Sword—táijì jiàn:

剑     Jiàn                        Sword

法     Fǎ                           Method or technique

剑法  Jiànfǎ                    Swordplay

对方  Duìfāng               Opponent or opposing force

崩    Bēng*                   Collapse

抽    Chōu*                   Withdraw

戳    Chuō                     Jab

穿    Chuān                   Pierce

刺    Cì*                         Stab

带    Dài*                      Carry

点    Diǎn*                    Point

格    Gé*                       Block

挂    Guà                       Hang

划    Huá                       Slash

击    Jī*                          Hit

架    Jià                          Frame

搅    Jiǎo*                      Stir/entwine

截    Jié*                        Intercept

拦    Lán                        Block

撩    Liāo                       Lift

抹    Mǒ                         Smear

捧    Pěng                      Cup, hold with both hands

劈    Pī*                          Chop

前    Qián                       Forward

扫    Sǎo                         Sweep

提     Tí*                         Lift

挑     Tiāo                       Carry (on a pole)

跳     Tiào                       Jump

托    Tuō                        Support

洗     Xǐ*                         Clear off/wash

削     Xiāo                       Upward cut or slash

压    Yā*                         Press (down)

云     Yún                        Cloud

斩    Zhǎn                      Sever, behead

*One of the 13 essential swordfighting techniques in the Yang sytem.

Again, I have given common English meanings, but these are terms of art. The real meanings of these terms lies in their execution in the various sword forms. Liāo, to offer another example, means lift, but it means to lift in a certain way, and knowing that liāo means lift in English will give you no clue as to how to use the sword.

Tiào is actually a term for a step, tiào bù (跳步), that occurs in sword forms in combination with qián cì. Tiào bù is a little jump traditionally called Wild Horse Jumps Over the Stream, or Yé mǎ tiào jiàn (野马跳涧). Note that the character for jiàn in this name is not剑 (sword) but 涧 (stream or mountain stream).

Chinese Swordsmanship

I have been studying such an interesting book: Chinese Swordsmanship, by Scott Rodell.

swordsmanship

Rodell describes two systems of swordfighting, both attributed to Yang Luchan (1799-1872), the founder of Yang-style Tai Chi and of the Yang sword form. During the early years of his career (mid-nineteenth century) Yang Luchan kept his swordfighting techniques secret. That Yang system, and the sword form that demonstrates it, Rodell calls the Michuan system.

秘传 Mìchuán: “secretly transmitted, esoteric lore”

The Yang sword form most of us are familiar with, which Rodell calls the public form, was a later development.  The Michuan system has eight named swordfighting techniques (剑法 Jiànfǎ).  The public form has thirteen.

This clears up a mystery for me: I had always heard there were thirteen essential swordfighting techniques, yet the Chen masters seem to name only eight and the Wudang masters nine. So apparently, the number of Jiànfǎ  depends on what system you’re talking about; it is the Yang sword system that has thirteen.

There is still plenty of room for confusion (on my part) and further study. In some cases the same technique has different names in different systems; in other cases, the same name attaches to different techniques in different systems. Rodell does include a chapter on other swordfighting systems, though it is not exhaustive by any means.

The Yang techniques are: dian, ci, pi, beng, ya, chou, dai, ti, ge, ji, jiao, jie, and xi. Rodell describes how each is executed, and while I don’t suppose it’s possible to learn the techniques entirely from these descriptions, they are very useful.

What is also helpful is the way he categorizes the different techniques, beyond the obvious distinction between attacking and defensive maneuvers. He describes the Jiànfǎ in terms of long, medium, or short energy, the part of the sword being used, and the part of the body targeted.

Rodell also sorts Jiànfǎ  by cutting method, of which there are four: deflect or neutralize; straight thrust to pierce; what he calls a “percussion cut” (a chop with the edge of the blade without a lateral draw); and slicing cuts that draw or push the edge lateral to the cut. Hitting with the flat of the blade is in a  miscellaneous category of additional “minor movements” not really part of the system.

The book includes step-by-step illustrations and descriptions of the both the Michuan and public sword forms. It is particularly illuminating is that he provides the applications for each movement. In many, if not most cases, a single named movement involves multiple techniques.

I particularly like the way Rodell relates the sword forms to the use of the sword in actual battle, and the historical material makes very good reading. He even briefly comments on the comparison between Chinese and European swordsmanship. Between the definitions of the techniques, the applications, and the illustrations of how to do the form, history, philosophy, metallurgy, and accounts of Rodell’s own extensive training experience, this is quite a dense book, more a reference or text than a cover-to-cover read. Excellent book, a great find —highly recommended!

Yang-style 56-sword

Fifty-six sword is the standardized version of Yang sword taught in China today. I am confused by the number of Yang sword forms I see, not only in videos but in practice. However, this is one version that I can pin down. Last year, I worked my way roughly through the sequence, using an excellent demonstration video by Fan Xue Ping, but although I got to where I could follow my practice group, I am not at all satisfied. I’d like to get to the next level.

56fish

One good reason for learning the Chinese names of the forms is that you can Google them and come up with all sorts of videos and information that you can’t find by searching on the English. The name for this form is 杨式五十六式太极剑 (Yáng Shì 56 Shì tàijí jiàn). I’ve found not only a list of the names, but also an entire series of instructional videos by Li Deyin AND music with oral commands! I’ll be working my way through all of this material over the summer.

As for the list of names, there are two. What I am posting here is a PDF of the traditional (or poetic) names. As with 32-sword, there are also instructional names. In most cases, those names consist of the stance and the sword technique. So, for example, Dà Kuíxīng shi is the traditional name for the movement we call the Major Literary Star (or the Big Dipper). The instructional name is Dúlì fǎn cì—stand on one leg and reverse-stab [overhead].

PDF: 56-sword Poetic Names of Movements

The links to the instructional videos are below in order. They are in Chinese, of course. But even though I understand only a bit of what he says, I learn from his gestures and demonstrations of particular moves, and from watching the repeated demonstrations by his student. It helps to know bùyāo (don’t want)—which is what he says when demonstrating what you should NOT do.

The first video is mainly lecture, so much of the content is lost on me. There are Chinese subtitles; I would love to know what they say! I tried capturing and deciphering a few, but that proved much too difficult. Sometimes these videos take a long time to load.

  1. About sword
  2. Moves 1-3
  3. Moves 4-7
  4. Moves 8-13
  5. Moves 14-20
  6. Moves 21-25
  7. Moves 26-31
  8. Moves 32-38
  9. Moves 39-47
  10. Moves 48-56

The word for music is Yīnyuè. My Chinese friends love to practice with music and have music for all the forms they know. When learning, trying to get the movements and the form right, of course it’s best to work mainly without music. But music makes group practice fun.

I especially like music that includes the names of the movements. Hearing the names helps me learn the Chinese, and the oral commands are good for pacing and repetition. The music is often a bit too fast (太快! Tài kuài! Too fast!), especially for the sword forms. But even that is good for getting the sequence thoroughly ingrained. If you know the form well enough you can keep up.

I added 音乐口令  Yīnyuè Kǒulìng (music with oral commands) to the end of the name of the form to get this: 杨式五十六式太极剑音乐口令, Googled,  and lo and behold I found nice music for 56-sword with the traditional names for all the moves! Here it is:

Yīnyuè Kǒulìng for 56-sword (for download)

I have edited the list of names to agree with the oral commands in the music, and they also agree with the names in the instructional videos (with one or two minor deviations). So between the videos, the music, and the list of names, I have all I need to learn 56-sword as well as I can without an instructor. And of course I am also fortunate to have a practice group with at least one member  who has learned the form from a master and can lead pretty reliably. So this is my summer project for 2017.

Wudang Mountain

Just got back from China. I traveled with a group (fewer than twenty) from all over the US plus four from London. Our leader was Jesse Tsao, wonderful Tai Chi master and teacher (taichihealthways.com). We saw some amazing sights on a three-day Yangtze River Cruise and four-day tour of Wudang Mountain.

purpleheaven

Purple Heaven Palace, Wudangshan

The temples on the mountain were beautiful: Purple Heaven Palace (紫霄宫, Xǐ Xiāo Gōng), Tianyi Zhenqing Palace (天乙真庆宫tiān yǐ zhēn qìng gōng) and Dragon’s Head incense burner, and the Golden Summit. The summit in particular was breathtaking.

goldensummit

The view from the Golden Summit

There’s a school half-way up the mountain, next to the hotel where we stayed. We visited with the master, who told us (Jesse interpreting) about the history and philosophy of his school, and who kindly gave us each a signed copy of a little book. I can make neither heads nor tails of it, but I will surely treasure it. Must figure out what it is.

yuxu

Yu Xu Palace Courtyard

Yu Xu Palace, which I have seen in so many videos, surprised me. It always looked to me as though it was set in a vast remote plain. There are no plains to be had in that part of China, however, and Yu Xu is in fact right in the middle of Wudangshan village (武当山, Wǔdāngshān). The interior of the Yu Xu Palace was closed for renovation, so we saw only the famous courtyard. Loved it.

chenfixed

I did some Chen on the mountain.

As far as tai chi is concerned, we had several amazing sessions with Jesse. Most fascinating to me was a comparison of the first sections of the four traditional long forms (Yang, Chen, Sun and Wu). I had never understood how closely the first part of the Yang 108 parallels the first part of Laojia.

On the last two mornings, we found a group at a park in Wuhan. Master Tan led us through the traditional Yang-style long form and 24; then we did a qigong routine that was new to me. She called it shí bā shì (十八式, 18-forms) Tai Chi Qigong (太极气功, Tàijí qìgōng). I found a video and a list of the names of the movements. Nice routine. Master Tan’s recording, like the track to the video, includes cues for breathing. 呼吸 hūxī is breathe; hū  is exhale and xī  is inhale.

mastertan

Tai Chi and Qigong with Master Tan in Wuhan city park

18-form Tai Chi Qigong video and names of movements:

  1. 起势       Qǐ shì
  2. 开阔胸怀 kāikuò xiōng huái             open the mind/heart
  3. 挥舞彩虹 Huīwǔ cǎihóng                  wave the rainbow
  4. 轮臂分云 Lún bì fēn yún                   circle the arms to divide the clouds
  5. 定步倒卷肱 Ding bù dào juǎn gong
  6. 湖心划船 Hú xīn huá chuán             row on the lake
  7. 肩前托球 Jiān qián tuō qiú               hold up the ball in front
  8. 转体望月 Zhuǎntī wàngyuè             turn over the full moon
  9. 转腰推掌 Zhuǎn yāo tuī zhǎng        turn waist push palm
  10. 马步云手 Mǎ bù yún shǒu                horse stance cloud hands
  11. 捞海观天 Lāo hǎi guān tiān              fish the ocean to see the sky
  12. 推波助浪 Tuī bō zhù làng                  push to make waves
  13. 飞鸽展翅 Fēigē zhǎn chì                    pigeon spreads his wings
  14. 伸臂冲拳 Shēn bì chōng quán        stretch the arm to punch
  15. 大雁飞翔 Dàyàn fēixiáng                  wild goose soars
  16. 环转飞轮 Huán zhuǎi fēilún             ring around the flywheel
  17. 踏步拍球 Tàbù pāi qiú                        step and slap
  18. 按掌平气 Àn zhǎng píng qì               push palm for calm energy

We also did a Beijing-style silk-reeling Chen routine that blew me away, but I don’t have any idea how to find it on the Internet. Still looking for that one.