42-step Tai Chi Sword

The 42-step combined sword form is the competition routine for tournaments in China. With movements from the four majors styles of Tai Chi – Chen, Yang, Wu, and Sun – it employs a wide range of sword techniques—jianfa.

yellowguy

Most of my practical knowledge of jianfa comes from studying sword with Hu Pei Yi. Other valuable sources include books by Scott Rodell and Yang JwingMing and a couple of videos by Huaicheng Lu, in which he specifically demonstrates most of the sword techniques employed in 42-sword.

Last year, I posted a Vocabulary for Sword, a comprehensive listing of names of sword techniques as well as instructive terms frequently used in relation to sword. English translations of these words—equivalents in everyday English of everyday Chinese—are of little use. The words are terms of art, and their meaning is the sword technique they name.

In his two-part video, Huaicheng Lu discusses and demonstrates, in order, dian, liao, pi, lan, zhan, xiao, yun, mo, jie, chuan, ci, sao, gua, jia, and tuo. The form he is working from is 42-Sword. Huaicheng Lu:

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THrwJCLB_1I&t=67s

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifuur4eLa1w

Also invaluable is a tutorial by Li Deyin (who I believe created this form). In two hour-long segments he provides ample repetition and demonstration by a student who is awfully good.

I arrived at a list of the names for this form by transcribing from these videos. There’s a demonstration of the whole form at the beginning, and then a good bit of lecture in Chinese before the demonstrations begin. I wish I could understand it all!

Part One: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxugZkkwUT0

Part Two: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujO2v6bUxvk&t=1259s

At about the 8-10 minutes section, Li gives a very interesting discussion of grip. Although it is in Chinese, if you have learned the names of the sword techniques, you can see how he is demonstrating the correct grip for the different jianfa.

List for 42-Sword: 42-sword

The list of movements for 42-sword is in the style of instructional names rather than traditional poetic names. The movements are mostly called by a combination of the stance and the sword technique. For example, the first move of 42 (after qishi), is bing bu dian jian.

Bing is together, bu is step. Bing bu = feet together. Dian jian is the short-range cut made by lifting the handle sharply upward so the tip of the blade pecks down. The wrist is rotated slightly so the handle rides up past the wrist. Here is Wudang Master Yuan Xiu Gang demonstrating dian in a video on sword techniques:

yuanxiudian

That’s Yuxu Temple! I was there in 2017! But there was no sign of Master Yuan, unfortunately. The temple sits right in the middle of Wudangshan:

1505yuxu

Another view, from the same terrace that Master Yuan is standing on:

1503yuxu

Elsewhere, I have posted a vocabulary for stances. Between that and the vocabulary for sword, most of the names on the list for 42-sword are covered. Deng jiao and fen jiao are the heel and toe kicks, respectively.  You see ti xi (lift knee) rather than duli (stand on one leg).

Some additional terms in the list for this form: hòu diǎn (hou is behind) and jǔ tuǐ (lift the leg, pronounced like tway), and bai tui (bai is swing, swing the leg). You can always paste the characters in the names into the MDBG online dictionary. But again, that won’t tell you anything about how to use the sword.

It’s also good to know bu yao: It means “don’t want” so if you hear that, he’s telling you what NOT to do. Usually you can tell anyway, because he exaggerates and the error looks obviously wrong.

At about the 26:00 point in the first video, Li Deyin discusses and demonstrates the sword techniques in the first section of the form: dian, xiao, pi, lan, liao, and ci – shang ci, xia ci, ping ci, and qian ci. You can see all these terms in the names of the first 11 moves.

One note:  Peng jian means to cup/hold the (handle of the) sword with both hands, but in this kind of form, you don’t, actually. In traditional sword forms you release the left sword fingers and clasp the right hand. In this form, you just lay the sword fingers under the right hand.

At about the 36:00 point, Li discusses and demonstrates some of the footwork in the form.

Here’s a separate video showing the whole form (demonstrated by the same student) from the back: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqqKTq3Q20I

When I first learned this form, I relied on a tutorial by Amin Wu, which is also very good. The links for that are included in this post from 2016.

From these sources, I was well prepared to work with Hu Pei Yi when she came to town last winter. She’ll be back this month, which is why I am brushing up on 42-Sword right now.

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Chen-Style Double Saber

This has to be one of the flashiest forms in all of Tai Chi. I’ve been working on it off and on for about three years. As usual, I have Jesse Tsao’s instructional video (available from taichihealthways.com either as a DVD or for download). Here is a YouTube clip from that video:

Jesseshuangdao

Chen Zhenglei has made a YouTube tutorial consisting of 8 short videos, each covering a few of the 35 moves. The tutorial:

  1. Moves 1-3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qvs_bIsWw_E
  2. Moves 4-8: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mq0T3Z4Pwr0&t=8s
  3. Moves 9-13: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ze__qQeKwD8
  4. Moves 14-18: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JujcbNnUwyo
  5. Moves 19-22: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JW9gWM8bLs
  6. Moves 23-26: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eQqcHmBOlA
  7. Moves 27-29: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EFsa5qFYsg
  8. Moves 30-35: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1ZXgwJal78

Here’s a video of Chen Zhenglei doing the whole form:

CZjump

When I first learned this form in 2015, I used the long, two-part tutorial by Master Tzu Tian Cai. It’s in Chinese with some English subtitles and rewards patience with very clear footwork and swordplay for every move.

Here is a list of the names of the movements, derived from multiple sources as well as my own translation. The Chinese and Pinyin are certainly correct; the English translations are, as usual, all over the map. I’ve settled on fairly literal, simple English. I use the Chinese. The name of the form is 陈氏双刀 (Chén Shì Shuāng Dāo).

Shuang Dao Names (PDF): Shuang-Dao

Finally, here’s the link for all my posts (notes) on this form, but the resources in this post cover everything I find useful when refreshing or trying to improve my form.

Laojia Yilu

Laojia Yilu (Old Frame, First Way) is the Chen-style long form from which, arguably, all other forms and styles have been derived. I have spent the last year relearning and practicing this form. The main sources I’ve used are Master Jesse Tsao’s instructional videos (available on Taichihealthways.com) and the YouTube videos below.

I want my Laojia to conform as closely as possible to Chen family practice. Jesse’s lineage as a Chen master is directly under Chen Zhenglei and his form closely follows the video above. Jesse’s instructional video provides ample demonstration and instructions in English. I’ve been able to practice with Jesse in person over the last two years when traveling with him in China and at his Tai Chi summer camp in San Diego. Hopefully, I’ll be able to work with him again in the coming year.

Chen Xiaoxing is the owner and head of the Chen family’s school in Chenjiagou. In a series of teaching videos, he performs each movement slowly and very clearly several times. There are sixteen segments to this series, each just a few minutes long, each covering two to four movements.

laojiaxiaoxing

Chen Xiaoxing is the owner and head of the Chen family school in Chen Village.

Teaching series, Chen Xiaoxing:

1  Beginning through Lanzhayi

2  Liu feng si bi – Bai he liang chi

3  Xie xing – 2nd Shang san bu

4 Yan shou gong quan – Qing long chu shui

5 Shuang Tuishou – Bai he liang chi

6 Xie xing – Yan shou gong quan

7  Liu feng si bi – Gao tan ma

8  Tsa jiao – Ji di chui

9 Ti er qi – Yan shou gong quan

10  Xiao qin da – Dan bian

11 Qian zhao – Hou zhao

12  Ye  ma fen zong – Lanzhayi

13 Liu feng si bi – Jin ji duli

14 Dao juan gong – Gao tan ma

15 Shizi tui – Que di long

16 Shang bu qi xing – Shou shi

Chen Xiaoxing’s son, Chen ZiQiang, is the head instructor at the school.  Here Chen ZiQiang performs the whole routine. And here is the list of movements in the form:

Laojia Yilu List of names

I notice that Chen Zhenglei does Cha bu yun shou in the middle set of Cloud Hands; Chen Xiaoxing does three sets of regular Cloud Hands. Chen ZiQiang does three sets of Cha bu yun shou.

Also, when Chen Zhenglei does the Shuang bai lian near the end, he does not slap his left foot; Chen Xiaoxing does. So does Chen ZiQiang. Apart from these minor deviations, all three masters practice a very clean, unadorned form, and this is what I would like to emulate.

Taiji 32-Step

I keep telling myself: No more new forms! But I can’t seem to avoid them. My Friday class is learning 32 now, so I need links and a list of moves.

32wu

This intermediate-level form is more interesting than I thought (I had only followed along a few times on occasion). For one thing, it is a combined form—I didn’t realize that—mostly Yang but with elements of Chen, Sun and Wu. A number of movements are also in 42, so I am glad to be working on those. Other movements are backwards, so to speak—performed on the unfamiliar side, such as single whip, which is most often on the left, but occurs in 32 is on the right. Cloud Hands travels to the right, too.

Here is a beautiful demonstration of the whole form by Wu Amin (aka Amin Wu, since she is now living and teaching in California): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKilyW_awUo . Also on YouTube, she offers a set of tutorials in Chinese, in eight short segments with great detail. I also got an English tutorial from her website.  http://www.wuamintaichi.com/products/video-products/32-form-tai-chi-1-disc-dvd/

The Chinese tutorials go into much more detail, but of course I miss a lot. In Chinese, she is a very animated and charming teacher. The English version is precise and correct, but confined to a fairly limited script. She is good about making it clear where the various styles come in, though, which I appreciate; that’s the kind of remark that might go over my head in Chinese. Either way, she offers excellent, clear instruction. Here are the links to the Chinese.

Amin Wu tutorial in Chinese:

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVOhB4-k_98
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dMKsndIC2Q
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81ig95q1N-8
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqsHVNf4imk
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZHEOkmzUzk
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UILrbgW6bhE
  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nNZmbJqE6w
  8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knZgHsAActk

The name of the form is三十二式太极剑 (Sān Shí Èr Shì Tàijíjiàn), and here is the list of movements, for sequence: 32-step-taijiquan

Yang-Style Long Form

I’ve been on a mission this year to correct my Yang-style long form to make it as authentic as possible. I’m studying Jesse Tsao’s instructional videos (available on taichihealthways.com), Yang family videos, and these two books:

chengfu fuzhongwen

Yang Chengfu was arguably the most influential tai chi master of the 20th century, and it is his long form that defines the Yang style today. Fu Zhongwen studied with Yang Chengfu from an early age and traveled with him throughout Yang’s teaching career, demonstrating for him and representing him in push-hands contests, at which he was famously unbeatable.

Yang Chengfu explains each movement in terms of its martial arts application. Fu Zhongwen, by contrast, describes each movement in great detail, but does not make reference to the purpose of the move. I don’t know that you could learn the form from these books, but they serve very well to check the authenticity of one’s own practice.

The Yang style originated with Chengfu’s grandfather, Yang Luchan, who developed a new style of tai chi after studying for ten years with Master Chen Changxing in Chenjiagou. Yang had three sons and many disciples to preserve his teachings, but there is no concrete record of exactly what his form was like.

The historian Gu Liuxin suggests that Yang Luchan’s boxing initially shared more characteristics of Chen style, such as fajin and bursts of speed. Over time, his form took on more and more of the smooth, continuous, and gentle character that we associate with Yang style today.

Yang Chengfu learned directly from his grandfather, and according to Gu, early in his career his kicks were swift and explosive, his movements generally more physically challenging. It was only in the later years that he modified his entire form to adhere to the principle of slow, steady, and soft movements.

Whatever mystery may surround Yang Luchan’s practice, we can be pretty clear about Yang Chengfu’s fully developed long form. We have photographs of every posture as well as the careful descriptions in the two text books. Variations in detail are few and minor, and in the practice of Yang’s best-known disciples there is very substantial agreement and consistency.

In addition, we have the photographs and descriptions of Li Yulin, dean of studies at the Shandong Provincial Martial Arts School, who prepared teaching materials under the direction of Yang Chengfu himself. The major content of the 1931 book is reproduced in Li Deyin’s  book, Taijiquan.

While we can be pretty clear about what the movements were, the naming and counting varies significantly. Some count 81, others 85, 94, 103, 105, and 108. The form doesn’t vary; it’s mostly a matter of whether you count a repeated movement one or three times (cloud hands versus cloud hands 1, cloud hands 2, cloud hands 3). My own list compiles all notable names but no repetition, and comes out to 86. I still usually call the form the 108.

See also:

The Ji Xiao Xin Shu of Qi Jiguang

The 继效新书 Jì Xiào Xīn Shū (New Book of Effective Fighting Techniques) was published by General Qi Jiguang 戚继光, (1528-1588) in 1560. A handbook on military strategy, the Ji Xiao Xin Shu is not included among the Tai Chi Classics, but according to some, it may have had significant influence on some of the earliest practitioners of Tai Chi.

323px-Qi_JiquanQi Jiguang was known as the Tiger General. From his father, who fought for the founding Ming Emperor, Qi held a hereditary position as a military leader, which he assumed at the age of 17. Within a very few years he had distinguished himself in battle against the Mongolians who threatened Beijing from the north.

Qi then assumed leadership of a garrison in Penglai. During the next decade Qi secured his place in history by defeating the Japanese (and Chinese) pirates that had been terrorizing the entire east coast of China.

Qi’s book,  the Ji Xiao Xin Shu, was concerned mainly with military strategy and the use of weapons, but he included a chapter on unarmed combat, not because he believed it was useful on the battle field (he didn’t) but because he considered it good physical training and discipline for troops. He was aware of a wide variety of martial arts and identified 32 postures in particular as being useful.

In a 1993 doctoral thesis, Clifford Gyves translates the 32 verses of the Quanjing Jieyao Pian, chapter 14, the Boxing Canon, and argues that eight of the postures named and described appear to be common to Tai Chi. The eight postures are:

  • Dan bian (single whip)
  • Jin ji duli (golden rooster stands on one leg)
  • Gao tan ma (high pat on horse—but he translates this as spy technique!)
  • Shang bu qi xing (step up seven stars)
  • Tui bu kua hu (step back to ride the tiger)
  • Bai he liang chi (white crane spreads wings)
  • Xiashi (snake creeps down)
  • Zhou di chui (fist under elbow)

However! I am guessing that in 1993, Gyves was unfamiliar with Chen-style Tai Chi, or he could hardly have missed the similarity of the movement described in Verse 1 to Lanzhayi:

Casually hitch up your clothes and let your body assume the Going Out the Door position. Change to a lowered posture and momentarily take the Single Whip stance.

In an appendix, Gyves compares names from the Ji Xiao Xin Shu with those of Yang and Wu practitioners. But, reading through all 32 verses, I see names and descriptions that sound like moves from Laojia Yilu and Erlu: the Beast Head Pose (Shou tou shi), for example, and Ride the Dragon Backwards (Dao qi long).

And surely this is Cannon Overhead (Dang tou pao) in Verse 30:

The Canonball (sic) Against the Head maneuver assaults the person’s fear; Advance your steps with tiger-like erectness and drive in with both fists.

417px-Ji_Xiao_Xin_Shu;_pg_464Without access to the text in Chinese (which I haven’t yet found online) I can’t take this much farther, but I’d be willing to bet that many more, if not most, postures in the quanjing can be identified in the old Chen forms.

Gyves stops short of saying that postures of Tai Chi were derived from the Ji Xiao Xin Shu; he says instead that they may simply reflect a common martial arts heritage. But it is interesting to note that Chen Wangting (1580-1660) was a Ming Dynasty military leader, in addition to being the head of the Chen family at the time and originator of Chen-style Tai Chi. It is entirely possible that he would have been familiar with an influential military handbook like the Ji Xiao Xin Shu.

Gyves points out that there is no reason to believe that General Qi’s practice was internal, so he cannot be said to have had a hand in the origination of Tai Chi. But Qi may very well have contributed to the selection of named martial arts postures and applications that Chen Wangting transformed into the earliest practice of Tai Chi.

Article from the Shanghai Daily about General Qi:

Translation of Chapter 14 by Clifford Gyves:

Origins of Tai Chi

From the time of Chen Wangting (1580-1660), the history of tai chi is fairly well known and documented. However, it is widely believed that tai chi has roots going back at least a couple of hundred years more.

1224rainZhang Sanfeng (张三丰), a Taoist monk, is a legendary figure said to have been inspired when he witnessed a snake fighting a crane in the Wudang mountains (left, Wudang mountains  in spring 2017, my photo). Zhang allegedly wrote the Taijiquan Jing. Jīng (经) means classic text or canon. The Jing is the earliest of the documents called the Tai Chi Classics. Here are a couple good online translations:

http://www.scheele.org/lee/classics.html#tccching

http://qi-encyclopedia.com/?article=Taijiquan%20Jing

The Jing includes the basic tenet that Jìn (劲) is rooted in the feet, generated though the legs, directed by the waist, and expressed through the fingers. Jin, in the context of tai chi, means force or energetic power.

The eight energies are enumerated in the Jing—掤 péng, 捋 lǚ, 挤 jǐ, 按  àn, 采 cǎi, 挒liè, 肘 zhǒu, and靠 kào—as well as the five directions: 进步 jìnbù (advance), 退步 tuìbù (retreat), 左顾  zuǒ gù (attend to the left), 右盼 yòu pàn (anticipate right), 中定 zhòng  dìng (hold the center). Together these are identified as the thirteen essential postures of tai chi.

Below, Taoist temple from the summit of Wudangshan (my photo, 2017):

1413summit

That the body should move as a unit, that the form should be continuous and unbroken: these familiar and central principles of taijiquan are contained in the Jing attributed to Zhang Sanfeng. Here is a good biography (so to speak) of Zhang: http://qi-encyclopedia.com/?article=Zhang-Sanfeng

Another legendary figure in the obscure origins of Tai Chi is Wang Zongyue (王宗岳), who may or may not have been a student of Zhang Sanfeng. Wang is generally credited with authoring a second classic text, Taijiquan Lun, the Tai Chi Treatise. Lùn (论) means theory or treatise.

Here are a couple of good online translations. The first offers an interesting note about the authorship of the treatise.

http://qi-encyclopedia.com/?article=Taijiquan%20Treatise

http://www.scheele.org/lee/classics.html#treatise

The entire section on the martial arts in the Qi Encyclopedia (http://qi-encyclopedia.com/?portal=Martial%20Arts) is an excellent source of translations and articles about the classic texts of Tai Chi. So is Lee Scheele’s online tai chi notebook: (http://www.scheele.org/lee/taichi.html).

The Taijiquan Lun contains the idea that taiji begins with wújí (无极), which translates as eternity or infinity but in practice, it seems to mean stillness, neutrality, or more specifically the neutral, quiet, meditative stance from which every moving form begins.

From wuji, when the movement begins, yin and yang, the opposites, become distinguishable. Left and right. Fast and slow. Upward and downward, hard and soft, and so on. Every movement within the form is definable in terms of yin and yang, opposites. When movement stops (at the end of the form), yin and yang once more come together into the quiet meditative state.

Some additional vocabulary for these basic concepts: dòngjìng (动静) is movement (dong) and stillness (jing). The characters in the treatise are traditional. The simplified characters for yin and yang are阴阳 (yīnyáng). Yin and yang separate (分 fēn) and come together (合 hé).

There should be neither lack nor excess: I interpret this to mean that there must be a balance of yin and yang in every movement—this is something that one of my teachers, Grandmaster Aiping Cheng, has just recently been telling me. The challenge is to identify the yin and the yang in a movement, and then to understand how to balance them.

Two more important concepts from the Lun: 走 zǒu and粘 zhān or nián. Romanizations vary for these words. What I have just given is the standard Pinyin and simplified characters. Zou is sometimes written Tsou, zhan as chan. Zhan and nian mean the same thing: sticky.

Zou (or tsou) is the word for yielding to force. Zhan or nian is the word for sticking, the technique of following your opponent, maintaining contact, and matching his speed (fast or slow) and position (high or low).

Wherever the opponent attacks, he should find emptiness; when he withdraws he can’t get away. These fighting skills are not easily mastered, but they are critical: without technique, fighting can never be anything but the strong overcoming the weak with brute force.