Yi Jian Mei: Names

From the instructional video on Yi Jian Mei I have gleaned the names of the movements. It wasn’t easy! I took screen shots of the captions, but of course I couldn’t paste the characters into a dictionary because they were images. So I drew them one by one into the MDBG dictionary.

For all but the very simplest characters, the dictionary will not recognize a character unless the brush strokes are entered in (at least approximately) correct order. So from the lovely book shown below, Chinese Calligraphy Made Easy by Rebecca Yue, I learned (more or less) the proper order of brushstrokes. Altogether, this list took hours!


Of course, I could have just asked my friend Pan Huai to translate, but doing it myself the hard way was fun and I learned a lot. Pan Huai did tweak my translations of the movement names, many of which, like traditional names of other forms, are poetic, folkloric, and idiomatic.

Yi Jian Mei was the title of both a 1931 silent movie and a 1984 Taiwanese TV show. The plots are completely different, so I assume the two dramas are unrelated. The song written and recorded by Taiwanese singer-songwriter Fei Yu Qing was the theme for the TV show.

The sword form, which is based on the song, must therefore be less than thirty years old and might be a lot more recent: New versions of the 1984 TV show were made in China in 2000 and 2009. I’ve been told that the sword form was created by a master who is no longer living, but I haven’t been able to find out his name. [Update: See the comments below by Martin Mellish.]

The list of 20 movements is divided into stanzas of the song, and I’ve included the lyrics that go with them. Love the song, the lyrics, and the sword form!

Names for 32-sword

I’ve put together a list of the 32 movements in the standardized short sword form. The contemporary forms have two sets of names, descriptive and traditional. Descriptive names are instructions, like Feet Together Point Sword. The traditional names are mostly poetic, often idiomatic, and sometimes make reference to folklore and legendary gods and heroes.

Heavenly Horse Crosses the Sky

Heavenly Horse Crosses the Sky

For descriptive names, I have used the list written out for me by a friend (below). For the traditional names I have relied heavily on Michael Garofalo’s excellent blog, Cloud Hands. He has compiled an extensive list of names for each movement–these older names appear in many forms and have numerous translations. I have chosen the poetic names used at my school for the Yang sword form.

photo (15)

起势, Qi Shi (Commencement) is not one of the 32 movements. For 32-sword, 三環套月 (San huan tao yue) is a form of Three Rings Around the Moon, which also varies in traditional forms, but is mostly the same in contemporary sword forms.

Long Feng doing 32 sword

Three Rings Around the Moon

Here’s the list, in Chinese, Pinyin and English, as a PDF: 32-Sword Names of Movements

If you are confused by the two different names for Da Kui Xing—Big Dipper and Major Literary Star—Michael Garofalo explains how and why the great scholar Kui Xing took up residence in the constellation. See Cloud Hands.

Interestingly, the MDBG dictionary translates 海底撈月 (Hai Di Lao Yue), which we call Scooping the Moon from the Bottom of the Sea, as an idiom for a hopeless illusion, which makes sense, since the moon in the sea is just a reflection that you couldn’t scoop up.

Push Boat with Current is an idiom for taking advantage of a situation for one’s own benefit, and Shooting Star Chases the Moon is an idiom for swift action.

Heavenly Horse Crosses the Sky ia an idiom for boldness and imagination, unrestrained style, especially in calligraphy. Garofalo notes that a number of words for sword techniques are also terms for strokes in calligraphy, and that many sword masters have also been accomplished calligraphers.