Sword Play

The Chinese word for sword play is 剑法 Jiànfǎ. I’ve seen more than one list of sword fighting techniques; they vary according to style. I just recently found a really interesting video on Wudang Tai Chi sword applications by Master Yuan Xiu Gang.


Master Yuan lists thirteen essential sword fighting techniques: Pi 劈, Ci 刺, Liao 撩, Sao 扫, Tiao 挑, Gua 挂, Dian 点, Hua 划, Jiao 搅, Mo 抹, Jie 截, Beng 崩, and Ti 提. English translations of these terms of art are, respectively, chop, stab,lift, sweep, jump, hang, point, slash, stir, smear, intercept collapse, and lift.

A tutorial on Tai Chi Sword Basics by Master Huaicheng Lu is very helpful. He says there are more than twenty sword fighting techniques, but he covers only twelve. His list includes some of those mentioned above–dian, liao, pi, mo, jie, ci, and sao–plus 拦 lan (block), 斩 zhan (sever, behead), 削 xiao (an upward cut or slash), 云 yun, and 穿 chuan (pierce).


The sword form Master Huaicheng Lu demonstrates is 42-sword, the combination form. The video has an English voiceover.

In Chen Ziqiang’s instructional video for Chen style sword, he lists nine sword fighting techniques: Pi 劈 (chop), Ci 刺 (stab), Liao 撩 (lift), Sao 扫 (sweep), Gua 挂 (hang), Dian 点 (point), Tuo 托 (support), Jia 架 (prop), and Beng 崩 (collapse).

Yet another list (from an earlier post) adds 带 Dai (carry), 抽 Chou (withdraw), 击 Ji (hit), 格 Ge (block–not sure how/if this is different from lan), 洗 Xi  (clear off), and 压 Ya (press). So that’s more than twenty altogether.

Red Sky in the Morning

I have a new book out! I am fortunate to have made quite a few friends in my neighborhood who are Chinese and practice Tai Chi. I’ve been meeting with them on weekends for three years now.


Most speak no English (they are older people visiting grown children in the US), which is why I am trying to learn Chinese. Among those who do speak English, I have come to know Lily Blackard, who is Chinese, born in Vietnam, and now a naturalized American citizen.

As soon as Lily learned that I was a writer, she asked me if I would write the story of how she came to this country as a Vietnam War refugee. I jumped at the chance, both to learn more about her experience and to revisit that era in our history.

The result is a small volume (a little more than a hundred pages) that combines Lily’s story, as she remembers it from forty to fifty years ago, with a general history of the war and its aftermath. I was doubly fortunate that a wonderful watercolorist and friend, JU Salvant, offered to illustrate the book.

Red Sky in the Morning is available in print and as an ebook from Amazon. The print edition is expensive but beautiful because of the paintings, which include a gorgeous cover of red sky and sea. The ebook is a bargain, as it contains full-color illustrations as well (though some older Kindles might display only black and white).

If you read it and like it, please consider leaving a review on Amazon! The paintings are available as high-quality prints on heavy watercolor paper from JUSalvant.com.


This contemporary sword form is a combined form used in competition. It’s difficult, subtle, and sophisticated, with elements of all four major styles of Tai Chi — Yang, Chen, Sun, and Wu. I’m hoping to learn it well enough to work with Hu Pei when she comes back this spring.


Hou Ju Tui Jia Jian

On the left, Amin Wu demonstrates one of the more striking and unusual moves in 42-Sword.

As usual, I’m starting with a demonstration video and list of names just to get the rough sequence. The demo is a beautiful video of Amin Wu doing 42-Sword.

I haven’t yet found a definitive list of names in Chinese. I’m still looking. For now, I have two. The first list is Pinyin only, and it seems a bit sketchy (some words appear to be missing). I’d rather have the Chinese and look up the pinyin for myself.

The second list is Chinese, but alas, it’s all images. Not possible to copy and paste into a dictionary to get Pinyin and translation. There is a wealth of good information about Tai Chi sword on Phil Cheung’s page. I wish I could read it better. Here are the links.

I’ve just about got the sequence figured out, so the next step is to get Long Feng to lead me through it and show me some of the more baffling moves. I’ll also work my way through some instructional videos. There are three instructionals that I’ll use. I don’t have Jesse Tsao’s yet. His will be in English.


Amin Wu

Li Deyin’s instructional videos are in Chinese, and I wish I could figure out more of the parts where he simply talks, but it’s not hard to follow the demonstrations and specific instructions. I have the DVD, but it’s also on Youtube, in two parts (with lots of commercials, and rather poor video and sound quality, unfortunately).

On Youtube, I also found a complete set of videos with much better visual and audio quality, by Amin Wu, whose detailed instructions are quite clear, especially if you understand some basic instructional vocabulary. Love these!

This should keep me busy until next spring.

Chinese for Tai Chi

I’m in a Chinese newspaper! Hu Pei, the amazing teacher that I worked with last summer, is back in Jiang Yin, where she is a highly respected instructor and coach. She has been interviewed in newspapers and on TV about the fact that she had an American student while she was in Austin.


The headline (took me a while to figure this out) is  文化为媒, 她在美国教太极拳: Wen hua wei mei ta zai meiguo jiao taijiquan, which means that she is bridging cultures, teaching taijiquan in America.

The big question from the interviewers was, How could she teach an American when she didn’t speak English? And she explained that I knew Chinese for Tai Chi. When people ask me if I speak Chinese, I say that I speak Tai Chi-ese. I think I’ll start calling it Taijiese.

I know almost no conversational Chinese, but I have learned the Chinese names for the movements of the forms I’ve studied. It started out, for me, as the purest form of learning: I didn’t have an objective or purpose in mind. I just wanted to know the names.

But I have since found that there is much to be gained by learning Chinese names for movements, but by far the greatest pay-off (and one I never expected) was that when I had the opportunity last summer to work with an outstanding Chinese teacher, I was surprisingly well prepared to communicate with her.

The forms that I do with my Chinese friends are all contemporary forms–24, 42, 32-sword, 42-Sword, Wudang Tai Chi Sword, and Li Deyin’s two fan forms. The names of the movements for these forms (unlike the traditional forms) are descriptive rather than poetic. Or it might be better to say they are instructional. The movements still have the old poetic names, but the instructional names are what we use in practice.

So, for example, Tian Ma Xing Kong (Heavenly Horse Crosses the Sky) is now Xu Bu Dian Jian. Xu Bu–empty stance– and Dian Jian (point sword) are both terms of art, and if you know what they mean, the name of the movement tells you exactly what to do.

Conversely, if you learn all the names of the movements, you will know the terms for the various stances, sword techniques, parts of the body, directions, kicks, and so on. These instructive names break apart to form a substantial working vocabulary for learning Tai Chi from a Chinese-speaking teacher.

That is exactly what happened to me last summer. Ms Hu could tell me that when I do Pi (the sword technique) the blade should be ping, yidian xia (level, slightly downward). There were only a few additional words I needed to learn, such as yidian (a little), yao/buyao (want/don’t want), yuan (rounded), man (slow), and (hopefully, by the end of the day) hen hao! Very good.

It was a fantastic experience working with Hu Pei, and she taught me so much! I can’t wait for her to come back.