I’ve compiled a list of names for the traditional Yang-style sword form, sticking pretty close to the version that I’m learning. I made reference to several lists that I found online, and chose what seemed to me the best English translations (sometimes using my own).
- Taichinotebook.com (my list): PDF with Chinese, standard Pinyin, and English translations.
- MasterGohring.com: English translations only
- YangFamilyTaichi.com: Chinese, phonetic Pinyin, and English translations
- egreenway.com: PDF with Multiple languages and translations
A few comments on the names:
It might seem odd that the movement called the Big Dipper is also called the Major Literary Star, but in Chinese, they are the same name: Kuíxīng [phonetically, kway-shing]. In English, Orion is both the mythical hunter and the constellation; in Chinese, Kuixing is like that.
[Photo of bronze Kuixing by Pratyeka – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45370878]
Kuixing was a great scholar (hence, literary star) who was so repulsively ugly that the emperor wouldn’t give him the honors he deserved. He was so dejected that he threw himself into the ocean. A sea dragon rescued him and took him to live in the heavens. Visit the excellent Cloud Hands blog for an entertaining description of Kuixing, Yèchā the evil or malevolent spirit, and other mythical figures.
大Dà is big or great; Da Kuixing is the Big Dipper (Major Literary Star). 小Xiǎo is small; Xiao Kuixing is the Little Dipper (Minor Literary Star).
A couple of minor notes on translation: Língmāo, which is sometimes translated as alert cat, is an arboreal cat called a civet. Shǔ can be either a mouse or a rat. So Lingmau shu is sometimes translated as Civet Catches Rat in English.
Also, the list makes reference to both 大鹏 Dà Péng and 凤凰 Fèng Huáng. The former refers to a giant legendary bird, while the latter usually refers to the Phoenix. Sometimes one or the other is translated as Roc. I’ve translated both as Phoenix.
Often the poetic names of the sword movements turn out to be idiomatic or figurative expressions in Chinese. Qīng tíng diǎn shuǐ (Dragonfly Touches Water), for example, is an idiom for superficial contact.
Xuán yá lè mǎ (often just lè mǎ, Stop the Horse) has the sense of reining in a horse at the edge of the precipice; it is an idiom for acting in the nick of time. I particularly like this one, because the move is an about-face, which suggests turning to face an opponent just in time to defend oneself.
Shùn shuǐ tuī zhōu (Push boat with Current) is an expression for taking advantage of a situation for one’s own benefit. Sort of like catching and riding a wave.
Liú Xīng gǎn yuè (Shooting star catches the moon), literally a meteor catching up with the moon, is an idiom for swift, decisive action.
Tiān mǎ xíng kōng (Heavenly Steed Crosses the Sky) is an idiom for bold, imaginative action. In writing and calligraphy, this expression describes an unconstrained, expressive style. Some words for sword techniques, most notably dian, ti, and hua, are also names of pen or brush strokes in calligraphy and painting.
My favorite name is Hǎi dǐ lāo yuè (Scoop the Moon from the Bottom of the Sea). The image is that of trying to get hold of the moon by grasping at its reflection in water—an idiom for the hopeless pursuit of an illusion. What we might call a wild goose chase.
Incidentally (on the subject of names that are idioms in Chinese), 海底针 Hǎi dǐ zhēn, Needle at Sea Bottom (which is not in this form but in many others) is like our expression, needle in a haystack, for trying to find a tiny thing lost in a huge mass.