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!