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).

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