42-step Tai Chi Sword

The 42-step combined sword form is the competition routine for tournaments in China. With movements from the four majors styles of Tai Chi – Chen, Yang, Wu, and Sun – it employs a wide range of sword techniques—jianfa.


Most of my practical knowledge of jianfa comes from studying sword with Hu Pei Yi. Other valuable sources include books by Scott Rodell and Yang JwingMing and a couple of videos by Huaicheng Lu, in which he specifically demonstrates most of the sword techniques employed in 42-sword.

Last year, I posted a Vocabulary for Sword, a comprehensive listing of names of sword techniques as well as instructive terms frequently used in relation to sword. English translations of these words—equivalents in everyday English of everyday Chinese—are of little use. The words are terms of art, and their meaning is the sword technique they name.

In his two-part video, Huaicheng Lu discusses and demonstrates, in order, dian, liao, pi, lan, zhan, xiao, yun, mo, jie, chuan, ci, sao, gua, jia, and tuo. The form he is working from is 42-Sword. Huaicheng Lu:

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THrwJCLB_1I&t=67s

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifuur4eLa1w

Also invaluable is a tutorial by Li Deyin (who I believe created this form). In two hour-long segments he provides ample repetition and demonstration by a student who is awfully good.

I arrived at a list of the names for this form by transcribing from these videos. There’s a demonstration of the whole form at the beginning, and then a good bit of lecture in Chinese before the demonstrations begin. I wish I could understand it all!

Part One: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxugZkkwUT0

Part Two: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujO2v6bUxvk&t=1259s

At about the 8-10 minutes section, Li gives a very interesting discussion of grip. Although it is in Chinese, if you have learned the names of the sword techniques, you can see how he is demonstrating the correct grip for the different jianfa.

List for 42-Sword: 42-sword

The list of movements for 42-sword is in the style of instructional names rather than traditional poetic names. The movements are mostly called by a combination of the stance and the sword technique. For example, the first move of 42 (after qishi), is bing bu dian jian.

Bing is together, bu is step. Bing bu = feet together. Dian jian is the short-range cut made by lifting the handle sharply upward so the tip of the blade pecks down. The wrist is rotated slightly so the handle rides up past the wrist. Here is Wudang Master Yuan Xiu Gang demonstrating dian in a video on sword techniques:


That’s Yuxu Temple! I was there in 2017! But there was no sign of Master Yuan, unfortunately. The temple sits right in the middle of Wudangshan:


Another view, from the same terrace that Master Yuan is standing on:


Elsewhere, I have posted a vocabulary for stances. Between that and the vocabulary for sword, most of the names on the list for 42-sword are covered. Deng jiao and fen jiao are the heel and toe kicks, respectively.  You see ti xi (lift knee) rather than duli (stand on one leg).

Some additional terms in the list for this form: hòu diǎn (hou is behind) and jǔ tuǐ (lift the leg, pronounced like tway), and bai tui (bai is swing, swing the leg). You can always paste the characters in the names into the MDBG online dictionary. But again, that won’t tell you anything about how to use the sword.

It’s also good to know bu yao: It means “don’t want” so if you hear that, he’s telling you what NOT to do. Usually you can tell anyway, because he exaggerates and the error looks obviously wrong.

At about the 26:00 point in the first video, Li Deyin discusses and demonstrates the sword techniques in the first section of the form: dian, xiao, pi, lan, liao, and ci – shang ci, xia ci, ping ci, and qian ci. You can see all these terms in the names of the first 11 moves.

One note:  Peng jian means to cup/hold the (handle of the) sword with both hands, but in this kind of form, you don’t, actually. In traditional sword forms you release the left sword fingers and clasp the right hand. In this form, you just lay the sword fingers under the right hand.

At about the 36:00 point, Li discusses and demonstrates some of the footwork in the form.

Here’s a separate video showing the whole form (demonstrated by the same student) from the back: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqqKTq3Q20I

When I first learned this form, I relied on a tutorial by Amin Wu, which is also very good. The links for that are included in this post from 2016.

From these sources, I was well prepared to work with Hu Pei Yi when she came to town last winter. She’ll be back this month, which is why I am brushing up on 42-Sword right now.


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