Li Jinglin (1885–1931) was a military leader during China’s Warlord Era. The Qing Dynasty, China’s last, was overthrown in 1912, and regional armies controlled the country for a couple of decades after that. The political history of that period is kalaidescopic and tumultuous, and Li Jinglin was active throughout the rise and fall of the various factions.
An accomplished and influential grandmaster of martial arts, Li is best known to those of us who study Tai Chi as China’s greatest swordsman. Li was schooled in the martial arts from childhood and learned sword as a young man from the great Wudang Grandmaster Song Wei Yi. Li became the 10th generation lineage holder of Wudang Dan Pai Sword.
Li also studied the sword of Yang Luchan by way of Yang’s sons and collaborated with masters of many other sword traditions, testing and selecting the most effective swordfighting techniques. Among Li’s closest associates were Yang Chengfu, Li Yulin (same surname, no relation), and Sun Lutang. Li Tianji, son of Li Yulin, was trained according to Li Jinglin’s teachings and later created the modern 32-step Yang-style sword form.
Li’s Wudang master, Song Wei Yi, was the first to create a manual for Wudang Dan Pai Sword. This manual was published in 1923 in Beijing and widely promoted and amplified by Li Jinglin. A disciple of Li Jinglin, Huang Yuanxiu, published a new, illustrated edition of the manual, Essentials of the Wudang Sword Art, in Shanghai in 1931, the year of Li’s death. The various sword techniques are demonstrated by Huang and another Li disciple, Chu Guitang, in photographs.
The Wudang Sword Treatise, while based on the art of Song Wei Yi, represents the culmination of Li Jinglin’s wide-ranging lifelong practice. Paul Brennan provides a translation of this work, along with the photographs:
At the beginning of the treatise, in his own calligraphy, Li Jinglin writes:
“The key in sword practice is that your body moves like a swimming dragon, never coming to a halt. After practicing over a long period, your body will unite with your sword, then your sword will merge with your spirit. There will be no sword anywhere, and everywhere there will be a sword.”
Read more about the life and times of Li Jinglin:
Next: notes on the substance of the treatise.