Continuing from The Sword of Li Jinglin (1), the 1931 treatise defines 13 essential sword techniques and eight grips. In the treatise, the word 势 Shì, meaning forms or powers, is used for the sword techniques. Usually, I see the word 法 fǎ for techniques, as in:
- 剑法 Jiànfǎ – Sword techniques (jian is sword)
- 手法 Shǒufǎ – Hand positions, grips (shou is hand)
- 步法 Bùfǎ – Footwork (bu is step or stance)
Here is an interesting video demonstrating the grips and forms. The text on the screen for each technique is taken directly from the treatise and can be readily found in the Brennan translation.
In the treatise, the jianfa are described in terms of footwork, targets, and grips. They are illustrated by photographs. An interesting point: The target is most often the wrist. It can also be the head or waist or leg, but more often, it’s the wrist.
This makes sense. The hand that holds the sword (protected by the handguard) is the part of the body that is nearest to the opponent’s sword. If you can get inside the range of your opponent’s sword at all, the closest target would be his wrist.
Moreover, a cut to the wrist with a sharp blade would almost certainly damage muscle and connective tissue needed for handling the sword. If the wrist of your sword hand were cut, you would be effectively disarmed. In a serious swordfight, with a damaged wrist, you would be at your opponent’s mercy.
The grips are defined in the treatise in terms of 阴 Yīn and 阳 Yáng. Yin grips are all more or less palm-down, tiger mouth (虎口 Hǔkǒu) facing left. Yang grips are palm-up, tiger mouth facing right.
in the middle (中 Zhōng), where the yin side meets the yang side, the tiger mouth points straight up or down. The grip that points up (palm facing left) is called 中阴 Zhōng Yīn. Point the sword straight down (palm facing right) and the grip is called 中阳 Zhōng Yáng.
Brennan explains the grips in terms of a clock face. The Tai Yin (fully Yin, palm-down) grip points the sword to 9 o’clock. Tai Yang (fully Yang, palm-up) points to 3:00. Zhong Yin points to 12:00, Zhong Yang points to 6:00. The grips that tip upward, to 10:30 and 1:30, are called 少 Shào Yin or Yang; those that tip downward are called 老 Lǎo Yin or Yang.
Starting with the arm rotated all the way inward, so the palm faces right and the sword points down, as you slowly rotate your arm outward, you would pass through the eight grips in this order:
- 中阳 Zhōng Yáng – 6:00, hukou facing down, palm facing right
- 老阴 Lǎo Yīn – 7:30, hukou facing lower left corner, palm facing lower right corner
- 太阴 Tài Yīn – 9:00, hukou facing left, palm-down, level
- 少阴 Shào Yīn – 10:30, hukou facing upper left corner, palm facing lower left
- 中阴 Zhōng Yīn – 12:00, hukou facing up, palm facing left
- 少阳 Shào Yáng – 1:30, hukou facing upper right corner, palm facing upper left
- 太阳 Tài Yáng – 3:00, hukou facing right, palm-up, level
- 老阳 Lǎo Yáng – 4:30, hukou facing lower right corner, palm facing upper right
At Lao Yang, your arm is rotated all the way out as far as it can go. To go from Lao Yang back to Zhong Yang, you would have to flip your wrist over. These grips are demonstrated at the beginning of the video above.
Working my way through the treatise, I am reminded of a saying: “The more I learn the less I know.” I expected the techniques described in the treatise to correspond neatly to the techniques named in 32-sword. They do not.
The thirteen forms or jianfa are:
- 抽 Chōu (draw) can be 上 Shǎng (upward) or 下 Xià (downward)
- 帯 Dài (drag) can be 直 Zhí (vertical) or 平 Píng (level)
- 提 Tí (lift, carry) can be 向前 Xiàngqián (forward) or 后 Hòu (backward)
- 格 Gé* (block) can be 下 Xià (downward) or 翻 Fān (overturned)
- 击 Jī* (strike, hit) can be 正 Zhèng (upright) or 反 Fǎn (reverse)
- 刺 Cì* (stab) can be 侧 Cè (upright) or 平 Píng (level)
- 点 Diǎn (tap)
- 崩 Bēng (flick) can be 正 Zhèng (vertical) or 翻 Fān (overturned)
- 劈 Pī (chop)
- 截 Jié (intercept) can be 平 Píng (level), 左 Zuǒ (left), 右 Yòu, (right), or 反 Fǎn (reverse)
- 搅 Jiǎo can be 横 Hèng (horizontal) or 直 Zhí (vertical)
- 压 Yā (press)
- 洗 Xǐ* (clear)
*Asterisks denote the original four techniques taught by Li Jinglin’s Wudang Master Song Wei Yi.
An interesting point: we are told that beng and dian use energy directly from the dantian, as opposed to energy that issues through the legs, waist, and arms. The instruction for dian says that the body and arm should not move; only the hand (wrist) causes the sword to tap. It is the same for flicking (beng).
I note one discrepancy in the otherwise helpful video above: Chou is demonstrated both right and left. As I read the treatise, Chou is always to the right, an outside movement, away from the body. Dai is always to the left, an inside movement across the body. I have not had instruction in this sytem of swordfighting, so that’s just my reading of the treatise.
Next: Stages of training and sparring sets.