Chinese for the Sword

In trying to learn the descriptive names for 32-sword, I’ve added some new vocabulary. Of course, jian is sword. A number of the new words describe stances.

Sifu Amin Wu demonstrates 32-sword

Sifu Amin Wu demonstrates 32-sword

  • Gong Bu – Bow stance
  • Ma Bu – Horse stance
  • Xu Bu – Empty stance (aka cat stance)
  • Pu Bu – Half-squat (I think; squat with one leg extended)
  • Xie Bu – Cross stance
  • Bing Bu – Feet together

Then there are words for moving this way and that, which I’ve also encountered in empty-hand forms:

  • Jin Bu – Advance (a step)
  • Tui Bu – Step back
  • Xia Bu – Step down
  • Shang Bu – Step up

More specific to sword play:

  • Ci – Stab
  • Dian – Point
  • Sao – Sweep
  • Dai – Carry
  • Pi – Chop
  • Lun – Wheel or whirl
  • Chou – Withdraw
  • Liao – Lift
  • Lan – Block

Here’s a good dictionary, by the way: MDBG English to Chinese.

Names for 32-Sword

Names of movements can be either poetic or descriptive, and in the case of 32-sword, there are two completely different lists of the same routine.

photo (15)

The list I gave in an earlier post on 32-sword is useful because so many of the movements also occur in the traditional and the standardized long sword forms. However, I’m trying to learn the descriptive list–in Chinese–because these are the names that my Chinese friends use. They are also the names called out in the music we use.

Here’s a nice web page: Tai Chi Central offers both lists in English. But I need Chinese. And not just any Chinese version (such as I might generate with a dictionary), but the one my friends use.

Luckily, they’ve given me this beautiful written transcript (above). Working out the correct Pinyin from these characters has been a most entertaining exercise! I’m almost there.

Below, the English is not word for word; I’ve rendered it a little more idiomatic. The Tai Chi Central page helped with this.

  1. 并 步 点 剑 Bing bu dian jian – Feet together point sword
  2. 独立反刺 Du li fan ci – Stand on one leg stab overhead
  3. 仆 步 ? 扫 Pu bu hen sao – Half-squat and sweep
  4. 向 右 平 带 Xiang you ping dai – Carry level on the right
  5. 向 左 平 带 Xiang Zuo ping dai – Carry level on the left
  6. 独立抡劈 Du li lun pi – stand on one leg whirl chop
  7. 退 步 回 抽 Tui bu hui chou – Step back circle withdraw
  8. 独立上 刺 Du li shang ci – Stand on one leg stab up
  9. 虚 步 下 戳 Xu bu xia chuo – Empty stance downwards cut
  10. 左 弓 步 刺 Zuo gong bu ci – Left bow stance stab
  11. 转 身 斜 带 Zhuan shen xie dai – Turn body carry across
  12. ? 身 斜 带 Shuo (?) shen xie dai – Carry across body (?)
  13. 提 膝 捧 剑 Ti xi peng jian – Lift knee hold sword both hands
  14. 跳 步 平 刺 Tiao bu ping ci – Falling step level stab
  15. 左虚 步 撩 Zuo xu bu liao – Left cat stance lift
  16. 右 弓 步 撩 You gong bu liao – Right bow stance lift
  17. 转 身 回 抽 Zhuan shen hui chou – Turn body circle withdraw
  18. 并 步 平 刺 Bing bu ping ci – Feet together level stab
  19. 左 弓 步 拦 Zuo gong bu lan – Left bow stance parry
  20. 右弓 步 拦 You gong bu lan – Right bow stance parry
  21. 左 弓 步 拦 Zuo gong bu lan – Left bow stance parry
  22. 進 步反刺 Jin bu fan ci – Advance step stab overhead
  23. 反 身回 劈 Fan shen hui pi – Turn back circle chop
  24. 虚 步 点 剑 Xu bu dian jian – Empty stance point sword
  25. 独立平 托 Du li ping tuo – Stand on one leg lift hilt
  26. 弓 步 掛 剑 Gong bu gua jian – Bow stance wheel sword back
  27. 虚 步 抡 劈 Xu bu lun pi – Whirl and chop to empty stance
  28. 撤 步 反 击 Che bu fan ji – Withdraw step and slash right
  29. 進 步 平 刺 Jin bu ping ci – Step forward level stab
  30. 丁 步 回 抽 Ding bu hui chou – Fourth step circle withdraw
  31. ? 转 平? Xieng zhuan ping me – Turn level…what???? Step around, carrying level*
  32. 弓 步 直 刺 Gong bu zhi ci – Bow stance straight stab

This is all a little backwards, in that the names aren’t helping me learn the form; it’s because I know the form that I can figure out the names! But if I can understand the names in Chinese, I can follow the music. Right?

*This is what you do; cannot make sense of the characters or the Pinyin!


I often pick Long Feng up on my way to the park. When an interpreter isn’t handy, we need to be able to agree on plans.

Do you want me to pick you up tomorrow? 你要我来接你的明天?

Ni yao lai jie ni de mingtian? 


I will pick you up tomorrow.  明天我去接你

Míngtiān wǒ qù jiē nǐ.

We already know how to say next week/xiage libai and next Saturday/xiage libai liu so we can just substitute those for mingtian/tomorrow.

Will you pick me up tomorrow? 你明天来接我?

Nǐ míngtiān lái jiē wǒ?

Sometimes she comes with her husband:

You don’t need to pick me up tomorrow.  你不需要来接我的明天

Nǐ bù xūyào lái jiē wǒ de míngtiān.


And the time options are:

Seven thirty                  7:30            七点半                Qi Dian Ban

Seven forty-five            7:45           差一刻八点       Cha Yi Ke Ba Dian

Eight o’clock                 8:00           八点                    Ba Dian

That’s AM. Chinese time is on a twenty-four hour clock. And just in case:

Don’t come if it’s raining!  不来,如果下雨!

Bù lái, rúguǒ xià yǔ!

Extra credit:

Car                                                    汽车                    Qiche

Park                                                  公园                    Gong Yuan

Words of instruction

The names of some movements make reference to animals (Snake Creeps Down). Others invoke imagery (Rhinoceros Gazes at the Moon). But many are instructive: Step Up and Punch Down, for example. Here are some words that recur in the various forms, telling you what to do.

strike with heel

You Deng Jiao = Strike with heel right

Jin means advance; Bu is a step. So Jin Bu is step forward, or advance a step. Tui is step back or retreat, so Tui Bu is step back. Chui means hammer or beat with fist (maybe punch)–this being martial arts, we see a lot of chui!

  • Jin Bu Ban Lan Chui = Step forward, intercept and punch
  • Jin Bu Zai Chui = Step forward and punch down
  • Jin Bu Zhi Dang Chui = Step forward and punch to groin
  • Tui Bu Kua Hu = Step back and ride the Tiger.

The four movements that comprise Grasp the Bird’s Tail (Lan Que Wei) are Peng, Lu, Ji, and An, the first four of the eight energies: ward off, pull back, press and push. The music we practice to has someone calling the names. She says, “You Lan Que Wei: Peng, Lu, Ji, An.” That’s Grasp the Bird’s Tail on the right.

  • Lu Ji Shi = Roll back and press

Chuan is thread, pass through, or penetrate. Zhang is palm. Shou is hand. Xie is slanted or diagonal.

  • Tui Bu Chuan Zhang = Step back and pierce palm
  • Yun Shou = Cloud hands
  • Ti Shou = Lift hands
  • Xie Fei Shi = Slant flying
  • Xie Dan Bian = Diagonal single whip

Zhuan Shen is turn body.

  • Zhuan Shen Zuo Deng Jiao = Turn body left heel kick
  • Zhuan Shen Ban Lan Chui = Turn body, block, parry, punch
  • Zhuan Shen Bai Lian = Turn body and sweep the lotus

P.S. The animals I have encountered so far are He (crane), Hu (tiger), Che (bird such as sparrow or peacock), Ma (horse).

  • Bai He Liang Chi = White crane spreads wings
  • Du Li Da Hu = Stand on one leg and hit the tiger
  • You/Zuo Da Hu Shi = Right/left hit the tiger
  • Gao Tan Ma = High pat on horse
  • Ye Ma Fen Zong = Part the wild horse’s mane

P.P.S. The “Jin” in Jin Ji Du Li is not the same as the “Jin” that means advance, as in Jin Bu Ban Lan Chui. The former has a level inflection and means golden (golden rooster stands on one leg). The latter has falling inflection. In context, this is not a problem, but for me it’s hard to hear (and pronounce) the difference.

Useful Words and Phrases

These words and phrases are useful for when I’m learning and practicing Tai Chi, picking people up or driving them home in my car, and arranging future practices.

practice group

Ni Hao does fine for hello and how are you and pleased to meet you and greeting in general. Thank you is Xie Xie (sounds like shyeh shyeh).

Ming Tian Jian is “See you tomorrow!” (I say that at the end of practice on Saturday). Xiage Li Bai Jian is “See you next week.” (I say that at the end of practice on Sunday.) Jian is the “See you” part; Xiage is next.

  • Jin Tian is today
  • Ming Tian is tomorrow
  • Zuo Tian is yesterday

Days of the week are numbered starting with Monday (1) and going through Saturday (6). You prefix them with either Xing Qi (sounds like sing chee), Li Bai, or Zhou (like the name Joe). My friends use Li Bai, so Monday could be Li Bai Yi, Tuesday is Li Bai Er, Wednesday is Li Bai San. And so on. Sunday is Li Bai Tian; there are other ways of saying Sunday, but Long Feng says Li Bai Tian.

Li Bai Wu Jian would be “See you Friday.” Xiage Li Bai Liu Jian is “See you next Saturday.” We meet at 8:00 am: Ba Dian.

Apart from hello, thank you, and when we’ll next see each other, our conversations consist of reciting things like numbers or names of forms or movements (I say Chinese, she says English). Right now we’re doing days of the week. I always wondered why Long Feng counted on her fingers to recite weekdays. Because in Chinese they’re numbered!

Directions include Zuo for left, You for right, and Ting for stop. If you learn the names for Brush Knee Push, Grasp the Bird’s Tail, etc., you can expand the instructions by adding left and right. Zuo Dan Bian is left single whip (the one we usually do).

Another good instructional term is Du Li, stand on one leg. Jin Ji Du Li is Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg (add left and right!), and Du Li Da Hu is Stand on One Leg and Hit the Tiger (42-form).

Jiao is kick. Fen Jiao is the “separate right/left foot” kick or sometimes more of a snap kick. Deng Jiao is a heel kick. Add left and right and you can make your way through a kicking section.

Learning the names of the forms and movements is not an idle exercise, in my situation. It allows me to ask questions, for one thing.

For example: The Fair Ladies movement in 42-form is different from what we do in traditional Tai Chi and different also from Fair Ladies in 24-form. Knowing the names of both the form and the movement, I can say, “Long Feng! Si Shi Er ShiYu Nu Chuan Shuo?” (I throw in a little pantomime.)

It’s primitive, but it works. She says, “Ah! Ha! Ha!” (She’s not laughing; that means yes, she understands.) And she shows me how to do Fair Ladies in 42-form, patiently repeating as many times as necessary, correcting details. I have learned four new forms (and a whole new style) in the year that I’ve been working with Long Feng.

Counting and numbers

Here’s a video on counting to ten. The only hard part about learning numbers is getting the inflections right. They may be rising, falling, level or falling-rising. This is the hard part about learning how to say anything in Mandarin!

  1. Yi (level)
  2. Er (sounds like are) (falling)
  3. San (the a in sand) (level)
  4. Si (the vowel sounds sort of like the double-o in good) (falling)
  5. Wu (sounds like woh) (falling rising)
  6. Liu (sounds like leo) (falling)
  7. Qi (chee) (flat)
  8. Ba (flat)
  9. Jiu (joe) (falling rising)
  10. Shi (the vowel is close to the sound of eu in French) (rising)

Eleven is shi yi, 12 is shi er, etc. Ten plus the number. Twenty is er shi–two ten. Twenty-one would be er shi yi. It’s easy enough to extrapolate (though it would take a while to learn to count and say numbers readily).

The real pay-off to all this is that now I can say the names of the forms. We need one more tidbit, however: Shi with rising inflection is ten; shi with falling inflection means form. So shi occurs in the names of all the forms twice, pronunciation varying slightly (for those who can hear it).

Tai Chi Chuan (spelled variously as taiji quan or taiji ch’uan) means ultimate fist, but as I hear it used, taiji quan follows the empty-hand form names, while taiji jian is a sword form (jian being sword).

  • 24-form: er shi si shi taiji quan
  • 42-form: si shi er shi taiji quan
  • 32-form: san shi er shi taiji jian
  • 48-form: si shi ba shi taiji quan
  • 88-form: ba shi ba shi taiji quan

Just to add one final, random note of confusion: Bai, with falling-rising inflection, is hundred (yi bai is 100). Bai with rising inflection is white (as in crane).

Chen Short Form

While looking for the Chinese names for the movements of the Chen 38, I came across the 18-step Chen short form created in the 1990s by Grandmaster Cheng Zhenglai, who, like Cheng Jincai, studied with Grand Master Chen Zhaokui. Here’s a video of Cheng Zhenglai performing the Chen 18.

Chen 18

From the Cloud Hands discussion of this form, I’ve found the following movements common to my quarry, the Chen 38:

Buddha Stamp: Jin Gang Dao Dui
Lazy About Tying the Robe: Lan Zha Yi
Six Sealing Four Closing: Liu Feng Si Bi
Oblique Form: Xie Xing
Hidden Hand Punch: Yan Shou Hong Quan
Double Lotus Kick: Shuang Bai Jiao [I’m not sure about this one]
Cannon Fist: Dang Tou Pao

And of course a number of the names from the 38 are also in the Yang forms (Single Whip, Cloud Hands, High Pat on Horse, etc.). I am getting somewhat distracted by the different ways of Romanizing Mandarin Chinese, just because I hate to misspell, but my goal here is to be able to say the names, not write them.