24 Taiji Jian

A friend in my practice group comes back from Beijing with the most interesting forms. This time it’s 24-sword. I haven’t been able to find out much about it, except that it seems to be relatively new (2001?) and allegedly contains 16 sword techniques (jianfa)(I count 12) and 10 kinds of step. I’m using this video:

jutui24

I’ve come up with a list of the 24 movements. Some of them sound simple (#13 gong bu ci jian, for example) but involve quite complicated transitions. According to one page, it’s a Yang-style form, but it looks combined to me.

Here’s the list:

  1. 起势 Qǐshì
  2. 白鹤亮翅 Bái hè lìang chì
  3. 并步点剑 Bìng bù diǎn jiàn
  4. 野马跳剑 Yé mǎ tiào jiàn
  5. 歇步刺剑 Xiē bù cì jiàn
  6. 勾腿劈剑 Gōu tuǐ pī jiàn
  7. 虚步点剑 Xū bù diǎn jiàn
  8. 上步搅剑 Shàng bù jiǎo jiàn
  9. 弓步刺剑 Gōng bù cì jiàn
  10. 架剑蹬脚 Jià jiàn dēng jiǎo
  11. 独立点剑 Dúlì diǎn jiàn
  12. 弓步斜削 Gōng bù xiē xiāo
  13. 弓步刺剑 Gōng bù cì jiàn
  14. 阵脚刺剑 Zhèn jiǎo cì jiàn
  15. 转身抹剑 Zhuǎn shēn mǒ jiàn
  16. 架剑举腿 Jià jiàn jǔ tuǐ
  17. 马步推剑 Mǎ bù tuī jiàn
  18. 弓步刺剑 Gōng bù cì jiàn
  19. 马步扎剑 Mǎ bù zhā jiàn
  20. 弓步斜削 Gōng bù xiē xiāo
  21. 叉 步穿剑 Chǎ bù chuān jiàn
  22. 弓步和剑 Gōng bù hé jiàn
  23. 虛 步穿剑 Xū bù chuān jiàn
  24. 收势 Shōu shì

Chen Sword (49-step)

My class at Master Gohring’s Tai Chi and Kung Fu is reviewing Chen sword, and I’ve been searching out the names of the movements. The form we do is the late Grandmaster Cheng Jincai’s version, and here he is performing it (this is the only video I know of):

Chen Zhenglei’s version is more widely known and practiced, and there’s plenty of video for that. Here video of Chen Zhenglei performing Chen Sword:

chaoyang-jiajian

Chen Zhenglei (Chau Yang)

In addition, I’ve found a series of short videos in which Chen Zhenglei goes through the form a few moves at a time, with names and some instruction. The videos are in Chinese, but with a list of names and a modest vocabulary for sword techniques and stances, etc., I find I can understand quite a bit.

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4ef-8oCcIU (Moves 1-10)
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNta5a-lfhA (Moves 11-21)
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESnV8IVL0xA (Moves 22-28)
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7nkgG6QDNg (Moves 29-37)
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cd3MDlS-Q7k (Moves 38-44)
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bF-A8TJ1pCM (Moves 45-49)

A major difference between the two versions is the opening (起势 Qǐshì), which is basically everything up to taking the sword in the right hand. Another difference: In the early move called Protect the Knees (hu xi), Chen Zhenglai travels, while Cheng Jincai does not. A thorough comparison will take me a while yet. Anyway, the list of names seems to work for both.

The form has 49 steps; it is called 陈氏太极剑四十九式 (Chén shì tàijí jiàn sì shí jiǔ shì): Chen Style Tai Chi Sword 49-step form. The list:

ChenSword List of Movements (PDF)

I arrived at the list above by transcribing from the six videos. I also referred to the list of moves on Chen Bing’s excellent website (ChenBing.org). The Chinese on that list is all good, the Pinyin not so much—numerous typos, at least according to the dictionary I use (MDBG). I rely heavily on Pinyin, so I worked out my own. The English translations are mine and are not guaranteed (or even likely) to be accurate! This form is not so well known that there are established English names. As usual, I prefer to learn the Chinese.

By the way, Zhong Kui (鍾馗)  is the Ghost King (vanquisher of ghosts).  Luóhàn (罗汉) is Arhat, an enlightened person in Buddhism, one who has reached nirvana.     Yèchā (夜叉) is a malevolent spirt, Nézha (哪吒) is the protection deity, and Wéi Tuó (韦驼), aka Skanda, is one of eight divine protectors in Chinese Buddhism.

Chen ZiQiang also offers a step-by-step instructional video on YouTube, with names. I have elsewhere linked to a good (eye-opening!) article about him from KungFuMagazine,com: WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A TAIJI MASTER IN CHEN VILLAGE.

At about 5:40, he lists the nine sword techniques (Jian fa) in the Chen system: beng, gua, liao, pi, ci, dian, tuo, jia, and sao. So, for example, the instruction for Chau Yang is jia jian (the overhead block pictured above).

One last resource, which I think I’ll turn to after my class finishes its review of this form, is Jesse Tsao, who offers an English instructional video which can be downloaded or streamed.

Jesse is a lineage-holding Chen Master under Chen Zhenglai, so he is teaching that version of the form. I find that his videos are well worth the reasonable cost.

8 and 16 Forms

I found an interesting free local Tai Chi class taught by a Taiwanese gentleman in his seventies. I think he’s very good. He teaches the curriculum that begins with 8 forms, and then 16 forms, before proceeding to 24. I’ve already gotten some great corrections from him. It’s a rigorous class.

8formsaminwu

Since I know 24 pretty well, learning 8 and 16 is just a matter of learning the sequences. There’s plenty of good video. The person demo-ing in the video pictured above looks like Amin Wu.

The eight forms are:

  1. Dao Juan Gong (R/L) [Reverse Reeling Forearm*]
  2. Lou Xi Au Bu (R/L)  [Brush Knee Push]
  3. Ye Ma Fen Zong  (L/R) [Part the Wild Horse’s Mane]
  4. Yun Shou (L/R) [Cloud Hands]
  5. Jin Ji Du Li (R/L) [Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg]
  6. Deng Jiao (R/L) [Heel Kick]
  7. Lan Que Wei (R/L) [Grasp the Bird’s Tail]
  8. Shi Zi Shou [Cross Hands]

Notes: Dao Juan Gong is performed in place. Both Lou Xi Au Bu and Ye Ma Fen Zong have a 180-degree turn. Yun Shou is one step left, one step right.

*I don’t use Repulse Monkeys because when you add the footwork, it won’t be the same as the traditional form with that name. Besides, this is the more accurate translation. Repulse Monkeys would be Dao Nian Hou, which is the name used in the old form. That said, a lot of people would call this Repulse Monkeys. Avoid confusion; use the Chinese.

The sixteen forms are:

  1. Qishi
  2. Ye Ma Fen Zong (L/R) [Part the Wild Horse’s Mane]
  3. Bai He Liang Chi [White Crane Spreads Wings]
  4. Lou Xi Au Bu (R/L) [Brush Knee Push]
  5. Jin Bu Ban Lan Chui [Step Forward Block Parry Punch]
  6. Ru Feng Si Bi [Apparent Closing**]
  7. Dan Bian  [Single Whip]
  8. Shou Hui Pipa [Play the Lute]
  9. Dao Juan Gong (L/R) [See above*]
  10. Yu Nu Chuan Suo (L/R) [Fair Lady Works Shuttle]
  11. Hai Di Zhen [Needle at Sea Bottom]
  12. Shan Tong Bi [Flash the Back]
  13. Yun Shou [Cloud Hands]
  14. Lan que wei (R/L) [Grasp the Bird’s Tail]
  15. Shizi Shou [Cross Hands]
  16. Shou Shi

I used this video to get the sequence. Hai Di Zhen and Shan Tong Bi are both on the left, opposite of 24, which feels pretty strange. This, by the way, is a pipa, a Chinese lute:

pipa

**AKA Withdraw and Push, an accurate description but not an accurate translation.

Chinese Swordsmanship

I have been studying such an interesting book: Chinese Swordsmanship, by Scott Rodell.

swordsmanship

Rodell describes two systems of swordfighting, both attributed to Yang Luchan (1799-1872), the founder of Yang-style Tai Chi and of the Yang sword form. During the early years of his career (mid-nineteenth century) Yang Luchan kept his swordfighting techniques secret. That Yang system, and the sword form that demonstrates it, Rodell calls the Michuan system.

秘传 Mìchuán: “secretly transmitted, esoteric lore”

The Yang sword form most of us are familiar with, which Rodell calls the public form, was a later development.  The Michuan system has eight named swordfighting techniques (剑法 Jiànfǎ).  The public form has thirteen.

This clears up a mystery for me: I had always heard there were thirteen essential swordfighting techniques, yet the Chen masters seem to name only eight and the Wudang masters nine. So apparently, the number of Jiànfǎ  depends on what system you’re talking about; it is the Yang sword system that has thirteen.

There is still plenty of room for confusion (on my part) and further study. In some cases the same technique has different names in different systems; in other cases, the same name attaches to different techniques in different systems. Rodell does include a chapter on other swordfighting systems, though it is not exhaustive by any means.

The Yang techniques are: dian, ci, pi, beng, ya, chou, dai, ti, ge, ji, jiao, jie, and xi. Rodell describes how each is executed, and while I don’t suppose it’s possible to learn the techniques entirely from these descriptions, they are very useful.

What is also helpful is the way he categorizes the different techniques, beyond the obvious distinction between attacking and defensive maneuvers. He describes the Jiànfǎ in terms of long, medium, or short energy, the part of the sword being used, and the part of the body targeted.

Rodell also sorts Jiànfǎ  by cutting method, of which there are four: deflect or neutralize; straight thrust to pierce; what he calls a “percussion cut” (a chop with the edge of the blade without a lateral draw); and slicing cuts that draw or push the edge lateral to the cut. Hitting with the flat of the blade is in a  miscellaneous category of additional “minor movements” not really part of the system.

The book includes step-by-step illustrations and descriptions of the both the Michuan and public sword forms. It is particularly illuminating is that he provides the applications for each movement. In many, if not most cases, a single named movement involves multiple techniques.

I particularly like the way Rodell relates the sword forms to the use of the sword in actual battle, and the historical material makes very good reading. He even briefly comments on the comparison between Chinese and European swordsmanship. Between the definitions of the techniques, the applications, and the illustrations of how to do the form, history, philosophy, metallurgy, and accounts of Rodell’s own extensive training experience, this is quite a dense book, more a reference or text than a cover-to-cover read. Excellent book, a great find —highly recommended!

Yang-style 56-sword

Fifty-six sword is the standardized version of Yang sword taught in China today. I am confused by the number of Yang sword forms I see, not only in videos but in practice. However, this is one version that I can pin down. Last year, I worked my way roughly through the sequence, using an excellent demonstration video by Fan Xue Ping, but although I got to where I could follow my practice group, I am not at all satisfied. I’d like to get to the next level.

56fish

One good reason for learning the Chinese names of the forms is that you can Google them and come up with all sorts of videos and information that you can’t find by searching on the English. The name for this form is 杨式五十六式太极剑 (Yáng Shì 56 Shì tàijí jiàn). I’ve found not only a list of the names, but also an entire series of instructional videos by Li Deyin AND music with oral commands! I’ll be working my way through all of this material over the summer.

As for the list of names, there are two. What I am posting here is a PDF of the traditional (or poetic) names. As with 32-sword, there are also instructional names. In most cases, those names consist of the stance and the sword technique. So, for example, Dà Kuíxīng shi is the traditional name for the movement we call the Major Literary Star (or the Big Dipper). The instructional name is Dúlì fǎn cì—stand on one leg and reverse-stab [overhead].

PDF: 56-sword Poetic Names of Movements

The links to the instructional videos are below in order. They are in Chinese, of course. But even though I understand only a bit of what he says, I learn from his gestures and demonstrations of particular moves, and from watching the repeated demonstrations by his student. It helps to know bùyāo (don’t want)—which is what he says when demonstrating what you should NOT do.

The first video is mainly lecture, so much of the content is lost on me. There are Chinese subtitles; I would love to know what they say! I tried capturing and deciphering a few, but that proved much too difficult. Sometimes these videos take a long time to load.

  1. About sword
  2. Moves 1-3
  3. Moves 4-7
  4. Moves 8-13
  5. Moves 14-20
  6. Moves 21-25
  7. Moves 26-31
  8. Moves 32-38
  9. Moves 39-47
  10. Moves 48-56

The word for music is Yīnyuè. My Chinese friends love to practice with music and have music for all the forms they know. When learning, trying to get the movements and the form right, of course it’s best to work mainly without music. But music makes group practice fun.

I especially like music that includes the names of the movements. Hearing the names helps me learn the Chinese, and the oral commands are good for pacing and repetition. The music is often a bit too fast (太快! Tài kuài! Too fast!), especially for the sword forms. But even that is good for getting the sequence thoroughly ingrained. If you know the form well enough you can keep up.

I added 音乐口令  Yīnyuè Kǒulìng (music with oral commands) to the end of the name of the form to get this: 杨式五十六式太极剑音乐口令, Googled,  and lo and behold I found nice music for 56-sword with the traditional names for all the moves! Here it is:

Yīnyuè Kǒulìng for 56-sword (for download)

I have edited the list of names to agree with the oral commands in the music, and they also agree with the names in the instructional videos (with one or two minor deviations). So between the videos, the music, and the list of names, I have all I need to learn 56-sword as well as I can without an instructor. And of course I am also fortunate to have a practice group with at least one member  who has learned the form from a master and can lead pretty reliably. So this is my summer project for 2017.

Yang Sword Names

I’ve compiled a list of names for the traditional Yang-style sword form, sticking pretty close to the version that I’m learning. I made reference to several lists that I found online, and chose what seemed to me the best English translations (sometimes using my own).

A few comments on the names:

Kui_Xing_bronze_statue_(late_Ming_Dynasty)It might seem odd that the movement called the Big Dipper is also called the Major Literary Star, but in Chinese, they are the same name: Kuíxīng [phonetically, kway-shing].  In English, Orion is both the mythical hunter and the constellation; in Chinese, Kuixing is like that.

[Photo of bronze Kuixing by Pratyeka – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45370878]

Kuixing was a great scholar (hence, literary star) who was so repulsively ugly that the emperor wouldn’t give him the honors he deserved. He was so dejected that he threw himself into the ocean. A sea dragon rescued him and took him to live in the heavens. Visit the excellent Cloud Hands blog for an entertaining description of Kuixing, Yèchā the evil or malevolent spirit, and other mythical figures.

大Dà  is big or great; Da Kuixing is the Big Dipper (Major Literary Star). 小Xiǎo is small;  Xiao Kuixing is the Little Dipper (Minor Literary Star).

A couple of minor notes on translation: Língmāo, which is sometimes translated as alert cat, is an arboreal cat called a civet. Shǔ can be either a mouse or a rat. So Lingmau shu is sometimes translated as Civet Catches Rat in English.

Also, the list makes reference to both 大鹏 Dà Péng and 凤凰 Fèng Huáng. The former refers to a giant legendary bird, while the latter usually refers to the Phoenix. Sometimes one or the other is translated as Roc. I’ve translated both as Phoenix.

Often the poetic names of the sword movements turn out to be idiomatic or figurative expressions in Chinese. Qīng tíng diǎn shuǐ (Dragonfly Touches Water), for example, is an idiom for superficial contact.

Xuán yá lè mǎ (often just lè mǎ, Stop the Horse) has the sense of reining in a horse at the edge of the precipice; it is an idiom for acting in the nick of time.  I particularly like this one, because the move is an about-face, which suggests turning to face an opponent just in time to defend oneself.

Shùn shuǐ tuī zhōu (Push boat with Current) is an expression for taking advantage of a situation for one’s own benefit. Sort of like catching and riding a wave.

Liú Xīng gǎn yuè (Shooting star catches the moon), literally a meteor catching up with the moon, is an idiom for swift, decisive action.

Tiān mǎ xíng kōng (Heavenly Steed Crosses the Sky) is an idiom for bold, imaginative action. In writing and calligraphy, this expression describes an unconstrained, expressive style. Some words for sword techniques, most notably dian, ti, and hua, are also names of pen or brush strokes in calligraphy and painting.

My favorite name is Hǎi dǐ lāo yuè (Scoop the Moon from the Bottom of the Sea).  The image is that of trying to get hold of the moon by grasping at its reflection in water—an idiom for the hopeless pursuit of an illusion. What we might call a wild goose chase.

Incidentally (on the subject of names that are idioms in Chinese), 海底针 Hǎi dǐ zhēn, Needle at Sea Bottom (which is not in this form but in many others) is like our expression, needle in a haystack, for trying to find a tiny thing lost in a huge mass.

Yang Sword Videos

I am returning to Yang sword after first learning (most of) it about four years ago. Since then, I have learned several modern sword forms, which makes for some interesting comparisons. More on that in the future.

There are many variations on this traditional form; I haven’t found a video yet (outside of those made at Master Gohring’s school) that is exactly like what we do. None of the many versions are exactly like each other, either. Here is a very old video of Cheng Man Ching:

 

I notice that many, if not most, versions move a little more quickly than we do, with distinct jabs and stabs. An exception is this excellent Yang-style Tai Chi Sword with Chinese  names of movements on the screen:

I also particularly like the video by Peter Tam Hoy doing a version that is pretty close to ours, first on the list below. The clip by Jesse Tsao is part of a longer instructional video available on his website, taichihealthways.com.

Videos of Yang-style Tai Chi Sword:

In Chinese the form is called Yáng-shì tàijíjiàn (Yang-style Tai Chi sword). 杨 is the character for the surname Yang. It may be followed by either this character: 式 (which means style) or this one: 氏 (which means clan or family). The Pinyin (shì) is the same.