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.

Huawu Fan Last Moves

The movements in the last section of Zhongji Huawu Fan are listed below, and I’ve made a PDF of the whole thing. Meanwhile, I have come across a video of Amin Wu doing a beautiful short (9-step) fan form (in an exceptionally beautiful Tai Chi uniform!). The form doesn’t start until about the one-minute mark, and it lasts only a minute.


The proper name of Huawu fan is 中級華武四十二式太極扇:  Zhōngjí huá wǔ sìshí èr shì tàijí shàn (Mid-level Huawu 42-style Tai Chi Fan). Huá means flowery or magnificent; Wǔ means martial. Here’s a great article about Grandmaster Zeng (who created Huawu Fan) from KungFuMagazine.com

By the way, I have found a great way to type Pinyin–visit Pinyintones.com. It’s a keyboard input feature that is easily turned off and on by toggling the language band icon on the task bar. When it’s turned on, you can type (for example) zhu1 for the long accent (zhū), Ye2 for the rising accent (Yé), shou3 for the down-up accent (shǒu), and fen4 for the falling accent (fèn).

Huawu fan section four:

  1. 野马跳涧 Yé mǎ tiào jiàn: Wild Horse Leaps the Ravine
  2. 狮子托珠 Shīzi tuō zhū: Lion Holds a Pearl
  3. 骏马奋蹄 Jùnmǎ fèn tí: Noble Steed Raises its Hoof
  4. 金鸡抖翎 Jīn jī dǒu líng: Golden Rooster Shakes its Tail Feathers
  5. 太公钓鱼 Tàigōng diào yú: Great Grandfather Goes Fishing
  6. 雄鹰展翅 Xióngyīng zhǎn chì: Eagle Spreads Wings
  7. 飞凤回首 Fēi fèng huíshǒu: Flying Phoenix Turns Head
  8. 游龙戏水 Yóu lóng xì shuǐ: Wandering Dragon Plays in the Water
  9. 仙女指路 Xiānnǚ zhǐlù: Spirit Woman Shows the Way
  10. 收势 Shōu shì: Closing Form

And here is the printable list of all 42 movements: huawufan (PDF).

Hua Wu Fan §3

I am loving Hua Wu Fan, now learning section three, which includes the Weeping Willow, the Drunken Beauty and the Moon Goddess, Cháng’é, who flies to the moon (below):


Here are the names for the third section:

  1. 迎月花开 Yíng yuè huā kāi: Flower Opens to the Moon
  2. 白蛇吐信 Bái shé tǔ xìn: White Snake Sticks out its Tongue
  3. 玉女穿梭 Yùnǚ chuān suō: Fair Lady Works the Shuttles
  4. 迎风掸尘 Yíng fēng dǎn chén: Face the Wind and Brush Away Dust
  5. 海底捞针 Hǎi dǐ tàn zhēn:  Search the Bottom of the Sea
  6. 二龙戏珠 èr lóng xì zhū: Two Dragons Play with a Pearl
  7. 青蛇出洞 Qīng shé chū dòng: Bluegreen Snake Leaves the Cave
  8. 倒挂垂柳 Dàoguà chuíliǔ: Weeping Willow Hangs Down
  9. 贵妃醉酒 Guìfēi zuìjiǔ: The Drunken Beauty [Beijing Opera!]
  10. 嫦娥奔月Cháng’é bènyuè: Moon Goddess Flies to the Moon
  11. 拨云观日 Bō yún guān rì:  Part the Clouds to See the Sun
  12. 蛟龙翻身 Jiāolóng fānshēn: Flood Dragon Turns Over

According to Pengyou Taiji Quan (Friends of Tai Chi), Zhongji Hua Wu Shan is taught at the Huawu Gongfu Centre (no website) in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian Province in China, north of Guangdong, south of Shanghai.

I’ve noted elsewhere that this form was created by martial arts coach Zeng Nai Liang and Hu senior lecturer Wei Xianglian. I see that Master Zeng, one of the top ten martial arts  coaches in China, visited Jason Leung’s academy right here in Texas in 2011. So sorry I missed that!

Silk Reeling

During a recent spell of bad weather, I was looking for Tai Chi that I could practice in a small space, inside. Of course, Ba Duan Jin and Nei Kung are good for that. But also, silk reeling exercises are an excellent workout, especially for the legs, as well as good practice for improving all of the Chen empty-hand forms.

Chen Bing explains the most basic silk reeling exercise in a short video that has English captions: Chen Bing one-hand outward chan si jing.


Chen Bing demonstrates Silk Reeling

An article in Wikipedia explains the principle that gives this kind of exercise its name, Chán sī jīng (纏絲精). Chan means winding or spiraling, and si means silk or thread.

“The name derives from the twisting and spiraling movements of the silkworm larva as it wraps itself in its cocoon [and the action of reeling the silk for thread]. In order to draw out the silk successfully the action must be smooth and consistent without jerking or changing direction sharply. Too fast, the silk breaks, too slow, it sticks to itself and becomes tangled.”

Chen Xiaowang  lectures and demonstrates at length (45 minutes) in his video on silk reeling. English subtitles help, though I’m sure we miss a lot not understanding the Chinese. It would take a lot of patience to work through this video; I confess I haven’t done it. Yet.


Chen Xiaowang on Silk Reeling

For a great crash course, Jesse Tsao demonstrates a number of silk reeling variations in a short clip on YouTube from his full-length video on silk reeling, available on his Taichihealthways website.  I haven’t seen the full video, but I have several of his other instructional DVDs , and they’re good—all in English, too.

Here are eight variations I used from those Master Tsao demonstrates:

  1. One hand outward (across the top palm down)
  2. One hand inward (across the top palm up)
  3. Two hands inward (like Brush Knee Push)
  4. Two hands outward (like Cloud Hands)
  5. Two hands outward (opening)
  6. Two hands inward (closing)
  7. Two-hand blocking left and right
  8. Forward and backward (like Dao Juan Gong)

The Drunken Concubine

It is a most enjoyable challenge figuring out the Chinese names for movements, more fun than working the NYT Sunday crossword puzzle. For Huawu Fan I have an English translation, typically loose, and a fuzzy image of the Chinese characters. I am amazed every time I come up with the name, especially when random characters snap together to form a well-known phrase.

For example, the English-only list for Huawu Fan says #29 is “Concubine gets drunk on wine.” I have this image from the video:

I look up wine (红酒) and drunk  (醉) in the dictionary and ID two of the characters in the image.  I look up concubine and get this 妾, which is not what I see. I successfully draw the character I see and get this: 妃 (Imperial Concubine). I am stumped by the remaining character.

After several attempts, I draw what looks right: 贵. It means expensive, so I’m not sure. But when I assemble the four characters in order (贵妃醉酒) and enter them in the dictionary, presto! The dictionary recognizes the name of a Qing Dynasty Beijing opera Guìfēi Zuìjiǔ known as The Drunken Beauty.


See the name? It’s the four characters I’m looking for. Forget the English, the move is called Guìfēi Zuìjiǔ, after the opera. Roughly phonetically gway fay jway joe. And here she is, the Drunken Beauty, reeling away in Huawu fan:


That name is in section 3. Here are the names for section 2. I am coming to appreciate this performer’s precise execution of the form: 中級華武四十二式太極扇.

  1. 青龙出水 Qīng lóng chū shuǐ – Bluegreen Dragon Emerges the Water
  2. 彩蝶飞舞 Cǎi dié fēi wǔ – Colorful Butterfly Flutters in the Breeze
  3. 弯弓射雕 Wān gōng shè diāo – Bend Bow Shoot Vulture
  4. 翻江倒海 Fān jiāng dào hǎi – Overturn the Rivers and Oceans
  5. 怀中揽月 Huái zhōng lǎn yuè – Embrace the Moon
  6. 燕子抄水 Yànzi chāo shuǐ – Swallow Skims the Water
  7. 金鸡独立 Jīn jī dúlì – Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg
  8. 风卷荷叶 Fēng juǎn hé yè – The Wind Curls the Lotus Leaf
  9. 顺水推舟 Shùn shuǐ tuī zhōu – Push Boat with Current
  10. 白鹤亮翅 Bái hè lìang chì – White Crane Spreads Wings
  11. 羽扇划江 Yǔ Shàn huá jiāng – Feathered Fan Paddles the River
  12. 仙女观灯 Xiānnǚ guān dēng – Spirit Woman Gazes at a Lantern

As with other fan forms, this one includes a number of names familiar from sword forms, with the fan movements mimicking swordplay. And where the sword forms feature Xianren, the Immortal, the fan form names Xiannu, the Spirit Woman.

Interesting to note that 顺水推舟 (Shun shui tui zhou), push boat with current, is an idiomatic expression for taking advantage of a situation. Turning events to one’s own benefit. Pushing the boat with the current!

42-Sword Names

There are any number of nice videos of 42-sword being performed in tournaments. I especially like this one:


I have put together a list of names of the 42 movements. I couldn’t find a list in Chinese (I could if I could read and write Chinese for real) so I worked backwards from English and listened to Master Wu’s instructions. I’m pretty sure this is right. Most of the vocabulary is familiar from stances and sword techniques as well as 32-sword and Wudang Tai Chi sword.

  1. 起势 Qǐshì
  2. 并步点剑 Bìng bù diǎn jiàn
  3. 弓步削剑 Gōng bù xiāo jiàn [xiao=diagonal upward slash]
  4. 提膝劈剑 Tí xī pī jiàn
  5. 左弓步拦 Zuǒ gōng bù Lán
  6. 左虚步撩 Zuǒ xū bù liāo
  7. 右弓步撩 Yòu gōng bù liāo
  8. 提膝捧剑 Tí xī pěng jiàn  [peng=cup hold with both hands]
  9. 蹬脚前刺 Dēng jiǎo qián cì
  10. 跳步平刺 Tiào bù píng cì
  11. 转身下刺 Zhuǎn shēn xià cì
  12. 弓步平斩 Gōng bù píng zhǎn [zhan=slash or behead]
  13. 弓步崩剑 Gōng bù bēng jiàn
  14. 歇步压剑 Xiē bù yā jiàn
  15. 進步搅剑 Jìn bù jiǎo jiàn [jiao is a stirring motion)
  16. 提膝上刺 Tí xī shàng cì [ti xi=duli]
  17. 虚步下截 Xū bù xià jié
  18. 右左平带 Yòu zuǒ píng dài
  19. 弓步劈剑 Gōng bù pī jiàn
  20. 丁步托剑 Dīng bù tuō jiàn
  21. 分脚后点 Fēn jiǎo hòu diǎn [hou=back; hou dian=point back]
  22. 仆步穿剑 Pū bù chuān jiàn
  23. 蹬脚架剑 Dēng jiǎo jià jiàn
  24. 提膝点剑 Tí xī diǎn jiàn
  25. 仆步横扫 Pū bù héng sǎo
  26. 右左弓步下截 Yòu zuǒ gōng bù xià jié
  27. 弓步下刺 Gōng bù xià cì
  28. 右左云抹 Yòu zuǒ yún mǒ
  29. 右弓步劈剑 Yòu gōng bù pī jiàn
  30. 后举腿架剑 Hòu jǔ tuǐ jià jiàn [lift leg back]
  31. 丁步点剑 Dīng bù diǎn jiàn
  32. 马步推剑 Mǎ bù tuī jiàn
  33. 独立上托 Dúlì shàng tuō
  34. 進步挂点 Jìn bù guà diǎn
  35. 歇步崩剑 Xiē bù bēng jiàn
  36. 弓步反刺 Gōng bù fǎn cì
  37. 转身下刺 Zhuǎn shēn xià cì
  38. 提膝提剑 Tí xī tí jiàn
  39. 行步穿剑 Xíng bù chuān jiàn
  40. 摆腿架剑 Bǎi tuǐ jià jiàn [bai tui=swing leg]
  41. 弓步直刺 Gōng bù zhí cì
  42. 收势 Shōu shì