32-Step Taijijian

Thirty-two-step Sword, also called the simplified sword form, is a short routine for Tai Chi straight sword that was developed in the 1950s, around the same time as the 24-step simplified taijiquan. Li Tianji was the master who created this form.

Purely Yang in style, 32 is a shortened and somewhat rearranged version of the longer traditional Yang Sword form. All of the movements in 32-sword are drawn from Yang Sword, though some of them are executed somewhat differently.


I first learned 32-sword from my friend Long Feng, then relearned it with Hu Pei Yi, an excellent instructor from Jiangyin. I was learning yet again from Frank Lee when the pandemic intervened. Over the winter (of 2020), I studied an excellent tutorial by Li Deyin.

The tutorial is an hour and forty minutes long and it’s in Chinese, though as I have pointed out before, his demonstrations are so clear that you can understand a lot without words. Also, with a modest vocabulary for sword and the list of names, you can follow more of what he says than you might have thought. I especially like Professor Li’s back-view demonstration at 1:28.

Though simple enough to be learned easily the first time, 32 is both subtle enough and robust enough to reward frequent practice and ongoing study. It employs most of the major sword fighting techniques found in Yang sword, yet it takes only three to four minutes to perform.


Two good demonstration videos to study:

Chen Sitan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJ-sUFf2K9U

Wu Amin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrGZXgTP-ZA&t=77s

There are two lists of names, which I have combined. The modern names specify the footwork (or stance) and the sword technique employed. The traditional names indicate the movements in Yang Sword from which the 32-steps have been derived. 起势,Qǐshì (Beginning) and 收势,Shōu shì (Close form) are not included in the 32 steps. Here is my combined list: 32-sword-list (PDF)

Names for 32-sword

I’ve put together a list of the 32 movements in the standardized short sword form. The contemporary forms have two sets of names, descriptive and traditional. Descriptive names are instructions, like Feet Together Point Sword. The traditional names are mostly poetic, often idiomatic, and sometimes make reference to folklore and legendary gods and heroes.

Heavenly Horse Crosses the Sky

Heavenly Horse Crosses the Sky

For descriptive names, I have used the list written out for me by a friend (below). For the traditional names I have relied heavily on Michael Garofalo’s excellent blog, Cloud Hands. He has compiled an extensive list of names for each movement–these older names appear in many forms and have numerous translations. I have chosen the poetic names used at my school for the Yang sword form.

photo (15)

起势, Qi Shi (Commencement) is not one of the 32 movements. For 32-sword, 三環套月 (San huan tao yue) is a form of Three Rings Around the Moon, which also varies in traditional forms, but is mostly the same in contemporary sword forms.

Long Feng doing 32 sword

Three Rings Around the Moon

Here’s the list, in Chinese, Pinyin and English, as a PDF: 32-Sword Names of Movements

If you are confused by the two different names for Da Kui Xing—Big Dipper and Major Literary Star—Michael Garofalo explains how and why the great scholar Kui Xing took up residence in the constellation. See Cloud Hands.

Interestingly, the MDBG dictionary translates 海底撈月 (Hai Di Lao Yue), which we call Scooping the Moon from the Bottom of the Sea, as an idiom for a hopeless illusion, which makes sense, since the moon in the sea is just a reflection that you couldn’t scoop up.

Push Boat with Current is an idiom for taking advantage of a situation for one’s own benefit, and Shooting Star Chases the Moon is an idiom for swift action.

Heavenly Horse Crosses the Sky ia an idiom for boldness and imagination, unrestrained style, especially in calligraphy. Garofalo notes that a number of words for sword techniques are also terms for strokes in calligraphy, and that many sword masters have also been accomplished calligraphers.

56-Sword: 3:00-4:00

The next full minute of the form consists of ten moves straight out of 32-sword, so maybe this is a good time to review. The movements all have both descriptive and traditional (or poetic) names. Which I’d like to hook up. My translations of the descriptive terms leave much to be desired. I don’t really care—why translate? Why not use the Chinese names?

The moves are:

Zuo/You/Zuo Gong Bu Lan (L, R, L bow stance block) = Dusting the Wind

Push Boat With Current

Push Boat With Current (Jin bu fan ci)

Jin Bu Fan Ci (advance and stab overhead) = Push Boat with Current

Comet Chases the Moon

Comet Chases the Moon (Fan shen hui pi)

Fan Shen Hui Pi (turn back circle chop) = Comet Chases the Moon

Pegasus Crosses the Sky (Xu bu dian jian)

Pegasus Crosses the Sky

Xu Bu Dian Jian (empty stance point sword) = Pegasus Crosses the Sky

Du Li Ping Tuo

Du Li Ping Tuo

Du Li Ping Tuo (stand on one leg hold up level) = Lifting the Curtain

I notice that a couple of transitions in this section are not what I’m used to. Fan Xue Ping stoops into xie bu ya jian (resting stance press the sword down) after Fan shen hui pi. Then, from Xu bu dian jian, she pulls the sword straight back up. I am accustomed to going straight from Fan shen hui pi to Xu bu dian jian, then wheeling the sword into xie bu ya jian. I am talking about this position being before or after pointing the sword in empty stance:

Xie Bu Ya Jian

Xie Bu Ya Jian

Gong Bu Gua Jian (bow stance wheel sword) = Wheeling the Sword Left and Right

Xu Bu Lun Pi (Wheeling Chop)

Xu Bu Lun Pi (Wheeling Chop)

Xu Bu Lun Pi (empty stance whirl and chop) = Right Wheeling chop

Phoenix Spreads its Wings

Phoenix Spreads its Wings

Che Bu Fan Ji (step back slash back) = Phoenix Spreads its Wings

Applications for sword

There are thirteen techniques for swordplay. I have found several versions of the list, including:


Above, Amin Wu is doing 32-sword, and this is dian jian: point sword. Here’s the list

  1. 点: Dian – point
  2. 刺: Ci – stab
  3. 带: Dai – carry
  4. 劈: Pi – chop
  5. 抽: Chou – pull out
  6. 提: Ti – lift
  7. 击: Ji – hit
  8. 格: Ge – block
  9. 洗: Xi – clear off
  10. 绷: Beng – split
  11. 绞: Jiao – stir
  12. 压: Ya – press
  13. 截: Jie – intercept

The first seven are exemplified in 32-sword. Master Zhang (first link above) provides good descriptions of how all of them work as applications of sword forms. I am wondering how liao, gua, and sao fit in. Also, is lan just a synonym for ge or jie?

From Tao of Tai Chi, I’ve also found a list of techniques for the Tai chi broadsword: upper cut, under cut, cross cut, chop, split, lift, stab, block, pull coiling, push, intercept and parry.

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!


This short sword form is a simplified version of the standardized 56-sword–simplified just in being shorter. All the movements in 32-sword are also in 56-sword. Michael Garfalo (Valley Spirit Taijiquan, Green Way Research, Red Bluff, California) offers an illustrated list of movements on his website. He also offers a PDF with drawings, but although this seemed like a great idea, I found it impossible to follow. Learning from video is hard enough! Luckily, I have Long Feng–nothing is better than a good teacher.

Long Feng doing 32 swordExcellent video is available for this one, from  taiji.de website–I don’t see the name of the man who performs– and from Sifu Amin Wu:

32 sword   32sword

Names of movements (with notes to self):

  1. Commencement
  2. 三環套月  Three Rings Around the Moon (twist step, right cross, take sword)
  3. 大魁星  The Big Dipper (aka the major literary star)
  4. 燕子抄水  The Swallow Beats the Water
  5. 边拦扫  Block and Sweep, Right and Left
  6. 夜叉探海 Yecha explores the sea [stand on right leg pointing sword down]
  7. 懷中抱月 Holding the Moon [stand on right leg, holding sword up]
  8. 宿鳥投林 The Birds Returns to the Tree at Dusk [pointing out]
  9. 乌龙摆尾  Black Dragon Swings Tail [turn around and sweep out]
  10. 青龍出水  Green Dragon Emerges from the Water [pull back left]
  11. 風捲荷葉  Wind Rolls the Lotus Leaf [pull back right to left cat]
  12. 夜叉探海 Lion Shakes Its Head [step up to right]
  13. 虎抱頭 Tiger Holds Its Head [fall forward]
  14. 野馬跳澗 The Horse Jumps Over the Stream [finish run with right bow thrust]
  15. 小魁星 The Little Dipper [pull back to right cat]
  16. 海底撈月 Scoop Up the Moon from the Sea Bottom [sweep left to cat, right to bow]
  17. 預備式 Shoot the Flying Geese [chop overhead, pull back to left cat]
  18. 猿献果 White Ape Presents the Fruit [elsewhere the compass]
  19. 迎風撣塵 左 Sweep the Dust into the Wind, L, R, L [swallow beats the water]
  20. 順水推舟 Push Boat With Current [open arms]
  21. 彗星飞行由月亮 Comet Chases the Moon [stab overhead]
  22. 飛馬行空 Pegasus Crosses the Sky[pivot left, chop to right bow]
  23. 挑簾式 Lifting the Curtain [turn left chop to right cat]
  24. 左輪劍 Wheeling Sword to the left [sit to minor literary star]
  25. 右輪劍 Wheeling Sword to the right
  26. 右輪劍 Right Wheeling Chop [to right cat]
  27. 大鵬展翅  Phoenix Spreads Its Wings
  28. 黃蜂入洞 Bee Enters the Cave [slash and shift left, shift right to left cat]
  29. 懷中抱月 Holding the Moon [step to right bow]
  30. 風掃梅花 Wind Blows the Plum Blossoms [turn over the sword and step around]
  31. 指南针 The Compass Points South [left bow, then shift back to take sword]
  32. Conclusion