42-step Tai Chi Sword

The 42-step combined sword form is the competition routine for tournaments in China. With movements from the four majors styles of Tai Chi – Chen, Yang, Wu, and Sun – it employs a wide range of sword techniques—jianfa.


Most of my practical knowledge of jianfa comes from studying sword with Hu Pei Yi. Other valuable sources include books by Scott Rodell and Yang JwingMing and a couple of videos by Huaicheng Lu, in which he specifically demonstrates most of the sword techniques employed in 42-sword.

Last year, I posted a Vocabulary for Sword, a comprehensive listing of names of sword techniques as well as instructive terms frequently used in relation to sword. English translations of these words—equivalents in everyday English of everyday Chinese—are of little use. The words are terms of art, and their meaning is the sword technique they name.

In his two-part video, Huaicheng Lu discusses and demonstrates, in order, dian, liao, pi, lan, zhan, xiao, yun, mo, jie, chuan, ci, sao, gua, jia, and tuo. The form he is working from is 42-Sword. Huaicheng Lu:

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THrwJCLB_1I&t=67s

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifuur4eLa1w

Also invaluable is a tutorial by Li Deyin (who I believe created this form). In two hour-long segments he provides ample repetition and demonstration by a student who is awfully good.

I arrived at a list of the names for this form by transcribing from these videos. There’s a demonstration of the whole form at the beginning, and then a good bit of lecture in Chinese before the demonstrations begin. I wish I could understand it all!

Part One: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxugZkkwUT0

Part Two: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujO2v6bUxvk&t=1259s

At about the 8-10 minutes section, Li gives a very interesting discussion of grip. Although it is in Chinese, if you have learned the names of the sword techniques, you can see how he is demonstrating the correct grip for the different jianfa.

List for 42-Sword: 42-sword

The list of movements for 42-sword is in the style of instructional names rather than traditional poetic names. The movements are mostly called by a combination of the stance and the sword technique. For example, the first move of 42 (after qishi), is bing bu dian jian.

Bing is together, bu is step. Bing bu = feet together. Dian jian is the short-range cut made by lifting the handle sharply upward so the tip of the blade pecks down. The wrist is rotated slightly so the handle rides up past the wrist. Here is Wudang Master Yuan Xiu Gang demonstrating dian in a video on sword techniques:


That’s Yuxu Temple! I was there in 2017! But there was no sign of Master Yuan, unfortunately. The temple sits right in the middle of Wudangshan:


Another view, from the same terrace that Master Yuan is standing on:


Elsewhere, I have posted a vocabulary for stances. Between that and the vocabulary for sword, most of the names on the list for 42-sword are covered. Deng jiao and fen jiao are the heel and toe kicks, respectively.  You see ti xi (lift knee) rather than duli (stand on one leg).

Some additional terms in the list for this form: hòu diǎn (hou is behind) and jǔ tuǐ (lift the leg, pronounced like tway), and bai tui (bai is swing, swing the leg). You can always paste the characters in the names into the MDBG online dictionary. But again, that won’t tell you anything about how to use the sword.

It’s also good to know bu yao: It means “don’t want” so if you hear that, he’s telling you what NOT to do. Usually you can tell anyway, because he exaggerates and the error looks obviously wrong.

At about the 26:00 point in the first video, Li Deyin discusses and demonstrates the sword techniques in the first section of the form: dian, xiao, pi, lan, liao, and ci – shang ci, xia ci, ping ci, and qian ci. You can see all these terms in the names of the first 11 moves.

One note:  Peng jian means to cup/hold the (handle of the) sword with both hands, but in this kind of form, you don’t, actually. In traditional sword forms you release the left sword fingers and clasp the right hand. In this form, you just lay the sword fingers under the right hand.

At about the 36:00 point, Li discusses and demonstrates some of the footwork in the form.

Here’s a separate video showing the whole form (demonstrated by the same student) from the back: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqqKTq3Q20I

When I first learned this form, I relied on a tutorial by Amin Wu, which is also very good. The links for that are included in this post from 2016.

From these sources, I was well prepared to work with Hu Pei Yi when she came to town last winter. She’ll be back this month, which is why I am brushing up on 42-Sword right now.

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


This contemporary sword form is a combined form used in competition. It’s difficult, subtle, and sophisticated, with elements of all four major styles of Tai Chi — Yang, Chen, Sun, and Wu. I’m hoping to learn it well enough to work with Hu Pei when she comes back this spring.


Hou Ju Tui Jia Jian

On the left, Amin Wu demonstrates one of the more striking and unusual moves in 42-Sword.

As usual, I’m starting with a demonstration video and list of names just to get the rough sequence. The demo is a beautiful video of Amin Wu doing 42-Sword.

I haven’t yet found a definitive list of names in Chinese. I’m still looking. For now, I have two. The first list is Pinyin only, and it seems a bit sketchy (some words appear to be missing). I’d rather have the Chinese and look up the pinyin for myself.

The second list is Chinese, but alas, it’s all images. Not possible to copy and paste into a dictionary to get Pinyin and translation. There is a wealth of good information about Tai Chi sword on Phil Cheung’s page. I wish I could read it better. Here are the links.

I’ve just about got the sequence figured out, so the next step is to get Long Feng to lead me through it and show me some of the more baffling moves. I’ll also work my way through some instructional videos. There are three instructionals that I’ll use. I don’t have Jesse Tsao’s yet. His will be in English.


Amin Wu

Li Deyin’s instructional videos are in Chinese, and I wish I could figure out more of the parts where he simply talks, but it’s not hard to follow the demonstrations and specific instructions. I have the DVD, but it’s also on Youtube, in two parts (with lots of commercials, and rather poor video and sound quality, unfortunately).

On Youtube, I also found a complete set of videos with much better visual and audio quality, by Amin Wu, whose detailed instructions are quite clear, especially if you understand some basic instructional vocabulary. Love these!

This should keep me busy until next spring.