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.


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.

56-Sword last minute

This completes the sequence for 56-Sword, following the demo by Fan Xue Ping. After xu bu dian jian, at about 4:30, she withdraws the sword, then steps up to bing bu ping ci (White Ape Presents the Fruit). From there she begins another retreating sequence.


As she steps back, first with the right, she points the sword down (above). She retreats two more steps, left, right, each time pulling the sword back to her waist on the side to which she has stepped, left hand on the wrist.


Then she pivots on the right foot and does gong bu xia ci to the right front corner, as shown above. From there she does phoenix Spreads Wings, wheels the sword back on the left and chops down, as shown below.


She does another run of deng jiao, qian ci, tiao bu, ping ci. This is the third one in the form, and except for the direction she’s facing, I see no difference between them. From ping ci, she wheels the sword around on the left, dipping fairly low:


Then wheeling to the right, she dips with the right crossed in front of the left, as shown here:


She then steps left and right, lifting the sword (liao jian). From there she pulls back to the position shown below.


From there, she steps in a circle just as if to close 32-sword (Xieng zhuan ping me). But instead of the straight stab, she does bing bu ping ci and reaches under for the sword, as we do in closing Tai Chi Wudang Sword.

We’re done! I now know the sequence well enough to follow Long Feng and to practice on my own. However, I haven’t got complete lists of the names, poetic and descriptive, plus I would like to compare this form to Yang sword (which I don’t know very well). So I still have a lot to learn.

56-Sword: 4:00-4:30

I’ve reached Phoenix Spreads its Wings, or Che Bu Fan Ji, just before the four-minute mark in the demonstration video by Fan Xue Ping.

Phoenix Spreads its Wings

Phoenix Spreads its Wings

From the finishing position above, she shifts all the way onto the right, steps left and right, circling and lifting the sword—liao jian (below).


From there, she shifts back to the left, pulling the hilt of the sword in to the body and lifting the right knee. The she steps onto the right for Yaksha/Night Demon/Spirit (depending on your list) Searches the sea (below).


Another familiar sequence follows: Zhuan shen hui chou and Bing bu ping ci. From Yaksha, turn to face the opposite way, sword over the shoulder, then chop down and withdraw to left empty stance. The traditional name for Zhuan shen hui chou is (two moves actually) Rhonoceros Gazes at the Moon (Zhuan shen) and Shoot the Wild Goose (Hui chou).

Then step up to White Ape Offers the Fruit (feet together, level stab). She is now facing the front right corner. Another Phoenix Spreads Wings, leaves her facing the back left corner:


At 4:20 I encounter a completely new move. She shifts back and steps across with the right in front of the left. It’s a little jump, a falling step onto the right. Then steps left and presses down on the sword (below).


Then she does it to the left: opens with the sword, shifts right, hops over with the left in front, then steps right and presses down, as below. Names may be Cross the Fence or Straddle and Block. I don’t know the modern descriptive names—I have those only for the names in common with 32-sword.


From there, she shifts right and casts the sword overhead to Ding bu dian jian to the left front corner as shown below.


This brings us to 4:30. It’s enough sequence that I can follow Long Feng up to the new move—for which I need help! I don’t for a minute think I can learn the form from the video alone, but if I can get a handle on the sequence I can begin to learn by following Long Feng.

56-Sword: 2:00-3:00

I left off at the two-minute mark of Fan Xue Ping’s exemplary demonstration video. Next is a series of three moves straight out of 32-sword: Du Li Lun Pi, Tui Bu Hui Chou, Du Li Shang Ci.


She steps back with the left foot (facing away) and slashes left , palm-up, brings the feet together (bing bu) and slashes right, palm-down. Then pulls the sword in to the waist, like carrying the sword at the waist, ping dai. This is at 2:15 (above). She’s standing quite straight.


She then does a complicated series of retreating and stabbing moves, facing all different directions, almost like four corners:

  1. One step straight back with the right, stabbing, then withdraws the sword to the waist. Tui bu ping ci? Step to left bow stance and stab–Zuo gong bu ping ci–to the back right corner (above).
  2. Turns around to her right 270 degrees: shift back, left toes in, step with right toe pointing to back left corner. With this turn, she turns the sword  over, from palm-up to palm-down, sweeping across (below), and then pulls it in to her waist, stepping in with the left.


This is followed by four retreating steps, starting with the left, a lot like block and sweep left and right, but retreating. Step left, pull the sword in to the left; step right, pull the sword into the right side. She finishes in position (below) to do a run of Lift Knee, Falling Step, Stab (Ti Xi Peng Jian, Tiao bu ping ci), which is also straight out of 32-sword.


Then she does Yang shen bao jian (circles the sword in front of her face and embraces it), turns back to her left in pu bu (below–doesn’t she look amazing?), and comes up to bing bu ping ci at the three-minute mark.


More than halfway through, with some familiar moves coming up. This is going faster than I expected!

56-sword continued

It appears that Michael Garofalo has lost his domain name! His website is such a great resource–I hope he’ll get it back up. I was counting on it for the traditional names for Yang sword (and for a lot of other things as well). [False alarm: Cloud Hands is fine. Whew!]


I left off 56-sword at 1:30 in the excellent demo by Fan Xue Ping. She was in xu bu liao. What follows is: She slashes backhanded to the right, then steps in with the right foot and does Phoenix Spreads Wings (above). Repeat Xu Bu Liao.


Next, she steps back with the left foot and stabs downward to the left and circles the sword up, so the tip does a figure-8. She has shifted all her weight to the left and finishes this move stabbing down (xia ci) in xu bu (right empty stance–above).


The next move, repeated twice, is also unfamiliar. She steps right, blocking down with both hands on the hilt, as shown above (1:50), then steps left into what looks to me like zuo gong bu lan, except the sword is held lower. The first step is palm-down, the second is palm up. This brings us to 2:00 (below).


The form is a little more than five and a half minutes long. I’ll try to learn the whole sequence this winter.


Long Feng is satisfied that I know both Wudang Tai Chi Sword and Yi Jian Mei, and has started teaching me 56-sword. I think I need a lot of practice before I will be able to do either of those two forms as well as I’d like, but I am excited to start learning the sequence for 56–wo shi liu shi. That was my goal for the coming year.

Excellent video of 56-sword; Qi Shi.

Excellent video of 56-sword; Qi Shi.

To start with, here’s an excellent video, which I think will turn out to be the same thing Long Feng is doing. So many of the movements are also found in the other two forms and 32-sword as well! Other movements are reminiscent of the traditional long form, with which I have only a small acquaintance.

Looking at the opening, the first thing she does (in the picture above) is turn to her right and, as in lan que wei, does press and push. Then she continues with Three Rigs Around the Moon. So Qi Shi is like 32-sword, except for that press and push. What I see so far is:

  1. Qi Shi
  2. Ding Bu Dian Jian
  3. Du Li Fan Ci
  4. Pu Bu Heng Sao
  5. You Zuo Ping Dai

Then she transitions as if to do Fen Jiao Ling Jian (Wudang) but instead of kicking, she does this:


Looks like Xu Bu Liao. Then she turns to face the back and continues with a series just like Wudang Taiji Jian:

7. Pu Bu Chuan Jian

8. Deng Jiao Qian Ci

9. Tiao Bu Ping Ci

10. Zhuan Shen Ping Ci

She then does what looks like Phoenix Spreads Wings, or what in 32-sword is called Che Bu Fan Liao and then again Zuo Xu Bu Liao. The move after that is unrecognizable to me (except it somewhat resembles the last move in Yi Jian Mei!). This is enough to get me started. I need to find a real list of names.

Clearly, knowing the forms I’ve already learned, this will go a lot faster. That’s already the first minute and a half. To be continued!