Continuing from The Sword of Li Jinglin (2), chapters 6-11 of the treatise (I am using the Brennan Translation) describe how training progresses from solo practice to two-person sparring sets and then to free-sparring.
Here, Li Tianji demonstrates a two-person sparring set in Wuhan in 1984 (that’s Li with the dark shoulders):
Solo practice involves studying and practicing the thirteen sword techniques. To prepare for solo practice with a sword, a student should first be proficient in empty-hand internal arts. The same principles apply. Those of us who only ever practice solo sword forms have not progressed beyond this initial stage of training.
Practicing with a Partner
Having achieved in solo practice familiarity with the thirteen jianfa, a student would then move up to sparring with a partner. The simplest two-person sets involve studying how the sword techniques fit together to make triangles.
For example, two sparring partners would take turns answering Jie (a check) with Ti (a lift) to make a triangle above. Other combinations form triangles above, below, to the left or to the right.
The next stage of training involves Yin Yang sword circling. A student must first learn this combination of jianfa as an individual practice.
阴阳剑圈 Yīn Yáng Jiàn Quān
For a Yin sword circle, Ci (a stab) is followed by Chou (draw) with Yin grip to the right. A Yang sword circle is formed when the stab is followed by Dai (drag) to the left with a Yang grip. A complete Yin Yang jian quan is a stab followed by a draw to the right, followed by another stab and a drag to the left.
As your body retreats, your sword advances (Ci). This combination stab/draw/stab/drag is similar to the two moves near the beginning of 32-sword that are called Xiang You Ping Dai (toward the right, level carry) and Xiang Zuo Ping Dai (toward the left, level carry).
When you are proficient at making sword circles, you would then try coordinating the circles with an opponent. Your stab and draw to the right would be met by your partner’s stab and drag to the left, and visa versa.
You alternately advance to thrust and then your sword retreats with a drag to the left or a draw to the right. One person stabs, the other defends with a draw and stabs; the first defends with a drag and then stabs, and so on.
Each of you would be (in actual fighting) trying to slip in a cut to the wrist, but the purpose of this sparring exercise is to learn how the Yin and Yang circles fit together. Sword circles can also be tilted, alternately using TI (lifting) with Shao Yin grip and Pi (chopping) with Shao Yang grip. Students must achieve skill at triangles and two-person circling before moving on to the next stage of training.
Two-person sparring sets
The sparring sets prescribe how one person attacks with one technique and the other responds with a countering technique. For example, one chops to the other’s head, the other responds with a block and a drag to the waist.
Initially, the sets are practiced with fixed stance and slowly, with correct posture and clearly defined jianfa. With skill, the partners can begin moving in circles, advancing, and retreating as in the video above). At each stage and in each set, partners trade roles to learn both sides of the exercise.
Ultimately, students abandon the choreography and free-spar. The most advanced level of training is free-sparring against multiple apponents or against a long weapon such as a spear.
Skipping any stage of practice is strictly forbidden. Only after completing all the stages of training in the prescribed order would one be prepared for real sword fighting. From the thorough and diligent practice of all the elements—jianfa, footwork, advancing and retreating—internal power issues through the sword, and the art of the sword emerges.
In the words of Sun Lutang: 剑与身合为一 (Jiàn Yǔ Shēn Héwéi Yī) Sword and body become one.