Yi Jian Mei Revisited

I first learned this beautiful sword form in 2016. It is unusually dramatic and theatrical, having its origin in a hugely popular song and both television and film dramas, the latter dating back to 1931.

This time around I found the following video on sword flowers (剑花 jiànhuā ) very helpful:

For more about this form, names of the movements, lyrics of the song, and links to instructional and performance videos, see these earlier posts:

Yi Jian Mei is not without its detractors. Some say it is not even Tai Chi Sword, and in fact, it is not. It is 抒怀剑, shūhuái jiàn, lyric (lit. express emotion) sword. The originator of this type of sword, and creator of the popular Yi Jian Mei sword routine, is 朱俊昌 Zhū Jùn Chāng. Read about him and shuhuaijian here: http://www.shuhuaijian.net/  [I owe thanks to Song Chen and Martin Mellish for this information.]

Professor Zhu is a teacher of dance, but he was trained in the martial arts from an early age. Odd as some of the movements in Yi Jian Mei might appear, I have seen most of them in one source or another in less well known, but definitely authentic, Tai Chi sword forms.

For example, this (to me) odd-looking position, called Fukan Renjian in Yi Jian Mei, is from the Michuan (secret) Yang Sword form that Yang Luchan taught the Manchu Imperial guards in the 1850s. The illustration here is from Scott Rodell’s excellent book on Chinese Swordsmanship.

The movements of Yi Jian Mei are so intricate that it’s hard to imagine using them in an actual swordfight, but though intricate, they are composed of familiar jianfa. I have modified my own practice of Yi Jian Mei to stay within bounds of the Tai Chi sword that I am familiar with.

Yi Jian Mei: Names

From the instructional video on Yi Jian Mei I have gleaned the names of the movements. It wasn’t easy! I took screen shots of the captions, but of course I couldn’t paste the characters into a dictionary because they were images. So I drew them one by one into the MDBG dictionary.

For all but the very simplest characters, the dictionary will not recognize a character unless the brush strokes are entered in (at least approximately) correct order. So from the lovely book shown below, Chinese Calligraphy Made Easy by Rebecca Yue, I learned (more or less) the proper order of brushstrokes. Altogether, this list took hours!


Of course, I could have just asked my friend Pan Huai to translate, but doing it myself the hard way was fun and I learned a lot. Pan Huai did tweak my translations of the movement names, many of which, like traditional names of other forms, are poetic, folkloric, and idiomatic.

Yi Jian Mei was the title of both a 1931 silent movie and a 1984 Taiwanese TV show. The plots are completely different, so I assume the two dramas are unrelated. The song written and recorded by Taiwanese singer-songwriter Fei Yu Qing was the theme for the TV show.

The sword form, which is based on the song, must therefore be less than thirty years old and might be a lot more recent: New versions of the 1984 TV show were made in China in 2000 and 2009. I’ve been told that the sword form was created by a master who is no longer living, but I haven’t been able to find out his name. [Update: See the comments below by Martin Mellish.]

The list of 20 movements is divided into stanzas of the song, and I’ve included the lyrics that go with them. Love the song, the lyrics, and the sword form!

Yi Jian Mei Taiji Jian

Yi Jian Mei (One Plum Blossom) is a lovely sword form about which I have been able to glean very little information. I’m told it was created by a master who has passed away–I don’t know his name. The name of the form is the title of a very popular song as well as a drama. I haven’t found out much about them, either.

Yi Jian Mei: song and lyrics

But I have managed to learned the form using this instructional video; if the name of the performer is given, it’s in Chinese. The setting is beautiful, wherever it is.

There is also a performance by the same man with the music. This video even offers an inset showing him from a different angle.

For more on this form — including names f the movements and lyrics to the song, See this post: https://taichinotebook.com/2016/07/14/yi-jian-mei-names/.

Finishing Yi Jian Mei

All that’s left are the four instrumental lines in the middle of the song and the closing. That middle section begins from this position.


Line 1: Step with the left foot around to face stage right, then step out toward the front with the right to face front again. The arms close and cross. Swing the sword backhand out to the right.

Line 2: Turn the sword over and draws a big backward C as if winding up for zuo gong bu lan. Facing stage right, step right and strike the odd pose shown below. The hands are positioned as if to push the blade—but you would cut yourself! So don’t actually touch the blade with the left hand.


Line 3: Turns around to the left while straightening, and set the left foot down facing the opposite way. Stab forward, left hand touching the upper arm, gong bu, as shown.


Then step forward on the right while wheeling the sword in front (hilt circles clockwise) to point the sword, and look, to the back, left arm extended as shown.


Step forward on the left, closing the arms so the wrists cross. Left foot is turned out to face left near corner. Step around so the right foot also points to the left front corner and lifts the left foot from the knee. Collapse the sword as shown below.


Line 4: Step left, cross step right, left (travelling to stage right), then walk in a circle right-left-right. Pivot the left foot and xie bu to prepare to resume at verse 3 in this position:


While traveling left, draw big clockwise circles with the sword. At the start of the walking-in-a-circle part, circle the sword to go palm up and lead with the hilt. Swing it around for finish in xie bu.

On the very first step left, Long Feng rises to make a little hop onto the right cross-step. The lift coincides with the lift of the sword. It’s a cute little step.

Shou Shi begins from the position shown at the top of this post (after the long repeat). Close the arms and take the hilt in the left hand. Extend the left arm and set the sword fingers at the hip.

Swing the left across in front while twisting the wrist as if to hold a tray. At the same time, lift the left knee and pulse up with the right. Looks like this:


Then take four steps, LRLR in a circle to face front, left xu bu. Spiral the sword down on the left on the last two steps..

Step back with the left, bring the right back to the left, knees bent, feet shoulder width. Make another circle with the right hand at the same time. Lower the right hand and straighten the knees. Feet together. That’s it!

Yi Jian Mei Chorus

I left off in this position, at the end of line 3, verse 3:


From here she pulls the sword up and over to the left, hopping onto the left foot. The sword circles down and up as she steps onto the right and touches the left. This move is a little like zuo xu bu liao in 32-sword.


Next she steps left, stabbing the sword down to the left, and then steps right, stabbing the sword right–this is somewhat like the optional flourish in Wudang sword. Then she hops onto the left, circling the sword overhead (from palm-up to palm-down). Then she steps back with the right, the sword turns palm-up, and she extends the sword to the right, left hand extended. Xie bu:


That’s the end of verse three. Now there is a two-line chorus. She does (more or less) you gong bu lan (no pause, keep going), but on the other side she skips on the left, then swings the sword all the way to the left as she steps out with the right. Then she swings the sword right while cross-stepping behind with the left into Xie bu:


Unwind all the way around (sword following overhead) and step out to the left. Fully spread-eagled here, facing front. The sword keeps swinging, lift the right knee facing stage left. Then step out to the right, stabbing up (facing back). Cross-step behind left, still facing back, left arm pointing to stage right:


Finally, unwind and step back with the right. Meanwhile, arc the sword down, leading with the point, across on the left, then circle it in front of the face (go from palm-up to palm-down, to palm-up, step back onto right, pulling the sword back with both hands. Step up on left and open to position shown.


The good news is, there is just one more instrumental verse, and then the form repeats to the end. Closing form is a little complicated, but the end is in sight.

Yin Yang Sword

I left off after the first line of verse three of Yi Jian Mei. Line 2: walk in a circle to the left, leading the sword (held high) by the hilt. Footwork is left-right-left-right. On that last right step, circle the sword as if drawing a big heart in the air with both hands like so:


Swing both arms closed while stepping forward on the left:


Then withdraw the sword, shifting back on the right, sword held palm-up and left hand palm-down, as shown below. That’s line two, verse three.


Yin Yang Sword is a stabbing movement with a shift forward and back. The hands turn so that either palms or backs of hands are facing each other. On the stab forward, sword palm is down, left hand palm-up. Then withdraw palm-up and turn the left hand palm-down. You could picture using your sword-fingers (left hand) to push shish-kabobs off a skewer (!).


After two such stabs, step up with the right foot, draw another big heart in the air and stamp the right foot once in cross-hands (left hand on top):


Swing both arms to the left, twisting at the waist:


Swing the sword to the right, stepping out to the right, and then cross-step left behind like so:


That’s line three, verse three. I have caught up with myself! The last line of verse three, which had me stumped anyway, is completely different the way Long Feng does it. It looks a bit like a part of Wudang sword (between the sits). I’ll tackle that next time.

Yi Jian Mei Corrections

I studied the first three verses of the Meng Fok video until I thought I could do them, then fell into a state of complete confusion when I tried to follow Long Feng. Took me a while to figure out what all the differences were between her form and Meng Fok’s.

When Meng Fok takes the sword, she steps right and left, pivots, and then steps left to stab overhead. Long Feng steps right, left, right, shifts left and stabs up, like so:


They are oriented differently. Meng Fok stabs to the back right corner, Long Feng to the front left corner.  I’m going to do this form Long Feng’s way.

The last line of verse two is also different, even though they start and finish in similar positions. In line 4, Meng Fok takes four steps, Long Feng takes only three (RLR). Somehow, they both unwind to this position (except Long Feng is in a deeper xie bu):


The first line of verse three is different. Both swing the sword right, but then Meng Fok lifts the hilt (standing on her left), where Long Feng stabs up (standing on her right):


They both wheel the sword and finish in the same position, like so:


That’s as far as I’ve gotten, so I’m not even quite as far along as I thought I was a couple of weeks ago. To be continued!

Yi Jian Mei Verse 3

Correcting a couple of details: the opening circle (verse 1, line 1) is clockwise (I’ve updated my earlier post); and in line 2, when she steps across with the left, she swings the sword left, too.


I’m halfway through verse three, in the position shown above, at 1:20 in the Meng Fok video. To recap verse 3 (see Aug 8):

  1. Xue hua piao piao bei feng xiao xiao: Step R, lift hilt, wheel sword, step R.
  2. Tian di yi pian cang mang: step around L/R/L, gong bu xia ci, withdraw.
  3. Yi jian han mei au li xue zhong: Now see below.
  4. Zhi wei yi ren piao xiang

From the position shown above: Stab once, then bing bu xia ci, wheel the sword the other way (counterclockwise) while stepping across in back with the left foot. Swing the sword first back, then out to this position:


That was line 3. This is line 4 (tres complique!): The right foot is nailed to the ground until the very last beat. From the position above, step out to the left, as in the first frame on the left below. Circle the sword up, left and down (ie, big counterclockwise circle).

Then step left around to the right to face backwards (180 degree turn on the right foot, which has not moved, frame 2). The sword, still making a big counterclockwise circle, has reached the high point when you’re facing the back.

The right foot does not move as she steps around left, left, left.

The right foot (circled) does not move, except to swivel, as she steps around left, left, left.

Keep going! Step around with the left again to face front (frame 3), shift left and make a small counterclockwise circle with the sword. Then the right foot will cross behind. So footwork for this line is left, left, left, right.

The sword emerges from the small circle leading with the point rather than the hilt. It then spirals through a figure eight on the right side. This whole thing takes 6 seconds, between 1:26 and 1:32, and ends like this:



This is the hardest move in the whole form if you ask me. That last bit with the sword is tricky; I can only suggest using the gear tool to slow the video way down. After this, there are just two more lines of lyrics. Then four lines of instrumentals. And from there, it’s all repeats! And close form.

Yi Jian Mei Continued

This is slow work. First line in the third verse: Xue hua piao piao bei feng xiao xiao: First half of the line, step out to the right (wide, to gong bu), swing the sword across in front (palm-down) and then step up onto the left, thrusting the hilt of the sword up like this (palm-up):

YJM 3-1a

Chop down, touching left hand to right and right foot behind to a xu bu dian jian position, but don’t stop there; immediately wheel the sword and step out to the right. Swing through to this position:

YJM 3-1b

As you can see in the lower lefthand corner of the picture, we are up to 1:13. Next line is tian di yi pian cang mang, 1:13-1:20. Step around to the left, L-R-L, while leading the sword by the hilt, head-high, palm-up. Then lift up onto the left foot (by now, facing front again) and circle the sword overhead, like so:

YJM 3-2

The line is not finished. She steps back with the right and swings the sword around to a gong bu xia ci position as shown:

YJM 3-2b

She shifts all the way up on the left, lifting the hilt, then steps back onto the right and shifts into this withdrawn (chou) position at 1:20. End of verse 3, line two.



I’ve only advanced about 11 seconds! But these moves are very unfamiliar, and I am working straight out of video.

Yi Jian Mei verse 2

Yi Jian Mei (One Plum Blossom) is the title of a drama set in pre-revolutionary China.  Apparently there is more than one version and production—a 1931 movie? A Taiwanese TV show in the 1980s, apparently. A TV show popular in China in 2010? And the popular theme song was composed when? I would have to be able to read Chinese to get to the bottom of it.


I have been reading the Inspector Chen novels set in post-Tiananmen Shanghai. Qiu Xiaolong describes a nostalgia among the new generation for the glory days of Shanghai in the 1930s. I’ve just started his internationally best-selling book of short stories spanning the decades between those days and the present. His next Chen mystery, Shanghai Redemption, is coming soon. Nice covers! Macmillan/Minotaur.











Anyway, I’m learning the Tai Chi sword form to the popular theme song, currently working on the sequence of movements for the first two verses (4 lines each) using a video by Meng Fok. I had gotten as far as the middle of the second verse. To recap, Verse 1:

  1. Zhen qing xiang cao yuan guang huo [Circle arms, lift knee, point toe]
  2. Ceng ceng feng yu bu neng zu ge [Step L, R, point left and du li da hu]
  3. Zong you yun kai ri chu shi hou [Point to left, lift right knee]
  4. Wan zhan yang guang zhao yao ni wo [Walk in circle, switch to palm-up]

pose at end of line 1 verse 2

End of line 1, verse 2

Second verse:

  1. Zhen qing xiang mei huo kai guo [Step back L, R, pose as shown above]
  2. Leng leng bing xue Bu neng yan me [Take sword, R, L, pivot, step L, stab up]
  3. Jiu zai zui leng zhi tou zhan fang [Now see below]
  4. Kan jian chun tian zou xiang ni wo

Line three: I have to break this line into two phrases. Jiu zai zui leng: She swings the sword in a big counterclockwise circle on the left of her body while stepping up with the right foot. Then she closes with the left foot in a sort of bing bu dian jian, except her legs are straight and her left hand is in a high ward-off position:

End of line 3, verse 2

First phrase of line 3, verse 2

Line 3, second phrase, zhi tou zhan fang: She circles the sword as if to do you gong bu lan, but follows through to reach the pose below in a sort of du li ping ci:

End of line 3, verse 2

End of line 3, verse 2

The last line is hard! Kan jian chun tian zou xiang ni wo: 8 words for 8 counts. First four counts: She turns to her right and steps R-L-R-L, turning around. The last step left is a cross-step behind. The sword is just following her, but she switches from palm up to palm down as she turns. This is right about at the one-minute mark of the video (1:00-1:02). She’s here:

Middle of line 4, verse 2

Middle of line 4, verse 2

Now she unwinds all the way around so she is in cross stance with the right foot behind as shown below. That’s pivot on L toe, pivot on R heel, pivot on L heel, pivot on R toe. The sword traces one big circle overhead with a small circle in the middle, changing from palm down to palm-up. Finish like this:


Verse two ends at 1:06. A little more than two minutes remain, but I think maybe the repeated part (verse 3 and the 2 lines after it) repeats in movement as well. That would be cool.