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Tai Chi Styles
introductions to other styles and aspects beyond the Yang From

Tai Chi Sword

Tai chi we know has many forms, many styles and Schools. It also has variations beyond the ‘standard’ concept of what tai chi is: amongst others there are tai chi Ruler, tai chi Walking, Pushing Hands, tai chi Fan, tai chi Stick and tai chi Sword. Some are meditative or for exercise, some are combative. Fan and Stick for example use ‘everyday’ or items that are not considered in their first function as a weapon, but Tai chi sword is interesting in the fact that it is a both an exercise form and a combative variant that includes a definitive edged weapon.

Not that it stops there. Within the classification of ‘sword’ there are three main types: the Tao (or Dao), which in this case means ‘knife’, although it actually refers to a broadsword or sabre. This ‘knife’ has a single edge and is curved like a cutlass; similar in many ways to the Japanese Katana, and it is this curve that gives it also the label of Sabre. However, versions of the Dao come with very broad blades over three inches wide – the Broadsword. The Dao is usually the first weapon that a student works with before moving on to the next category, although this is a very effective weapon in its own right it is considered easier to master and more forgiving to the novice.

Next is the Chien (also referred to as Jian), which describes a double-edged straight sword of between 17 to 32 inches long (45 to 80cm) with a long hilt. This is the classic weapon of the martial art wushu films and in Chinese culture it is considered the weapon of the Scholar or elite warrior, and is often referred to as the ‘gentleman of weapons’. In combat terms, both the Dao and the Chien are short-range weapons. The third category of tai chi sword weapon is the Gun, which refers to a long staff of at least four feet or more, or the Chang (or Qiang), referring to a spear which may be much longer. These weapons are the long-range arsenal of the battlefield.

In addition to the Sword types, there are different styles. For example some stem from the classic Yang tai chi Form including a 32-form, then there’s the Chen Family’s version and a Sun style. Wudang Tai Chi sword is a combination of sword forms, and there’s a Simplified version where all the stylized leg and arm movements have been removed.

Tai Chi sword is practised in its health and exercise form, like tai chi as a series of slow fluidic moves (although the Dao form - sabre, broadsword - may be somewhat faster) and it is also practised in combat as a fighting form, which is essentially a form developed from Pushing Hands but this time with weapons. The notable feature of sword practice however is its hierarchy within the tai chi pantheon: Serious Sword masters do not allow students to begin in this discipline without having at least three years’ expertise in tai chi – both the meditative form and Chuan (combat form) – in fact in some cases it is as much as ten years. This has changed in recent years as the spread of tai chi as a ‘sport’ has engendered many Schools to offer Sword as part of their curriculum with little or even without any previous experience.

It is not in my opinion a coincidence that the Long Yang Form of tai chi takes about three years to learn in its entirety, and Gary would say that only then do you really start to ‘learn’ it, which may take much longer. The argument is that a deep grounding is required in the forms of tai chi, chi Kung and Pushing Hands before Sword can be tackled with any degree of real understanding. The Sword is an extension of the body, part of the fluidic movement and harmonization of meditation and action that forms the core of tai chi. Chi energy is transferred from the arm through the sword to its tip, but it is done via the rest of the body so everything is involved.

In this respect it differs greatly from the Western sword martial art of Fencing. I fenced for many years and the foil or epee (ultra thin, incredibly flexible laminated blades with a cross section shape of a square, the delivery part being the sharp pointed end) was an extension of the arm, with movement and guidance controlled by the wrist – anything further would create body movement that would increase the time it took to execute the move and thus reduce the speed of your attack or defence, allowing your opponent ample opportunity to take advantage. With tai chi Sword, where the blades are thicker, Less flexible and the delivery end is mostly along the length of the blade itself it is the body that controls the weapon, not the arm – and certainly not the wrist. Thus chi flows uninterrupted from the ground, through the feet, into the dantien, up the torso, through the arms and into the sword. If tai chi principles were applied to fencing, the reliance upon wrist action would break up the flow of chi. Conversely, applying ones whole body to operate a foil or epee would result in constant defeat. The swords, blades, sizes and their use are vastly different between the two martial arts as are their methodologies.

There is no doubt that tai Chi sword is an extraordinary and very rewarding practice and if one is lucky enough to get a good master, the benefits of mind and health are enormous. There is loads of stuff about it on the internet, just try Googling for ‘tai chi sword’ and see what you get. For a look at videos of the various Sword forms, use the http://video.google.co.uk site to search - demonstrations of amongst others the Wudan Form, Yang 32, and Simplified form can be found.


The Tai Chi sword Form http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/Philosophy/Taichi/sword.html
Jian article in Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jian
Tai Chi sword, American Kang Duk Won Karate http://www.americankangdukwon.com/tcsf.html
The Sword of Tai Chi Chuan Harvey Kurland http://www.dotaichi.com/Articles/TaiChiSword.html


Tai Chi sword is practised in its health and exercise form, like tai chi as a series of slow fluidic moves (although the Dao form - sabre, broadsword - may be somewhat faster) and it is also practised in combat as a fighting form, which is essentially a form developed from Pushing Hands but this time with weapons
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