“Finding the moment in between,
the sword falls from my hands.”
I wrote that right after coming home from our invitation only sword “class” we held each week. Myself and usually one or two others would meet in secret sunday mornings to share swordsmanship and weapons experiences with each other. All three of us who normally showed up had around 30 years of training in different weapons and arts – Kenjutsu, Iado, Chinese Taiji, Bagua & Gongfu Sword and Spear work, Balintawak and Serada Escrima and so on. So with around 100 years of training between us (more when my gongfu brother was around) we engaged in what we called “The Way of the Purple Knuckle“.
Weapons work can be argued to be the predecessor of hand to hand arts since the most efficient way to accomplish anything for humans is to find a tool to make the task easier. Defense or killing others is much easier with a weapon than bare hands and so weapons training was a very important part of the martial arts. But aside from its use in the old days for military, criminal or defense of house and home. Weapons training nowadays has become mainly a dance performed by people role playing as old masters in outdated clothes. Now don’t get me wrong I definitely started as one of those people. I love weapons work and when I started martial arts it was the thing that fascinated me most. But actual weapons training is more than role playing and more than just killing others, it is a chance to cultivate the self in a deep way and check your progress by fire. Either you are cut or your not, sparring allows us a real black and white look at our progress.
Ma family martial arts (馬家功夫) is a Northern method from the “kung fu belt” around the Shaolin temple where many family styles existed, some of which are still popular today like Chen Taiji and so on. The way the family looked at weapons training was simple. Know how to train with it so you know how to fight with it. Forms are first a catalog of drills and second applications; and weapons are more similar to one another in use than different. Principles run deep in martial arts and lay below the surface of what we practice, drills point to principles of the body and skills for use.
One of the most important things we worked on on those sunday mornings was seeing the different arts work on the same principles of movement. The same principles of efficiency and in many cases similar if not the same training methods to attain the skills to enact the principles. Every single time one of us had to sit down from having our knuckles “purpled” we could replay what happened and pinpoint the rule or principle that was broken and led us to that pain. I think that was one of the most valuable things we all took from those sessions, besides the hours of open sparring and discussion. Some things were the same throughout the weapons arts.
Before I move towards only discussing the Shuang Shou Jian 雙手劍 (Two Handed Chinese Sword) I will first outline a couple of the most important principles needed for its use.
Keep the weapon between you and them. Seems simple but most times you are cut it is because this simple rule has been broken in some way. Placing your weapon between you and the danger the opponent presents is critical to your longevity. This can mean literally between your body and theirs or in some positions between you and their most dangerous part, usually their sword.
Heart Hungry Sword 饿心劍
Keep the tip of your sword hungry for the heart of the enemy. No matter what movement you must perform always try to keep the tip of your sword pointed at the heart of the opponent. The easiest and most effective way to kill with a sword is with piercing. A blade only a few short inches directly into the body will kill or maim while a slash may be painful and messy but ultimately causes less damage to internal organs and such. Remember the ribs are armour for the internal organs. Keeping the tip on the opponent allows for fast and efficent insertion into their body.
The less you have to move the faster and more efficient you are. Do not reach to intercept the enemies weapon do not make large movements in attack or defence if you can avoid it. Move the body and the sword together for a single purpose and do not remain scattered physically or mentally. Allow the feet to be free and move for the purpose of making everything smooth and efficient. “Wind stirs the Autumn leaves.”
There are many more principles that I am not listing or explaining here both physical and mental and of course yin/yang interchange between the two. If you want to research more deeply into these check out: Piercing Cloud Sword and enjoy the writings there.
Shuang Shou Jian 雙手劍 (Two Handed Chinese Sword)
Now if weapons rest on the principles as a foundation, above these are the methods of the weapons themselves, in Chinese Martial Arts these are generally contained in the key words of the weapon. Key words are a list of methods the particular weapon uses most often and are generally trained in single or combined drills, solo or with a partner. Each weapon has its own list of these key words which in the case of the Shuang Shou Jian are: Dian (Dotting), Lan (Obstruct), Zhuan (Rotating), Hua (Flower), Tiao (Lift), Beng (Collapse), HuaDong (Slide), Ci (Prick or Pierce), Qie (Cut) and Pi (Chop).
Each of these key words are not necessarily techniques themselves but are types or qualities of movement of the sword that are found in the swords techniques (usually movements that have names in forms like “Nazha reaches out to sea”, “Swallow pecks at mud” and so on). In training these keywords are generally reserved for indoor students or disciples as are their corresponding drills. The more accessable methods for students have become the forms themselves or individual movements or techniques and their applications. But learning only these is not enough to realize the methods of the sword itself. It is a shallow understanding although it looks as though one has the real skills, knowing secret forms and so on. It is this that people usually learn today and end up 龍頭蛇身 (Long Tou She Shen – Dragon Head, Snake Body).
In the case of the Shuang Shou Jian I train and teach; I use mainly the keywords and drills but have a couple of forms as well to share. One of them comes from the Ma Family Dragon Boxing. This Dragon system originates in the family and consists of two hand sets and the shuang shou jian. In overview the dragon system itself is about close range combat, angular oblique footwork, chasing the opponent and qin na (Joint locking, sealing the blood, sealing the breath, attcking points). Its major energies are spitting and swallowing, coiling and uncoiling and rolling the pearl. These methods are also found in the shuang shou jian form as well.
Training the sword is not only about combative use of it but also a method to attain and use shen fa (body method) from the dragon system. The rolling and coiling actions of the body in Tan Zhong (centre of the chest or middle dantien). The oblique stepping while rotating the sword (zhuan) as well as expanding and contracting to attack and defend all play a part in the training. The sword has to become an extension of the body, of the art for it to be truly useful and as such it has to advance the hand to hand just as much as the empty hand training advances the use of the sword. I was very lucky my Shifu would not stand for a student learning a weapon without being able to fight with it. Although the cuts and bruises were difficult to endure it allowed me to really test and work to understand the relationships weapons have in our training. I think it should not be taken lightly.
Although now the secret sunday sword meetings have stopped since one of the teachers has moved away from here, those hours spent drinking tea and re-examining how all those knuckles went purple live on. What a great few years we spent testing and refining our understanding of the sword and spear. In many cases the principles of different weapons are the same but appear different. They can be accepted as family, maybe more people should train and cross train like this and find themselves more open to the similarities rather than seeing only differences between weapons, arts and people in the world. As the saying goes – enlightenment is the wave realizing it is water.