Distance

Discussion of Chinese historical swordsmanship from all styles.

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Michael
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Distance

Post by Michael » Sun Jul 19, 2009 3:55 am

What are the theoretical foundations by which distance is judged in Chinese swordsmanship?

I've seen plenty of examples of Chinese swordsmanship in practice, but theory and practice don't always match up the way that they should. I broached this topic once before, within another thread, but I think it's important enough to warrant its own. In the West, at least, distance is usually considered to be of utmost importance. Distance determines how long it will take to strike or be struck(or how many discrete actions it will require), and therefore the degree of vulnerability for each swordsman.

In Western European systems, there is a common emphasis on how many tempi or discrete foot actions which it would take to reach the opponent. Put another way, how many steps does it take to strike the opponent's body? If it takes more than one step, you are usually considered "out of measure." If it takes exactly one step, you are considered to be in "wide measure," and if it takes no steps at all, you would be in "narrow measure"(as always, these terms can be replaced with master-specific terminology and slight variations, but it's a good rule of thumb).

A single step could be defined in several ways. Some would define it as a lunge, because it is the furthest one can step without moving the back foot or losing control of the body. Others would define it as a comfortable, "natural" step, as opposed to "unnatural" steps which take too long to execute.

One thing that the western European masters all seem to agree on is this: If you are at narrow measure, i.e. a distance where you can strike the opponent's body without moving your feet, then you absolutely must have control of the opponent's weapon.

These distances, which are classified differently by different masters, can be thought of in these terms:
Out of measure > (Length of a single step) + (Length of the arm at full extension) + (Length of the blade)
Wide measure = (Length of a single step) + (Length of the arm at full extension) + (Length of the blade)
Narrow measure = (Length of the arm at full extension) + (Length of the blade)

The high-level European swordsmen tend to start the fight just out of measure, and as soon as they break that distance, they don't waste time.

But I don't mean for this to be a discussion about Western European categorization systems, I'm just providing some contrast. What principles govern distance in Chinese swordsmanship? Can anyone shed light on differences between distance theory in jianfa as opposed to daofa, or between different systems?
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Re: Distance

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Sun Jul 19, 2009 9:24 am

Its Sunday AM, so forgive the short answer... my son is waiting for me, we want to get out & make kindling out of a bunch of bamboo stalks...

Part of the reason why you don't have distance discussed more clearly within Chinese Swordsmanship is that we do not have the rich literature that European Sword Traditions have. Military arts were looked down upon by the Chinese literati, who did most of the writing, so few manuals exist or were preserved thru to our time. Trying to research what the standard military & swordplay manuals were during the Qing period, I even had Don LaRocca (Curator of A & A at the Met) put me in touch with scholars in the Chinese art & history world. None of those I contacted even knew what the manuals might have been, let alone had an idea of a title. So the terminology for distance is not even know.

This problem is compounded by the fact that Chinese Historical Swordsmanship is just beginning to make a come back. Forgive me if it appears I'm trying to blow my own horn here, but until I started teaching & promoting this art a few years ago (making it popular), you never heard of anyone doing any real free swordplay with real weight weapons, & forget test cutting. Lots are jumping on the wagon now & acting as if they are trained in Chinese Swordsmanship. In actually, they are trying to reverse engineer their practice from forms. That's not all bad, but the problem is, quite naturally, lots of mistakes are being made along the way. So while they are trying to figure the basics out, they are still a long way off from an understanding of distance. And coming from engineering technique completely from form work, & not having any proper training, this is to be expected. The simple reason for this is that the form is always preformed as if one is within striking distance. None of what you would call preparation, is addressed within forms. Forms are catalogs of techniques & embody principles, but are not the complete teaching. And to be honest, after years building a foundation in students, I'm just beginning to be able to address these questions with them.

Having said all this, I find nothing in your description of distance that I find alien, except of course the terminology. Within our Chinese Swordsmanship program, we discuss the principle of distance in terms of sticking & following, & hollows & protrusions; from a technical point of view, we discuss distance in terms of stepping to cross that distance while not creating any hollow (i.e. opening) for the duifang to exploit.

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Re: Distance

Post by Michael » Sun Jul 19, 2009 2:04 pm

Scott M. Rodell wrote: Part of the reason why you don't have distance discussed more clearly within Chinese Swordsmanship is that we do not have the rich literature that European Sword Traditions have. Military arts were looked down upon by the Chinese literati, who did most of the writing, so few manuals exist or were preserved thru to our time. Trying to research what the standard military & swordplay manuals were during the Qing period, I even had Don LaRocca (Curator of A & A at the Met) put me in touch with scholars in the Chinese art & history world. None of those I contacted even knew what the manuals might have been, let alone had an idea of a title. So the terminology for distance is not even know.
Sounds like you have exactly the opposite problem. In Europe we have extant manuals(although not many, and they're difficult to translate, often hard to find, and sometimes lack illustrations), but there is no living lineage of masters. So if anything was left out of a manual, it is lost forever. Girard Thibault, for example, planned to add a section fighting from horseback in his 1630 rapier treatise, but he died before it was finished. His treatise is unique enough that even if we consult related treatises, we'll still never know what that section would have included.
Scott M. Rodell wrote:This problem is compounded by the fact that Chinese Historical Swordsmanship is just beginning to make a come back. Forgive me if it appears I'm trying to blow my own horn here, but until I started teaching & promoting this art a few years ago (making it popular), you never heard of anyone doing any real free swordplay with real weight weapons, & forget test cutting.
Thank you, your efforts are a benefit not only to those practicing Chinese martial arts, but practitioners of all forms of swordsmanship.
Scott M. Rodell wrote:Within our Chinese Swordsmanship program, we discuss the principle of distance in terms of sticking & following, & hollows & protrusions; from a technical point of view, we discuss distance in terms of stepping to cross that distance while not creating any hollow (i.e. opening) for the duifang to exploit.
Am I right in assuming that "sticking" is based on blade-to-blade contact? Is there a certain range at which hollows are acceptable?

I'd also be interested to know whether attacks tend to be aimed at the duifang's body, as that would affect distance. In the West, attacks to the arm aren't uncommon, but it seems uncommon to measure distance with that in mind(perhaps as a implied message that it usually takes very little to defend it, especially with a complex hilt).
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Re: Distance

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Sun Jul 19, 2009 2:32 pm

Michael wrote:... Sounds like you have exactly the opposite problem. In Europe we have extant manuals (although not many, and they're difficult to translate, often hard to find, and sometimes lack illustrations), but there is no living lineage of masters...
I came to the exact same conclusion when I compared notes with practitioners of European Swordsmanship. I can't tell you how much respect I have for those who have struggled to recreate their arts from Medieval languages.
Michael wrote:... Thank you, your efforts are a benefit ... to ... all forms of swordsmanship.
Thanks for you kind words, this work is one of the real pleasures in my life, so I am very happy to share it.
Michael wrote:... right in assuming that "sticking" is based on blade-to-blade contact?
No, that is a common misconception, though at times one does physically, lightly stick to the duifang's weapon, such as when employing xi (washing) to move forward for a cut on the pass. An example of when when is not physically touching while sticking & following is when passively intercepting a thrust with ge (blocking), where one turns the waist to so the thrust is voided while the sword is swept across to cut the attacking limb. You might also like to note that sticking & follow have both passive & active aspects, which have different terms in Chinese.
Michael wrote:... Is there a certain range at which hollows are acceptable?
Generally speak no, at least not in the sense that one should always be alert, mindful of the surrounds & the duifang's intent/position. But in a practical sense, if your duifang is 10 or 20 steps away from you, you don't really have to be in the physically prefect on guard position.
Michael wrote:... interested to know whether attacks tend to be aimed at the duifang's body, as that would affect distance. In the West, attacks to the arm aren't uncommon, but it seems uncommon to measure distance with that in mind (perhaps as a implied message that it usually takes very little to defend it, especially with a complex hilt).
With in jianfa, attacks to the arm are very common. Many sequences in various forms begin with an attack to the arm that is followed by a cut to the head or torso. Likewise, in daofa, there are combinations of cuts that designed to get the arm out of the way so one can step in for a cut to the body, but the nature of these cuts is quite different as the dao is primarily a military weapon so it is assumed that both one & the duifang is wearing armor.

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Re: Distance

Post by Michael » Mon Jul 20, 2009 12:55 am

Scott M. Rodell wrote: I came to the exact same conclusion when I compared notes with practitioners of European Swordsmanship. I can't tell you how much respect I have for those who have struggled to recreate their arts from Medieval languages.
Yeah, I'm lucky in that I came in at a time when a lot of the foundational work had already been laid down. Some families of works, like the 17th century Italian school, receive a lot of attention and have largely been translated into English. But for others, we are often dependent on the work of a single person who knows the language, especially when it comes to researching contextual information.
Scott M. Rodell wrote: No, that is a common misconception, though at times one does physically, lightly stick to the duifang's weapon, such as when employing xi (washing) to move forward for a cut on the pass.
I'm not entirely clear on what you mean by "sticking," then. Could you elaborate?
Scott M. Rodell wrote: Generally speak no, at least not in the sense that one should always be alert, mindful of the surrounds & the duifang's intent/position. But in a practical sense, if your duifang is 10 or 20 steps away from you, you don't really have to be in the physically prefect on guard position.
But in a physical sense, is there a particular point at which it is considered crucial to be in position? I suppose an alternative concept would be a fluid continuum of vulnerability, such that distance simply has an inverse relationship to vulnerability, and any demarcations within the continuum could be considered arbitrary.
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Re: Distance

Post by jaime_g » Mon Jul 20, 2009 7:39 am

Girard Thibault, for example, planned to add a section fighting from horseback in his 1630 rapier treatise, but he died before it was finished. His treatise is unique enough that even if we consult related treatises, we'll still never know what that section would have included.
Apologies for my horrible english

There are spanish treatises of Destreza (the style who thibault learnt ) with horseback fighting. Unfurtunate no rapier, but there are spear and sabre.

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Re: Distance

Post by J HepworthYoung » Mon Jul 20, 2009 9:46 am

For me the sticking is sort of like there is a string attached to your duifang and you, no move they do goes unnoticed, they do not have the freedom to do anything they want and you do not move by intent so much as in direct reaction to what they do. It makes it very much chess like, all about position, or at least largely. This is based on the open hand practice of taiji if I am not mistaken, at least for me it is. It allows one to take almost instant advantage of errors and movements.

I personally believe that Aldo Nadi had a sticking-like skill and that he employed this to great advantage.

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Re: Distance

Post by jaime_g » Mon Jul 20, 2009 9:52 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZP8dKYfF ... L&index=15

We call this fuhlen,tacto,sentiment du fer,blade sensitivity

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Re: Distance

Post by Michael » Mon Jul 20, 2009 11:58 am

jaime_g wrote: There are spanish treatises of Destreza (the style who thibault learnt ) with horseback fighting. Unfurtunate no rapier, but there are spear and sabre.
Yes, but Thibault was not merely a practitioner of Destreza. He took it in a different direction. So while he could be considered part of that family of work, there really is no other text to look to in describing particular techniques, although one can certainly draw from the principles of Destreza.
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Re: Distance

Post by jaime_g » Mon Jul 20, 2009 12:45 pm

es, but Thibault was not merely a practitioner of Destreza. He took it in a different direction. So while he could be considered part of that family of work, there really is no other text to look to in describing particular techniques, although one can certainly draw from the principles of Destreza.
My particular theory is that Thibault practised a mix of carranza's destreza and his own experiences. Maybe not orthodox destreza, but i think is perfectly normal.Early destreza had a lot of ways and branches.Not even Pacheco de narvaez managed to consolidate the system in his period

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Re: Distance

Post by Michael » Mon Jul 20, 2009 10:41 pm

J HepworthYoung wrote:For me the sticking is sort of like there is a string attached to your duifang and you, no move they do goes unnoticed, they do not have the freedom to do anything they want and you do not move by intent so much as in direct reaction to what they do..
So is this an abstract notion which could be translated into physical relationships many different ways?
jaime_g wrote: My particular theory is that Thibault practised a mix of carranza's destreza and his own experiences. Maybe not orthodox destreza, but i think is perfectly normal.Early destreza had a lot of ways and branches.Not even Pacheco de narvaez managed to consolidate the system in his period
I would be interested to know whether you have personally practiced Thibault's system, but I don't want to derail this thread. Send me a message if you would like to talk about it.
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Re: Distance

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Tue Jul 21, 2009 8:40 am

J HepworthYoung wrote:For me the sticking is.. like there is a string attached to your duifang and you... It makes it ... all about position... This is based on the open hand practice of taiji if I am not mistaken, at least for me it is. It allows one to take almost instant advantage of errors and movements.
Your string analogy is an excellent one. I usually say that you should feel & act as if the air between you & the duifang is solid. If a blow is moving toward you, it should be as if a column of air joins the weapon, or hand, & the place it will land, so you move with it the same manner you would as if receiving a push in Push Hands, but without the blow actually touching you.

Despite the manner in which the art is often presented these days, taijiquan is a rather large & complete system, so yes, sword work (& everything else) is based on the foundation of empty hand work. Sticking & Following, & Listening & Understanding skills, are given birth to during Push Hands, where there is actual physical contact. Unfortunately, most students/schools today don't go beyond this, so their understanding of Sticking & Following, etc, is limited, constrained.
J HepworthYoung wrote:... believe that Aldo Nadi had a sticking-like skill and that he employed this to great advantage.
That wouldn't surprise me at...

If I may make one request of those trained in European Styles, please post links about the things/terms you are using in your posts. Many of us Chinese types aren't familiar with European terminology or traditions... Thanks...

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Re: Distance

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Tue Jul 21, 2009 8:44 am

Michael wrote:
J HepworthYoung wrote:For me the sticking is sort of like there is a string attached to your duifang and you, no move they do goes unnoticed, they do not have the freedom to do anything they want and you do not move by intent so much as in direct reaction to what they do..
So is this an abstract notion which could be translated into physical relationships many different ways?
It is not an abstract notion, but an actual skill that when develops over time. With practice one will not feel there is any difference/separation between oneself & the duifang. If you are interested a the specifics of this training, etc, may I suggest my book-
Taiji Notebook for Martial Artists
http://www.sevenstarstrading.com/html/b ... /notebook/

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Re: Distance

Post by Michael » Tue Jul 21, 2009 11:42 pm

Scott M. Rodell wrote: If I may make one request of those trained in European Styles, please post links about the things/terms you are using in your posts. Many of us Chinese types aren't familiar with European terminology or traditions... Thanks...
A good link which discusses measure from a European(especially Italian) point of view is this: http://www.salvatorfabris.com/Understan ... sure.shtml

It's an article by Steven Reich, from which I pulled the handy diagrams the last time that this discussion comes up. It defines terms, some of which both in English and Italian, so it's a handy reference if your want more detail on what I was talking about in the original post. The author is also a member of this forum, so you may be able to ask him questions directly.


Here is a question directly for Scott Rodell: You mentioned a lack of formalized and concrete theory from which to work from, but have you derived any rules of thumb with regard to distance from your own personal experience?
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Re: Distance

Post by Dan Pasek » Wed Jul 22, 2009 8:07 am

Michael wrote: These distances, which are classified differently by different masters, can be thought of in these terms:
Out of measure > (Length of a single step) + (Length of the arm at full extension) + (Length of the blade)
Wide measure = (Length of a single step) + (Length of the arm at full extension) + (Length of the blade)
Narrow measure = (Length of the arm at full extension) + (Length of the blade)
Michael, could you clarify if your distances (out-of-measure, wide-measure, and narrow-measure) are the distances to touching the body with the tip of the sword? In my limited experiences with Chinese swordsmanship, it would seem like we may start closer when free-sparring (perhaps a full step - but not a full lunge with arm fully extended - to reach the torso, but perhaps only a half-step to attack an opponent’s arm).

I have not been trained specifically with distances being defined. I am also not experienced with full power (or full speed with controlled power) sparring, so I hope that more experienced members of this forum will correct any errors I state. All I can do is present some information from my limited experiences that perhaps may differ from others on this forum. This topic sounds interesting, and perhaps my comments will stimulate further discussions.

I have experience with two choreographed sparring routines for jian (both jian v. jian) and one for dao (dao v. dao). All these forms start from a distance requiring one or more full steps in order to engage in an attack to the torso, and end (or temporarily disengage in the middle of the routine) the same (though usually, with both people disengaging a distance of one or two steps, the resulting distance is more like 2-4 steps apart). In free-sparring my experience is that the starting and disengaging distance tends to be closer to a single step apart and it is more likely that one person retreats rather than both doing so simultaneously.

It seems to me that the typical starting engagement distance for Chinese swordsmanship (at least for what I have experience with) may be just beyond weapons touching with arms held comfortably (not fully extended), although occasionally one finds people comfortable slightly closer (where perhaps the distal third of the blades could touch). As explained previously by others, you are already engaged at this distance, whether or not the weapons are actually in contact.

Most sword sparring drills that I am familiar with practice techniques from fairly close range. The progression typically has been first using stationary footwork and being just within range for an attack to the body, but then progresses to slightly farther apart when stepping is added such that about a half-step to a full-step distance is necessary (depending on the specific technique being trained) to reach the opponent’s torso. Often the stepping progresses from first done ‘linear’ to later doing ‘angling’. Note that the training that I have could probably be classified as ‘civilian’ since our stepping often emphasizes changing angles (rather than the more linear forward/backward footwork that may be more appropriate for military units where your companions are to your right and left). It is possible that the differences between ‘linear’ and ‘angling’ stepping may affect the distances used for sparring.

From my experiences, it seems that in general the ranges used for both jian and dao are similar except when the engagement ends up in very close range. Both will use kicks, strikes with the off-hand, and strikes with the pommel, etc. when in close, but the jian wielder’s attacks would tend to be more for the purpose of allowing one to lengthen the distance to one more appropriate for jian techniques. Conversely, the dao can be used very close to the body and is thus still effective even for cutting at very close range (with the dull edge towards the wielder’s body sometimes supported by the off-hand/arm or torso).

So, it seems to me like we typically are ready in ‘wide-measure’ (rather than starting in ‘out-of-measure’ and not wasting time once closer than that), and while engaged even if not contacting weapons, we may ‘waste time’ at this range. If properly engaged at this range, defense for whatever possible attack may come should already be established and if they do attack, very little should need to be done to defend. And we don’t really ‘waste time’ here. Just like in ‘push-hands’ training, one should be giving the opponent challenges and, if they respond incorrectly, or if they present an opening, then you should attack. If they respond correctly, then you should change to appropriately match their movements and continue with another challenge, or defend against a counterattack, as appropriate.

Dan

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