Why Chinese swordsmanship?

Discussion of Chinese historical swordsmanship from all styles.

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Michael
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Why Chinese swordsmanship?

Post by Michael » Sat Aug 08, 2009 10:56 pm

Why do you practice Chinese martial arts? Why swordsmanship? Why the particular style or family that you practice? I'm curious to know, and I think that it's a good question to ask any martial artist. And it is one that has added value for me, because I'm looking to try new martial arts as soon as I manage the time to do so.

There are a lot of practitioners of yangjia taijiquan here, and, correct me if I'm wrong, taiji has a reputation for emphasizing jianfa, but is it the weapon you would choose the study if your options were limitless? Why is that? It's a bit of an odd weapon, ubiquitous throughout many cultures, but not usually a primary weapon of war.

I'm most interested in what you think is the distinctive appeal of a) martial arts from China b) swordsmanship and/or c) your particular martial art(s).
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Re: Why Chinese swordsmanship?

Post by Linda Heenan » Sun Aug 09, 2009 2:30 am

I chose the jian as the best sword for me through writing about it. An interest in learning swordsmanship led to an online search. This brought up a fantasy writers' site based on some of my recent favourite books. I joined the site and created a character to roleplay with. She was a female warrior. One of the other writers on the site made some suggestions about good swords to write with. I did some research and chose the jian, which I knew as the gim back then. During a roleplayed training session with the other writer, he began to teach me some real jian techniques. To write them well, I had to practise at home in order to picture how I could write a workable spar with him. They were, he told me later, from Scott Rodell's Applications DVD.

A third writer spoke out on the thread. Both of them were recommending Scott Rodell's First Section Michuan Jian Form Applications DVD and his book "Chinese Swordsmanship: the Yang Family Taiji Jian Tradition". I ordered them, as well as the Estonian 2002 Sword Festival DVD and they arrived in the mail a few weeks later. When I listened to Scott Rodell speaking and watched how well he handled a jian, I decided two things: This was without a doubt, the right sword style for me, and I would like to meet Scott Rodell. My greatest dream at that time - that he would become my teacher.

Australia is more than a whole day of travel away from America. You speak about going for the options that are available. But this was more available than anything else I knew. I began to learn from the DVDs and the book. I was a member of Sword Forum International back then, and I discovered Scott Rodell was a moderator on the Chinese Forum. So I wrote to him. He became my teacher and over the next 14 months I trained and and organised his first Australian seminar.

I also wrote on the SFI Training Partner Finder for anyone doing Chinese swordsmanship near me. Of course, I needed a training partner. There was no one. Eventually it was answered by a Sydney man named Paul Wagner. He agreed to learn the Chinese style with me so he could be my training partner. It took some time to find out who he really was - quite likely the best swordsman of European style in Australia. So I travelled and trained. Each training session with Paul took 2 hours in training time and 5-6 hours in traveling time. In the process of working with him I also learn some German longsword, English longsword, Highlander broadsword, Claymore, and English quarterstaff. That gave me enough of a look at other styles to know for sure I really wanted to stick with Chinese. It felt more right for me.

So, in the last 6 years I've traveled to Estonia once and America twice. I've also brought my teacher, Scott Rodell, over here five times for seminars and am presently working on another one for April 2010. It wasn't so much my choice as a set of circumstances so unlikely that I'm still certain God chose my teacher.
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Re: Why Chinese swordsmanship?

Post by J HepworthYoung » Sun Aug 09, 2009 10:35 am

Why do you practice Chinese martial arts?
In my study of martial arts only Taijiquan has what I want.
I have looked into many other styles and was not nearly as impressed with them, though I am a martial arts enthusiast in general. However the art I practice is not Chinese, it is mine, I claim it for myself. I am not Chinese, I believe in the philosophy of one planet one people, so it is a part of global culture, not just the culture of Asia.

Why swordsmanship?
Loved it since I was a kid.
Then I took some iaido and foil fencing. Those were ok, but when I found chinese swordmanship it made far more sense to me.
But as far as sword, because the role of a sword in society is not prominent I can practice a martial art but not cultivate a feeling of violence. People do not walk down the streets with swords... well one guy a city away does or so I am told, but he is crazy, or so I am told.

Why the particular style or family that you practice?
I do not limit myself, so I do not practice one style.
However michuan sword basic cuts are marvelous and that forms the basis of my sword practice.
I study many systems of swordplay, I just have the opinion that taijisword has what I want, so for me it is superior to western systems as well as Japanese, the latter of which I feel is vastly overrated.

is it the weapon you would choose the study if your options were limitless? Why is that?
I study many weapons. I have incorporated a vajra into my practice for example. I am working on finding a decent spear shaft pole to work on spear. It is hard to find something sturdy and long enough. I'd prefer 14 feet or so... I also work with sticks of various sizes and knives. I have a few years of practice at shuriken. I practice archery, mostly I practice drawing the bow. I have practiced with rope darts. I have incorporated a handgun into taiji practice before too.
I practice more weapons that I list here. However I focus on swordsmanship and archery.

I read that archery was an old traditional martial arts practice, so I started practicing often. I like what it does for me. Sword is something I have a passion for, so that is what I focus on as far as this forum goes.


I'm most interested in what you think is the distinctive appeal of a) martial arts from China b) swordsmanship and/or c) your particular martial art(s).

Aptitude.

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Re: Why Chinese swordsmanship?

Post by Dan Pasek » Tue Aug 11, 2009 3:33 pm

I first became interested in Chinese culture in high school when I took a Chinese literature class and studied the Yijing for a class presentation, along with reading the Daodejing, poetry, etc. In college a new Aikido club was forming which offered the first month free, and while I attended, that art did not interest me as much as the Taijiquan that classmates introduced me to.

In the late 1970s in the USA there were not many books about Taijiquan, but our college bookstore did carry Sophia Delza’s Wu style book. Reading and practicing from the book got me started but didn’t take me very far. Upon graduation in 1979, I found a Yang style Taijiquan class at a local community college where I studied with a teacher for the first time. I continued with a different teacher when I went to grad school (also Yang style). I learned his entire curriculum, but the only weapon that this teacher taught was sword (jian). I have since been introduced to other styles of Taijiquan, and other weapons in the system.

So a pre-interest in Chinese culture is the answer to why Chinese martial arts. Yang style and swordsmanship were simply due to availability.

Taijiquan also fits my personality. The formality of the Japanese culture that accompanies the instruction of Aikido was not for me as I have a more Daoist approach to life. Also, while somewhat athletic in high school, my sports of choice were swimming and tennis (basketball and baseball would have been ok, but I was only average in those sports), and I had no interest in the more confrontational sports like wrestling or football. So, for a martial arts choice, Taijiquan was quite appropriate for me.

My primary early teacher (in grad school & beyond) mainly taught in order to train practice partners for interactive work, so I started with an interest in Taijiquan’s martial aspects. On the other hand, that teacher has Meniere's syndrome (& is legally deaf) which caused him to have such poor balance prior to learning Taijiquan that he had to lean against the walls of his high school hallways in order to make it from class to class. Thus, I also had a dramatic example of Taijiquan’s health benefits since you would now not have any idea that his balance had ever been so poor.

I now tend to favor Chen style Taijiquan, although Yang style is still a close second. Other styles of Taijiquan have not really tempted me although I have learned Wudang 108 form, Sun competition form, some weapons from the Fu style variant, and have been exposed to other styles like Wu/Hao, Wu, etc. There are some aspects of these other styles that are interesting, but not sufficient to motivate me to seek out an instructor for them. On the other hand, an instructor with excellent skills would be worthwhile training with regardless of the style that was taught.

I have also been studying ILiqChuan with Sifu Sam Chin because of his phenomenal skill level as well as his ability to systematize his arts principles and provide a clear training system that leads to relatively rapid progress. He has the awareness and sensitivity (and ability to fight) that all Taijiquan practitioners should aspire to. His art also emphasizes interactive work (‘sticky’ & ‘spinning’ hands) which I prefer at this stage of my martial arts training. Although ILiqChuan principles manifest differently than in Taijiquan, they are in essence not inconsistent with each other.

Although I have studied some Baguazhang, other styles of Chinese martial arts have not particularly interested me. At this point in my training, any other art, whether Chinese or not, would have to be consistent with Taijiquan and ILiqChuan principles for me to be interested in studying it.

Sword (jian) is often considered to be the weapon most suited to the fluid circularity of Taijiquan. In the five phases relationship (wuxing) the sword (jian) is associated with water (the hands without weapons is associated with earth), and should exhibit the qualities of a flying phoenix or swimming dragon. On the other hand, the saber (dao) is associated with metal in the wuxing, and should exhibit the qualities of an enraged tiger charging down a mountainside. The qualities associated with the saber (dao) make it rather difficult to perform to exhibit those qualities while simultaneously in the slow, continuous, relaxed performance manner of Yang style Taijiquan. Chen style, where vigorous movements and visible expression of power (fajin) are more characteristic, matches the qualities associated with the saber (dao) more closely. These traditional associations for these weapons in Chinese culture may be why sword (jian) is often preferred over saber (dao) in Taijiquan schools especially for Yang style.

My own preference is for sword (jian) in applications work and sparring (I like the greater fluidity and continuity), but would preferentially adapt saber (dao) techniques for use with a stick or cane (a ‘weapon’ still allowed on airplanes) if I ever actually needed to defend myself on the street (in situations against one or two assailants I would be comfortable without a weapon, but in crowds or against someone with a knife I would prefer using a cane). Since I am now in my 50s with some graying of the hair, I would probably not be given a second glance if I was carrying a cane with me, and this would be the most likely weapon than I may actually eventually use in a street encounter, so saber (dao) training would probably be the most practical to practice.

I have had also had training in the other two of the five classical weapons associated with the wuxing, the staff (associated with wood) and spear (associated with fire), and have had training in interactive work with all five. I rather like staff (which also includes some spear techniques in the training) for Taijiquan, and feel that spear is ok but I am not particularly looking to enhance that training.

I have also learned forms &/or drills without interactive training for fan and yinyuedao (spring & autumn falchion). At my present level of knowledge, these primarily only add variety, although their characteristics focus on different aspects than the other traditional weapons. I do not have any particular desire to train using these for fighting though, but since I like interactive work, I probably would if the training opportunity presented itself.

Dan

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Re: Why Chinese swordsmanship?

Post by Michael » Tue Aug 11, 2009 3:57 pm

That's a good answer, Dan.

For all of you, I'd be particularly interested in what qualities of the jian(or other weapons) appeal to you, and why those qualities don't apply to other weapons. Dan, I think it's interesting what you say about jian being more akin to the flowing, circular movements of taijiquan, but why do you think that is? Surely, if your statement is correct(and there are certainly many who would agree with you), there should be some reason for it based on specific martial principles. And why does this not also apply to dao? There are certainly many types of dao which are not so different than jian once we strip away our preconceived notions about how they should be used.
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Re: Why Chinese swordsmanship?

Post by Dan Pasek » Wed Aug 12, 2009 10:16 am

Michael wrote:Dan, I think it's interesting what you say about jian being more akin to the flowing, circular movements of taijiquan, but why do you think that is? Surely, if your statement is correct(and there are certainly many who would agree with you), there should be some reason for it based on specific martial principles. And why does this not also apply to dao? There are certainly many types of dao which are not so different than jian once we strip away our preconceived notions about how they should be used.
For my saber interactive work I have primarily been trained using the oxtail dao (niuweidao) which has more of a chopping character than a willow-leaf dao (liuyedao) [which would also be closer to European sabers], and much more than the sword (jian). There is a greater tendency to beat away an opponent’s weapon than in deflecting away their weapon as would be more common with the sword (jian). The saber also has more quick changes in direction (at least in how I was taught), either by using the free hand against the dull back of the blade, or by circling the saber around the body.

Although never told so, I have suspected that the Yang family’s preference for the willow-leaf dao (but with ring pommel and S-shape guard, fittings often seen on more rustic types of dao in the late Qing) may have been due in part to its ability to be more sword-like in use. This would fit better with the characteristic manner that Yang style Taijiquan is performed. In contrast, the character of Chen style Taijiquan would easily accommodate the oxtail dao. In forms, Yang style dao is much more fluid, with even tempo, and continuous movements than the Chen style dao which has numerous quick, abrupt, and percussive movements. But it is correct that both sword (jian) and saber (both niuweidao and liuyedao) have circularity in how they are employed.

As to the staff, I like how it links both sides of the body (Taijiquan’s whole body movements) and how when one side retreats the other side advances – at least when held as a staff in thirds so that either end can readily be used to attack; in contrast with a staff held like a spear with one hand at the butt end and with the other end favored for attacks. I find that staff movements reflect weaponless combat more closely that spear does, but it is also fun to fajin all the way down a spear shaft!

Dan

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Re: Why Chinese swordsmanship?

Post by Michael » Wed Aug 12, 2009 12:17 pm

Dan Pasek wrote: For my saber interactive work I have primarily been trained using the oxtail dao (niuweidao) which has more of a chopping character than a willow-leaf dao (liuyedao) [which would also be closer to European sabers], and much more than the sword (jian). There is a greater tendency to beat away an opponent’s weapon than in deflecting away their weapon as would be more common with the sword (jian). The saber also has more quick changes in direction (at least in how I was taught), either by using the free hand against the dull back of the blade, or by circling the saber around the body.

Although never told so, I have suspected that the Yang family’s preference for the willow-leaf dao (but with ring pommel and S-shape guard, fittings often seen on more rustic types of dao in the late Qing) may have been due in part to its ability to be more sword-like in use. This would fit better with the characteristic manner that Yang style Taijiquan is performed. In contrast, the character of Chen style Taijiquan would easily accommodate the oxtail dao. In forms, Yang style dao is much more fluid, with even tempo, and continuous movements than the Chen style dao which has numerous quick, abrupt, and percussive movements. But it is correct that both sword (jian) and saber (both niuweidao and liuyedao) have circularity in how they are employed.
Well let's not forget that the niuweidao is a more recent weapon that is not wholly accurate for many Chinese martial arts, despite its popularity. It is unusually balanced and one of the most obviously cut-oriented swords in common use, so whenever we use a niuweidao to compare dao and jian, we're going to unnecessarily widen the gap. I suspect that the widespread use of niuweidao has a lot to do with why people think the two groups are so different.
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Re: Why Chinese swordsmanship?

Post by Dan Pasek » Wed Aug 12, 2009 2:21 pm

Michael wrote:Well let's not forget that the niuweidao is a more recent weapon that is not wholly accurate for many Chinese martial arts, despite its popularity. It is unusually balanced and one of the most obviously cut-oriented swords in common use, so whenever we use a niuweidao to compare dao and jian, we're going to unnecessarily widen the gap. I suspect that the widespread use of niuweidao has a lot to do with why people think the two groups are so different.
Yes, the oxtail dao is a relatively recent weapon, but remember that Yang Luchan was only born in 1799 (died in 1872) so he would likely have been practicing when the oxtail dao was in use. Chen style history goes farther back (1600s), but many modern practitioners owe much of their training to the lineage of Chen Fake (1887-1957).

Basing my opinion on observations of the different weapon forms for the different styles of Taijiquan, the significant differences lead me to suspect that the styles developed their own forms after establishing the different styles, thus they would all be relatively recent. However, this does not mean that weapon usage was that late as there seem to be similarities in the styles’ usage drills. I would love to have more precise information as to when the various weapons were introduced into Taijiquan and when their corresponding forms were introduced. I suspect that spear and yinyuedao (spring & autumn falchion) may have been favored weapons early in Chen style history, but have little information on sword or saber (or the other weapons).

Dan

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Re: Why Chinese swordsmanship?

Post by J HepworthYoung » Thu Aug 13, 2009 10:02 am

Why the Jian?

In the whole world it is my favorite sword. I think it is more attractive and better balanced than anything else I have ever handled. It seems to be akin to the sword wielded by Acalanatha.

what qualities of the jian(or other weapons) appeal to you, and why those qualities don't apply to other weapons

I suppose the art of the sword itself, not swordsmanship but rather the craftsmanship is a major factor for me. Not that this is exclusive, but it is a primary draw for me. Secondary to this is the obscure nature of the jian, it is not a weapon that gets employed widely. The cutting potential of the instrument surely rivals that of any Katana, the laminate steel likewise. I couldn't care less about culture or that the instrument hails from China. Nor do I find the qualities that attract me are necessarily exclusive to the jian, rather they are embodied in the jian, which although capable of being a horrific instrument also carries with it some connotations of scholarly and gentlemanly work and aspiration. So perhaps the appeal is merely to my ego?

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Re: Why Chinese swordsmanship?

Post by jonpalombi » Sun Aug 16, 2009 2:02 pm

Greetings Michael,

Wow. Now, you sure packed a lot into a seemingly, simple list of questions. Of course, nothing is really that simple in life and Chinese swordsmanship is no exception. It is both, a complex group of systems (each unique unto itself) and and takes a lifetime to fully grasp the profound elements, therein .

Why I study Chines martial arts? Primarily, because of my deep love of world history. Of all the martial traditions on this planet, I find the Eastern systems the most fascinating. Of all the Asian systems, I find the Chinese ones the most dynamic and versatile.

Why swordsmanship? Nothing embodies the essence of the warrior, more than the sword. As a symbol, a weapon or an icon... the sword has become fused within the human psyche. Since I was a child, I was fascinated with swords and soaked-up anything I could on the subject (movies, books, TV shows, videos...) in an era that predated computers and such technologies. I initially studied Korean Gumdo, as I had been involved with tae kwon do for several years, in high school. Over the decades, I have pursued: Japanese iaido, Olympic foil fencing, Medieval re-enactment and for the last 5 years, Yangjia Michuan taijiquan swordsmanship.

Why Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan? Initially, I was drawn to Shaolinquan. Wushu was too flashy for me and I hated the floppy swords. While Tai Chi Chuan seemed fluid and beautiful, it didn't seem as practical for fighting (little did I know). Having developed an avid desire to collect antique swords, it was only natural to search for genuine Chinese examples. To my good fortune, I found Scott Rodell in 1993 and began the journey that has become a way of life for me. This system is my greatest treasure and deepest passion. I feel this is the most versatile and effective methodology of them all. I find it is flowing, explosive and unbeatable in actual combat situations.

The jian? As I stated before, I love swords of all kinds. Each one has something unique and powerful within it's design and construction. Even so, the double-edged sword is the most universal in structural form and has been a part of the human race, in multiple cultures, for well over 5 thousand years. Of all the variations on this theme, I find the jian the most perfect of them all. It can both, cut and thrust with equal propensity. The jian is adaptable and has a nearly inexhaustible repertuar of techniques and viable options, in terms of sword-fighting.

"...but not usually a primary weapon of war." Now, now, Michael... please do review world history. I think you will find that this is hardly true. For when the distance has closed, what could be more primary that your sword? Granted, over the last several hundred years, sabers took precedence on the battlefields. This, however, does not negate any of the outstanding attributes of the jian. As it takes more time to develop the full range of it's techniques, it was more of an officer's weapon, given that military officers had long careers in which to refine their skills. If it really did become a "scholar's sword" (a poetic notion), it is unlikely they were experienced enough to do justice to the near-mythic attributes of the jian. I personally think scholars just carried them around for status. Yes? In an actual life and death conflict, I would choose the jian over any other type of sword. Hands down, it is my overall favorite. Beautiful, deadly and elegant... it is the king of swords. Even as taiji-jian is the lord of jianfa.

Do we taiji-sword enthusiasts neglect daofa? Hardly, as the dao is the opposite side of the Chinese Swordsmanship Coin. To understand each of them, (as well as staff, spear and pole-arms) only furthers our understanding of our jianmanship. Michael, do check out this thread: viewtopic.php?f=4&t=53

Be well and practice often, Jon Palombi
Last edited by jonpalombi on Mon Aug 17, 2009 9:44 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Why Chinese swordsmanship?

Post by Michael » Sun Aug 16, 2009 2:59 pm

jonpalombi wrote:[
"...but not usually a primary weapon of war." Now, now, Michael... please do review world history. I think you will find that this is hardly true. Granted, over the last several hundred years, sabers took precedence on the battlefields. This, however, does not negate any of the outstanding attributes of the jian. As it takes more time to develop the full range of it's techniques, it was more of an officer's weapon, given that military officers had long careers in which to refine their skills. If it really did become a "scholar's sword" (a poetic notion), it is unlikely they were experienced enough to do justice to the near-mythic status of the jian. I personally think scholars just carried them around for status.
I have reviewed my world history, although my Chinese history is a bit rougher around the edges. In almost all cultures and time periods, and I would be surprised if China was a rare exception to this, foot soldiers relied primarily on polearms. They are cheap, long range, and effective in massed formations. An armorer/bladesmith that I know suggested that he could probably make four or five spearheads in the time it takes to make a single blade, to give some vague perspective. That's not to say that swords were uncommon on the battlefield, but they tend to be secondary weapons. Occasionally we see segments of an army, like the Spanish sword & buckler troops, who use swords as a primary weapon, but they tend to be the exception and by no means make up the majority of the army. This is a commonly accepted fact in European military history, but even in Japan, where the sword was revered to a point beyond most other cultures, the samurai still relied on archery and polearms a good amount of the time.

China may have more exceptions to this statement, but I have yet to seem them(and by all means, let me know). But in "world history" as you put it, the sword was very rarely the primary weapon on the battlefield. And please note that when I say "swords," I am not differentiating between dao and jian, as I believe they both fall under that category.


Now, if we take this as our premise, it once again begs the question: Why learn the sword? Why does it have such a unique reputation? History has established that, at least on the battlefield, there are more effective weapons when used en masse.

I believe that the sword is a symbol of individual combat. It's portable, much more so than most polearms, and so can be carried on one's person. It's versatile, useful both offensively and defensively. It lends itself to particularly subtle and/or precise techniques, which demands a higher degree of workmanship in creating it. This in turn makes it more expensive, which has historically led the sword to be associated with the nobility and various professional warrior classes. The sword still retains these associations.

This last point is worth dwelling on a bit, because the class difference is an important one. Not only would lower classes have trouble affording a sword of any real quality, but they would not likely receive extensive training in its use. On the other hand, a polearm is a weapon that can be used with little to no training, provided that the infantrymen wielding it can follow basic commands and stay in a close formation. So while polearms can certainly be subtle, versatile, and individual weapons, they usually saw simple use by massed troops, and they certainly were not carried around for personal defense and ornamentation to the extent that swords were.

Swords have therefore had a reputation for skilled, individual combat, very much the opposite of many weapons which were historically more common on the battlefield. And because in martial arts we tend to focus on the individual, one-on-one encounter above all else, this reputation is at the root of its appeal to me.
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Re: Why Chinese swordsmanship?

Post by jonpalombi » Sun Aug 16, 2009 10:07 pm

Michael wrote: I have reviewed my world history, although my Chinese history is a bit rougher around the edges. In almost all cultures and time periods, and I would be surprised if China was a rare exception to this, foot soldiers relied primarily on polearms. They are cheap, long range, and effective in massed formations. An armorer/bladesmith that I know suggested that he could probably make four or five spearheads in the time it takes to make a single blade, to give some vague perspective. That's not to say that swords were uncommon on the battlefield, but they tend to be secondary weapons. Occasionally we see segments of an army, like the Spanish sword & buckler troops, who use swords as a primary weapon, but they tend to be the exception and by no means make up the majority of the army. This is a commonly accepted fact in European military history, but even in Japan, where the sword was revered to a point beyond most other cultures, the samurai still relied on archery and polearms a good amount of the time.
Hey man, chill out, as I didn't mean to be challenging. I was just giving you my two cents worth about why I am devoted to the way of taiji-sword and how I came into this practice. Isn't that what your originally asked the forum body? I didn't mean to sound uppity, really. I apologize if I came off that way. We do study taijiquan, not pre-twentieth century, battlefield strategies & massive war formations. Regardless of the military influences on the Chen family and Yang Luchan's involvement with the Imperial Court, ours is a path of individual achievement. This is not the armed forces and we are not technically soldiers, although we do train pretty hard sometimes. Even so, the General commanding our movement is our own dantian. Obviously, you are well-schooled in ancient battlefield strategies and I do admit it, I tend to bend semantics to my own interpretation. I see "primary" as the inference of importance. That said importance, being a true life-saver, when the line is broken and one is alone, up against the advance of many adversaries. Alone yes, but for the safety-zone provided by a single sword-length. There is a contemporary consensus that the sword was a last-ditch type of a weapon. You know, "When all else fails, try a sword. After all, what else is left, your knife or a nice-sized rock?" I prefer to see the sword in the light of being a close-range combat weapon, plain and simple. Pole-arms and spears are close/mid-range and bow & arrows are far-range weapons. All of them are in essence primary, in the art of war (whether infantry or cavalry are concerned). However the mass distribution of these battlefield weapons came into play, none can seem to capture the grandeur and nobility of the sword. Is this no so?
China may have more exceptions to this statement, but I have yet to seem them(and by all means, let me know). But in "world history" as you put it, the sword was very rarely the primary weapon on the battlefield. And please note that when I say "swords," I am not differentiating between dao and jian, as I believe they both fall under that category.
Me too. I think there is far too much chatter going on about just which edged-weapon was this and/or that and why it was so, used by this type of person and not that type. Ultimately, it boils down to the very same essential elements of winning swordsmanship: flexibility, good timing, an intuitive feel for distance, proper foot-work, an emptiness in anticipation (for the movement of one's duifang), quick reflexes, an adequate cluster of offensive & defensive strategies and repertuar of effective techniques at hand. Realistically, it wouldn't matter if we used a spear, a sword or a brick, if we utilized internal energy. What Sifu Rodell keeps emphasizing to us, are the taijiquan principles of: sticking-adhering-joining-following.
Now, if we take this as our premise, it once again begs the question: Why learn the sword? Why does it have such a unique reputation? History has established that, at least on the battlefield, there are more effective weapons when used en masse. I believe that the sword is a symbol of individual combat. It's portable, much more so than most polearms, and so can be carried on one's person. It's versatile, useful both offensively and defensively. It lends itself to particularly subtle and/or precise techniques, which demands a higher degree of workmanship in creating it. This in turn makes it more expensive, which has historically led the sword to be associated with the nobility and various professional warrior classes. The sword still retains these associations.
Bingo Michael! Once again, I agree with you. The sword is ever held closest to the warrior (it's point is within three feet from one's center, in any direction) and it's mastery is very individual, in nature. Perhaps because of the degree of skill it takes to wield? In fact, as you so lucidly pointed out, the time/effort/workmanship involved in it's creation, spoke of it's primary importance in the life of both soldiers and civilians, alike. So, why bother to learn the sword? Because it is so worthy of study! Period. You would be wise to embrace it's practice. Somehow I suspect you do, already?
This last point is worth dwelling on a bit, because the class difference is an important one. Not only would lower classes have trouble affording a sword of any real quality, but they would not likely receive extensive training in its use. On the other hand, a polearm is a weapon that can be used with little to no training, provided that the infantrymen wielding it can follow basic commands and stay in a close formation. So while polearms can certainly be subtle, versatile, and individual weapons, they usually saw simple use by massed troops, and they certainly were not carried around for personal defense and ornamentation to the extent that swords were.
Agreed. We are all lucky to live in a time period, where we can afford such luxuries as swords. That being said, a good spear-man can negate much of the sword's noble status. Somehow, it all boils down to good taiji, regardless of the weapon or lack therein (empty-handed).
Swords have therefore had a reputation for skilled, individual combat, very much the opposite of many weapons which were historically more common on the battlefield. And because in martial arts we tend to focus on the individual, one-on-one encounter above all else, this reputation is at the root of its appeal to me.
True enough. I'm with you on this point. If you can't take it wherever you go, be it high upon a mountain-top or along the ocean's vast shore, of what use is it? Your point about portability is right on the money. For this treasure is at hand at all times, given our blade is by our side. Probably why I began this journey in the first place? Yes. Ultimately, we are practicing to tune ourselves to a higher level of understanding. If we aren't moving Chi through-out our bodies and feeling it, we are practicing external martial arts. This is well and fine but it ain't taijiquan. At the end of each life, we certainly do stand alone. Every battleground narrows itself to, the two small steps that separates one from the other fighter. After all, when the arrows have fallen as they may and the enemy has closed the distance, so as to render shafted-weapons unwieldy, It may be the sword, alone, which grants us safe passage home, to our own clan and family. Provided we have learned how to utilize it and arguably... have some degree of luck. Take care Michael!

Be well and practice often, Jon Palombi
Last edited by jonpalombi on Mon Aug 17, 2009 1:31 am, edited 2 times in total.
A wise person aspires to learn the practice of swordsmanship. A lucky person finds a worthy Teacher. A fool cannot tell the difference.

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Re: Why Chinese swordsmanship?

Post by Michael » Sun Aug 16, 2009 10:51 pm

jonpalombi wrote:We do study taijiquan, not pre-twentieth century, battlefield strategies & massive war formations.
Right, but it is important to remember that individual combat and combat on the battlefield are just different aspects of martial arts, and many of the martial arts that we practice today originated for use on the battlefield. I brought up the sword's status as a secondary weapon of war because we have to recognize the limitations of the weapon. Otherwise we're not being honest with ourselves when we answer the question "Why swordsmanship?"
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Re: Why Chinese swordsmanship?

Post by jonpalombi » Sun Aug 16, 2009 11:10 pm

Michael wrote:
jonpalombi wrote:We do study taijiquan, not pre-twentieth century, battlefield strategies & massive war formations.
Right, but it is important to remember that individual combat and combat on the battlefield are just different aspects of martial arts, and many of the martial arts that we practice today originated for use on the battlefield. I brought up the sword's status as a secondary weapon of war because we have to recognize the limitations of the weapon. Otherwise we're not being honest with ourselves when we answer the question "Why swordsmanship?"
Agreed. So, the individual is but the micro-reflection of the whole? The whole, the larger (macro) part of the individual self? That being said, the solitary warrior needs to actualize: sticking-adhering-joining-following, even as the entire army, in whole, needs to actualize: sticking-adhering-joining-following on a larger/grander scale. Obviously, like you just said, that's why we call it martial arts in the first place. And if the sword is secondary, based on it's limitations within the greater-scale of more massive troop formations, is the lone soldier then also secondary? That is, after the distance is closed, when long and mid-range weapons lose predominance and collective combat dilutes into individual combat. I still want my sword in-hand, when the melee begins. Who needs a good horse? "My kingdom for a good sword!" So... Why swordsmanship? To quote a 15 year old, fellow martial arts student I met in my wushu broadsword (dao) class recently, "Swords are cool." I agree. It's wushu I haven't made my mind up about (flashy stuff).

Ciao, Jon
A wise person aspires to learn the practice of swordsmanship. A lucky person finds a worthy Teacher. A fool cannot tell the difference.

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Re: Why Chinese swordsmanship?

Post by jaime_g » Mon Aug 17, 2009 3:59 pm

apologies for my english...

What have you found in chinese swordmanship that you haven,t seen in other styles? (at a martial level) When we talk about internal and external, do you think that it gets reduced to chinese styles? What must show a western style to be considered as internal?

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