Chen Style Tai Chi Weapons – The Jian or Double Edged Sword
by Max Yan and James Cravens
Chen Style Tai Chi has many weapons that are a part of its curriculum. In the old large frame the weapons are practiced today because they play a role in focusing on part of the goal to create a Tai Chi Body. For example, the Two Edged Sword, although a difficult weapon to master, is placed early in the curriculum to help in the development of loosening the shoulders and hips.
The single straight two edged sword (dan jian), of Chen style Tai Chi, is one type of short weapon from among the routines of Tai Chi. Over the past few hundred years, it has been widely disseminated among the villagers of Chenjiagou and is one of the oldest weapons sets of Chen Style Tai Chi. There are altogether 49 movements in the single straight double edged sword routine. The set of movements is logically arranged, tightly knit, and makes clear use of the different sword techniques such as: ci (level or upward thrust), pi (cleave), liao (circular deflection with point upward), gua (hang up), dian (flick the wrist to strike downward with the tip), mo (level or oblique upward slicing cut), tuo (push up), jia (lift up opponent’s weapon overhead), sao (horizontal circular slicing), jie (block), zha (downward thrust), tui (push), and hua (circular neutralizing striking patterns).
The Tai Chi sword also combines the natural and poised body dynamics of Chen style bare-handed boxing and its nimble yet stable footwork. Suddenly hard then suddenly soft, its technique hidden and then suddenly manifest. The sword makes use of “zhan nian lian sui” or sticking to the opponent like a shadow. The posture changes according to the sudden and changeable positioning methods of “teng shan zhe kong” which include leaping ahead, suddenly shifting aside, countering swiftly, and leaving the opponent striking at nothing.
The sword truly embodies Chen style Tai Chi principles of using the movements of the body to move the sword. Movements flow continuously one into the other without stopping, using circular and enveloping tactics, storing and releasing energy in turn, blending both the hard and the supple, with fast movements alternating with slow movements. The Chen style sword practitioner sticks with the opponent without losing contact, never failing to take advantage of an opening, and uses deceptive actions to lure the opponent. The changes are unpredictable, contracting and stretching, coming and going, with a method of energetically striking with hard energy.
When practicing the Chen style sword, it is necessary that you do so on the basis of practicing the bare-handed forms well; then you will be able to proceed with using your thoughts to guide your internal energy (yi yi dao qi), using your internal energy to drive the movements of your body (yi qi cui shen), sending our energy to the tip of the sword (jing guan jiqn xiao), with your whole body acting together in unison (zhou shen yi zhi), and your movements naturally turning like a rolling ball (yuan zhuan zi ran).
There is a saying in martial arts: “the broadsword is like a fierce tiger, the straight-edged sword is like a swimming dragon”. Therefore, when you practice with the sword it is the same as practicing bare-handed boxing; your movements are like moving clouds or a flowing stream – continuous without stopping, turning freely in a bold and vigorous way , issuing energy like a lion tossing his mane, with a myriad of rapid changes. When you practice the sword really well, not only can you bring about the result of strengthening your body, but you can bring about a completely relaxed and happy state of mind, and realize the benefits of achieving beauty in this art. The famous Taiji master, Chen Zhao-Pi (18th generation) composed the following verse to express this:
“Zha (downward or sideways thrust), dian (point with a downward flick), mo (oblique upward cut), pi (cleave), ci (level or upward forward thrust), draw into spirals and lead the attacker’s energy harmlessly (uses a spiralling action to disarm the opponent).”
“Tiao (split from bottom to top) and li (split from top to bottom) is the proper way; tui tuo (push away and lift up) is the orthodox method.”
“There are ways to advance while leading the attacker in; the horizontal and vertical movements of the sword a flash of steel.”
“Contracting like a hedgehog; releasing energy as if reaching to the end of a rainbow.”
“A myriad sun rays radiate brilliantly; the glorious radiance is marvelously boundless.”
“After long practice with the Tai Chi sword; when your skill is perfected, you will achieve an enlightenment of your own.”