Li Tianji - A Brief Introduction to Practising Taiji Sword

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Concluding part of a lecture at the Wuhan International Taijiquan and Taijijian Display and Exchange Meeting, Wuhan, China, April 1984 by Distinguished Taijiquan expert Li Tianji

Taiji Sword is one of the forms of Wushu loved best by the public, and was created and developed on the basis of Taijiquan. Its movements are gentle and harmonious, and its sword strokes clear, and it differs from other sword styles in its sequence and structure and in the degree of strenuousness.
It is a suitable choice for practice by people of different ages and physical conditions and of both sexes. With the present widening spread of Taijiquan, more and more people in this country are also practising Taiji Sword. Each style of Taijiquan has its own particular character, and there are differences between the sword styles too. But a feature common to them all is their concentration on suppleness, but with strength in suppleness, without added jumps or elaborate strokes.
The 32-form Taiji Sword prepared and published in 1958 by the National Sports Council, was put together by selection and rearrangement on the basis of the old sequences. Because of its simplicity and ease of practise, it has become popular with the public at large. This Taiji Sword sequence is divided into four sections, and from start to finish goes back and forth just twice.
The direction and sequence are clearly defined, it is easy to teach and to learn, convenient for both individual and group practice, and particularly suitable for beginners. If one gets a grounding by means of this sword sequence, then later practising other 'Taiji Sword' or 'Taiji Sword for 2 people' sequences will be easier. If one practises Taiji Sword constantly, it will not only help improve one's skill in Taijiquan, but can also increase the suppleness and coordination of all parts of the body, and promote physical health.
Practising Taiji Sword body movement and steps
Taiji Sword body movements and steps are practised in basically the same style as in Taijiquan, except that the speed should be a little more flexible, as all kinds of sword strokes are included. Attention should be paid to the attacking and defensive implications of different strokes, eg: chou, pi, Liao, dian, ci, etc.
Left Hand
When practising Taiji Sword, apart from the sword strokes, body action and steps, the coordination of the left hand, in 'sword fingers' position is very important. On the one hand it helps to transmit power to the point of the sword and to keep the body in balance, and on the other it can lend harmony and grace to the movements. If the left hand is not used properly, the movements are bound to be fragmented and disjointed. In every move and form in Taiji Sword, attention should be paid to the starting point, finishing point, and correct positioning of the left hand, otherwise the movements will appear disjointed and awkward, and the effectiveness of the training will thus be reduced.
When practising Taiji Sword, the coordination of the eyes is also most important. Although the movements are gentle, there can be no laxness of concentration. The eyes and the sword should be directed towards the same spot, and one should aim to make "the sword and the mind combine as one."
When starting to practise Taiji Sword, it is essential to master the basics, for if the basic skills are not mastered, then the movements will be uncoordinated and unsteady. If body and sword are not together, then the benefit obtained will not be very great. If one can learn Taijiquan before learning Taiji Sword, and then afterwards go on to study 'Taiji Sword for 2 people,' the results will be much better, for bare-hands work is the basis of weapons play, as weapons play is an extension of the art of boxing.
There are two main aspects to mastering the basic skills. Firstly, pay attention to training the body. The actions of the body, legs, and eyes must be mastered and also the movements and coordination of the free hand.
Through basic exercises to stretch the leg muscles and loosen the waist, one can gradually increase the strength of the lower limbs, and improve the body's qualities of suppleness, agility, and stamina. Each movement and form requires full concentration and attention to detail, and every effort should be made to get the forms correct and the movements full, the steps steady and the body lithe.
Sword Strokes
Secondly, pay attention to practising the sword strokes. The sword strokes are the ways of using the sword for attack and defence. The strokes making up each sword sequence differ according to the different content and style of the various swordplay sequences.
Some sets of swordplay use more cutting and slashing strokes, others use more thrusts, lunges and the like; for instance, there used to be a "Wudang Taiji Sword for 2 people" which used thirteen different kinds of stroke: chou, dai ti, ge, ji, ci, dian, beng, jiao, ya, pi, jie and xi.
But whatever strokes are used, when learning we must understand the sword action required for each movement; be clear as to the path the sword should follow, the point where power should be applied (i.e. whether using the edge or the tip of the sword), and the coordination of the free hand; and get the movements integrated with the sword strokes. This way, it is not only easier to remember the movements, but also to grasp their essential features and to get them correct and in harmony.
If one is practising Taiji Sword with a partner, both people should study regularly and coordinate thoroughly with each other, according to the requirements of "softness can defeat strength," and of avoiding the opponent's strength and attacking his weakness, to produce an intense and lifelike performance.
Both the above points require us to first acquire a solid mastery of the basic movements, and then through repeated practice, to integrate the actions of the hands, body, legs and eyes intimately with the sword strokes, to the point where "body and sword are one" and "sword and mind are one," so that whether one is wielding the sword to left or right, cutting and slashing up or down, it can all be accurate and coordinated, nimble but steady, and in complete control, so as to combine body, sword and mind into a unified whole, and give the movements harmony and grace.
For the Taiji Sword performances at this meeting, five criteria have been set for awarding points:
These are:
1.suppleness (rou)
2.correct movement (fa)
3.use of strength (jin)
4.expression (shen)
5.speed (su).
All who conform to these requirements will be awarded full marks. This time we are mainly concerned with exchanging experience.
What I have said has been very superficial, and is just for the information of our friends from every country when they come to perform.