Chinese swordplay
Moving the sword from the center - a myth?


There is a saying that it takes 10,000 days to be able to fight with the Chinese sword. On the training method, there are many different views and opinions. In terms of body work with the Chinese sword something transfigured looking statements are widely used, such as "The sword itself as a part of the body, as a natural extension of the arm ..." or "The sword is out of the center to lead ... ". But what lies behind these fraught with meaning, almost mythical formulations that are often not explained?


Further explained: The Chinese sword is to be a natural part of the movement patterns and structures that control our bodies already. It is understood therefore not as an isolated object, subject to a special handling, for example as something which should be moved only with the arm or as something for which a new muscle would grow. Although not directly comparable, but it behaves similar to a shoe. If we put it on, we need not to relearn to walk - unless it's maybe around 15 cm high heels. And even then we "just" harmonize the extension with the already learned walking. Here is located the key point, the fundamental understanding of swordplay: The Chinese sword is led as an endogenous limb through the entire body. To understand this principle and put it into practice takes time.


Well from old tradition?


In view of advanced weapons technologies, the Chinese sword fencing has become since the 19th century more or less obsolete. Found a sword master, seems to be difficult to impossible. Either the knowledge of this art went completely lost during the Chinese Cultural Revolution or there are only a few pieces of information to be found in different styles. Maybe the swordsmanship is just a side issue in the martial art style or it is taught "Closed Door". Not seldom, it also happened that the transcription of the style and techniques due to the low educational levels of a master were done by his (rich and educated) students. And if not, a lot of traditional knowledge got lost with the masters dead. A similar fate befell once the Japanese swordsmanship, which is also partly based on reconstruction. Merely the Japanese swordsmanship have become by the myth of the samurai and the Katana (as a symbol and brand) worldwide more prominent.


If you look at literature on the subject Chinese swordplay (Taijiquan, Wudang, etc.) look, it can be stated that it´s written a lot about forms, techniques and technical principles, but hardly anything about body work and movement principles with the sword. Usually only the known (base) body work is discussed or it´s just quoted this one or two common "myth" statements. The issue is apparently either too abstract to be described in a book, or simply lack of traditional knowledge, because the old masters did not want to reveal their "secrets". Another problem is apparently the "lack of understanding" of Chinese teachers for Western educational methods. The question of special "internal sword exercises" for a better understanding of specific weapons body mechanics is to them due to cultural differences mainly foreign. No malice behind it: According to Chinese tradition and to teaching, the techniques and forms are practiced quite simply until they are mastered. Copy, take, multiply, a good old Chinese style (not only in the martial arts).


Many roads lead to Rome?


There is a Chinese proverb that says (paraphrased): "A master of the sword is always also a master of hand technique, a master of box art is not necessarily familiar with the sword technique."

If you are talking with experienced teachers about the procedure for learning sword, so it states that at the beginning the basic work (with the body) need to be learned. The work with the sword will follow sometime later. In the same breath, however, this statement is often back into perspective since the sword should be considered as "an extension of the body".


In Taijiquan for example the sword is sometimes liked to use as a pure "tool" to improve the body work as such. Even if a martial artist the idea is reluctant reducing the sword on the function of a "tool", the idea is basically correct. Nowadays, many masters are aware that the weapons now have more limited value in self-defense. One reason mentioned is like, it is practicing, however, that help the weapons, the Jin (the refined power) to bring out better the unarmed work.


Elements of the body work with the sword.


The biggest challenge at the beginning of the learning of Chinese swordsmanship is the sword not to lead with strength and arm. As paradoxical as it may sound, but in the swordplay one must first learn to let go. It is necessary to lead to the sword with "empty hand" and it not to "force" with all power the techniques. The body is basically a more permeable, relaxed swinging body, which can in different ways energy impulses lead them to the sword. Therefore, a sensitive body sense in Chinese swordplay of major importance.


The sword from the middle to lead with a precise body awareness - the essence of the swordplay - is difficult to master. But what's behind this principle, how to lead the sword from the center –– how is it at all organized? In addition to the other basic corner points of the sword guidance, such as the hand posture, the rotation points (cornerstones of sword guide and the energy conversion), and the "power lines" can be stress essentially two areas, which are for guiding the sword from the center of particular importance: working with the body region "waist" and the correct use of the "sword Fingers".


Spiral movement patterns constitute the basis of a few styles in the Chinese civil sword fencing. These are significantly necessary for the work from the center. This spiral-shaped body work, for example, is  typical for the Wudang Taiji Meihua Tang Lang Sword Art - not least because it is generally specific to these styles. Because of the different martial arts styles and their own style specific technical terms, here is a short list:


In the Wudang (and Taijiquan) martial arts
the bodywork is called to work out "from the dan tian" from the center. The dan tian (Chinese 丹田 / Dantian literally cinnabar field) is a term used in the Taoism, which refers to the "energy centers" of the body. This is not about specific points in the body but of regions, especially in the internal martial arts. In the human body several Dantian be distinguished. For the swordsmanship essential is the "dan tian Xia" - the lower dan tian. It describes both the energy and the physical medium / gravity of the body.


In Taijiquan
turning from the Yao (waist) and the Kua (hips, groin and surrounding body structures - muscles, ligaments). Taijiquan emphasizes the principle that the movement is formed as a rotation of the Xia Dantian (the real). This concept of special exercises is called Chansi Gong or Silk Reeling.


In Taiji and Taiji Meihua Tang Lang
this region in "waist" (Yao). is defined The waist is muscle manchette between the iliac crest and ribs. It includes the straight and oblique and the lateral abdominal muscles, as well as the different layers of the long erector spinae and lumbar muscle of the square in this area. The waist commonly referred to the narrowest part of the trunk. For women the waist is about 2-3 inches above the belly button, for menthe location is something variable and may be above but also below the navel.


Although here explicitly the waist work or the movement from the center is pointed out, to work with the entire body as a whole is in the implementation always to consider.


Now if is mentioned to handle "the sword as an extension of the arm", one has to look closer at the structure and organization in the context of the arm to the body and waist work. From this the motion of the center is heavily influenced or controlled. While the upper arm usually forms a solid structure with the body, the lower arm in the direction of hand is increasingly permeable flexible. The hand is one of the main "interface" between the body and sword. It is the fundamental mediator between body, arm and sword and the "breaking point No. 1" when it comes to the transfer of energy from the body to the sword. The hand position of the sword handle also determines its guidance with fundamental. It is therefore hardly surprising that former Chinese sword masters were well versed in the art of calligraphy. Because both disciplines are correlated due to the similar nature of the handling and management.


Now for the next decisive factor, the sword fingers:


There is a Chinese saying that (paraphrased) says: "No good sword finger = not a good sword leadership."


To the previously mentioned "myths" of Chinese sword swordsmanship, also the origin and meaning of the sword finger seems to count. It seems to be often used only because it´s somehow a "style-specific" part of the sword.

But what function it has actually and where did it come from? The Wudang sword art is generally known as the "mother of all Sword Arts". It is also said,that the origin of the sword finger is to locate as part of Taoist mythology and ritual ceremonies as part of Daoism. Hence the notion that the "Qi flows through the sword fingers". By using the sword finger, one´s own qi energy was transferred to the sword, e.g. to cast out demons. This "symbol" brings the meaning of the sword finger to the point. Because the sword fingers organizes significant body structure and energy work when fencing with the sword. It leads and supports the sword. It sets counter-points, speeds up and organize body structures while parring and conversion energy to the sword. Depending on the technique it "forces" causing the body even at the right "Waist work" - just that desired movement of the center.


Internal Sword Basics -
The workshop concept for the movement of the center


The focus of the unique "internal Sword Basics" focuses on the basic principles of swordplay and body work. The workshop is aimed at style across all interested martial artists who want to raise the "energy output" in swordplay and want to dive into the "inner depths" of the sword-body work. The style unspecific concept can be easily transferred to your own sword work. Learned forms can be systematically worked out and improved, as the exercises can be built into regular lessons.

Workshop contents (excerpt):
• How do I optimize the "hand interface"?
• What is the sword finger actually good for?
• Why are there rotation points and Levels where you should rotate / move the sword?
• How do I get the energy right into the point of the sword?
• What does it mean to draw the sword with the body?


There are many exercises to all topics to illustrate the clearly complex principles and relationships. A technique-loop sequence, which summarizes these exercises can be further developed as a continuous routine. So you take an overall very versatile training structure to take home.


Questions about the topic or the workshop, please contact
Laoshi Frank D. Miller
post [at]