Chinese Sword Fencing


By Frank D. Miller


The sword techniques and the principles of the so-called Sticky Swords are almost an independent art within the Chinese Sword Fencing. Sticky swords exercises are great fun because you can try playing "in slow motion" techniques and applications. Popular and practiced the exercise is particularly common in Taijiquan styles. No wonder because Sticky swords exercises are comparable with similar principles from the martial arts, such as the "Tui Shou" (Pushing Hands), but also the so-called "Chi Sao" (Sticky hands).


As in the martial arts in general, there are again different views and interpretations of the meaning and purpose of the execution as well as a "variety" of the Chinese Sword Fencing. If we look closer at the free swordplay - which is not easy because of the reconstruction of the topic - here lies exactly the challenge.


To what epoch and what style it refers? Battlefield techniques or civilian sword fencing? It does make a difference whether I need to get through armor with the sword, or whether there is fighting in civilian clothes. It significantly determines the design as well as the techniques of the Jian. Just as the European Fencing changed once to "civil applications" because of new weapons technologies, the same was also true for Chinese swordsmanship. Based on the Chinese civil sword fencing, that the Chinese Jian is primarily a cutting and thrusting weapon and fundamentally not "blocked hard" with, Sticky swords exercises makes sense, because of sword principles like "deflecting", "carrying", "rooting", etc.


In the free swordplay permanent sword sticking tends to be rather the exception than the rule. Because the swordsman does not want to (permanently) stick to the sword of the opponent (and be controlled), but rather (undisturbed and uncontrolled) stab, for example, the sharp tipp of his blade into the body of the other ... Therefore Sticky swords exercises seem to have only a limited value in terms of free sword fencing. Actually, it is similar to the Tuishou training analogous to the free hand combat. The Tuishou trains the sensitivity, but also different strategic and technical opportunities to open and attack the opponent. But not the free fight as such. Even if the exercise goals (Tui Shou / Sticky swords) are similar, it must be clear that due to the physical conditions of the jian, sword fencing is following fundamentally different rules. Here comes among others one of the major misconceptions in the execution of sticky swords exercises - which is to transfer the idea of Tuishou 1:1.


Definition of Term "Sticky swords" / Zhan Jian


The name "Sticky Swords" itself may lead to a misinterpretation of the execution of the exercise. In Chinese it is called "Zhan Jian". The underlying principle "Zhan" (Chinese 粘) is indeed translated as "attach to anything" and "stick", but at least that means not to stick permanently to the opponent. Another fundamental role, for example, is also the principle "Nian" (tracking, controlling, sticking). Here you can also see the fundamental complexity of translation of individual fighting principles (keys). There may be overlaps and similarities in the execution, but they still have different objectives. Anyway - in the exercise Sticky swords the principle of "Zhan" and its various aspects indeed is mostly trained, but always according to the premises, the chinese sword fencing generally represents.


Methodologies of training


To locate the Sticky swords exercise better, we once put them in the context of a similar exercise concept called "Block-hitting".


The Block-hitting training mode offers a nearly identical structure as the training exercise Sticky swords. It works both in manual and in armed combat. It can be used in single-mode technology (execution of a particular technology, pause, repeat) and also be carried out in an endless concatenation of various techniques (execution of a technique, pause, think about a reply, next technique, pause, think about a reply ...). The latter mode is not to be mixed up with free sparring! Primarily the Block-hitting exercise differs by "realistic" art executions, and a different application rhythm. The difficulty level of this exercise ranks it before the Sticky swords exercise. It is good to a first feeling for basic techniques and to train their clean execution (eg cutting guide).


The Sticky swords exercise is more for advanced students. The different exercise modes offer here an exciting added value to a precise single-partner training techniques in a continuous routine and on the other later, a free concatenation (stick, track, etc.) of all single learned techniques for "free fencing". Since the exercises are mainly practiced at the beginning in the "slow mode", they can be tried straightforward and playful. Another difficulty would be to practice at the beginning of linear and later with constantly changing vectors (eg, angles). Last but not least it´s the free flow and the free technical variations in the Sticky swords exercises that makes them seem like "free sparring" and also makes them pretty demanding.


Possible objectives of Sticky Swords Exercises


As a premise for the exercises all practiced basic techniques and applications should be known in the regular execution. Only when there is general awareness that many techniques and applications in the sticky swords mode do not necessarily work well in free fencing, the exercises will provide a real value for the chinese swordsmanship. Otherwise you could draw from this wrong conclusions in terms eg distances and position vectors or the impulse and energy conversion of the applications. But already this comparison itself includes good teaching potential and allows a deeper understanding of the techniques and applications. The basic aim of the exercise is, of course, controlling the opponent. For this purpose, several approaches can be trained:


The Taiji Factor
Power and speed are not asked for the partner exercises, but a lot of sense, timing, interaction and softness. Behind these attributes hides the real potential of the Taiji exercise. Like practicing Tuishou you try to take the power of the opponent and forwarding it. And for example, by skillful manipulation of the binding points when sticking, trying to disguise your attack to the opponent and meet him seemingly empty. That these principles can be transferred at least for fast combat situations must be clear.


The Technique Factor
Sticky swords exercises offer great potential for the strategic and application-related aspects. Keywords were here, for example, the "hold center" (room control), the "not to change the binding points" (empty manipulation), "strategic points of rotation" (Wrap / apply of the technique at the opponent's sword), etc.


The Wu Jian Workshop-Concept


The following subjects are taught:
• differences of real- and sticky swords Applications
• Explanation of the strategic aspects of the exercise
• individual technique exercises
• Free sticking (with and without handicap)


Questions about the topic or the workshop, please contact
Laoshi Frank D. Miller