My student is still struggling to learn the Tai Chi straight sword.
I’m trying to explain the importance of flow and circles here in the use of the straight sword.
Second lesson with my student on straight sword partner practice. Didn’t understand why one of his movements in the form changed so walked him through it again from the perspective of using the movement as a response to an attack.
Emphasized that one can move too much when countering which can give the opponent another opportunity to continue his attack. The thing about countering is to close off the space that is being attacked whilst taking the opportunity to quickly attack the opponent’s space what has just opened up as a consequence of him trying to attack you. In fact, if you do it right your counterattack will be instantaneous and give little time for the opponent to counter.
I also brought up the matter of not trying to run around the opponent because there is little advantage to do so and doing so can open one up to being cornered. The root cause here is the lack of sensitivity in handling the straight sword. The point is that the straight sword is not a power weapon so even if you hold it strongly it will never be as powerful as a broadsword or a pole.
This led to a short discourse on the art of holding the sword and how to hold it so that it can respond better to changes in speed, angle, timing etc. I also mentioned the little trick to stabilizing the sword when one needs to do power cuts.
In TaijiKinesis Vol 2 I wrote about the use of the 5-Count. This is also relevant here and proper holding of the straight sword will allow you to avail yourself to this mechanism and its use in partner practice.
Finally, I touched on the notion of the hand being the sword and vice versa. This can help one to understand the use of emptyhand techniques. I used lines on the floor to explain how the use of straight sword footwork can bring one instantly into the desired position using what many perceived as useless footwork. The truth is that any movement is useless is not trained properly. Through partner practice we can eventually understand the form better and discover that it has its place in the study of Tai Chi Chuan.
This is a follow up post to the first one here.
During Chinese New Year I got to show my student some of the weapons I have and their usefulness in training particularly mindfulness. I showed him the section of the Tai Chi Chuan straight sword that I wrote about in the first post. It was priceless to see his reaction when he helped to demonstrate the application of this section by simulating an attack to my open left side only to find himself suddenly staring at the tip of the sword which caused him to stop cold in his tracks.
Later, we watched a DVD on the rivalry of the Iceman Chuck Liddell versus Tito Ortiz. It was interesting to observe how the Iceman controlled range to deliver his knockout strikes. The control of range is something we can learn from understanding mindfulness in straight sword training because there is minimal contact to provide us with clues as to what to do unlike push hands where we can rely on touching to know predict the opponent’s movements.
Here is a clip of the Iceman to illustrate what I mean :-
I forgot to mention that the footwork and punching style that the Iceman used reminded me of the Leung Yi Ma stepping method and basic punches of Pok Khek Kuen. Interesting. For example 0:24 looks a lot like our Lin Wan Yum Chui whereas 0:45 is reminiscent of how we use Sow Chui at the close range and 0:55 is like our Faan Chui.
What’s difficult about slicing tomato? No big deal right?
Yet, if its your first time doing it you would find it difficult to do so especially with a non-serrated knife. The way you hold down the tomato, the holding of the knife, the angling of the blade, etc can make you a prime candidate for a nasty cut if you are not careful.
One thing missing from the typical Tai Chi Chuan straight sword training is test cutting. If you have never actually cut, sliced or stab anything how do you know if it will really work when you do it for real? Of course, one simple problem is that its not easy to get hold of an actual straight sword that can be sharpened for test cutting though its easy enough to buy a replica. However, the feel of a replica is not quite the same. I won’t even mention other problems with using a real sword for test cutting in a country like Singapore.
So one way to learn about actual cutting, not the best substitute mind you but its better than nothing, is to learn how to cut vegetables and meat. It might seem simple but try doing it fast, accurate and by feel rather than looking and suddenly it feels a bit more scary.
The first student that I taught the straight sword to didn’t have a good appreciation for what a real sharpened blade can do though I suggested trying out using a kitchen knife at home to gain an understanding. With the second student that I am planning to teach the straight sword to I assessed his understanding of using a knife by letting him try slicing a tomato. The way he held the tomato down, the contact angle of the knife gave me room for worry as I certainly didn’t want to see blood spilled during Chinese New Year.
The hand holding the tomato down has an important role in that if you do not secure it properly to the cutting board the possibility of the tomato moving as you cut down causing you to cut your fingers instead is there. Similarly, in doing the straight sword it is normal for students to overlook the role of the left hand that is not holding the sword and focus on the hand holding the sword instead. This is an error as the non-sword has a role to play too.
The hand holding the knife needs to hold in such a way that it can direct the blade, exert pressure and cut with authority. When I watched my student try to cut the tomato he was actually pressing on it, making it difficult to slice through quickly and cleanly. With the correct angling and positioning of the knife hand and the knife it is easy to slice quickly and cleanly with minimal resistance through the tomato. This lesson can be transferred across to the use of the straight sword because without this understanding when the student tries to cut he will find that he cannot exert enough force on the blade. This is also a way to assess if someone playing with a bladed weapon really understands how to issue power with it or is just posing with it.
My student previously learned Xingyiquan. Hence, even in playing the Tai Chi Chuan straight sword he has heavy, stomping footwork. Its not bad if its used to deliver power in emptyhand striking.
However, for straight sword techniques a heavy, stomping type of footwork will only slow him down especially if the particular straight sword technique calls for quick twisting of the body to avoid a long weapon and swiftly move in to counterattack whilst adhering and preventing the opponent’s weapon from countering and escaping.
In playing the straight sword our footwork must be nimble, flowing and enable us to perform the techniques suitably. It is useless to have long reaching footwork if it brings us too close to deliver the called for stroke. On the other hand when the cut calls for a long reaching footwork then we must be able to do it.
There are some movements that has stomp-like movements but the stomping is silent because if its loud then it would be like applying the brakes and then stepping on the accelerator again. A good stomp should be able to do the job of delivering power yet not make us foot-tied to the ground and unable to continue moving with minimal hesitation.
This is why I don’t encourage wide-stance training in the first solo emptyhand form that the student learns. Otherwise, he may feel powerful when the reality is that he has reduced his mobility. A good stance must cater for stability and mobility. Thus, even in the particular straight sword technique in which the body is twisted the power must still be present or we can be knocked over by a side sweeping movement of the long spear.
I am not finished yet with the Defining the Internal series of posts. The approaching Chinese New Year has been keeping me busy and uninspired. Instead, today I will write about mindfulness in Tai Chi Chuan straight sword training. This is something I taught to my student.
Playing with a weapon is different from playing with fists. With emptyhand strikes you can make mistakes, be hit and keep going. However, if you are using weapons its a different story. A real weapon can injure you if you make a mistake. Hence, the training bar needs to be set higher. This is one of the reasons why I don’t like to use training weapons because of the false sense of security generated will dull the learner’s awareness of the danger.
One very important point in weapon training is that one should not rush. When you rush through the movement you will leave the sense of mindfulness and awareness behind and this can be fatal. For example, a straight sword is a flexible weapon so if you block a straight thrust and then quickly move in to counterattack without the sense of danger you may find yourself running into the tip of the blade that you thought you had just avoided.
To learn about this principle I used this section from the straight sword in which the movement calls for turning the body to avoid the opponent’s thrust, defend against it and counter thrust. This is the simple version of the explanation.
A better explanation calls for us to manage the distance such that when the opponent attempts to attack we re-position ourselves and offer the tip of the blade for a rushing opponent to impale himself on. If he is too far off then we just cut his arm. It is only when the opponent is moving too fast into our space that we opt for the blocking option.
So you see, with the correct distance management the better options for counterattacking are not even obvious. These hidden attacks are much faster and more direct. If we were training with wooden swords, blunt swords or padding on the body then the opponent will possibly lower his guard along with his sense of danger and charge forward only to run right into the hidden counterattacks.
The lesson learned from this section of the Tai Chi Chuan straight sword can also be translated into emptyhand techniques.
Tai Chi Chuan weaponry training is beneficial for students who are interested in using the art for combat. If they just learn push hands and shove each other around all the time the moment they face an attacker with a weapon they are likely to do the same and deliver themselves to danger. This is why our training philosophy is we use the art the way we train it.