T'AI CHI BROADSWORD SABRE ~ Part 3
To be competent in sword play requires several physical martial skills. These however are considered secondary to the specialised mental state known as Zanshin. (Japanese term) Simply put this is the attitude that blends will with belief and strength of technique via an empty mind. The swordperson must learn to focus the minds ability to merge belief with intention as a complete act. To practise Tai Chi Sabre requires all the physical skills within Tai Chi Chuans open hand techniques. Stance work, leg manoeuvres such as jumping, hopping, leaping with instantaneous flexibility are fundamental. Stances must take on the full range of strategies of attack, defense, evasion, feint, openness and closure. Naturalness in gripping of the Sword handle ensures the blade cuts without concern. The mind ensures that the wielding of the blade is to be without doubt.
Origins of Tai Chi Sabre Technique
Tai Chi sabre is reputed to have been created by legendary founder Chang Shan Feng, but popularised by Yang Chien Hou the second son of Yang Lu Chang the notable founder of Yang's style Tai Chi Chuan.Yang Chien Hou passed down some fundamental guidelines to develop skill in Tai Chi sabre which are applicable for open handed sets. These guidelines are somewhat revised for accessibility.
Sabre Technique Guidelines
It is advantageous to draw in the face (chin) and keep the head synchronised with the intent of your technique. Keep good posture and alignment by "suspending head" from above. This means to raise the vitality of the mind and to physically ensure good neck torso integration. Keep the body balanced and upright. This does not mean that one simply keeps a vertical attitude to the ground. To be upright means the spine and the tail bone work as a unit.
Comparison of Play Arms Like Fan from Tai Chi Ch'uan Set
Encourage agility, investigate every posture, technique and transition in depth. Classic precepts frequently advise the sword person to "relax the joints and muscles of both arms and lower both shoulders. Further the elbows hang down and are bent and the palms are slightly expanded, with: the fingers stretched in a hollow". (developing the soft hand and Tigers mouth.) This takes time.
Stepping and Stance Guidelines
In general distinguish between the true (substantial) and false (insubstantial) steps when taking a stance. When the body weight is shifted to the left leg, the left leg is standing with a true step while the right leg connected to the ground with a false step. Energetic ability is present in both legs to avoid double weighting by default. Move the two feet forward and back-ward like a cat walking; lift the foot agilely and place it sensitively.
Comparison of the Tai Chi Open Hand and Broadsword Posture Golden Cock Stands on One Leg
Focus and raise the spirit.
Tai Chi sabre play demands that one keeps a peaceful mind. Centre on the movement you are practising. Don't think about other things unless by design. Be careful not to reduce the value of your practise by casual mis-interpretation.
Practise is ROOTED in breathing.
KEEP the breathing natural and prevent the normal breathing from being affected by the movements. In other words, just have the general diaphragmatic respiration so that the respiration and movement will come naturally, resulting in good co-ordination between them.
Strength and Movement Guidelines
While training in Tai Chi sabre, use unruffled strength and do not use awkward or inflexible strength. The waist is the key to developing this trait. Unruffled strength means that the tendons and joints are relaxed to the maximum extent while the body and limbs are moving naturally. The waist opens and closes. There is action and inaction throughout the form. Be careful that your tranquility in movement does not destroy the dynamic nature of sword play. Relaxation is not equal to vacancy of intent or sloppiness of exposition. As a general rule in Tai Chi sabre, keep the postures integrated and constant.
The movements of the body and limbs must be corresponding and co-ordinated, especially the combination of the sabre playing techniques, handwork and footwork, which must be harmonious and unified. The saying "when one moves, everything is moving" tells us that we must guard against moving the hands without moving the feet or against moving the sabre without moving the hands.
Fluidity implies every movement is linked to the preceding and following techniques. In the formal sets of Tai Chi sabre a single action connects from the starting posture to the concluding one, without pauses or breaks, although slight pauses are required at some stages, this only means slowing down the movements a little.
Tempo and Rhythm
Tai Chi sabre movements are initially best performed evenly, without haste. Remember, evenness is bet approached by slowness. Keep the mind active. Focus. Keep the speed even and constant from beginning to end but do not forget rhythm and tempo are paramount in promoting natural dynamism. These are universal guide lines (principles) which apply to all the Tai Chi exercises, whether Tai Chi Chuan, Tai Chi sword, Tai Chi sabre, and Tai Chi spear.
Appendix - Sabre Types
The sabre can be divided into several historic forms. In addition to the tai chi sabre itself, there is the big sabre, pu sabre, ringing sabre, and horse sabre. Each had particular purposes in battle field situations.
The Big Sabre
There are two types the Kuan Wang sabre and the big chopping sabre.
The Kuan Wang sabre:
The Kuan Wang sabre was famous in early Chinese history. General Kuan Yuan Chang, the second brother of the King of Shu in the Three Kingdoms, 190 AD was noted for skill in using such a sabre. Reputedly the sabre was 12 feet long and weighed about 80 pounds! The head of the sabre was long and narrow, and a thorny hook protruded on the back of the head. The sabre point was spear shaped and the shaft twice as long as the sabre head. See diagram. The Kuan Wang sabre was both long and heavy which limited its use. Not only did you need to be strong and powerful this weapon required years of skill development. Naturally the Kuan Wang sabre was best used on horseback.
The Big Chopping Sabre.
The Big Chopping sabre is similar to Kuan Wang sabre except for less decoration attached to the head. It is also 12 feet long with a long and flat edge, and a thick and heavy back. The shaft is made from iron or a hard wooden material. This sabre emphasises chopping, splitting, sweeping, and even warding off a variety of weapons. This is because large breadth sabre head available, which was used to ward off even flying stones or arrows functioning as a shield.
The Pu sabre shorter than the big sabre and commonly used by combat soldiers. It is light therefore suited to close combat by the foot soldiers. The length of the sabre varied depending upon the stature of the man. The measurement of this sabre was generally equivalent to the measurement of the individuals eyebrows to their waist.
The Ringing sabre is very heavy,thick on its back and broad on its top. Brass rings, (five to nine) are attached to the back of the sabre. In brandishing, the sabre is noisy because of such rings clashing against the metal. This unnerves and shocks the enemy.
The Horse sabre was specifically designed and used for the cavalry. The first horse sabre made of brass dates 255 BC.
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