Double Sword Form

This form was the first of Erle's bagua weapon forms that I learned back in the early nineties, and I gather that not many members of the wtba practise it anymore—which is a shame. It is a lovely, if demanding set. As you use a short straight sword in each hand, the changes of the circular solo set must be done on both sides of the body. This makes for a very long sequence indeed.

Functionally, using two edged weapons is much harder than it looks. There is a tendency not to pay enough attention to one sword while wielding the other. A few cuts and scrapes from a metal sword from carelessness while practising on your own can soon set you straight in solo practise, but it takes longer to learn about in applications.

When gripping each sword, one must learn to do so gently but firmly with two fingers and the thumb, not all five fingers as this lessens the ability to twirl the swords with the wrists. Done properly, these twirling actions are not for the show, but serve specific martial purposes, such as diverting an intercepted attack downwards and then twirling the blades to effect a counter-cut immediately after.

The internal energy may be manifested in the sword as a quivering of the blade during fa-jing movements, or as a sharp penetrating movement generated by the spine and legs. The jian, whether long or relatively short, as in this case (each blade should be 26—30 inches in length, depending on your relative height), is a double-edged blade that literally cuts both ways, and is as effective on the backstroke as on the advance. The footwork is nimble and lively, and half of the use of a straight sword of any length is learning to sidestep and evade attacks as much as parry or block them. The last tactic is reserved for emergencies and done with the thicker bottom third of the blade.

The jian is often compared to a Chinese dragon: fast, graceful, and frightening. Where you would block with the broadsword, you dodge with the straight sword; where you would slam, you slice; where you would charge, you circle or sidestep. However, unlike the sabre, the sword is never allowed to cut above the crown of the head for a variety of reasons. For example, you wouldn't want to sever your connection with the Yang energy of Heaven, would you? Of course, a pragmatic dullard might also think that doing this makes it less likely that you will accidentally scalp yourself while swinging the bloody thing.

On the other hand, let me add that competent internal swordsmen will use some movements that make it superficially look as if the sword has gone over the head. However, if you examine the posture carefully you will see that the wielder has actually swung his arm and the hilt and blunt part of the lower blade over his head and not the edged part of the blade. To the casual observer there is not much apparent difference, but the wielder is less likely to cut or hit himself with the sword in this way.

To be effective, you must connect your blade, not the edge, to the opponent's and then use the weight and movement of your body to simultaneously deflect his blade and affect his balance. This should create an immediate opportunity to slice the wrist or arm that holds the sword to literally "disarm" him or her prior to a finishing stroke, if such is necessary. While it is sometimes okay to trade blows with an unarmed opponent if you have a better target, it is never so with edged weapons. You must evade, parry, or block every attack, and your opponent likewise.

This sword form looks best when done by someone agile and tall with long arms. It can be practised with benefit by anyone, and is particularly suited to women and smaller men, as it relies on speed and precision rather than weight. However, using the sword (or two in this case) is not easy, especially if one strives to develop real skill, as opposed to doing a form. It is very demanding of a supple wrist that is really connected to the waist and feet.

As to weight and stiffness of the blade—I am afraid that heavier is better when attempting to replicate realistic combat skills, as opposed to the light weapons used in wu-shu perfor mance skills-oriented forms. The people who enter competitions have weapons with blades bending like tinfoil. The lighter the weapon, the faster they can move, and they don't have to worry about striking armour or another better quality sword..

I have also read and been told by more than one instructor that the intensive study of the sword is an excellent way to both health and enlightenment in the long run. I went through a long period of time in which I had little interest in weapons training of any kind; but now I derive a great deal of satisfaction from the forms I practise.

Certainly, the sword has been imbued with a spiritual quality in many societies—both Western and Oriental. I am sure Sigmund Freud would have something to say about the significance of swords to men, but then again he seems to have been more than a little obsessed with the penis himself!

Training Tips:

• Although it appears otherwise, you must never move both swords at exactly the same time in any of the postures, as one blade will be defending, parrying, blocking, or sticking the attacker's weapon while the other cuts the attacker.

• When thrusting, it is customary to keep the blade flat when attacking the upper part of the body, so that the blade can slip between the ribs and not get stopped by bone, only inflicting a superficial wound.

• When defending, the knee joints are also useful targets, as the attacker would have trouble hurting you if he cannot walk properly or stand on two feet anymore.

• Blocking is normally done with both weapons against a heavier or longer weapon, and you will try to use the last half of the blades of your weapons to do so, as that would be the thickest, strongest parts of real swords.

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