The Broadsword

Throughout bagua's relatively short history, the broadsword was the weapon of choice of many practitioners, especially those who worked as bodyguards and caravan escorts. This weapon has always been a mainstay of all styles of Chinese Wu-shu (literally "war arts"). It is very efficient against a variety of other weapons, especially when used in conjunction with internal body mechanics. It is relatively easy to achive competency with broadsword. This is why it was the primary weapon of common soldiers in ancient Chinese armies.

Although the solo form and applications that you will be learning don't come from Erle Montaigue, they are based on traditional sets that have been modified according to my understanding of broadsword use. I make no pretensions that I can provide expert weapon training, but from what I have seen of modern bagua—what I teach is pretty good func tionally. However, if you are planning a career as a caravan guard, I suggest you start searching for a more competent weapon's master than me!

The broadsword is primarily used at medium and short range against a variety of weapons. Bagua fighters were renowned for their skill at applying close quarter fighting tactics. A slicing weapon, its comparative weight and the somewhat top-heavy design of the blade makes it an excellent weapon only for someone with the size and strength to wield it—a lumberjack's axe with a three foot razor edge, so to speak.

The study of any competent traditional internal style, bagua included, is a process of learning how to efficiently employ the factors of distance and angle, and generate short power in a specific manner. Using the broadsword is no different. The motions are often short and quick, and the practitioner usually keeps the blade in front of the body to protect himself.

Because the broadsword is a single-edged weapon, the palm, forearm, or even the body of the wielder can be pressed against the dull side at times to assist in blocking or deflecting actions and to express whole body power at close range, especially if the opponent is attempting to use the same tactics. Many different aspects of your bare hand training will become clearer as you seek to apply the principles of bagua to this weapon. I am quite fond of this form, as it is not overly complicated, doesn't take too much space to perform (compared to the other traditional weapon forms), and its characteristics suit my build. Like hsing-i, the movements of the broadsword are best suited to a heavier or taller practitioner although anyone—no matter what their relative size—can benefit.

If you are studying bagua elsewhere and can only learn this weapon, try to find an instructor who actually knows what they are doing. Even a marginal understanding of combative function will help make your solo form work challenging, rewarding, and fun.

Training Tips:

• One of the hardest things to get used to in the solo form is the use of the wrist and the elbow to help generate the circles created by coordinating footwork with the use of the waist.

• In training applications, it is essential to remember that one of the key concepts is disarming your opponent, and I don't just mean knocking the weapon out of his hand although that is a legitimate application whenever possible. Once you have parried, deflected, or, as a last resort, blocked the attacker's weapon, you must immediately try to cut the hand or arm controlling it before trying to finish off the attacker with a cut to the head, torso, or vital points.

• When bracing the weapon, remember to use the palm—not the fingers—and to keep your finger tips where they belong on your fingers. Do not allow them to protrude where an opportunistic attacker might be tempted to slice them off with a sudden change of direction of his weapon's edge.

• When connecting to the attacker's weapon, remember that the guard is a useful tool for knocking the attacker's weapon out of range for a quick counter-attack of your own. To be able to do this, you have to be sensitive, applying the right amount of pressure to the opponent's blade with yours and be aware of the other fellow's hilt if you are at close range. Getting smashed in the face by the butt end of the handle of his sword or broadsword would be very distracting!

• Practising competently should teach you about extending your reach and force to the tip and the edge of the weapon; and, as it usually has only one sharp edge, it is a little safer to do so when you first start exploring weapons.

• The bold, twisting, wide-swinging tactics of this weapon should have elegance and smoothness, as well as martial effectiveness in the use of angles around the body. Doing a well-structured broadsword form properly is like being inside a steel cage or at the centre of a hurricane. Every stroke should cut cleanly along one of the eight cardinal directions in the triangles that fill your circle. Have you figured out this bagua conundrum yet—finding triangles in circles and the circles in triangles?

• If you don't keep your balance when advancing, you are liable to fall over from your misguided momentum if your stroke falls on emptiness (i.e., your target had the skill to move at the last moment). You must learn to use the weight of the sabre, not depend on it to power your stroke. The strikes are best thought of as chopping slices. This is one way to learn to really relax the shoulder, elbow, and wrist; but it is often a rather hard way of learning to do so.

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