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When I began my study of Taiji I had no interest in fighting or weapons. I explained to my
teacher Danny Gordon, a student of Master Hsu Fun Yuen, that   when I was younger and
interested in fighting I had done Karate, but that now I was more interested in matters of
health and spirit. While Danny explained that to truly get health, spiritual, or martial benefits
from Taiji I would need to study form, push-hands and applications, I was still not interested in
Taiji fighting or weapons. Upon moving to New Jersey I began studying with Master Zhang
Yun, a twenty year student of Grand Master Wang Peisheng of Beijing.
It's natural to become tense in tense
situations. It's more effective to
relax.
About a year later Master Zhang Yun began teaching the Taiji Jian (double edged
sword) to our class. Not without reservations, I began my initiation into Taiji weapons.
First among my reservations was the thought that while I hope I never hit anyone in
anger, I'm sure I will never deliberately stab anyone with a sword.
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The traditional Taiji Jian is a double edge sword that is sharpest at its tip and dull
near the handguard. The form taught by my teacher is a Wu style Taiji Jian 32 posture
form that he developed under the guidance of Grand Master Wang Peisheng. This
thirty-two posture form has, as its source, the traditional sixty-four posture Wu Style
Jian form. No movements have been changed, but some of the more difficult and
complex movements from the long form have been omitted and some of the
remaining movements have been rearranged. All of the important features of the
traditional Wu Style long form have been retained, but this short form can be
mastered more quickly and easily and is, therefore, a good choice for people who
have a limited time for practice.
Zhang Yun teaches Taiji Jian
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The practice of Taiji Jian has a very special quality. While its applications are potentially deadly, its
movements are beautiful with a flowing poetic quality. In Chinese, the names of the moves in the form
are expressed as a beautiful poem. Even the names of individual moves, translated with difficulty from
Chinese, capture this deadly/poetic duality. For example, a move where the tip of the sword is first
pointed towards the sky at about a 35 degree angle and then flicked down with wrist to end up at the
level of your opponents forehead is called draw a red dot between the eyebrows. This name was
chosen because the result of the technique is a red dot of blood forming at the spot on your opponent's
forehead where the Chinese have traditionally painted a red dot on their children's foreheads for good
luck.
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The main benefits I have gained from my study of the Taiji Jian can be classified as external and
internal. Externally, the Jian form, like the open-handed form is composed of a series of movements
meant to be practiced as one continuous relaxed movement. The Jian form is unlike the open-handed
form in that it is practiced at a relatively fast pace with a changing rhythm and includes additional useful
physical movements that are not encountered, or are encountered with less emphasis in the Wu Style
open's handed form. In particular the cross-over step, leaning back to ward-off, and reaching far are
moves that are encountered in the Jian form are not found in our Wu Style open-handed form. These
external features of the Jian form make for both good martial arts practice and a flowing and graceful
performance.
Internally, the idea of moving with intent is becoming clearer to me
through the study of Taiji Jian. Many beginners see Taiji only as a
series of movements to be practiced in a relaxed, smooth, continuous
manner. This perception is incomplete. For Taiji Chuan to follow the
principle of "yin within yang and yang within yin," each movement must
be carried out in a relaxed, smooth, continuous manner with clear
intent. While learning different applications of different Taiji Chuan
movements was useful for me in learning to move with intent, the
presence of a sword in my hands is a constant reminder (somewhat
like a string tied around my finger) to fill my movements with intent.
Master Zhang Yun places a great deal of emphasis on yi (roughly
translated as mind) during both open-handed and weapons practice.
During my first year of study with Master Zhang Yun I found his frequent
instructions to place my mind in some part of my body (e.g., the tip of
my index finger) quite disconcerting.
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Zhang Yun taught Taiji Jian seminar
My puzzlement increased while learning the Jian form when I was instructed to change my
mind from my left hand to the tip of the sword. My first glimmer of understanding about this
elusive idea came through push?hands practice. During push-hands I learned that most
people naturally move their mind (e.g. their center of awareness) to the areas of their body
that are being pushed. This focus on the part(s) of the body being pushed tends to result in
tension, stiffness, and double weightedness in those areas—just the opposite of how we want
to feel when doing Taiji. Moving the mind away from the part(s) of the body being pushed
does not mean leaving those parts weak and vulnerable to the attack. Deliberately moving yi
(which for me, as a Westerner, tends to rest most comfortably behind my eyes) to specific
locations within and outside the body helps to direct internal energy to those locations and to
relax the contact points allowing us to respond to the attack with smooth relaxed movements
and interactions that are not double weighted.
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While all Taiji techniques are practiced to be easily changed as the imagined opponent adapts to a
technique, there is a strong emphasis on this aspect of Taiji while performing the Jian form. For
example, you never throw your sword arm forward in a manner that would be hard to modify if your
imagined opponent adjusted to your attack. In addition to this emphasis on being able to respond to
external changes, the Jian form is also meant to be practiced so that each movement is responsive to
the changing internal feelings of the practitioner. Each movement should flow from the heart as an
interpretation of the form based on these internal feelings. The Jian form feels very different from the
open-handed form because of this improvisational quality. For example, if I feel like reaching very far
during a particular technique it is more important that I follow this feeling than that I place my right foot
exactly one foot length in front of my left foot. These skills of adapting to external and internal changes is
integral to both the spiritual and martial aspects of Taiji.
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The final internal benefit of the Jian that I will discuss here is that I am learning how to integrate the gentle
and aggressive components of my personality. In my everyday life I have a tendency to react to conflict
first by yielding weakly followed by a tense expression of anger. Jian practice has been particularly
useful as an example of integrating these yin and yang qualities in action because each movement must
integrate yin and yang resulting in gentle but strong movements.
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My experience with the Taiji Jian has shown me that the health, spiritual, and martial aspects of Taiji
are indeed all interdependent and that for me, despite my lack of interest in stabbing anyone with a
sword, studying this Taiji weapon has increased the benefits of Taiji in all of these domains.
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About Author:
Dr. Peter Kindfield's first martial art was Go Ju Kai Karate which he
practiced when he was a late teen during the mid-70's. He has been
practicing Tai Chi Chuan since 1992. His first two years of study
were with Chen Man Cheng variants (Shu Fun Yen and William Chen)
of the Yang style. Since then he has been studying Wu Style with
Master Yun Zhang including an open-handed form, a sword form, a
saber form, staff, and a spear form. He loves push-hands and believes
that the essential message of Tai Chi Chuan is that while it is always
natural to get tense in tense situations (e.g., when someone literally or
metaphorically pushes or punches you), it is always more useful to
relax. When he is not doing T'ai Chi he works as a science education
consultant in New York City Schools and enjoys spending time with
his family in Hillsborough NJ.
Yin Cheng Gong Fa Association North American Headquarters
In addition to these internal and external benefits of practicing Taiji Jian, this practice is also giving me a
greater understanding of its culture of origin. In particular, I am learning that traditional Chinese culture
does not separate functionality and aesthetics in the same way as Western culture does. For example, in
the West handwriting and martial arts are designed with a single minded focus on functionality while
paintings and ballet are intended to be beautiful. In contrast Chinese calligraphy and martial arts are
intended to be both functional and beautiful.
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