Since Taijiquan has developed for more than a thousand years, various styles have been created. There are many Taiji sword sequences in existence. All of these sequences have grown out of the same Taiji theoretical roots. Therefore, every movement has its martial meaning and essential feeling. If these are not manifested, the purpose of the movement will not be there, and the meaning of the entire practice will be gone.
Normally, developing this deep feeling of the art will take more than ten years of constant practice. Once this feeling has been comprehended, you can grasp the keys to the techniques. Only then can the art be developed further. There is a well known story about how Zhang, San-Feng taught one of his students Taiji sword,
Stories from the Masters
After a student completed his three years of Taiji sword study with Master Zhang, he was so happy and could perform every movement in exactly the same way as Master Zhang had taught him.
Then, Master Zhang asked him to leave and practice for three years, and then come to see him. The student left. After three years of hard practice, the student came to see Master Zhang. However, he was sad and ashamed to meet Master Zhang. He bowed his head down and felt so sorry. He said to Master Zhang: “Master Zhang, after three years of practice, I am now very sad. The more I have practiced, the more I have lost the feeling I had three years ago. Now, I feel about a third of the forms are different from what you taught me originally.”
Master Zhang looked at him and said: “No good! No good! Go home and practice another three years and then come to see me.” The student left in sorrow and sadness. He practiced harder and harder for the next three years. Then, he came to see Master Zhang again. However, he felt even worse than the ﬁrst time he came back. He looked at Master Zhang very disappointedly. He said: “Master Zhang! I don’t know why. The more I have practiced, the worse it has become. Now, two thirds of the forms feel different from what you taught me.”
Master Zhang again looked at him and said: “No good! No good! Go home again and practice another three years and then come to see me.” The student left very very sadly. This time, he practiced even harder than before. He put all his mind into understanding and feeling every movement of the forms he learned. After three years, again he returned to see Master Zhang. This time, his face turned pale and he dared not look at Master Zhang’s face directly. He said: “Master Zhang! I am sorry. I am a failure. I have failed you and myself. I feel now not even one form has the same feeling as you taught me.”
When Master heard this, he laughed loudly and very happily. He looked at the student and said: “Great! You have done well. Now, the techniques you have learned are yours and not mine anymore.”
From this story, you can see that the mentality of the arts is creative. If the great composer Beethoven had never learned to create, but had just copied his teacher, then he would not have become so great. It is the same with the great painter Picasso. If he had not known how to be creative, but had allowed himself to be conﬁned by convention, he would never have become such a genius. Therefore, you can see that art is alive, and not dead. However, if you have not learned enough techniques, and have not reached a deep level of understanding, then when you start to create, you will lose the correct path, and the art will be ﬂawed. It is said in Chinese martial arts society: “Sifu leads you into the door, cultivation depends on oneself.”
When you learn any art, you should understand the mentality of learning is to feel and to gain the essence of the art. Only if your heart can learn the essence of the art will you gain access to its roots. Once connected to this root, you will be able to grow and become creative.
There is another very well known story, about Confucius learning how to play a piece of music for an ancient musical instrument, Gu-Zheng was learning this piece of music from his teacher, Shi Xiang Zu. After he ﬁnished his learning, he practiced the music for just ten days, yet he was able to perform the music skillfully. His teacher was very happy and asked him: “Are you ready for the second piece?” To Shi Xiang Zi’s surprise, Confucius replied: “No!” When Shi Xiang Zi asked him why not, Confucius answered: “Though I am able to play this piece skillfully, I still cannot put my whole feeling into the music, and manifest my feeling through it. Therefore, I prefer to practice for a longer period of time.” He practiced this piece of music for several years, until he was able to impart his feelings into the tones of the music. His teacher was very happy about this.
Again, he asked Confucius: “Now, are you ready for the second piece?” Again, the answer was no. His teacher asked: “Why still no, since you are now able to manifest your feelings into the music?” Confucius replied: “Though I am able to play this music with feeling, however, I still don’t know the feelings of the composer. When the composer wrote this piece, he put his emotions deeply into it. I must continue my practice until I am able to know the composer’s feelings. Again, his teacher left Confucius alone for his own practice.
Three years later, Confucius came to see Shi Xiang Zi and said: “Dear teacher, now I am ready for the new piece.” His teacher was very curious and asked: “Does this mean you have learned the feelings of the composer?” Confucius said: “From the music, I can tell he is a six foot tall man. Moreover, he is a person who has such a wide open mind, and such generosity that he is able to ponder the entire heaven and earth.” Shi Xiang Zi was so shocked and said: “Amazing, that you can ﬁgure this out from the music. You are completely correct. This piece is called “Wen Wang Cao” and was composed by King Wen of Zhou whose mind was so wide and profound, and he was even six feet tall.” According to Chinese history, King Wen of Zhou was six feet tall, and he was the one who interpreted the Book of Changes.
Taijiquan Is An Art Form
From this story, you can see that when you are performing Taijiquan, you are searching for the original motivation of the creator, and trying to achieve the same feeling as the creator. Only then will you touch the root of the forms. We should know that all of the arts are created from the deep spiritual feeling of the creator. When we learn Taijiquan, since we are a beginner in the art, we must follow the knowledge and experiences accumulated by the ancestors.
Only after you have mastered all of the forms and techniques passed down to us—like a musician who practices for many years—can you start to blend your own concept and understanding into the art. When this happens, you are creating a new style of art, which derives from an understanding of the past, and is focused, through your mind into the present. Therefore, the creative art is alive and developed from deep, profound, internal feeling.
From the above stories, you can see that any pursuit requires a great deal of practice and effort for you to reach a high level of accomplishment. It is this effort that makes it Gongfu (i.e., energy-time,)
Taiji Sword and Applications
Once again, due to the construction of the narrow blade sword and the techniques emphasized by Taiji stylists, there are only a few effective methods for using the sword. Basically, you can slide, sting or stab, deﬂect cut (sliding and cutting in the same motion), slash, or chop while handling the sword. Most of the motions are done with ﬂuidity and extreme speed. But to properly use each movement of the sword, the stylist must be capable of smooth locomotion. Without the correct use of the legs, each motion of the sword can be wasted. In fact, the ultimate goal of the Taiji swordsman is to successfully attack by never touching the weapon of the opponent through the use of deceptively quick steps.
Like practicing a Taiji barehanded sequence, you must learn to coordinate all the forms with deep breathing. The order of the breaths will be in the description of the sequence. The sword forms must be done slowly in order to get the fullness of this elegant and ancient weapon sequence. With patience and practice, the practitioner can make the Taiji sword sequence a useful and beautiful series of techniques for health or defense.
Taiji sword itself is an entire set of advanced Taiji Qigong. After you have learned the entire sequence, sometimes you should practice the entire sequence or even a section of the sequence without holding a sword in your hand. When there is no sword in your hand, physically it is easier to balance. Naturally, it is also easier for your mind to lead the Qi to both arms more evenly and harmoniously. Simply apply the Qigong training concepts with the mind, Qi, and the body’s coordination. Soon you will realize that it is as enjoyable as practice with the sword in your hand.
(The above is an excerpt from Taiji Sword, Classical Yang Style by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming.)