Most martial artists should have heard the old saying, "a weapon is the extension of limbs". To practise weapons well, there has to be a certain standard in your martial art (empty hand/fists). To use weapons at your will you must be able to meet the foundatational conditions of being able to change when facing enemy, being to move your body and step quickly, and you must also possess whole body coordination.
However if you are good at fist forms, that doesn’t necessary mean that your weapons skill will be good. Of course, the “good” mentioned here is about practical usage, not just for performing. Chinese weapons can be roughly classified into 18 categories. This is only a common saying. Adding the extraordinary weapons, the variety is huge. Different weapons have different style and usage, and each weapons usage and effects are different. So if one says they can “master” a weapon, without mastering the bare hands foundations, the most important thing they need to understand is the special points of the weapon in their hands.
The Broadsword as a family is most related to the straight sword. However the usage of these two weapons is totally different. It is not just as simple as the straight sword doesn’t wrap the head, doesn’t chop or block stiffly. There are critical differences in the way of combat, power usage (here referred as Jing), and movements. Setting aside the high requirements for proper body foundation, as with all weapons, to practise straight sword well, you have to learn to hold it properly.
To use straight sword smoothly, one must know the correct way to handle it. In fact, there’s a difference between using real swords and practise swords. Real swords are heavier, and there is a need to maintain stable and quickness within fighting, so that it won’t be dropped accidentally when it touches with opponent’s weapon or hand. It also requires focus and changing of power (Jing). Practise swords are light, and focus on smooth movements and prettiness in execution. The smallest finger on your hand (commonly referred to as your little finger) is actually the key to whether you can hold the weapon stable and change quickly during combat and practise. Everyone can do an experiment, you can try to hold a weapon (even a simple cutting knife is fine), use power on your little finger and move your wrist, it has to be better movement than if your straighten your little finger and move in the same way.
After learning how to hold the sword well, then it’s time to learn the sword’s way. Generally speaking, there are 13 different fundamental ways (‘ways’ here are not moves). The 13 ways are: draw, take, lift, block, strike, stab, point, flick, chop, intercept, twists, press, and wash. Each of these ways will create changes. These 13 straight sword ways are means of changing Jing. The Jing must be coordinated with the body, it’s not just in the movements.
The usage of the sword, basically is not to touch opponent’s weapons. Instead, it is to find the “sword point”. The Sword point is the position of changing Jing. To fully finish a move, it requires you have your sword point (changing Jing) when you deliver the move, and you must also understand the opponent’s sword point to be successful. Then you can change quickly, your attack will be powerful, so that you won’t be messy and end up being taken advantage of by your opponent.
Secondly, you have to search within your opponent’s wrist. Of course, if there are chances to take (stike) a fatal point, to destroy limbs, or even to kill, then you shouldn’t be so polite. The movements that allow you to stab my chest may allow me to stab your face. This is very "low level" skill as both parties are hurt.
When you move, do not be greedy, be conservative. Move just enough to achieve your target. For example, if you were to use your right hand to stab my chest, before you could finish this move, I can move swiftly to the left pushing your sword out with my sword as it slides down to cut your wrist. This is an example of whole body movement where your attack becomes my attack and my attack is always my best defense.
Of course the opponent will change, maybe he will flip his sword to hit my wrist, or push his wrist down to flick my sword, and I wil have to change accordingly until one of us can achieve our goal through whole body movement and proper understanding and usage of jing.
A little sidetrack about weapons.
When using real weapons, the weapon is usually stronger than an empty hand, and depending on martial art systems and personal habits, the weight and length of each weapon will be different. Generally speaking, the blade has to be long enough, and the handle must be able to be held with both hands. The handle can’t be too small or too smooth, otherwise it’s easily dropped. The top 1/3 part of the blade has to be the sharpest, sharp enough to shave hair, meaning it’s thinner, fast and sharp, suitable for flick, hook, wash and stab. The middle part of the blade shouldn’t be too thin, so it can be used to chop (it’s not stiff chop, straight sword’s blade are thinner, it can be broken). The bottom part of the blade is blunt, it can be used to block when necessary. The center of gravity of the sword should be 4 inches in front of the handle. The sword head (tip) should not be too heavy, nor too light, otherwise it will have no power. There are also “blood grooves” which can be opened on the blade. Blood grooves are not just used for releasing blood (by letting air in), they play an important role in removing weight from the blade to achieve optimal balance ( important point – it is best to not destroy the whole sword strength when taking weight off the blade). Another way to achieve optimal balance is to add weights to the handle, or pour lead into it.
Besides the traditional hand folding and hammering method of making of the blade, there is also the “inserted, folded and wrapped blade”. This type combines the strengths of both types of blades to achieve a truly great result. Folding and hammering steel is used for taking the impurities out of the metal, and it also increases the pureness of the steel and its flexibility. However steels used nowadays are generally pure already. The folding and hammering is used for making patterns in blade. The pattern appears when blade is kept folded and hammered, and then finally polished out. Unfortunately, nowadays technology or even chemistry is used to achieve these patterns without the folding and hammering, and therefor the cost is much less. We do not do use this method at Enlightenment Swords.For the most efficient usage, an "inserted folded and wrapping steel" blade is best.
If the whole blade is made of high carbon steel, it can be very hard after the tempering or heat treatment process. Actually middle carbon steel can be tempered very hard too, however there’s a problem - the flexibility is decreased. If it’s made too hard then it can be broken easily. If the blade is made for lasting [chopping] and the blade does not damage, then the blade won't be made too thin and sharp. If it's not made hard, then it has more flexibility. The hardest thing is achieving this ying-yang balance. Flexibility in blade is required so it won’t be broken when facing brutal forces. The edge has to be tough enough so that the sword has outstanding cutting power and remains sharp. So that, ‘in-between’ folding steel is made by two different kinds of steel. High carbon steel is used as the inside part of the blade, it can be extremely hard after tempering process, however the blade “body” [outside] is made by low carbon steel, it’s more flexible and wont’ be easily broken. This is what is meant the old masters say “good steel is used in the edge” . There’s a line of pattern in these blade. This is the more traditional and cost-effective way to make excellent swords.
(to be continued)
Enlightenment Swords 2006
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