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Scott Rodell, Zhang Yun and
Yang Jwing-Ming Interview with Inside Kung-Fu - Part 3

Student Difficulties Learning

This taiji sword interview with my teacher, Scott Rodell and two others, was conducted by Jonathan Rollins for the June 2008 issue of Inside Kung-Fu magazine.

INSIDE KUNG-FU: Weapons training is obviously very demanding. What are some of the difficulties students will face and the steps they can use to overcome them?

SCOTT RODELL: One, I would say, is to always practice mindfully, which is the one thing the weapon is really good for. One thing I notice that students always go through when they first start a weapon is that they may have really good structure when doing the hand forms, but then start working with the sword, all of a sudden the structure disappears, even if a student has been doing these movements for years. I've seen five year students have their postures fall apart; these are people whose push hands is very good, everything should be right, but the added weight and leverage of the sword in hand and having to put power into it pulls that structure apart.

Scott Rodell in Rhinoceros Gazes at the Moon.
Alt Text--taiji sword Scott Rodell
They also get distracted by the weapon. They move the sword around with their arm instead of using the waist and coming up through the legs, up through the body, as the Classics explain it should be done. So swordwork brings you back to being a beginner again; it magnifies all your errors, which is really good. and it really brings your tension back. You may have always made these same errors but when you are making them in other places in your practice like the hand form, you are making them in such a small way you don't see them as easily. So it is hard to work on them. When you start training with a sword, all of a sudden all the errors that were too small to notice are brought to the surface, and you realise, I'm not turning my waist properly. I'm not focusing the body properly,my shoulders are not lined up right. all these problems are being greatly magnified. So if you are really paying attention to what you are doing you are going to become a beginner again. But even making all these rank beginner mistakes you now have the years of knowledge of the empty-hand form to help you understand and correct yourself. So in effect, you are an informed beginner.

Students at one of Scott Rodell's swordsmanship seminars.
Alt Text--Scott Rodell seminar

Note: Scott Rodell is the Director of Great River Taoist Center and has been teaching sword for nearly 30 years.

ZHANG YUN: When people approach sword training like they do with simpler weapons, they think it's very straightforward, that you can just use the movements in the form directly in fighting. People who think this way, their primary focus in training are the application meaning of the movements. I think if people tried this during real fighting, they may become very disappointed or disillusioned. they will find that many movements in the form are not very practical when you use them directly in combat. Why is this so? The jian, because of its lightness, cannot be used directly against bigger, heavier weapons in a force-on-force manner. When a weapon is delicate, you cannot use much force. When you go against another force with your force directly, you need to have more force to win. that is not high-level skill. High-level skill means using a smaller force to overcome a larger force. So the form is not designed to give you explicit instructions on what to do during a fight, but give you certain basic general abilities necessary for using such a delicate weapon in a fight against whatever may come.

"The most important thing is perseverance.."
Scott Rodell

YANG JWING MING: First develop the feeling of the touch. Once you touch the sword, the sword has become part of your body. Your feeling must be able to reach to the tip of the sword. When you hold a sword, it's just like you are holding an egg. You cannot drop it and you cannot break it. That means you cannot hold the sword too tight. When it is tight, the feeling of connection of hand and sword will be shallow.

Second practice the body movements. This means you will need a firm root, also skilful waist, spine and chest movements. Without these foundations, the movements of the sword will be only from your arms. That means the skill you have developed is shallow and simple. It is said: "Perform the sword like a phoenix's flying". That means the action is the entire body, not just the arms. Usually this is the second hardest for any beginner to understand and practice.

Third is to develop a high level of qi in the body. Qi is known as bioelectricity circulating in the body. When this qi is abundant and strong the entire body's nervous system will be in high alert. that means you will have a high level of sensitivity and awareness. When this happens, your skills are alive.

Zhang Yun in a Jian Form posture.
Alt Text--Zhang Yun with sword
Fourth is learning how to use your mind to lead the qi to the tip of the sword. Usually this is not easy for any beginner. You must practice qigong meditation first for this training.

Fifth is a high level of concentrated mind. This is always the hardest one for any sword practitioner. You must first have a sense of the enemy and naturally you must know the martial applications of each movement and are able to apply them against the opponent. When the mind is strong, the qi can be led. However, if you don't have any idea of the martial purpose of the movement, it is impossible to reach this goal.

SCOTT RODELL: Also I think the most important thing is perseverance. Maybe the thing that people don't think about in regard to mistakes is that everybody is going to make them. No matter how experienced a person is, they still make mistakes. It is human, but be aware you are going to make them and learn from your mistakes.

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