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Martial Art Training for Swordsmanship


Sword zhan zhuang from Scott Rodell's book "Chinese Swordsmanship: The Yang Family Taiji Jian Tradition." Available for purchase at http://www.sevenstarstrading.com/html/booksvideos/
Alt Text--Martial art training for sword: zhan zhuang

Sword zhan zhuang, the best martial art training for Chinese swordsmanship, is also known as standing meditation in tai chi exercise. Since our swordsmanship is part of a taiji system, the same principles apply through basic exercises, empty hand forms and applications, tui shou, san shou, and weapons training. Everything applies to everything else.

When I started learning Chinese swordsmanship in 2003, standing with a sword was the first lesson. I learned how to do it from the front of my teacher, Scott Rodell's book Chinese Swordsmanship: The Yang Family Taiji Jian Tradition. During our first phonecall, he also taught me empty hand zhan zhuang. It was the beginning of developing all the correct body mechanics and the internal principles necessary for Chinese swordsmanship as well. You can't just skip this martial art training. It's essential.

What is Zhan Zhuang?

Sword zhan zhuan is performed in basic jian stance. It involves holding the sword correctly and standing without moving for a length of time. But that is only the beginning. This page will give an outline and enough information to get started. Future pages may expand on technique.

Sword zhan zhuang is:

  • A type of martial art training

  • A tai chi exercise

  • A relaxation exercise

  • A strength training exercise

  • A mental focus exercise

  • An exercise for developing qi (chi)

How Does Standing Meditation Help Your Swordsmanship?

Sword zhan zhuang helps a student:
  • Develop correct body alignment

  • Become more Fang song

  • Increase ability to focus - for listening

  • Develop concentration

  • Strengthen the body

  • Become more disciplined

  • Increase endurance

  • Develop a strong root

How to Begin Sword Zhan Zhuang

During zhan zhuang martial art training, your back foot takes the weight of your body and is rooted through the "bubbling well", a point just behind the ball of the foot. You sink into that root as though nailed to the ground. Your front foot touches the ground lightly on the ball of the foot. Both knees are bent and the hip, knee and ankle of each are in alignment - not bending in or out.

The downward sinking begins at the back of the hips from a place known to Chinese as the "mingmen". Everything above that point is focussed upwards as though your head is suspended from a string. Your spine is straight, aided by tucking the coccyx under.

In a right handed stance your right hand holds the sword and the right, unweighted foot, is forward. The left hand forms the sword talisman shape with your index and second finger resting on your wrist at the base of your thumb. Hold your sword out in front of your body with your arms lightly curved and not jammed against your body. The sword tip should be at about eye level.

The best stance for this type of martial art training is with your shoulders relaxed, eyes focussed on your sword tip, back slightly rounded and chest slightly hollowed.

When you begin doing this standing meditation with a sword, do it for ten minutes. You will find this is long enough to be quite sure it's a martial art training exercise. I suggest doing half the time in right handed stance and the other half in left handed, for a beginning. As you get stronger, you might be able to work up to half an hour, although, that's a long time with a heavy sword. It's long enough in empty hand.

Don't force the time to increase. This is counter productive. Increase by a minute each week and stop increasing time when your body complains too much. Slower is better with anything tai chi exercise related.

In sword zhan zhuang, try to control your breathing. Most people breathe naturally at the rate of ten to fifteen breaths per minute. When you are doing this martial art training, breathe more deeply and slow the breaths. Aim for eight breaths a minute when you start. Try to get down to four or even less as you progress. This isn't as easy as it sounds. It's strenuous holding a sword out in front of you for a period of time. Later you will use your mind to control your breath, but for a start, breathe slowly and evenly as you stand with your sword.

Fang song means "loose and unclenched". As you stand with your sword you will feel areas of tension. Consciously release them. The shoulders usually clench up first. Relax them as often as necessary. As you relax one area of your body, other areas follow. Sometimes it's a good idea to begin at the top of the head, feeling the tension and relaxing it. Then go to the face, the neck, shoulders, down the arms, the back, chest and stomach. Run your mind down each leg, releasing tension and then check for where you are still tight - release it. make sure every joint feels open. Be careful you don't fall asleep doing this, and always keep your eyes open during zhan zhuang.

Most people are so tense they are hurting quite a lot after ten minutes of sword zhan zhuang. This should improve as you become softer, but don't expect zhan zhuang to be painless. It certainly isn't and that's why most people never do it at all. If you want to be better than average in Chinese swordsmanship, do this martial art training several times a week. The average person isn't doing it.

When you begin sword zhan zhuang, it will be hard to hold the tip of your sword still. Work on control until it is still and you can focus on the tip without feeling wobbly. Don't jam your arms against your body or drop your hands into your stomach for stability. That's cheating and you won't help your control by doing it.

That's enough on zhan zhuang for now. This page has barely scraped the surface. There is a lot more to learn but let's work on that later.

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