Chinese Sword Fights


This is the second of a sword fights skills series on avoiding common errors. In this sword skills lesson, you will learn to avoid:

  • Standing in one place
  • Cutting without deflecting
  • Hard blocks

For the first in this series look here.

Avoid Standing in One Place

Chinese sword fights will be won by the other guy if you stand in the same place you attacked or defended from during the previous exchange. In the last lesson we learnt that there should be no hollows and no protrusions. There should be no way for the duifang to easily reach your body with his sword. Some beginners make the mistake of thinking they have a strong position because it worked for the last strike. Chinese swordsmanship is very fluid. Your partner can change the distance and angle of attack by moving his feet a very small distance. If you do not move with him, he has created an advantage.

In the picture below I have stayed in the same place while my teacher has stepped, giving him the advantage of reach, with the result you see in the photo.

sword fights common errors, not moving

It is your job to take the advantage for yourself by repositioning your body. Don't make it easy for the duifang by standing in one spot. As you deflect, you might be moving to the side for a better angle. You might move to the side and forward at the same time. If the duifang has closed the distance, you need to turn your waist out of range of the cut, or step out of range. Whatever you do, don't just stand there waiting for the next strike to come and think you can deflect it. Your training partner didn't stand still. The distance and angle have changed. Watch, listen, be aware. Forget the last strike and be in the moment. There is this strike and only this one. The last is gone and the next has not yet come.

Don't Cut Without Deflecting

Chinese sword bouts will be won by the other guy if you try to hit him when his sword is in the way. It stands to reason that if you are in striking range, the duifang probably is too. The exceptions to that are when you have changed the angle enough to reach where he cannot strike, and when one of you has a longer reach or longer weapon.

When students train with soft or light swords, they can develop bad habits. In the heat of battle, you might not even notice when you are hit. This is another good reason for training with a solid wooden sword or a steel blunt. Let there be some reality in your training sword fights.

In the picture below one training partner has persisted with a cut to the hand regardless of the sword coming down on his head. This is a double hit, although the head strike is more serious.

sword fights common errors, double hit

If you want to hit the duifang, you must first make sure his sword is out of the way. If he has swung too wide and left himself open, you can attack. If you have beaten his sword high, low, or to the side, he is open for an attack. The most common method of achieving an opening in Chinese sword fights is to deflect on the way to a cut. A deflection guides the duifang's sword offline just long enough for you to take the centre and come in with a strike of your own. If you fail to deflect, and strike anyway, the duifang will hit you as well. This is not reality. If the sword was sharp, you wouldn't just stand there delivering simultaneous cuts. The object of real sword fights is to get the other guy's sword out of the way and be the only one that lands a hit.

The Danger of Hard Blocks

Chinese sword fights will be won by the other guy if you damage your blade through hard blocks. Even good quality wooden swords will snap if you block a hard strike. I understand some of the European styles teach that you must block and stop your partner's sword before taking the next strike. This is quite different from Chinese sword fighting. We never block. We deflect. The object is to use the minimum of force, take the duifang's energy and return it. Whereas some styles have a "one two, defend, attack" formula, we do not. We deflect/strike, as one movement.

Chinese swordsmanship has never used blocks, and especially not edge blocks. There are many surviving examples of Chinese swords, used in battle. The overwhelming evidence is that the edges are not nicked from edge blocks. We deflect with the flat of the blade wherever possible. Blocks take a lot of strength. Deflections do not. Blocks damage swords. Deflections do not. Blocks stop the movement. Deflections help it to flow on.

In the video below, I am training with Paul Wagner. he is playing Highlander Broadsword and I am playing Michuan Jian. There are many similarities in the styles. I do not claim to be doing everything right here. Take a look and see if you can spot the errors as well as some of the good skills. Take particular notice of how difficult it is to use a deflecting style when the other partner is playing with a blocking style and watch the few times I manage to pull it off.

Leave Errors in Chinese Sword fights Part 2 and return to Sword Fighting

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