for Jianke in Training.

Sword Lessons 1: Basic Cuts

This is a good way to begin your sword lessons. After stance and grip, basic cuts are the next element of training in taiji sword - even before form. The basic cuts of a system are the most elemental lessons for a student. I did 10,000 of each type before working on the jian form. It takes time to develop strength to wield a full weight sword, edge control and the correct intent and body mechanics. We train both left and right handed as equally as possible. I'm pretty awful left handed with a sword, and yet, I use my left for the fine motor skills such as threading needles, tying knots and turning pages. We're all different but it is an advantage to be good with both. No one should handle a sharp sword until they are accurate in their basic cuts with a wooden sword.

Sword Lessons 2: Two Person Drills.

When a taiji sword student is developing some control with basic cuts, it is good to add two person drills to the training routine. These are often circular deflect and strike combinations which involve stepping back and forth as the offensive and defensive changes between the pair. They train automatic deflections of a particular strike, blade control, use of the forte in deflection, listening skills, stepping, taiji body principles such as using the waist, fajin, and many other important elements of Chinese sword fighting.

Sword Lessons 3: Form.

Training in sword forms.
Alt Text--Sword lessons - training in forms
A sword form is like a textbook written in the body and mind of a student. Our forms have been passed down from teacher to student over hundreds of years. In the days when reading and writing were skills for a few, sword forms preserved the basics of our art and many students still practise them fairly closely to the original. There is so much in a sword form. All the principles of good swordsmanship are there. There are stances, steps, combinations, deflections and answers for multiple opponents. There are emptyhand skills, moves for close combat, skills for defeating opponents with different weapons, leg strengthening exercises, cross brain sword skills, and prompts for developing individual uses of the basic cuts. As with all forms, they are of far more use when practised mindfully. They weren't developed to be a dance with a sword, but a basis for real martial skill with a sword. They also develop the internal aspects of our practice.

Sword Lessons 4: Test Cutting.

Until the last few years, test cutting with Chinese swords was undeveloped. Sifu Scott Rodell has brought it into the present day and has been followed by a number of other capable swordsmen with a similar desire to see Chinese martial arts restored to fullness. Although unlikely to claim it for himself, Rodell is a Master Jianke, without whom, we would not have Chinese swordsmanship in its present worldwide state of revival. He has also been a leading activist towards development of high quality, historically accurate Chinese swords.

Test cutting helps with edge control and with overall control of a cut from beginning to end. It isn't easy to control a cut while going through bamboo, or even lighter substances. Most people leave themselves wide open to return attack by swinging too high or wide. Students need to do test cutting a lot if they wish to learn to sword fight correctly.

Sword Lessons 5: Free Play.

Free play with different weapons.
Alt Text--Sword lessons - free play
Free Play is a lot of fun. We usually do it with wooden swords. Some of us also use steel blunts of whichever variety we can get that is closest to Chinese swords. A number of companies are developing steel blunt jian at present. Some people do their free play with very light swords, thin whippy things, or shinai. All of these can have a purpose for a beginner but a student who has gone to the trouble of of training in a hundred hours of basic cuts, a 20 minute sword form, and multiple two person drills, would be wasting their time to do free play with something that doesn't play like a real sword. It should be the right weight and shape, with a clear edge. We are developing better and better wooden swords all the time.

We usually use protective goggles for beginners, then add gloves, helmets and perhaps gambesons as students speed up and want fewer inhibitions. If you are serious about sword lessons, get yourself a good teacher and be prepared to put in lots of hard work.

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