Developing Your Sword Skills


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

  • Unstable grip
  • Leaving yourself open
  • Leaning forward

Avoid an Unstable Grip

Click on the thumbnails for bigger pictures.

 sword skills wrong grip 1
1. Wrong Grip
 sword skills wrong grip 2
2. Wrong Grip
 sword skills wrong grip 3
3. Wrong Grip.
 sword skills correct jian grip
4. Correct Grip

1. There are different grips for different swords. I've heard that some who train in Chinese swordsmanship prefer to hold the index finger over the guard. This is easier for precision cuts but it has one very important downfall. This pistol type grip is very useful when your sword has a basket hilt or steel rings to protect the index finger. A Chinese sword does not. If you use this grip with a jian, your index finger becomes a prime target. One hit with a sharp blade is all it takes to remove the protruding finger - no more precision. So you might as well train in correct Chinese sword skills from the beginning.

2. The jian grip takes advantage of a lozenge shaped handle. The strength of your grip will be in the thumb and middle two fingers. This gives you a firm hold of the sword while leaving your wrist flexible enough to rotate in spinning deflections. I have seen students spin the sword by unpealing and reattaching their fingers. While it is true that this action makes the spin very easy, it is quite unstable. A simple beat to the flat of your blade during swordfighting, will send it flying out of your hand.

3. Another grip error is to place your hand with the thumb above the four fingers, or only over the index finger. This works well for a dao, but not for a jian. Different weapons, different sword skills. Be sure to practise the correct grip for the type of sword you are using even if it takes longer to get it correct.

Don't Leave Yourself Open to Attack

Cutting too wide leaves you open
Alt Text--sword skills errors left open

If you only practise forms and do not translate the movements into real sword fighting techniques, you are in danger of developing martially incorrect cuts. Your strikes, especially with a jian, should be controlled all the way to the end. They should finish in a position that covers your body and is a threat to the duifang. If your strike misses, there should be no opening for the duifang to get you straight back. There should be no hollows and no protrusions, as the classics say. If you swing the sword too wide, this leaves you open to attack.

Another problem is stepping out from behind your sword. When you are not fighting with a shield, your sword must do the work of both weapon and shield. It is your protection as well as your attacking weapon. Make sure the blade always covers your body. This is why we learn to hold it slightly angled, even in basic stance. There should be no obvious route to your body - no way that is easy to get an attack past your sword. Stay behind your sword at all times. All it takes for the duifang to create an opening, is a simple movement off the main line. You must move with him to stay protected.

The Danger of Leaning Forward

Leaning forward is dangerous
Alt Text--sword skills errors leaning forward

One of the main sword skills in taiji jian is the principle of verticality. This helps with stability as well as keeping your body out of the way. Verticality means there is a straight line through your centre, to the ground. It does not mean that no part of your body leans or is bent. Chinese sword fighting techniques are performed with the body in balance and ready to move in any direction. One of the most common errors is leaning forward to gain ground while the duifang can reach you with his sword. We do have movements that involve stretching out while balanced on one leg. These are for reaching a retreating duifang. It is an error to lean forward, putting your head in danger of the duifang's blade. While you are off blance like that, he simply needs to step to the side and hit you on the head. I used to often find myself stepping into a cut in this manner. It's very dangerous and even the most experienced training partner will be unable to avoid hitting you solidly on the head if you lean forward when his strike is already in motion.

It takes time to develop good sword skills. Try to avoid these common errors from the beginning so there is nothing to unlearn.

Common Errors Part 2
Common Errors Part 3

Leave Sword Skills, Common Errors Part 1 and return to Swordfighting.

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