Historical Chinese
Sword Fighting Moves

These sword fighting moves are historically correct and useful in real taiji jian fighting. This is the second of a series on Chinese Sword Fighting Techniques. There will be links to other pages in the series at the bottom of this page. If you have not read the basic swordfighting pages, start with this one on sword grip and stance. It helps to know the basics before learning specific techniques.


Slash cuts apear in many sword fighting styles. This page is about three main slash cut techniques from the Yangjia MiChuan Jian system. They all use the sharp edge of the weapon with specific intent. The jian is a cut and thrust sword. See Part 1 for information about the thrusts of the Yangjia Michuan Jian System.

Teacher Scott Rodell cuts through bamboo with Pi.
Alt Text--sword fighting moves pi cut

Student using Pi to cut a bottle.
Alt Text--Sword fighting moves- bottle cutting
The Pi Cut

The Jian is a very versatile sword suitable for both heavy and light slash cuts. A slash is a sword fighting move with the sharp edge of the blade. The lighter version of the Pi cut uses a quick percussive splitting movement, connecting with the first few centimetres of the tip end of the blade. Targets for this lighter version are often ligaments such as the thumb. This sword fighting move can be used to disarm and disable the opposite. If his thumb ligament is cut he can no longer hold the sword. This is good for someone you want to stop attacking you without killing them, or to disable the opposite enough for a follow up finishing cut.

Junior student uses Pi to the arm.
Alt Text--Sword fighting moves- pi cut to hand

Try it now. Stand in basic jian stance. Your back foot is "rooted" to the ground. The energy for the thrust comes up that rooted leg and is directed through your waist, out through your arm, which is extended by the sword it is holding. Your whole body powers the thrust, not just your arm.

It feels like springing into the cut, spiralling up as you do so. As you spiral up and extend into the cut, your waist directs it. This means that if your torso has been straight ahead, a right handed Pi cut will turn your torso 45 degrees to the left and back to the front again, as you spiral into the cut.

Pi cut to the shoulder.
Alt Text--Sword fighting moves - pi to shoulder

Pi can also be used as a longer energy slash, aimed at removing the whole arm.

There is a movement in the jian form called "great roc spreads its wings and shows no mercy. This is a long energy Pi cut. It is powered with a kick to the opposite diagonal.

The extension of the leg also gives you balance as you bring your sword down into a heavy slash cut.

Pi is often used with a deflection on the way to the cut. We will look at deflections on another page. Many Chinese sword fighting moves are circular. They deflect and cut in the same movement.

Great Roc Pi Cut.
Alt Text--Sword fighting moves - Great Roc
These sword fighting moves can be used from the left or right side. Pi can cut straight down or angle in towards its target. It can be used to the base of the thumb, forearm, shoulder, neck, or to split across the belly. The main characteristic of a Pi cut is a downward percussive force.

When practising the basic sword fighting moves of the Michuan Jian system, it is a good policy to train equally left and right handed. As a general rule, the forward leg will be on the same side as the cutting arm, although this is not always the case. It is easier to hit the target you are aiming for, if your toe is pointing towards it - something to do with the natural balance lines of the body.

The Hua Cut

Preparing to cut with Hua.
Alt Text--Sword fighting moves cutting Hua.

When cutting to the outside with Hua, I like to start with my sword talsiman hand touching my shoulder and run it down the arm to my wrist. In a cut to the outside, away from your body, your hand will usually be holding the sword with the palm towards the ground. It is better for grip to push away from yourself and pull (palm up), when cutting horizontally across your body. If I am cutting out through a bottle and then back in, to take another slice off it, I run my sword talisman hand down to the wrist with the outward cut and back up from the wrist to the shoulder with the return cut. It's good to always know where that other hand is.... you wouldn't want to cut it accidentally.

Marc uses Hua as an intercept.
Alt Text--Sword fighting moves Hua as an intercept.
Hua turns with the body. It is not an arm movement. The sword is extended straight out at the end of the extended arm. One of its main uses is as an intercept. In the picture to the right, Marc is using it this way. A sword is coming towards his leg but before it connects, he has intercepted the arm with Hua. The sword tip will never reach his leg. This is one of those cases where the opposite moves first but you arrive first.
Hua used as a cut to the leg.
Alt Text--Sword fighting moves slash to leg.

Hua is considered to be a horizontal sword fighting move because the blade flat is held in a horizontal position. When we practise it as a solo cut, we usually practise horizontally.

However, during a sword fight, it is sometimes better to angle Hua either up or down. If the upward angle is very steep, it is probably a gua cut. We'll look at that in the next lesson. If it is angled down too steeply, it would be a Pi cut. Most swordsmen don't think about what the cut they are doing is called, during a bout. They just do whichever cut is convenient at the time - convenient for you, not the other guy.

The Tiao Cut

A good position for tiao.
Alt Text--Sword fighting moves tiao.
Tiao is a sword fighting move which is not common to many styles. It's almost a surprise cut when the the opposite seems to have the better position. It can be used as a beat to clear the centre for a follow up cut.

It can also be used as a quick cut under the hand or arm. Tiao begins with your sword tip low. perhaps the opposite has hit it low. Perhaps a Pi cut has missed and the momentum has pointed your tip to the ground.

This position leaves your whole upper body and your arms vulnerable to attack. When the opposite moves to make that attack, you still have an advantage he may not have been expecting - the Tiao cut.

Peter demonstrates tiao position.
Alt Text--Sword fighting moves Tiao position.
In basic stance but with the sword tip angled to the ground, sit down lower into your back leg while flicking the wrist upward. The sword blade moves to the opposite direction, now angled up, directly under the opposite's hand. This is a sharp sudden cut, somewhere between a slash and a thrust. It flicks up and slices the fingers or the wrist before your opposite can make a move. In Chinese swordsmanship, as one part of the body moves, every part moves, so there is no warning that this cut is coming. Many a swordsman of another style has been taken with Tiao because they have not seen this cut among the sword fighting moves of styles they know.
Approximate position of Tiao as a beat.
Alt Text--sword fighting moves tiao as a beat.

Tiao is often used as a beat to the outside. This is well known in other styles. Using the flat of your blade, tap the opposite's blade sharply on their flat. Your tiao will come from underneath his blade and, with a flick of the wrist and turn of your body, it will knock his sword offline to the outside of the centre. This gives you the advantage for a quick return cut. When applying this sword fighting move, be sure to use the part of your blade closer to the handle against the opposite's weaker, tip end position. This gives your beat more leverage.

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