Sword Fighting Techniques
Free sparring with Chinese sword fighting techniques should be a natural follow on from the basic cuts, forms, principles and partner exercises you have been working on. When learning a Chinese martial arts system, it is usual for a student to begin with emptyhand skills. These build in correct body mechanics and principles before complicating things with adding a weapon. The weapon then becomes an extension of your already trained body.
Check out this short video for a description of the five main elements of Chinese swordsmanship training. Then come back for a closer look at the fifth element - free sparring.
When to Begin Free Sparring
In order to be ready for the random sword fighting techniques a training partner will throw your way in free sparring, you should have good control of these elements of your training.
Techniques from the form.
- Correct body mechanics. It's no good rushing headlong into free sparring if you are going to damage yourself with poor alignment.
- Taiji principles. These for a start: verticality, waist is the commander, root, full and empty, listening, when one part moves, every part moves, fangsong, taking and returning the duifang's energy.
- The basic cuts of whichever system you will be using. The basic cuts of the Yangjia Michuan system I train in are here. Follow the links at the bottom of the page for more.
- At least some combinations from the form.
- Partner drills, gradually building in speed and intensity.
What Equipment Do You Need?
Minimum equipment for beginners:
- A good quality wooden sword.
- Eye protection.
- Protective gloves.
Kids training in
off the line techniques.
It is expected that beginners move a little more slowly than experienced players and that they will limit their sword fighting techniques to avoid head strikes. Beginners with minimal equipment learn this is no game. If you get hit on the arm with a wooden sword, there will be a bruise. It is best to begin with less protection if you want to develop a feel for the reality of swordsmanship.
Children need more protection. We ask them to use padded swords and wear fencing masks.
More advanced students have fewer limitations. They speed up. The whole body becomes a target, and they need better protection in order to be less limited in their sword fighting techniques. This page on tournament equipment will give you a good idea of how these students need to be dressed.
What To Expect
When you begin free sparring, your sword fighting techniques should be controlled. It is good to work at a slow speed, being mindful of what your training partners can take. Don't be reckless and hit as hard as you can. Try to control the power of the strike and learn to get out of the way. The aim is to always be in a position where you can reach your training partner and he can't reach you. This is a good time to be working on turning your waist offline. Then train in stepping techniques to remove your duifang's threat while presenting one of your own.
Gradually increase the speed as you and your training partners develop better skill. You will use better techniques and more variety when working at 25% speed. When you are ready, move up to half speed. Increase the threat of your attacks from holding the strike to hitting when you can. It won't take very long to be sparring at a good speed, using many techniques, and developing a good flow in your swordsmanship, especially if you continue to train in all the earlier elements of Chinese swordsmanship while improving.
The main thing to remember is that we are not developing a sport. This is a martial art. We want to build up skill using real weight swords and real techniques. You won't be able to do this with wobbly wushu swords. Wushu, as we know it today, is very skilful and athletic. It is beautiful to watch. But it is not real swordsmanship. Both can be a lot of fun. Both develop different skills. I will always admire people who can execute a perfect spinning butterfly kick with a sword in their hand. It's not my skill though. I'm training in real Chinese swordsmanship. Some people have time to be good at both types of swordie fun.
In real free sparring, all sword fighting techniques are allowed. All parts of the body are a target. It is a matter of staying "alive" while getting a "killing" strike in on your partner. I think it is just about the most fun in the world. It is definitely not safe even though we never do any partner training with sharp swords. You will have to be able to overcome fear, pain, distractions, and emotions if you are to grow in skill. You will have to learn to be "in the moment".
Why not start training in sword fighting techniques now. Before you know it you could be ready for something like the Traditional Chinese Sword League Tournament.
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