This taiji weapons interview with my teacher, Scott Rodell and two others, was conducted by Jonathan Rollins for the June 2008 issue of Inside Kung-Fu magazine.
Of course, having to use a sword or spear isn't the reason we study those weapons - just like having to fight isn't the reason we study martial arts. With this belief in mind I decided to interview three prominent American based teachers of taijiquan sword (jian): Scott m Rodell, author of chinese Swordsmanship; the yang Family Taiji Jian Tradition and Taiji Notebook; Zhang yun, author of Chinese Swordsmanship and president of the Yin Cheng Gong Fa Association - North American Headquarters; and Dr Yang Jwing Ming, author of numerous books including Northern Shaolin Sword and taiji Sword Classical Yang Style.
INSIDE KUNG-FU: So in today's world of guns, quick-fix pills, and MySpace, why should anyone take the time to practice something they will never use or need?
ZHANG YUN: Actually, in the society that we live in today most people have neither the need nor the opportunity to use those skills under realistic conditions. This is especially true for weapons skills. So I think today, the most important goal in learning martial arts is to improve various aspects of ourselves.
Chinese martial arts have a very long history. Its training includes not just fighting skills but also health cultivation, character development and spiritual practice. The idea is to develop a complete, balanced person whose martial prowess is guided by an equally developed sense of morality, ethical behavior, self-control, confidence, etc. According to this ideal then, if a person can just do some fighting skills very well but nothing else, he would never be considered a great master. When a person trains completely in this manner, he not only obtains deeper understanding of the fighting skills, but also of the larger world we live in and life itself.
To train in jian is to be immersed in that culture, and to let it shape the development of your person - your knowledge, your understanding, your character and your personality. This is what a complete traditional martial arts practise should be like. For these reasons we can say it is basically impossible to reach a high level of Chinese martial arts without practising the jian.
SCOTT M. RODELL: Weapons training of all kinds, specifically the sword, whether it is a sabre or the jian, teaches new kinds of body mechanics as well as how to apply the mechanics learned in the solo form. Of particular importance is the role that sword training plays in helping developing fajing or releasing power - something you can't develop the same way with push hands practice because there are so many variables involved when pushing hands.
When using a sword however, it is always going to be the same weight, the same stiffness, and in the same position when you release power. The feedback is the same for each repetition so that you can compare with how you did here, and here and here (in the form), from day to day, week to week, month to month. That's not the same as pushing a person who is changing all the time.
So just as you are doing fajing, you can see, can I transmit the power through the jian when I am doing that; do I lose my balance here; do I tense up here; is there some break in the transmission of the power, like the upper and lower body not staying lined up; did I twist my shoulders? You can feel these things when you are pushing a weapon. You'll feel a twinge; you'll feel the misalignment in your body when using a weapon so within the overall system, the most important reason for learning weapons is to further develop your body mechanics and your fajing.
DR YANG JWING MING: In china it is said "100 days of barehand, 1,000 days of spear and 10,000 days of sword." From this sentence we can see how deep sword achievement can be and how much of a self challenge and self discipline you must encounter. For those people who practise martial arts for health and relaxation, practising sword will help them reach this goal easily. It is not just for beauty and ellegance but also conditioning the entire physical body's structure in relaxed movements.
Go to Part 2 of this interview.