Chinese Swordfight and Swordplay

It is quite natural for someone who learns boxing to look for chance to fight in rings. The same is true for someone who learns fencing to participate in fencing tournaments. A trained fighter should have some degree of aggression to beat his opponent in order to make advancement. This is however not always true for someone who learns or practises Chinese swordplay or swordfight.

In China, Chinese sword, especially jian, is not only a fighting instrument, it is also a culture. As compared with the situation in Japan where the use of sword has become a discipline - a dao (道) - called kando, the culture of jian in China has a much larger content. Jian has merged with many other parts in Chinese culture and given rise to new dimensions.

In China, people used jian to serve two main purposes: fighting and calisthenics.

Jian for calisthenics

The very special feature for Chinese martial arts is for raising the health and strength of the people. Through practising the use of jian, one can familiarize the skills and, as the same time, build up the "energy" inside the body, and even cure disease.

Chinese martial arts do not only base on the practical efficiency, but also on the belief of the harmony with nature. In the beliefs of this kind, there is some relationship between human actions and animal activities. Many ancient Chinese martial arts are practically evolved from the imitation of animal fighting and hunting activities. One can hardly imagine how can our use of weapon, including jian or dao, be related to the fighting and hunting activities of animals. In Chinese martial arts, the practise of swordplay, just as the practise of other Chinese boxings and weapons, is a way to attain harmony with nature and thus better health and larger energy.

Jian for fighting

Jian was not used as a combat weapon since Jin Dynasty (at about 300 A.D.) and nowaday many ancient swordsmanships were lost. Jian was commonly used again as a self-defense weapon in late Ming Dynasty.

In China, the practise of jian for fighting base on two essential parts: skill practising and body training.

For practising skill, a jian fighter has to practise the fighting forms of a certain school. There are more than twenty methods of using a jian. Each fighting form is in fact for practising one or two fighting methods. In each martial art school in China, the master usually arrange all essential fighting forms in special sequence to form a certain taolu (套路) or jianshu (劍術) (or swordplay). The students can therefore improve their skill by repeatedly practising the taolu.

The other way of practising skill is to repeat one or several fighting forms many many times to attain a certain level of accuracy, speed and strength. This kind of practising is usually found in Western fencing and kendo.

For body training, a jain fighter has to build up a strong body with suitable physical exercises. In China, a body has to be strong both outside and inside. A special way to train the body is the zhuanggong (椿功) or pole skill which is designed for training the internal breathing skill so as to activate the internal organs and to work up the internal vitality.

Thus, to become a good jian fighter, one has to build up a strong body, and to master the skills by practising taolu or individual forms.

The Highest Level of Jian

Nowadays, many people are practising Chinese wushu. When you see someone practising jian taolu, you may think that jian taolu is more like dancing than fighting. That is quite true! For an old woman practising taiji jian, it is good for her to take that taolu as a 'dancing' exercise for better health; yet for a young man who has strong interest in wushu, it is natural for him to take taolu as a practise for better fighting skill. In fact, practising fighting skill by taolu is a special (if not unique) feature of Chinese wushu.

Someone may ask: When comparing Chinese jian with Western or Japanese sword, which is better? This is actually a question with no answer. There is no invicible weapon on earth. Also we cannot compare among weapons. What is a better weapon depends on the one who use it. I must say, we cannot find out which weapon and which kind of wushu (martial arts) is the best; there can only be the best fighter.

Since jian can serves the purpose of fighting and calisthenics in China, I personally think the highest level of using jian should include the following attainments:

1. strong body (outside and inside)
2. familiar in all methods of using jian
3. efficient in all individual forms (in speed, strength and accuracy)
4. good response and reaction
5. always maintain a peaceful mind (harmony with nature)

A good jian master is therefore not only a good jian fighter, but is also a man of good integrity.


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