Sword tai chi is an ancient art form of body movements originating in China that incorporates a sword into fluid, nuanced postures. This practice is usually taught after a student has learned the fundamental tai chi poses. Tai chi kung fu was first used in martial arts by the military of China. Today, this discipline offers benefits in fitness, health, and as a perpetuation of Chinese culture.
The first manual for sword tai chi was produced in China in 1928 by Chen Zengze, who collaborated with the Tai Chi Grand Master Yang. The book illustrated 55 movements that have become known as Yang or classical sword tai chi style. A simplified version was developed by the People's Republic of China for physical education and wushu classes that use 33 movements.
Worldwide, tai chi chuan schools have developed various adaptations of these original styles. Before allowing training with weapons, most schools first have students study the chi kung or standing meditation, perhaps for as long as two to three years. Movements are similar to karate katas where martial artists perfect their movements and center their concentration before fighting. Energy or chi flow and fluidity are important components of tai chi, and sometimes Taoist spirituality is incorporated into the study. A practitioner must learn to clear the mind of distractions and to breathe properly to execute their tai chi poses.
Tai chi chuan has up to 182 movements, each of which is unique and complex. Study can take a lifetime. Traditional Chinese symbols are used for pose names, such as crouching tiger and grab wild horse's mane. They describe the motion in each step leading to better visualization. The postures are learned in sequence, repetitiously until all the 182 stages or movements can be performed as one interwoven, fluid motion. Tai chi can appear deceptively easy.
Specialized postures were developed for sword tai chi and they involve circling, thrusting, and twisting. The set of poses for this style can range from 33 to 55 movements. Push hands or partner tai chi can be used in sword-style tai chi as well as the original 182 stages of tai chi chuan.
Weapons commonly used in tai chi are the staff, spear, saber, and jian or sword. The jian is widely considered the more refined and complex of weapons to use. Tai chi jian are specifically made to be used in tai chi, and were traditionally customized to the practitioner. Today, swords have an overall length of approximately 3 feet (1 meter). The blade is 28 to 30 inches (71 to 76 centimeters) long.
Tai chi swords differ from the saber in that they are double edged and straight. Sabers are usually curved, like a katana or Japanese sword, and are considered a cruder instrument. Sword tai chi differs from the version for sabers; jian were used to slice, nip, and thrust at an opponent whereas a saber is broad and uses swipes to hack at an attacker. Sabers were employed by the foot soldier more often, and the sword was used by officers or gentry.
Although used when sparring, the benefits of sword tai chi are usually found in improved body and mind coordination, outstanding concentration, and better health. Using a sword as part of tai chi can be dangerous if the postures are not performed correctly. Most instructors use the philosophy that the sword is an extension of the body and that fluidity of the entire body is needed to center energy flow. This fluidity aids in increased circulation and nutrition to muscles.