Challenge your own abilities
Since the online Sword course launched earlier this year, many people have issued me with the usual whatsapp challenges - blades at sunset sort of thing. This not only amuses me, but reminds me of the number of people that still believe traditional martial arts are about ferocity, notions of winning or superiority of technique or style. As many teachers far more capable than I have said: The idea behind all martial arts is not to defeat an opponent, but to challenge your own abilities.
The 2 types of Sword Practitioners
In the field of Tai Chi, this ideology has been keenly embraced by those wishing to focus on the softer, gentler and more harmonious practices of the art. When the time comes to begin sword study, these people physically recoil as though they were attendees at the Court of Transylvania and had been presented with tray of roasted garlic (yum, yum) or someone had opened a curtain and a ray of sunlight had struck their anaemic faces. To these people, just the thought of wielding a metal blade in the air is tantamount to publicly declaring violence as a principle to live by.
But there are others: The whatsapp duelists. Those that salivate over the use of any weapons and see them as essential tools in their arsenal for 21st century living. They collect things like exotic instruments of torture, stuffed wombats and hoard such nonsense on shelves in their underground bunkers, just next to their cans of long-life beans, survivalist manuals, camouflage pyjamas and maps for which countries they will rule the world once democracy has been finally reversed..
But for the rest of us, is there a saner perspective that nestles somewhere between the passive deferrers and the gnashing long-life milk reactionaries?
What are the goals of Tai Chi Sword Practice?
If we put turn down the arguments of those obsessed with invincibility and superiority, and instead listen to our humble inner voice, we will hear a quiet breath and little else. As the Taoists state: Once the rage has gone, the edges blunted from overuse, then the instruments become useless.
In sword classes, we start with blunt edges. We make no mistake that what we do will not count on the battlefield. Those delusions are for others to dream. We don't learn how to wield the weapon in order to slice flesh, study means of amputation, or develop a skill in stabbing. These are not only anachronistic goals,, but dubious ones in which to invest our precious time. So for what purpose do we practice the art of pointy objects?
We may only be using our swords for slicing hard cheese or, in the case of my blunt practice swords - dancing under the night sky as I perform Rhinoceros Gazes at the Moon or Green Dragon Emerges from the Lake. But these activities still have value. For this light-weight nimble sword was always a metaphor for cutting away the veil of illusion that hangs before our eyes. And what better time than right now, to be able to wield such a weapon? A weapon that teaches a coordination of mind and body, a balance of weight and purpose, a focus on breath and harmony that many of the empty hand Tai Chi forms lack. I believe this is related to the concept of "Swing and Momentum" that is seen in certain Yang styles.
Swing and Momentum in Tai Chi Sword Practice
This notion of swing and momentum refers to a way in which energy is employed in the body. Now, before you get carried away with notions of golden beams of light projected from the Dan Tien down into the blade (please keep such images for the movies) I'm referring to the bone, muscle and ligament structure that impels us forward and back or from side to side in an efficient a way as possible.
Obviously this structural lesson is used in empty hand Tai Chi Forms, but in the Sword, the extra weight and .size of the weapon we wield brings this concept alive.. We very quickly learn that by relaxing and listening to our body, we feel the turn, the transfer of weight, as the shoulder relaxes and the hips move back and forth. It is much more difficult to teach these concepts of feeling and sensation with empty hand stances. It is far easier for students to physically hold and then engage with the ideas when wielding an object in front of them. And that ever-evasive notion of RELAX (Watch the video) in Tai Chi is even easier to accomplish with the sword, for if not, our arms tire quickly, our shoulders ache and and body grows weary.
Practice with a light sword, not a heavy two-handed weighty blade. We practice not as a strength building exercise, but one of muscle memory, focus, attention and accuracy,
Want to develop strength? Go do some push.ups. Want to learn about grace, harmony and learn to cut rhough the veil of nonsense washing over the world? Pick up a Sword.
Find out more about the Tai Chi Sword Practice
Discover how to join the teapotmonk and start Learning Sword here - or browse the videos below or download the guide here.
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