The quality of Kung Fu practice is rising, worldwide. Yet the race is on. The culture of Kung Fu, the meaning and the heart of the art is in danger. The loss of this is not, as some would say, the loss of an impractical, antiquated fighting art no longer valid. Rather it would be equivalent to the loss of a cultural treasure such as Opera, or Painting, Theater or Meditation. Kung Fu culture is the raft upon which 5000 years of practical knowledge, mythic concepts, Shamanism practices and psychological insights rides. It is a code, but not an unbreakable one. The training in this section isn't so much about the movements; we actually assume you already know them. Rather it is a compilation of those "little details" that are the answers loosening the cipher and Unlocking the Form.

Unlocking the Form #1: If you already know the two most basics "wraps" with a saber, fine. Here, just to remind you, is the instruction and, below that, the Key Points. It may be a tad different from what you've been taught but this is what goes through the instructor's mind in the weeks and months and, yes, even years as he or she refines the initial impression of how to ...

Wrap a Saber

1. Move: We start at the previous position.

Keys: Once again, to start the saber moving, don't try to reach out with it. Instead pull it back against your ribs and THEN expand the arc of the motion.
2. Move: Cut outward horizontally.

Keys: Continue the rotation with a waist twist in the rightward direction. Be sure to NOT flip the saber over suddenly with your wrist. Rather, let the normal rotation of the saber roll it over once you pass the outline of the opponent.
3. Move: Continue the arc with the spine now leading.

Keys: Once you rotate the saber your job is to make sure it doesn't strike the right arm too hard. This comes from slightly pulling in on the elbow.
4. Move: Rest the saber somewhere around the middle pf the upper arm.

Keys: Remember, your left hand has been helping to "push" the saber along. The right wrist is now bent and relaxed to disperse the force of the saber making contact with the right arm.
5. Move: Bring the saber handle over your head.

Keys: By touching your back you distribute the force of the saber. Now it can safely and easily be brought over your head.
6. Move: Pull the saber down along the left front of the body, blade outward.

Keys: Position the left arm up against the body so there is no space. Buttress the saber as it descends. DO NOT flip the palm over and use the palm surface to press the spine of the saber. Learn to feel with the outside, not the belly, of the forearm.
7. Move: Drive the left hand outward while slicing down with the saber.

Keys: Note that the left forearm rolls along the saber and this presses the weapon forward. But you MUST pull the saber away from the arm before it rubs that sharp and serious last 25% of the spine which has an edge.
8. Move: Pull through to the "ready" position.

Keys: As the left Willow Hand pushes forward it still powers the saber's draw backward to the "ready" position.


1. Move: Start from the cocked position with the saber near the hip.

Keys: Note that the wrist is held as though carrying a suitcase—straight—not bent.

2. Move: Begin driving the tip,not the blade, upward toward centerline.

Keys: Even though you know you are about to wrap don't turn the blade over too soon. Drive the tip toward center. Every defense in saber contains an offense.

3. Move: Flip the saber over and create a "roof".

Keys: Make sure the saber's spine actually contacts the left arm. Otherwise, when the incoming strike is blocked, the structure will collapse. Don't stick your arm through too soon or it will meet the incoming cut from the opponent.
4. Move: Drag the saber back along the arm while turning the waist and thrusting through with the right hand.

Keys: The timing here is tight and mean. The left hand simulates catching the opponent's wrist while the saber takes the only path it can, behind the back. Pass over the head without ducking.
5. Move: Roll the saber along your back until its rides down the contour of your shoulder.

Keys: If you keep the spine of the saber kissing the flesh at your back you will always be aware of its location. Additionally, this is the most efficient route around the body, the one requiring the least arm exertion.
6. Move: Cut horizontally.

Keys: Contrary to intuition, don't reach out with the saber. Instead pull the hilt back hard against the body and the saber tip will fling itself forward. NOW you reach and cut. Try it.
7. Move: Continue the cut and rotate the saber before it strikes the ribcage.

Keys: Don't become seduced by the "whish" of the blade if you snap your wrist. A weighted saber would be too heavy for this kind of action and you could hurt yourself. Instead of suddenly flipping the saber, let the wrist roll at a natural speed without "snap".
8. Move: Anchor the saber at the left ribcage, ready to slash back in the "outward wrap".

Keys: Note that the arm and the saber make a "frame" with the saber running vertically along the ribcage not horizontally like a belt . The saber should NEVER touch only one rib (which it might break at full speed). the saber spine should be contoured to the ribcage, dispersing the momentum.

WHEW! And if you know anything about judging this weapon you will realize that we've hardly even begun on the most important part yet: the Left Hand. Nonetheless, here are some additional points about which people may ask.

Q: Why all the emphasis on not snapping the wrist?
A: The lightweight sabers we use today are misleading. Snapping the blade, like turning your fist over when you punch, makes a neat "whisshing" sound but what works for empty hands doesn't with heavier weapons. Not only can this action stress the wrist but it implies something absolutely wrong about the saber which is that you know exactly where you opponent is and you can "snap a slice" at a precise point. With Saber you cut the space, not the inch.

Q: What's the purpose of wrapping, anyway?
A: Simply put, wrapping is practice for all the really close in fighting techniques of this weapon. Saber fighting used a great deal of body-to-body contact. Also the momentum of, say, a six pound saber was far easier to reverse using the body like a backboard than trying to reverse a path utilizing just arm strength.

Q: What should I feel like when I practice saber?
A: Like a tiger. Remember the old sayings, "Straight sword like a phoenix. Saber like a tiger," or "When the saber is unsheathed there is blood." Actually the tiger analogy is pretty apt.

Q: Why? Poetically, you mean?
A: No, practically. Whenever you play saber you always think of the spear as you opponent. For straight sword you imagine an antagonist who also has a straight sword, like in a duel. But for saber it's a spear you are against. So what are the attributes of the spear?

Q: Length?
A: Right. And on real battlefields that meant literally leaping at the spearman. Leaping or spinning around to roll inside the spear. Very tigerish actions, wouldn't you say? Another attribute?

Q: Speed?
A: You're absolutely right. So you had to slow the spear down. If you've ever worked against a spear, you know it's not the thrust that's the problem, it's the spear's amazing ability to retract out of range then reappear like lightning. So you HAD to slow this retraction down. If you were lucky enough to block with metal, you tried to grab or hook the spear shaft with your free left hand. That's why the left hand is so important for saber play.

Q: What if the spearman pulled back?
A: Well, one of you is going to be stronger. If he's the powerhouse then leap like a tiger and ride the spear's energy in. If you are the superior I don't need to tell you what's next.

Q: I always thought of the saber as a fairly basic weapon.
A: As one of my teachers, Willy Lin, used to say, "Right. This is BASIC-not simple."

Ted Mancuso is the Head Instructor of the Academy of Martial Arts; Santa Cruz, California and has been teaching saber for over thirty-five years.









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