Appreciation: Double Swords, Flying Blades

There is at least one weapon in Kung Fu practice that is generally taught only to women. In fact, I have never—that I recall—taught this to a male practitioner. Leaving aside the irony of a male teaching a “female only” weapon (I’ll discuss how THAT works at the end of this article), I think it might be interesting to consider the character of this weapon.

Start with the single straight sword. True, it is as thin and graceful as those women with flowers in their hair who wield it. Besides the beauty of its design we scrutinize its functions. It is a two-edged weapon. A perfect instrument for embodying yin and yang, the straight sword is as dangerous in the back stroke as it is in normal cutting.

  1. To be so easy to command, forward or back, the sword needs to be relatively light. There are “war swords” of greater weight requiring more strength to execute back and forth, but these are generally wielded by men and rarely doubled.

    We immediately realize that a blade capable of cutting front and back, coupled with a sister blade, will benefit from counter-timing to become something more than just twice as dangerous. The lightness of the sword makes it a viable candidate as a double weapon. Speed and variability come from the coordination of steps, waist and arms. There are few weapons this maneuverable and as long as the straight sword.

  2. Interception, not contention, is the motto of the straight sword. Its fast blade is not used for blocking. Instead it tries to “bite” the opponent on every stroke, ignoring the other person’s blade, throwing itself in the path of the enemy at every chance. To wait and then meet is a good example of Yin energy which yeilds but never surrenders.
  3. Graceful stepping is the artistic equivalent of  efficient footwork. To properly intercept the opponent’s slash or poke, you must avoid clashing with a block, and immediately position yourself t0—at the very least—attack his leading hand or leg. Wide circular steps that slice through the opponent and move you out of the path of destruction is one of several preferred actions.

    This third example explains at least half the world-famous sword poses in all Kung Fu styles across the globe. When interception is so important, then a second blade can be a huge help. Beyond that it  allows one arm to intercept while the other attacks, making for artistic and heroic poses. If the practitioner has good coordination, the award of such skill is tremendous.

  4. Eyes on the pyramid. To move, to intercept, to evade, to strike all in a move or two requires the eye of an eagle scanning the horizon for any movement. They say the sword is one point of a triangle along with eye and foot as the remaining vertices. Even looking at that thin weapon requires a concentrated gaze.
  5. Interception is brought to high art with the Double Sword. Now the interception is not just to the wrist or knee, but is followed with other interceptions directly attacking the body. This is an example of multi-tasking with life and death.

Understanding lets us generalize, and correct generalizations increase our understanding. Thousands of Kung Fu practitioners perform double straight sword with little idea of the meaning locked into those beautiful postures. If all we want to do is dance with the sword, then holding classical postures is as inappropriate as a ballerina dressed for a professional football lineup.

Stepping normally aids arm play, but the reverse can also be true. Wide stepping may open you to counter-attacks, but having two swords can “seal the leaks” of many a movement. Finally, after enough practice, the ability of the swordwoman to keep all balls in the air simultaneously is greatly enhanced, with benefits obvious even to people who have not mastered the swords.

Much of the skill required to wield double swords is exhibited in natural attributes of female practitioners. The ability to coordinate limbs separately, for instance. Keen eyesight is another, as is the ability to step lively and accurately. A flexible spine, often demonstrated by back bends and scale postures, emphasizes the need to evade at surprising angles. The double straight sword, a perfect female weapon for female practitioners, derives from a past when women martial masters mastered their weapons and their bodies to combine skill and beauty.

Even in a world like our present era, the double swords have much to teach.

One Response to “Appreciation: Double Swords, Flying Blades”

  1. Apparently Ted thinks [To quote the infamous transvestite from the hit UK comedy series “Little Britain”…] that I am “doing lady’s things” whenever I practise my bagua double sword set. And here I thought I was being rather manly [for an old guy] in pretending to slice & dice whatever imaginary foes, trolls, orcs or goblins that got in my way.

    Seriously though, I agreed with almost everything else in this post. The only thing that I would add is how important it is to have praticed applications of the twin swords against a variety of Chinese archaic weapons. Sadly, knowing how to apply those same techniques against a skillful opponent in “free-play” is the next step after competence at applications; but is beyond the interest of many of those who learn weapons forms these day.

    Anyway, just my 2¢ from Canada where pennies are now as rare as double sword forms.

    P.S. Another good offering from a prolific, experienced and skilfull martial arts writer.

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