Thirteen Energies of the Sword 3: Strike and Thrust

by Tanya Korovkin

Strike and Thrust, the fifth and sixth energies on Huang’s, Olson’s, and Rodell’s lists, are primarily offensive techniques. As such, they often precede or follow Lift and Block. In Nick Gracenin’s two-person drills, for example, Strike is neutralized by Lift, while Thrust is obstructed by Block.

Strike in Chinese is Ji. It is described as a light quick motion which employs the sharp top third of the blade. Huang compares it to plucking the strings of Qing, the ancient Chinese musical instrument. To Rodell, it feels more like beating a drum or ringing a bell, while Olson compares it to snapping a bamboo apart; lots of poetic comparisons for one small movement.

Strike is usually (but not always) done with the palm up, from left to right. It can be used against attacks at the upper body, but its main function is of the offensive nature. It can be directed at a partner’s hand, wrist, head, or ears.  In the picture below, for example, Chen Manching’s partner responds to Chen Manching’s attack with what seems to be Strike at hands and fingers.  We should keep in mind, though, that static images do not reflect the direction and speed of movement. If done slowly and as a slicing motion, this movement could be Carry (Carry, however, feels more natural when done in the opposite direction, from right to left.)

 Generally speaking, wrist and hand are frequent targets in taiji sword.  In the olden days, taiji sword masters would target them with the objective to disarm the opponent.  Ear, at first glance, may look as an unlikely target. One type of Strike, however, is designed specifically to target ears. It is known as Guan Er in Chinese, translated by Huang as Pouring Into the Ears (makes you think of Wind Through the Ears in Yang 108). In Five Section Two Person Sword this technique, targeted at the ear or head, is  used by partner A  after Snaking Parry. 

The more familiar example of Strike, however, comes from Yang 54. It is used in Phoenix Spreads Wings with its wide slanted motion ending in a light quick cut. When using this technique in solo forms, one should take into account the actual height of the imaginary partner (we often feel  tempted to place the tip too high, as if we were confronted by a giant).  It is also important to look in the direction of the target (students, of course, would also like to keep an eye on the instructor). 

Strike is also used in Peng Spreads One Wing, a movement similar to Phoenix, but with the tip of the sword travelling at lower level. The tip can point even lower, but in this case one has to turn hand palm down. This technique used, according to Olson, Tiger Twists Its Tail. 

Thrust is also known as Stab or Poke. The Chinese term is Ci. Thrust is the most common offensive technique, whereby the tip of the sword is thrust powerfully forward with the arm and the blade forming a straight line.  Rodell describes Thrust as a long energy movement which penetrates more deeply than any other cut. It also involves a greater than usual commitment of energy. If your sword was deflected or, worse, if you missed the target, you would find yourself open to a counterattack. Because of this, using this technique requires a great deal of accuracy. 

Like Block, Thrust has a large number of variations. Typically, it is directed forward, with the feet in a bow stance. The left hand is either aligned with the right arm and the sword, as in photo above, or forms a semi-circle over the head. This kind of Forward Thrust is used in Clever Cat Catches the Rat or Swallow Enters the Nest in Yang 54.

Forward Thrust can be also done while jumping (e.g., Horse Jumps Over the Ravine) or sometimes standing with the feet parallel to each other (e.g., Compass Point). It can be also done standing on one leg, as in Send Bird to Woods for Lodging and in Major Pole Star (the latter movement, though, looks more like a preparation for Forward Thrust, than Thrust itself). But Thrust can be also performed with the tip pointing backwards, as in photo below. We use this kind of Thrust in Sword 32, after Sweep the Red Dust. 

It should be mentioned in passing, that not everyone in this photo holds the sword parallel to the floor, as the front figure does.  If they are doing Sword 32, which is a very popular form, this should probably be considered a mistake. But generally, the tip of the sword in this technique has no fixed position.  It should be pointing to the target, wherever this target happens to be. If it is low, the sword should point low. If it is high, it should point high. And, as with Strike, when using Thrust it is important to look in the direction of the target.

One last point: thrust can be conducted either with a vertical blade (Huang calls it Straight Thrust) or with a horizontal blade (Flat Thrust). In the second case, the palm can look either up or down. Which of these options we choose depends on the nature of the target. For example, I was told by my teachers at the Atado School of Defensive Arts that turning the palm down could add power to this technique. At the same time, keeping the blade flat would make it easier to reach between the ribs (hardly a useful consideration any more, but an important matter in the age of sword fighting).

Sword and Hand… When comparing sword energies with empty-hand techniques, Strike is usually paired with Pull Down, or Tsai (as in Needle at Sea Bottom in 108).  Pull Down is described as a quick small-range technique involving an explosive emission of energy (fajin). It feels like “picking fruit off a tree with a snap of the wrist” (Garofalo, 7). With sword, the same snapping motion, but in the opposite direction, is used in Strike. In both cases, this motion comes not only from the hand or wrist, but most importantly from the entire body, and especially the Lower Dantian.