by Tanya Korovkin
The earlier articles in this series reviewed the characteristics of the first six energies (or techniques) on the list of 13 Energies of the Sword. This list was composed by General Li Jing-lin, a renowned Wudang sword master and a close friend of Yang Cheng-fu. General Li’s objective was not only to describe sword techniques, but also to identify commonalities between these and the 13 postures of Taijiquan (Ward Off, Roll Back, etc.). His work, recorded by Huang Yuan-xiou, had a profound influence on the subsequent generations of sword masters, including Stuart Olson, Scott Rodell, Sam Masich, and Nick Gracenin. The order in which they discussed the 13 energies might vary, and they often omitted or modified the analogy with the 13 postures of Taijiquan, but their descriptions of each energy were basically the same.
Below I will discuss the seventh and eighth energies on Li Jing-lin’s list: Point (Dian) and Explode (Beng). They can be used as both offensive and defensive techniques. Both are done with a snap of the wrist, with the energy coming from the lower abdomen and feet. In this respect, Point and Explode are somewhat similar to Strike (Ji) which is also done with a wrist snap. However, while Strike is performed on a diagonal, Point and Explode are both implemented on the vertical plane.
Point is an English term for Dian which can be also translated as Dot, Touch or Jab. This technique employs the tip of the sword. One has to raise the wrist and simultaneously drop the tip of the blade. When used as defence, the objective is to withdraw the body and reach the partner before he or she reaches you.
The target in this technique is usually wrist or leg. In Li Jing-lin’s days, when sword was used as weapon, one was advised to target the acupuncture points or blood vessels. In our days, what matters is precision and energetic connection with the partner.
Light and dainty, Point is often used in sword forms. In Yang Sword 54, for example, it can be used in Swallow Pecks the Mud and Celestial Bird Flies Over the Waterfall. These two movements are usually performed with the right foot in an empty stance. This is also the way in which Li Jing-lin, according to Huang, used to describe this technique to students. Today, Point is also done with both feet on the ground, as in Needle at the Sea Bottom in Sword 32, or as in Windmill in Sword 16.
Explode, Burst, or Snap (Beng) is the following energy on Li Jing-lin’s list. Like Point, it is performed with a snap of the wrist on the vertical plane. The two, however, are done in the opposite directions. With Point, we raise the wrist and drop the tip of the blade. With Explode, we press down the wrist and raise the tip, as in the photo below. Essentially, it is an uppercut done with the tip of the blade and targeted at the wrist.
A good example is Waiting for the Fish in Yang Sword 54 (known as Scoop the Moon from the Sea in Sword 32). Today, this technique is often used with the right bow stance, even though, according to Huang, Li Jinglin recommended using a low cross-legged stance (probably because it increases the reach of the sword).
According to Scott Rodell though, there is another type of this technique; more dynamic and much louder: BANG!!!. The objective here is to knock the partner’s sword away by bumping it upward. To achieve this goal, one is advised to use a two-hand grip and the stronger lower or middle portion of the blade. In Five Section Two Person Sword, this type of Explode is used twice: in Sitting Wrist Parry at the end of section one and in Turn In To Reign the Horse near the end of the form. It is also used (now with a jump) in Yang Sword 54: in Clever Cat Catches the Rat, in Wild Horse Jumps Over the Ravine, and also in Carp Jumps Dragon’s Gate. All in all, Explode is a versatile technique that goes along with a variety of objectives and stances.
Crane and Snake Energies
In Li Jing-lin’s list of analogies, the empty hand counterparts of Point and Explode are Elbow (Zhou) and Shoulder (Kao). The exact nature of these two analogies, however, still has to be described. Nick Gracenin – who in his DVD on the 13 Powers of the Sword offered an excellent explanation of the previous six analogies – does not say much in this respect.
Some potential clues to the Point-Elbow and Explode-Shoulder puzzle come from Bruce Frantzis’s online report on the 13 Postures of Taijiquan, even though the report deals with the empty hand postures only, without providing any references to sword techniques. Frantzis suggests that Elbow and Shoulder can be better understood in terms of the animal energies, something that may ring a bell when we think about the sword techniques.
To Frantzis, Elbow in the 13 Postures of Taijiquan is associated with the Crane energy. This energy manifests itself in graceful upright postures. But of course, when it comes to a fight, cranes can also deliver deadly strikes with the beak and the wings. Elbow seems to mimic this fighting method, and so does – curiously – Point in sword!
Shoulder, on the other hand, has the Snake energy associated with coiling. Using the taiji terminology, one may say that snakes are specialists in storing energy before they use it in a final strike. This is also what seems to happen, according to Frantzis, with the Shoulder technique: we coil the energy within our entire body before putting it into the final strike. Again, one may say that something like this can be also found in the conventional exploding technique which targets the partner’s wrist from below and from behind. This coiling quality seems to be especially pronounced in Li Jing-lin’s version of Explode, with its twisting torso and cross-legged stance.
These are only indirect and tentative analogies between the two sword and the two empty hand techniques. Even so, they may be of a certain interest to taiji practitioners. After all, according to legend, Zhang San-feng created taijiquan after having watched a fight between a crane and a snake. Point and Explode may serve as good examples of these two animals’ fighting methods.
Frantzis, Bruce. The Eight Principles of Tai Chi Chuan, <www.energyarts.com>
Gracenin, Nick. 13 Energies of Wudang Taji Sword (DVD). Wushu Publishing, 2010.
Huang, Yuan-xiou. The Major Methods of Wudang Sword. Blue Snake Books, 2010.
Masich, Sam. Traditional Yang Style Taijiquan 54 (DVD). Little Productions, 2005.
__________. 5 Section Taijiquan, vol.2, Two Person Sword Form (DVD). Little Productions, 2005.
Olson, Stuart. Tai Chi Thirteen Sword: A Sword Master’s Manual. Multi-Media Books, 1999.
Rodell, Scott. Chinese Swordsmanship: The Yang Family Taiji Jian Tradition. Seven Stars Trading, 2005.