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What is a sword?

A sword is a long bladed weapon featuring a handle. The length of the handle and the blade will differ depending upon the style of sword.
The blade may be straight or curved. Some form of guard may be present.

What was a sword used for?

Maiming and killing. Death can be caused by penetration, slicing or dismemberment. It is not a 'defensive' weapon.

The gun

The advent of guns meant the end of the sword. A gun is easier to conceal, required less skill in its application and allowed the user to fire a devastating round without stepping too close to the target.
Different types of guns offer a wide range of shooting options. As a weapon it is infinitely more versatile than a sword.

Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.

(Benjamin Franklin)


When Yang Lu-chan popularised taijiquan by teaching it to the Manchu Emperor's palace guards, he probably taught combat with a sword. Why?
Because in 1850 it may have been a well-used weapon in China. Yang Lu-chan's purpose in teaching sword would have been for combat; for viable, practical martial purposes.

150 years later...

In the UK nobody carries a sword. You are unlikely to be attacked by a sword and you are unlikely to be carrying a sword yourself.
The police are not happy with members of the public owning or using swords.

The spirit of the art

Yang Lu-chan taught taijiquan for martial purposes. Exponents had little time or interest in heritage and tradition. They wanted serious, pragmatic, powerful combat skills. They sought rapid victory.
The combat skills were not for show. They were designed to meet the needs of the time. Taijiquan was intended to be functional and contemporaneous.


Sword training was developed to address the needs of the 16th Century not the 21st. Your modern urban opponent carries a baseball bat, knife, screwdriver or gun. Not a sword.
You will not be carrying a sword either. Swords were once the favoured combat weapon. The martial arts which grew around swordplay were a necessary and relevant area of study.
The sword skills were literally a matter of life and death.
Not any more.


Sword forms may well be beautiful to watch and entertaining. This is fine. As such, they represent an art form. In much the same way as dance.
However, it is quite another matter to train a sword as though it represented some measure of self defence. We are not living in the past. Modern times require modern methods of combat.
A sword is not a viable means of defending yourself in the 21st Century.

Time waster

If you chose to use a sword to defend yourself in the 21st Century, you will most likely go to prison. This is a simple, unequivocal fact.
Yet, people spend hours training with swords, and many even practice cutting things with a sword, as though they may one day come to use the weapon in martial contest.

The student as a boxer, not a fencer.
The fencer's weapon is picked up and put down again.
The boxer's is part of him. All he has to do is clench his fist.

(Marcus Aurelius)

What is the point?

You could spend those same hours on some more relevant.
Training a sword may enhance your self defence skills in some vague, indirect fashion, but practicing shuai jiao, chin na and jing with a partner would do so much more.
Fancy sword skills are worthless against a MMA fighter.


People have been fascinated by swords for a very long time. The craftsmanship, design and elegance of the weapon are often remarkable.
Books, TV programs and movies are filled with images of heroic figures wielding a sword.


Unlike a gun, a sword is used at close-range. To use the weapon effectively, a high degree of skill is necessary. The user is not distanced from the kill.
They must physically thrust the weapon into their victim or hack through flesh and bone. This required strength, precision and nerve.


A sword is not a toy. It is an offensive weapon designed to pierce or cut the skin. When you pick up a very sharp knife you are immediately cautious. The slightest act of carelessness may result in a cut.
A blade can part skin easily. Now, imagine a sword blade? This is a dangerous weapon. It is not to be trifled with.
Performance art swordsmanship makes a mockery of the weapon; understating its seriousness.


If you are studying taijiquan in order to preserve and maintain the heritage, then sword practice is a must. You should learn how to use the jian (straight sword).
Many practitioners commit a significant amount of time to learning weapons forms and drills. These people keep the traditions alive.

Increasing your skill

As a solo training method, the subtle nature of a taijiquan sword will increase your martial skills. Footwork, agility, nimbleness, grace, strength, stamina.
Most importantly, sword forms train coordination, mobility, ambidextrous body use and power generation.

Buying a sword

(i) Waster

Begin with a wooden sword (waster). This will give you an initial feel of the weapon and can be used in partnered drills safely.

(ii) Lightweight steel

Try a lightweight metal sword once you are familiar with the wooden one. Do not invest in an expensive weapon at this stage.
There is nothing more embarrassing than a low-ability exponent wielding an expensive blade. Trying a heavy sword prematurely may lead to injury. Be patient.

(iii) Real sword

As your strength increases and you become familiar with the form, explore a heavier weapon. If you can find an unsharpened blade, this is perhaps the wiser purchase initially.
A genuine sword weighs between 1-2lbs; which is quite heavy when held in front of you. Compensating for the weight will require you to connect throughout your body.
The blade makes it necessary to be both relaxed, alert and precise; you cannot afford to be cut. A good sword can cost quite a lot of money and needs to be handled skilfully and maintained carefully.
The balance of a quality sword is entirely different from a cheaper weapon.

Be honest

Ask yourself honestly why you want to train with a sword... Because it looks cool? You have some romantic notion of being a samurai?
You've watched a lot of Highlander, The Last Samurai, Braveheart or Gladiator? Or are you preserving the heritage?

Practical weaponry

Students are taught how to handle a stick - a short one and walking stick length. The three lengths of stick represent any object that might come to hand. Improvised weaponry is practical.
You reach out your hand and use whatever you find. If a burglar pulls a knife on you, you may well find yourself armed with a frying pan or a TV guide.


Our students practice sword drills, sabre form and the jian form. A heavy weapon offers a notable workout. It develops upper body strength, whole body movement and wrist flexibility.
Students learn how to extend their energy through the blade. We do not teach the sword as a self defence tool.

The sword, which has now become his 'soul', no longer rests lightly in its scabbard.
Thus it may be that he avoids combat with an unworthy opponent,
a cockscomb who brags about his muscles,
accepting the charge of cowardice with smiling indifference;
though on the other hand, out of esteem for an opponent,
he will insist on a combat which cannot bring anything but an honourable death to the latter.

(Eugen Herrigel)

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Page created 2 March 1995
Last updated 29 April 2020