Level 2: Fundamentals of Chen Style Taiji Jian (& master demos)

This month, July, we start our Jian Fundamentals series.

The traditional Chinese character for jian, or double-edged straight sword, is 劍. It is said that jian is a scholar's weapon, a sentiment captured in the saying 書劍同源: "Calligraphy and sword (share) the same source". In Taijiquan, playing the jian forms is often likened to a swimming dragon. In comparison, the dao (broadsword) is often likened to a fierce tiger. The swimming dragon image of the jian form captures the essence of the weapon's elongated and circular extension in movement, as well as its versatility in sweeping, blocking, hacking, slicing, tapping, flicking, piercing, and a dozen other martial applications. The jian can be both blunt and precise, swift and slow.

What we will cover

In this Jian Fundamentals series (July and August), we will focus on three things:

  1. Hand/arm fundamentals. The jian extends our arm, and it requires extended awareness and intention, and more integration of the limbs and the dantian. I will introduce a set of drills to help us get better at these.
  2. Footwork / stepping fundamentals. Compared to Lao Jia Yi Lu, footwork in the Jian routine is more agile, with more hops and twists - again imagine a swimming dragon who can glide, turn, spiral ... quickly and nimbly. These will both challenge and enhance our flexibility and stability that you will be able to feel in your Lao Jia Yi Lu and Er Lu.
  3. Chen Style 49-Posture Jian Routine. We won't cover the whole routine, but will learn and practice a number of key postures. I put this last because it's not a focus, but necessary to get the feel of taiji through this versatile weapon form.

These are far from capturing the essence of Jian, but will provide a very solid foundation for beginners of taiji weapons and an effective way to improve for intermediate learners of both hand and weapon forms.

What you will need

You don't need a Jian for this series, although have one will be useful, especially for practicing the Jian Routine.

For many of the drills, we will be using either an "air sword" (Jian mudra), or a short stick that has some weight - for example, a ruler or a rolling pin with a length of about 4 times the width of your fist (from pinky to index finger) and a weight of at least half a pound. You want this stick to be easy to grab and has enough weight that requires some wrist strength to keep it horizontal when you hold it at one end (the heavier end if there's a difference).

Once you've learned these drills, you can alternate between practicing them with Jian mudra (no instrument in hand), with a short stick, and with a real Jian.

Lesson Plan

Lessons 1-3

  • jian etiquettes: salute; carrying the jian; holding the jian and switching hands
  • Silk Reeling Exercises for Jian*
  • footwork for Jian*
  • Chen Taiji Jian Routine: postures 1 (Beginning), 2 (Face the Sun), 3 (Immortal Points the Direction), 4 (Teal Dragon Emerges), and 49 (Taiji Jian Returns / Closing Posture)

Lessons 4-5

  • Dantian Rotation with Jian, wrist vs arm
  • Silk Reeling Exercises for Jian*
  • footwork for Jian*
  • Chen Taiji Jian Routine: postures 5 (Protect the Knees), 6 (Close the Door), 7 (Teal Dragon Emerges), and 49 (Taiji Jian Returns)

Lessons 6-7

  • Power release (fajin) with Jian
  • Silk Reeling Exercises for Jian*
  • footwork for Jian*
  • Chen Taiji Jian Routine: postures 8 (Flip and Chop), 9 (Teal Dragon Turns Body), and 48 (Grind the Millstone), 49 (Taiji Jian Returns)
* SRE and footwork for Jian are progressive through the series.

Master Demos

The best way to improve is through practice. The second best way to improve is through watching masters perform. (And if you must know, the least best way to learn is through reading theory and thinking.) Below is a curated collection of Master demos of the Chen 49 Jian Form. Watch for similarities of embodied taiji principles, not for differences.

GM Chen Qingzhou's Jian Demo at one of his SF Bay Area workshops, circa 2000 or earlier:

Jian demo by Zhi Wuying, one of GM Qingzhou's earliest disciples in China. His forms are the closest to GM Qingzhou among all the disciples (my observation):

Master Chen Youze, GM Qingzhou's eldest son:

GM Chen Xiaowang:

Master Chen Bing:

==== Added 9/11/2023 ====

Grandmaster Qingzhou's book records a rhyme on key reminders for Jian practice. Like many "secret" teachings, deciphering the meaning takes time and iterations -- we discover different layers of teachings as we practice more and go through different stages of progress. I've done a rough translation here and hope this is useful to many of you who love the Jian form. (Misinterpretations and inaccuracies in the translation are all mine.)



Key to Practicing Taiji Single Sword

Poke, tap, slice, hack, and thrust,
Spiral energy leads into emptiness.
Pluck, enclose, push, carry and raise,
These are all of the right way.
Lead in and opportunities abound;
Extend and release, cool light shines.
Retract the body like a hedgehog,
Exhale the qi like a long rainbow.
Marvel at the boundless brilliance
Of ten thousand radiating sun rays.
Practice the taiji sword often;
When the gongfu is made, there comes supreme power.



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