ChaoXian ShiFa, Historical Martial Arts, Sword Lab

ChaoXian Shifa: Korean Stances-The Art of the Chinese Longsword.

Below is my translation of the 24 stances of longsword found in the Wubei Zhi (武備志). I continue to work on and improve my translation and interpretation for ChaoXian Shifa(朝鮮勢法), and the challenges of translating old texts like this are myriad. But I enjoy the effort. Figuring out the changing meanings for words in their contexts from such a long time ago carries with it a thrill for me. This text its self is one that has opened many doors of understanding for me of the language, culture, and history of the martial arts in the Ming Dynasty. I hope this will be a help to others interested in this subject.

The source material has its own peculiarities, but the act of translation of such a text has several pitfalls one must over come. The age and subject matter of the text alone allows for many novel interpretations. The text if fraught with idioms and traditional phrases. Also, many of the words and concepts have multiple translations in each source and target language. These difficulties are bound to produce errors, for which I take full responsibility and welcome alternate or more experienced opinions and critiques.

(For the in depth examination of the structure of these verses, please see this article.)

Characters with several translations

Many times characters found in Chinese change meaning in a sentence or even change the type of word they represent (e.i. nouns to verbs, or adjectives). The discussions on word choice in each of these cases are open for debate and I am not stating that my choices are authoritative. They simply represent how I understand the text as written. 

勢-Shi is a common character in the Chinese Martial Arts. Dictionary definition include, power, tendency, momentum, force, style, influence, as well as posture, structure, stance, poise appearance, and gesture. In most cases the term stance or position are used. In the translations the term used when referring to the main illustrated pose and its related technique is guard. The term posture is used when referring to named methods or techniques not illustrated. These usually appear in the second to last stanza of each entry and are phrases like “White Ape Exits the Cave”.

Stance and position are general terms and leave the most up to the reader. However, the 24 Shi described in the text correspond very well to the concept of guards in European Martial Arts or fencing. The term 勢 corresponds to the frame work of the situation, a general state of affairs. The illustrations show positions that can be follow throughs, beginning positions, transitional positions, and more.  All of them are the general positions needed for performing particular responses. These are how guards are understood in many Historical European Martial Arts Schools. The term “posture” is used to indicate the superficial or physical characteristics of the techniques. For example, the “Statue of Liberty” posture would indicate standing up right with one hand held in the air and the other one to the breast. In most cases, “postures” are not pictured while “guards” are. 

殺-Sha means to kill or to terminate. It is also used to mean to attack. In cases like 直殺 (lit. straight or direct kill) I have translated it as attack. It is also found as meaning a successful attack, giving the impression as one which ends the fight. In these cases I have rendered it as killing blow. 殺 is a common character to find in Ming era military writings. It often is used to mean attack the opponent. In the text, the high use of this character in these two senses is fairly consistent. 

刺-Ci means to sting, stab, incise, poke, prod, put holes in, stick etc. In the context of sword play and this text this means generally to “attack with the tip of the sword”. This not only includes thrusts, but also strikes with the tip. The terms thrust and stab are often synonymous in the heads English speakers. Even in swordplay circles the terms are not easily defined. Here I will render techniques that are intended to go through the target or very deep as thrusts. Quick pokes and other straight attacks with the tip that do not embed the blade into the target are translated as stabs

格-Ge means to frame or contain but in this context it means to block, parry, or otherwise defend against a blow. The word “ward” or “block” is used when describing the general category and for the positions themselves. Where there is movement or direct opposition “block” is used. Often when speaking of the defensive action, the word “parry” will be used (e.i. Use the “Raise the Cauldron Ward to parry a strike”). For clarity sake, “block” and “ward” relate to the position or technique.  The words “parry” and “defend” will be used for the act as performed by the swordsman.  In reality, there is little difference. Often one will be chosen above the other for reasons of flow and simply because it makes the sentence easier to understand in English.

Difficult characters:

The following are characters that have novel meanings or translations because of their age. These older uses can often cause confusion in the interpretation with modern readers. 

洗-Xi means to wash or clean. Although this character is still in use, it is still often debated on what the best gloss is. The age of the text offers insight into it’s use. At the time, washing clothes or garments was done by washboard or other similar scrubbing means. Xi in the context of swordplay  means to deflect or redirect through contact with the weapon or a slicing motion against the opponent. The motion that is being mimicked is the back and forth grinding or scrubbing action with the blades. Most of the time, this will be translated as deflect. 

掣-Che means to drag pull or shuffle as well as pass quickly. This character is most often used with the character 步 indicating a footwork method. 掣 here is being used in an idiomatic way and it is unclear exactly what is being referenced. Most of the time I have translated “Che” as quick. Slide or shuffle are also acceptable in my view. The word appears one other time when describing a transitional movement in the Ju Ding entry. There I interpret it as pulling the blade out from under a strike.

Ci, Xi, and Ge are also discussed here in relation to the introduction.

The Translation

The following are translations of the section “Jian” in the Ming dynasty manual, Wubei Zhi. The first column contains the original text. After that, an ‘expansive’ translation which corrects for syntax, and approaches a naturalistic read in the target language. This adds linguistic features in order to make the translation sound more natural in English. In some cases considerable linguistic expansion is needed to produce a grammatically understandable sentence in the translation. Most of these additions are in the form of ‘function words‘ not used in Literary Chinese. Finally, a short  interpretation of the instructions given. Pictures of the original pages are included at the end for reference.

Original Translation Interpretation
舉鼎勢者即舉頂格也 法能頂格上殺 左脚右手平擡勢 向前掣擊中殺 退步裙攔 看法
The “Ju Ding” guard represents the “lift and carry” block. It is able to parry powerful attacks from above.  With your left foot forward and your right hand crossing the left, assume the “Carry Flat” posture.  Draw back the blade and strike down the middle.  Take a step back and perform a “Skirt Block” (Qun Lan) See illustration:  This technique is a “Ge”-block Use “Raise the Cauldron” to block powerful blows from above. Lift your sword up flat with your hands crossed blade pointing left. Pull the sword to throw a strike. If the strike is parried or misses, step back and block low. 
點劍勢者即點劍刺也 法能偏閃奏進搶殺 右脚右手撥草尋蛇勢 向前掣步御莗格 看法
The “Dian Jian” guard represents the “Pointing Sword” thrust. It is able to dodge diagonally and then rush in to land a killing blow.  With your right foot and right hand, assume the posture “Parting the Grass to Search for the Snake”.  Step forward while performing the “Drive the Wagon block”.  See illustration:  This is a “Ci” or thrust. Move aside the opponents attacks with the tip pointing forward. Walk diagonally to dodge while moving the sword Side to side.Throw a thrust to their torso. 
左翼勢者即左翼擊也 法能上挑下壓直殺虎口 右脚右手, 直符送書勢 向前掣步逆鳞刺 看法
The “Zuoyi” guard represents the Strike to the Left Wing.  It is able to flick up (Tiao) or press down (Ya) for vertical attacks to (from) the “Tigers Mouth” (Hu Kuo). With your right foot and right hand, assume the posture“Courier Delivering the Message”.  Take a quick step forward and perform a “Scale the Fish” thrust.  See illustration: 
This is a “Ji” or Strike.  The position can be an ending or beginning position. Flick up with the tip from A forward sword position. Press down on to their weapon and trust in directly. This can also be used to strike directly at their left side. 
豹頭勢者即豹頭擊也 法能霹劈擊上殺 左脚左手,泰山壓頂勢 向前掣步挑刺 看法
The “Ban Tou” guard represents the “Leopard Head” strike. It is able to deliver a powerful blow down onto an opponent.  With your left foot and left hand, assume the posture “Mt. Tai Crushing”.  Take a quick step forward and perform a “Tiao” cut with the tip of the sword.  See illustration: 
This technique is a “Ji”-strike. It is representative of a high guard good for delivering blows from above. It can be used to break trough guards and then flick with the tip for a surprise attack. 
坦腹勢者即坦腹刺也 法能衝刺中殺 進如崩山 右脚右手,蒼龍出水勢 向前進步腰擊 看法
The “Tan fu” guard represents the “Expose the Belly” thrust.  It can kill the opponent with a quick thrust to the center.  Advance like an avalanche.  With your right foot and right hand, perform the “Blue Dragon Emerges from Water” posture. Step in and perform a “Waist Strike”.  See illustration: 
This technique is a “Ci”-sting or attack with the tip.  It’s main target is a thrust to the torso. Hold the hilt close to the body while rushing in. Stab at their center. If the strike is parried or is unsuccessful, throw a strike with the waist.
跨右勢者即 跨右擊也 法能撩剪下殺 左脚右手綽衣勢 向前進步横擊
The “Kua You” guard represents the “Stepping Across Right” strike.  It is able to shear (Jian) with the lifting (Liao) cut from below.  With the Left foot and the right hand, assume the “Delicate Clothing” posture.  Step forward and throw a horizontal strike (Heng) across the enemy.  See illustration:
This technique is a “Ji”-strike. This guard is good for throwing upward slicing cuts along the side of the opponent. Place the hilt close to the hip to ready the strike. Change to a horizontal strike if the opening strike misses or is parried.
撩掠勢者即撩掠格也 法能遮駕下殺蔽左護右 左脚左手長蛟分水勢 向前掣步鋗擊 看法
The “Liao Lue” guard represents the “Lifting and Passing” ward.  It is able to defend or attack by drawing up from below, covering left and defending right. With the Left foot and the right hand, assume the “Dragon Splits the Water” posture. Take a quick step forward and perform the “Drill Strike”.  See illustration: 
This technique is a “Ge”-block. Swing the sword up along the sides. It can defend from a variety of attacks by covering the sides and middle simultaneously. The sword is held behind at the beginning and swung up to cut or block the strike. On the upward swing, it can be transitioned into “drill strike”. 
御車勢者即御車格也 法能駕御中殺 左脚右手衝锋勢 向前退步鳳頭勢 看法
The “Yuche” guard represents blocking like driving a cart.  It can defend the middle from attack.  With the left foot and right hand, assume the “Spear Charging” posture.  Facing forward, step back with the “Phoenix Head” guard.  See illustration: 
This technique is a “Ge”-block. Holding the sword out in front of you, ti toward the enemy, move the hands and blade back and forth to move attacks off the line. The position is like charging with a spear. If they defend, step back and flip the sword over into the “Phoenix Head” guard. 
展旗勢者即展旗擊也 法能剪磨上殺 左脚左手托塔勢 向前掣步點劍 看法
The “Zhan Qi” guard represents the “Unfurl the Flag” strike.  It is able to shear (Jian) and grind (Mo) from above to attack.  With the left foot and left hand, assume the “Hold up the Tower” posture.  Quickly step forward with “Pointing Sword”.  See illustration: 
This is a “Ji” or Strike.  This can be used to strike in from above. Strike in along their weapon and slide your blade up toward their hands. Circle around their weapon and bring the sword down in front of you.  
看守勢者即看守擊 法能看守諸器攻刺守定 諸器難進相機随勢滚殺 左脚右手虎蹲勢 向前進步腰擊 看法
The “Kanshou” guard represents the “Stand Watch” strike.  It is able to defend the thrusts and attacks of a variety weapons.  It will be difficult for them to enter into range, so follow their momentum to counter attack.  With your left foot and right hand, assume the “Sitting Tiger” posture.  Step forward and deliver a “Waist Strike”.  See illustration: 
This is a “Ji” striking technique. Using this stance you can defend from the thrusts of other weapons. As they approach, follow their movements and counter attack before they can change. Sit low in your stance and advance to deliver a cut with the waist. 
銀蟒勢者即銀蟒格也 法能四顧周身又能掠殺四面 向前則左手左脚 向後則右手右脚 動則左右旋風掣電殺 看法
The “Yin Mang” guard represents the “Silver Python” block  It is able to attack in every direction and defend from all angles.  If you are facing the enemy, left foot left hand together.  If you are facing away from the enemy, right foot and right hand together.  Attack to both sides by turning like a whirlwind.  See illustration: 
This technique is a parry. By turning the sword with the hands, you may defend from all angles with this technique. The position may be used by facing the opponent or by turning away from them. Turn the blade around in a horizontal circle with the body. 
鑽擊勢者即鑽擊也 法能鑽格搶殺 鹅形鴨步奔冲 左脚左手白猿出洞勢 向前掣步腰擊 看法
The “Zuan Ji”  guard represents the Drill Strike.   It is able to penetrate through a ward and steal a killing blow.  Engage the enemy directly with “Wild Goose” steps. With your left foot and left hand, assume the “White Ape Exits the Cave” posture.  With a quick step throw a “Waist Strike” in front of you.  See illustration: 
This is a striking technique. It is used to break through the opponent’s defenses and quickly strike. Engage them directly to penetrate through their guard. You can push them up and attack from underneath, or drop down over the top of them. Once inside their defenses
腰擊勢者即腰擊也 法能横冲中殺 身步手劍疾若迅雷 此一擊者劍中之首擊也 右脚右手斬蛇勢 向前進步逆鳞 看法
The “Yao Ji” guard represents a strike from the waist.  It has the ability to kill by attacking across the enemy.  The body, hands, feet and the sword must all be fast as lightening and hit like thunder.  This strike is the central principle to all other strikes in swordplay.  With your right foot and right hand, assume the “Behead the Snake” posture.  Face forward, and step in with “Scale the Fish” .  See illustration:
The strike with the waist is the most basic strike in swordplay. Using the waist throw a strike that goes through the body of the opponent. Alternately,  Turing the waist can produce a long draw cut across the opponent. If the strike is parried or voided, step in and trust into their neck. 
展翅勢者即展翅擊也 法能絞格上殺撩掠下殺 右脚右手偏閃勢 向前掣步舉鼎格 看法
The “Zhan Chi” guard represents a strike like “Spreading Wings”.  It is able to wind up to parry attacks from above and to use the lift up (Liao) and pass by (Lue) strikes against attacks from below.  With your right foot and right hand, assume the “Evade Obliquely” posture.  Facing your enemy, quick step and parry with the “Raise the Cauldron” block.  See illustration: 
This is a “strike” technique. The position is good for twisting blocks that go around the front and striking with the Liao Lue strike. Dodge to the side and bock above the head while sliding a step in to your opponent. 
右翼勢者即右翼擊也 法能剪殺两翼 左脚右手鴈字勢 向前掣步腰擊 看法
The “You Yi” guard represents a strike to their right side.  It has the ability to shear (Jian) both wings.  With your left foot and right hand, assume the “Goose Stance” Facing forward, take a  quick step and deliver a “Waist Strike”.  See illustration: 
This striking technique can be used to slice at the opponents flanks both right and left. From this position you can also throw a powerful cleaving strike to the opponent. 
揭擊勢者即揭擊也 法能剪格上殺步步套進 左脚左手虎坐勢 向前退步冲洗 看法
The “Jie Ji” guard represents the “Lifting Off” strike.  It is able to defend from high attacks by shearing (Jian) and advancing with each step.  With the left foot and left hand, assume the “Crouching tiger” posture. Face forward as you step back and deflect the attack off your centerline.  See illustration:
This striking technique can be used to target the incoming weapon by rushing in and blocking by cutting along their blade. Slice up to parry on both sides. If you are not successful, step back and put your weapon in front of you to guard your centerline. 
左夾勢者即左夾刺也 法能冲刺中殺 右脚右手獸頭勢 向前進步腰擊 看法
The “Zuo Jia” guard represents Left Clamp thrust.  It is able to thrust(Chong Ci) down the center to run through the enemy.  With your right foot and right hand, assume the “Beast Head” posture. Face your enemy and step in with a “Waist Strike”.  See illustration:
This thrusting technique is a good way to gain their center line and thrust to the body. If the trust misses or is parried, throw a powerful slash. 
跨左勢者即跨左擊也 法能掃掠下殺 右脚右手提水勢 向前進步雙剪 看法
The “Hua Zuo” guard is the “Step Across Left” strike.  It is with this technique that you can sweep from under and slash up from below.  With your right foot and right hand, assume the “Carry Water” posture.  Step in toward them and throw two shearing strikes to each flank (Shuang Jian).  See illustration:
This technique strikes from underneath. Drop down low and sweep up with the sword. Aim for the flanks with upward slices to both sides. 
掀擊勢者即掀擊 法能掀挑上殺搶步鑽法 左脚右手朝天勢 向前退步坦腹刺 看法
The “Xian Ji” guard represents the “Lifting Strike”.  It is able to lift up(Xian) and flick (Tiao) to attack from below then steal a step in with a drilling (Zuan) technique.  With your left foot and right hand, assume the “Face the Sky” posture.  Face your enemy while stepping back and delivering an “Expose the Belly” thrust.  See illustration: This strike comes from below. You may flick with the tip or lift with the blade. Then, take a small step with your front foot to go forward without passing. Raise the sword into their space and bore in through their guard. If this is parried, step back and thrust into their exposed torso. 
逆鳞勢者即逆鳞刺也 法能直刺喉頸 右脚右手探海勢 向前掣步左翼擊 看法
The “Ni Lin” guard represents the “Scale the Fish” thrust.  This is a thrust to the throat and neck.  With your right foot and right hand, assume the “Searching the Sea” posture. Face your enemy and quickly step in to deliver a “Left Wing” strike.  See illustration: This technique is a thrust to the throat and neck. Hold the sword palm up and lay the blade flat as if going under the scales of a fish. If this parried, strike to their left side. 
斂翅勢者即斂翅擊也 法能佯北誘賺 左右手脚拔蛇勢 倒退進步腰擊 看法
The “Lan Qi” guard represents the “Fold the Wing” strike.  It is a good technique for feinting and taking the advantage over your opponent. Using either your left or right foot or hand, assume the “Pulling the Snake from the Hole” posture. Then you may advance or retreat one step and deliver a “Waist Strike”.  See illustration:
This strike comes from behind. Hold the sword behind you to invite an attack. Step with either foot and pull the sword out from behind. This can be done on either side of the body. Once the strike is delivered, you may trow a powerful slash with the waist. 
右夾勢者即右夾刺也 法能絞刺中殺 左脚右手奔冲勢 向前立步舉鼎格 看法
The “You Jia” guard represents the “Right Clamp” thrust.  With it, throw a twisting thrust down the center to kill them.  With your left foot and right hand, assume the “Spear Charge” posture. Facing forward, hold your ground and use the “Raise the Cauldron” block.  See illustration:
This thrusting technique is use to thrust in opposition to the enemy. Twist the blade as you thrust down the middle and push their weapon off the line. If they defend, hold your ground and move into the a high block. 
鳳頭勢者即鳳頭洗也 法能洗刺剪殺 右脚右手白蛇弄風勢 向前掣步揭擊 看法
The “Feng Tou” guard represents the “Phoenix Head” deflection.  This technique is able to deflect (Xi), sting (Ci), shear (Jian), and kill.  With your right foot and right hand, assume the “White Snake Plays with the Wind” posture. Take a quick step forward and deliver a “Lifting off Strike”.  See illustration:
This technique can perform many deflections, stabs, and attacks. Lift the hilt up so the blade is flung upward edge first. This can be used to deflect, flick and stab, or cut along the side of the target. If this is parried, continue to swing up at their blade to parry in return. 
横冲勢者即横冲擊也 法能疾奔躱閃滚殺 進退两手两脚 随勢冲進掣步撩掠 看法
The “Heng Chong” guard represents the “Horizontal Charge” strike. It is able to move swiftly to elude and evade then turning to kill.  Enter and withdraw with both hands and both feet.  Follow the momentum and step forward with a quick step perform the “Lifting and Passing” (Liao Lue).  See illustration:  This striking technique is best used for evasion and sneak attacks. Be able to go both directions. Drop down low and step across the opponent’s center line. Step forward to pass them and slash at their torso. 

Thank you for you attention. If you wish to read another translation of this text, Jack Chen of Chinese Longsword has a very nice one available. Please check him out.

Special thanks to Cliff, Ting, and Ma XiangFeng for their help in my learning how to navigate these linguistic waters.

Again, this translation is always being reviewed and improved where it can be. I welcome any critiques or corrections.

3 thoughts on “ChaoXian Shifa: Korean Stances-The Art of the Chinese Longsword.”

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