ChaoXian ShiFa, Historical Martial Arts, Sword Lab

The Left Wing Strike

Sorry for the lack of activity lately. Summer has been quite the busy time. It has also been a while since we looked at some translation material. So, in service of these facts, lets us examine the Zou Yi Ji: The Left Wing Strike from Chao Xian Shi Fa.

3.*

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 “Zuo Yi” stance represents the “Left Wing” strike.

It is able to flick up (Tiao) or press down (Ya) for vertical attacks to the “Tigers Mouth” (Hu Kuo).

With your right foot and right hand, assume the “Royal Courier Delivering the Message” posture.

Take a quick step forward and perform “Scale the Fish”.

See illustration:

Some experiments with the Zou Yi strike.
Demo: :26-1:40, Tiger’s Mouth: 1:40-2:11, Foot and Hand 2:11-3:50, Interpretation 3:50-4:58, Free play 4:58-7:04.

Commentary:

The Left Wing Strike refers to the target of the strike. The sword held on the right side allows you access through the left side of the opponent (also known as the “Dragon Door” in some sources). This can be thought of as a simple strike to the left side of the body. Although the technique described in the text is some what different, the weapon will always approach the enemy from their left side. Hence the name.

The description of this stance describes the use of techniques “tiao”挑 (to flick) and “ya” 壓 (to press down) in the vertical plane. The position depicted in the drawing would be indicative of the ending position for 挑 and the beginning position for 壓. One would flick up to the position and press down from it. 

This section also mentions the “hu kuo”虎口(tiger’s mouth). This is a part of the hand between the thumb and forefinger. This place on the hand tends to be emphasized by many Chinese martial arts in a variety of ways. There are two possible interpretations of its appearance here. First, that you are using that part of the hand to move the sword up and down (the flicking and pressing). Second, that you are striking to the opponent’s tiger’s mouth, as alluded to in the next section. 

直符送書 Royal Courier Delivers Message

The traditional name that is invoked here is the 直符送書 -Royal Courier Delivers Message (lit. Direct Correspondence Delivery of Message). This is a common and well known position/movement name. As with most of these passages, there is no further explanation of this posture. This hints that the term was well known enough or was standardized in some fashion during the time period. Indeed, it is a name that has been used in many Ming Dynasty treatises and exists today in a great many martial arts. It is a position that would be analogous to a lunge with two hands holding the weapon palm up resembling handing a message in a formal way. 

Yu Da You mentions this posture in his text, 劍經 (Sword Classic) making it one of his base techiques;

我大門壓, 他坐身退欲過枝小門, 我就進前腳對棍直殺去, 須後手高前手低, 直符送書步用。

I press down to the big door, they sit back and retreat with the intention to “cross branches” to the small door, I then enter with the front foot, the rear hand must be held high while the front hand is held low, use the “Royal Courier Delivers the Message” step

Yu Da You: Jian Jing

The basic progression of movements would be from the position in the illustration, smashing down on the incoming strike. This strike can be aimed at the hands or the weapon. Once the strike has been stopped, the directions state that one should step forwarded stab toward the throat of the enemy with the “Scale the Fish” thrust. This would have the same effect as the instructions from general Yu, with some leeway for interpretation.

Footwork Concepts

This is the first encounter with the footwork concept “che bu” 掣步. This is a difficult one to nail down. It does not seem to be borrowed from any other sources and there is no clear description of it anywhere in the text. Again, it’s not being explained does allude to it being a wildly known term for a footwork method. Ma Ming Da places the use of the word from at least before or during the Ming Dynasty due to these factors and its use in the novel “The Water Margin”. It can be translated as to drag, pull, obstruct, and quick. These various glosses give an idea of the movement being described, if subtly. Here it is being translated as a half step in with the front foot. In this sense it would mean the left foot being forward after stepping in with the right foot and sliding or skipping forward to complete the stab to the throat. 

Hand and Foot

We have mentioned the “Hand and Foot” passages before, when introducing the text. This entry is the first one to have a disparity between the text and the illustration. The issue of this particular line in the verses not always matching the illustration is one that will come up from time to time. At 2:30 in the video, there is an example of how this passage is being interpreted by us for most of the time. It is basically the different guards and positions held in the various stances of “shun bu” in line stance (with the lead arm and leg the same), and “ao bu” crossed stance (with the opposite arm and leg forward).

The text states “Right foot, right hand”. Depending on how one interprets this phrase, bringing these two things together can be difficult. There are several possibilities that need to be entertained. In most entries, it seems to be describing the hand/side and foot/leg that is forward toward the enemy. But even this assumption, while intuitive, is not based on any linguistic information or stylistic precedent. It is, for lack of a better term, a guess. If we go on this assumption, the text and picture are not in agreement. The right foot is forward, yet it is the left hand that is forward in the in picture.

There are a few explanations if we are to hold on to this interpretation. There maybe an error in the source material. Either in the text its self or the illustration. Ming Dynasty texts are well known for being riddled with mistakes and errors as well as unauthorized copies of popular titles. The drawing could be unclear on which foot is forward. There are other illustrations in this book that are similarly unclear. Also, a confusion of “right and left” in the entry could also be the culprit.

There is another possibility that could yield some useful ideas. The foot and hand being denoted here may not be merely the one in front in the illustration but rather denoting the active hand or foot. It is therefore important to identify what phase of the movement or technique is being depicted in the illustration. In this case, if one were to step into this position, the right foot would be active and the right hand as well. Again, without some sort of corroborating evidence, this is merely a guess and a bit of reverse engineering.

Parallels

The position sees some analogous positions in other Martial Arts. Much of these are based on the similarity between drawings or depictions, but there is a significant similarity with the the strategy described by Mao in the Wubei Zhi. One of these often sited examples is the “Posta di Donna” or “Guard of the Lady/Queen” as described by Fiore de’i Liberi:

14] The Stance of the Queen on the Right (Powerful)
I am the Stance of the Queen, noble and proud
For making defense in every manner;
And whoever wants to contend against me
Will want to find a longer sword than mine.
This is the Guard of the Lady,[186] from which you can make all seven of the sword’s strikes and cover them too. And from this guard you can break the other guards with the strong blows you can make, and you can also quickly exchange thrusts. Advance your front foot offline, and then pass diagonally with your rear foot. This will take you to a position where your opponent is unprotected, and you will then be able to quickly strike him.[187]

Translation by Michael Chidester and Colin Hatcher. Available at Wiktenauer.

Taking a look at the interpretation by Akademia Szermierzy, one can see many similarities in ideas being expressed with this basic position. The basic formula is to strike the incoming weapon to disrupt or stop their attack and follow up with a thrust or other attack to the head and face area.

We see the same sentiment echoed in the German schools of longsword. Her the guard associated with the technique is a “low” Vom Tag, “From the Roof” guard using the Zorn Hau or “Wrath Hew”.

This is the wrath-hew with its plays27Whoever hews over[40] you,
 The wrath-hew point threatens him.Gloss. Understand it thusly: When one cleaves-in above from his right side, so also cleave-in a wrath-hew with him, with the long edge strongly from your[41] right shoulder. If he is then soft upon the sword, so shoot-in the point forward long to his face and threaten to stab him (as stands done hereafter next to this).[42]

Sigmund Ringeck translation by by Christian Trosclair available at Wiktenauer.

Here is an interesting video on the position and the various qualities of it in German Longsword. Pay attention to the main point of disrupting the enemy sword to create your opening. This is how I have been interpreting the passage from Mao.

Here the great Anton Kohutovic demonstrates the Zorn Hau thrust. Notice how here the technique becomes a single motion, simultaneously pressing down on the enemies weapon and delivering the thrust to the neck. Also notice that his footwork all supports the thrust at the end. The back foot slowly coming forward during the play. Once the tip is set the step is completed.

hasso/in no kame from Japanese swordsmanship

The position, or similar ones, are fairly intuitive and found in a variety of styles from the West to Japan. Although each have some differences with Mao’s Illustration. Notice that most of the time, the players in the videos are beginning with their right leg behind them and not in front. The step is taken with the right leg, and the rest of the action is very similar, so the over all spirit of the technique still appears to be the same. And, after all, the illustration is somewhat mysterious to us.

Conclusion

The Left Wing Strike is an interesting one from many angles. It is a fairly high percentage technique when used in the manner of a press and thrust. As a parry, tiao 挑, is also quite useful, although a bit more difficult to pull off with a large cross bar as it tends to get in the way when the wrist flip is performed. But it is a good transition to practice, going form any guard or position and ending in Left Wing.

The text its self also is one of the first to display the mysterious statements from the larger text. The disparity of the illustration and the description is one that will come up from time to time. And the hand and foot passage will continue to give us some trouble. All in all though, this entry and the technique is an important one for not only its quality for fencing, but also as descriptor of this particular style of longsword fencing. The upward tiao is a defensive action that is very indicative of the Chinese styles. The small guards do allow for more of that type of movement in the same plane as the edge. Hence it can also be seen as a “Xi” or deflection technique.

The position has many similarities to other systems techniques and, while they are different in some ways, the spirit and goal are essentially the same. Stop an incoming strike and follow up with a thrust to the head or neck. This idea, all be it simple, has enormous utility for both fighting and training. It is a position that is shared by a great many two handed sword methods and can be seen to be generally a basic position and guard even though it is an altered version of a high guard.

Selected bbibilography

  • He, Yuming. Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series. Vol. 82, Home and the World: Editing The “Glorious Ming” with Woodblock Printed Books of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Asia Center, 2013.
  • Ma, Mingda馬明達. 無系列Wu Xi Lie. chu ban. ed. Vol. A113-A114, 武學探針Wu Xue Tan Zhen. Taibei Shi: Yi wen chu ban you xian gong si, 2003.
  • Mao, Yuanyi茅元億. 武備志Wu Bei Zhi. [China: s.n. ; not before, 1644] Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2004633695/.
  • Meyer, Joachim, and Jeffrey L. Forgeng. The art of sword combat: a 1568 German treatise on swordsmanship. London: Frontline Books, 2016.
  • Peers, Chris. Men-at-arms Series. Vol. 307, Late Imperial Chinese Armies 1520-1840. London: Osprey, 1997
  • Porter, Jonathan. Imperial China, 1350-1900. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.
  • Qi, Jiguang戚繼光. Wu Shu Xi Lie武術系列. chu ban. ed. Vol. 6, Ji Xiao Xin Shu.績效新書 Tai bei shi: Wu zhou, 2000min 89.
  • Swope, Kenneth. Campaigns and Commanders. Vol. 20, A Dragon’s Head and a Serpent’s Tail: Ming China and the First Great East Asian War, 1592-1598. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, ©2009.
  • Yu, Dayou俞大猷., Liang Gen. Li, and Lin Li. Jian jing zhu jie.劍經著街 Nan chang: Jiang xi ke xue ji shu chu ban she, 2002
    -正氣堂集-unknown edition, PDF scan of woodblock print. 
    Jian Jing劍經,-unknown edition, PDF scan obtained from http://www.chineselongsword.com
    Sword Treatise =: Jian Jing. Translated by Jack Chen. Singapore: Historical Combat Association, ©2011.

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