Seminar Date: March 18 & 19, 9:00AM – 12:00PM
Location: Gerstle Park, Tennis Court
Call in to Register: 415-455-9467
Cost: Currently Enrolled Students $160, Non-Enrolled $200
Three Combinations Sword Sparring Form was taught by the famous Grandmaster of Northern Shaolin, Wong Jackman, in San Francisco. Three Combinations Sword Sparring Form uses the Chinese Jian, or straight sword. This is a “Sparring Form” which means it is performed by two people working together to practice their skills in a pre-choreographed fight. Wong Jackman taught four sword forms in his curriculum. These were Tai Chi Sword, Dragon Phoenix Sword, Three Combinations Sword Sparring Form, and Plum Blossom Double Dragons Paired Swords. All four of those forms are Wudang Mountain Sword Forms. The Tai Chi Sword is similar to other Tai Chi Sword Forms from the Yang family Tai Chi tradition. The other three forms, Dragon Phoenix Sword, Plum Blossom Double Dragons Paired Swords, and Three Combinations Sword Sparring Form are all much rarer and quite exceptional. All three of these forms are expert level. None of these forms are strictly speaking from the Northern Shaolin tradition. I believe Wong Jackman taught these forms to preserve them because of their rarity and because they are simply exceptional forms worth the effort. I Believe Wong Jackman also knew other teachers were teaching the Northern Shaolin sword forms so that they were being carried on and not lost. Since travel to China became much easier around 2000 many people traveled to a newly renovated Wudang mountain scene to learn both Taoism and Taoist martial arts like the sword arts for which the Wudang mountain area was famous. Yet here in San Francisco Grandmaster Wong jackman had been teaching authentic Wudang sword since the 1960s! In any case all of us who learned these forms from Wong Jackman are deeply grateful. Learning them has given each of us many hours of joyful practice and satisfaction in developing real skills.
Each person learns 44 movements. Both partners will begin at opposite corners of a rectangular area. Making eye contact they salute and advance towards one another with matching movements, their eyes meeting with the intensity of lightening. There are three main combinations in the form, with 4 – 8 moves per partner per combination, that both partners learn. This means in one performance of the form both partners do both the attacking and the defending sides of all three combinations. Thus, both players get to learn all the movements and practice both roles every time they practice. Since many movements are repeated it is much easier to learn than having 44 different movements! At the end of the form it is a draw and both players respectfully salute. Three Combinations Sword Sparring Form is long enough and full of enough deep stances to be a great workout. It is also tons of fun to practice!
Three Combinations Sword Sparring Form uses movements from the Dragon Phoenix Sword Form. This is wonderful for those who practice Dragon Phoenix Sword because they can learn how the movements are used by practicing the Three Combinations Sword Sparring Form. Anyone who has learned any Chinese Jian or sword form like Tai Chi Sword will also gain crystal clear insight into how many of the techniques in their forms are used even though the movements will probably be slightly different. What people learn in a form like this is that sword or Jian is the weapon of the nobility, the wealthy, and of wandering Taoists. It is a classy and elegant weapon that relieves on intelligence, cunning, and courage to win rather than force or aggressiveness.
The Chinese straight sword is not designed to bang against other weapons. It isn’t that strong. For hard contact the thicker bladed and heavier curved saber is better. The weight of sword blades was related to the armor of the period in which they made. In the periods when armor was heavier, blades were too. Since the introduction of firearms to Chinese battle fields armor quickly disappeared or became much lighter so troops could maneuver faster hopefully avoiding being shot. This trend to lighter or no armor occurred all over the world and so bladed weapons also became much lighter and faster. The thinner, lighter blade of the Jian is extremely sharp, but also easily damaged or broken. Instead of using strength and aggression, the swordsperson must use strategy, footwork, clever angles, and deception, especially leading to win. The wielder of a Jian would much prefer to cut the wrist of the opponent’s hand holding the sword that attacks them than block the sword itself. Cutting the opponents wrist results in immediate victory, while blocking the sword is only a momentary salvation.
When practicing the Three Combinations Sword Sparring Form the most amazing thing is that the swords never touch! Unless you make a mistake! Surprised? I was. The choreography continuously uses clever counterattacks to make the opponent abandon their intended attack. Since both people are doing this the form is a series of traps you must pass through by entering each one boldly and springing your own trap in the middle of the opponent’s trap. It is so cool. Completely different than what I expected from watching Hollywood movies!
One of the things that becomes immediately clear is that the long, low stances and extended positions of the arms reaching to get every tiny bit of range is critical to winning. Long steps and stances allow you to control the distance and advance further and faster than the opponent can retreat. Skill in adroitly withdrawing from the same long and deep stances allow you to retreat faster and further than the opponent can follow when they attack. This allows you to control the distance and defeat your opponents attacks with your footwork. Cleverly leading the opponent into becoming over extended and therefore vulnerable to your counterattack is possible because you can control the distance. Learning how to time when you step, how far to step, and at what angle to place your feet for balance and strategic advantage is a big part of learning this form. Both partners improve by practicing together.
At first when you practice with your partner you must go slowly and carefully. Training yourself to watch the other person closely is a big change for most people. Prior to practicing a sparring form people only are paying attention to themselves and hopefully their surroundings. Sometimes people look all over the place, even at the floor, when they practice solo. Now with a partner you must continuously watch their every move. It is a big change in attitude and helps emphasize the importance of good posture and composure while you practice solo. Learning a partner sword sparring form like the Three Combinations Sword Sparring Form helps you develop and improve your focus and the posture of your head, neck, and shoulders.
Learning to not only watch your partner closely, like a hawk watching for its prey, but also to synchronize the timing of your movements with your opponent’s timing is the next level. Both people cooperate with one another continuously to make the form work and to be safe. Both partners exercise self-control of their minds and emotions and precise control over their practice sword. Three Combinations Sword Sparring Form is totally safe to practice with reasonable people. Matching your partners timing means not going too fast or too slow. When people go too fast, they do not give their opponent time to preform their movement. The result is a disconnect where the movements of both people loose relevance to each other. This breaks the sequence of the form. In the same fashion going to slow also breaks the flow of the form as one partner is unrealistically frozen waiting or pausing mid movement, so they do not end up going to fast. Typically, going too fast is the greater fault. Since the slower person is usually the less experienced it is better for the more experienced person to slow down and wait for the less experienced person to catch up. Ideally both partners will find a pace they can practice without breaking the form.
When both partners can watch each other closely and match their timing, they have made real progress in learning the skills of Three Combinations Sword Sparring Form and using the Chinese Straight Sword in general. Now the games begin. At this point people start naturally playing and trying to gently tag or touch one another. The form becomes a game were both players can freely vary the speed and tempo of the action testing each other. Super Fun and safe play with incredible strategy and moves!
One of the most dramatic and impressive moves is when one partner is driven all the way to the ground. Forced or deliberately they retreat back into a side plank with one hand on the ground, the entire body straight and turned to the side, with only the heels touching the ground. While the sword hand is high with wrist bent the sword tips pierces the opponents sword hand as they lunge deeply forward to reach. Wow! What a move!
Sword sparring forms are extremely rare. When I visited Wudang mountain in 2011 to compete in the World Internal Martial Arts Championship it was clear that the Wudang mountain Taoists no longer possess any sword sparring forms. Few indeed are the traditional Kung Fu styles that contain a sword sparring form in the modern age.
I hope one day you will be able to learn the Three Combinations Sword Sparring Form, and both enjoy it like I have and also help carry on the tradition.