White Crane Sword – Pt24

The White Crane Sword (WCS) form of the Chun Yuen Quan system is both beautiful and highly challenging. The weapon itself is a Jiàn 劍 (straight sword) with a Páo 袍 (long tassel) attached to the pommel. To execute the form well we need a high degree of awareness. Conversely, practicing the form can help us improve our control of body, mind and energy in other skills.

In the following I will discuss some of the facets of training the WCS as I understand it at present and how this relates to the development of spatial awareness.

First, we must look to the body and its movements – how are the feet positioned, what is the angle of the hips, where are the hands in relation to each other and to the body, where are we looking? When we start learning a new form we usually learn it by moving from one posture to another, checking and correcting the body’s alignment and position in each posture and then slowly transitioning into the next posture. In this way we build our spatial awareness of the body. When learning a bare hand form, we generally stay at this level of awareness.

Most systems, including Chun Yuen Quan, will advance from bare handed forms into weapon forms. Once we hold a weapon, we must expand our awareness beyond our body to encompass the weapon – we must feel where the weapon is in relation to our body. If we do not develop this awareness we end up cutting or hitting ourselves. The WCS takes this awareness to the next level, as we must simultaneously be aware of what are essentially two different objects at the same time: the sword AND the long tassel. So, we must know three things – where the body is, where the sword is, and where the tassel is.

The body is the easiest to feel – it is full of nerves to give us feedback on our position and alignment. If we train bare hand forms regularly we can increase this ability greatly – especially with a Sifu to correct us and give external feedback. If we combine this with relaxation in standing or sitting meditation, then the body will steadily become easier to feel to a deeper and deeper level.

The sword is harder to feel. We can look at it and we will know where it is but this is a low level. We should be able to close our eyes and still know where it is. In time we can feel it as if it is an extension of our body – almost as though our nerves have grown into the weapon and we can directly feel its position.

The tassel is the hardest. Why is that? Firstly, when we stop moving, the body and sword will come to a halt. The tassel, however, will keep going until it runs out of momentum. So we have to keep our attention on the tassel even if we stop moving. This is a characteristic of the tassel being akin to a soft weapon – a category of Chinese weapons like the whip, rope dart or meteor hammer. Soft weapons are traditionally considered harder to master but were popular as concealable weapons.

Secondly, the tassel feels different depending on the speed of the movement – when done correctly there is a particular feeling of counter pull – this happens as the tassel is pulled taught and starts tugging on the pommel of the sword.

This tug gives clear information on the whereabouts of the tassel. However you cannot stop to analyse this as the tug will immediately disappear. Still, if you manage to get the feeling of a tug and then loose it again, do not despair – in fact, you have done well as this feeling only appears when the various parts of the body are starting to work together at a higher level of synergy. In the Chun Yuen system this quality is one of the six core principles and is denoted variously as flow or one continuous movement.

Interestingly, as we keep practicing the WCS and develop the ability to maintain this tugging feeling, it can start to be felt within the body as well. In my own case, I feel it most strongly in the arms, like the arms are tassels attached to my torso. This feeling is then carried into my bare hand forms and without using more strength, but in fact staying more relaxed, the movements begin to feel increasingly powerful.

Once you can feel and control body, sword and tassel, they must all become like one organism with one mind – you should not have to shift your awareness between the three but instead feel all three as one, simultaneously. This obviously takes a lot of practice and at present I myself am only playing with the idea and scratching the surface, working on one short section of the form at a time. The WCS is a true challenge and I can only admire GM Tse and the senior students who wield the long-tassel sword with ease and grace.

Traditional Chinese martial arts all incorporate weapons training. Nowadays, many practice martial arts for self-defence but most practice as a way to improve their health and to have social interactions with others. In these modern times we might ask ourselves what use traditional weapons are.

For self-defence it seems impractical to carry a weapon around, and then there is the risk of a lengthy prison sentence if you actually use it rather than using your bare hands. Some will argue that once you know how to use a weapon you can pick up any similar object and use it to defend yourself. This is true, but then we might train with brooms or rolled up magazines instead.

The people practising for health often wonder why they need to train the weapons if they do not have an interest in self-defence and feel that they get enough health benefits from the bare hand forms. I would like to argue that there is more to having weapons forms in your system than the points just mentioned. As noted above, weapons also develop your awareness to the next level – beyond your body.

For the self-defence practitioner this is paramount when engaging an assailant – you must feel not just your own body but also the attacker and sense his position and energy in order to deal most efficiently with the situation.

For the health practitioner increasing your awareness beyond the body has the effect of actually increasing your body awareness too. It is as if you have upgraded your system to a bigger antenna – now you can receive signals from beyond your body but you can also receive more and clearer signals from your body. The better we can feel our body the earlier we can act on any problems and work to correct them before they become too serious.

In general, practising with weapons makes you understand your body better and gives you more control over it. This makes it worthwhile for both self-defence and health reasons. There are many weapons, soft and hard, heavy and light, long and short. They all develop different energies and capabilities. Some work more to improve awareness, others to increase joint strength and flexibility, others to improve stamina and circulation. As such, any complete martial art should incorporate weapon forms whether for self-defence or health.

The Chun Yuen Quan system has a wealth of weapons and bare hand forms and we can all benefit from practicing them. We are lucky that GM Tse has preserved this skill and has done so much to transmit it to his students around the world. We should practice regularly to keep both ourselves and the skill healthy and alive.


by Paul Hogg

Student Comments

Borrowing from what Sigong said today, ‘Some forms you can pretend to be good, not this one, you have to really practice’. So true- thanks, Sigong! Kay

Much clearer on the new part from the last seminar – especially the footwork was making me confused – great to have it explained.
The new section is a nice example of familiar movements in a new guise.
Thank you Sigong.
Paul Hogg

Great to see that last part again in detail, for years now I have been doing it as left and right steps changing direction like the part near Woodcutter Asks the Road. Thanks Sigong for getting me out in the sun on a lovely morning!

White Crane Sword 23 was a morning of realisations for me. Mine was timing, and the change from one movement to the next, and with help of Sigong and the group teachers I was able to iron out what my body was not doing to help the form to flow, thank you Sigong and group leaders for helping me to flow and help me with my coordination. earl

Good seminar this morning, nice and warm, no cold hands like in the past few months! Learning a lot from everyone questions, figuring out why the tassel does not work or the timing of a movement. This form is so intricate, we need more than one brain to do it right! Thank you Sigong for your patience. Christine

A really lovely white crane sword seminar this morning, thank you Sigong.
Today for the first time in a couple of months I felt more confident with a fair chunk of what we have learnt which gave me confidence that I will ‘get’ the other parts eventually. It is a great form and I do enjoy it, especially when it starts to really sink in.