Thirteen Energies of the Sword 2: Lift and Block
Draw and Carry -- the bread and butter energies discussed in the previous post -- appear at the top of the 13-energy list in several influential sword manuals (e.g., Huang’s, Olson’s, Rodell’s). They are usually followed on this list by Lift and Block. If Draw and Carry can be used as both offensive and defensive energies, Lift and Block are primarily defensive techniques.
Lift, or Raise, is an English term for Ti (Chinese, pinyin). It is often used to prevent attack at the upper body. The idea is to push or knock the partner’s sword upward by using the middle portion of the blade. At the end of of the rising motion, the tip of the blade can be placed under the partner’s wrist.
Lift is usually performed with the palm down, as in this photo of Chen Weiming, an amazing taiji master and scholar. Minor Star in the Dipper can be seen as a good example of the palm-down Lift.
The same palm-down technique is used in Flower Hidden Under the Leaf at the beginning of Gao Haibin’s transmission of Chen 49. Some masters suggest, however, that Lift can be also performed with the palm up or inward. For example, Rhino Looks at the Moon in Yang 54 is interpreted as Carry by Nick Gracenin, but it is seen as palm-up Lift by Sam Masich. This diversity of interpretations, as already mentioned, is common in the study of sword. The choice of energy depends on your intention in each particular situation. Thus, Rhino performed as Carry would involve a long slice with the top and middle portion of the blade. Rhino as Lift, on the other hand, is a different matter. It would be a short and brisk movement which employs the middle part of the blade. One can, actually, experiment to see how this or that energy works within the same movement.
Another interesting situation can be found in Five Section Two Person Sword. In section 1 both partners seem to be doing Minor Star in the Dipper. However, they do so with different energies! Partner A does it offensively, with a slicing motion characteristic of Draw. Partner B, by contrast, resorts to a Lift in order to counter A’s advance. At the end, the two partners appear standing symmetrically in the same posture, but energies that have brought them there are entirely different.
Block, or Parry, is Ge in Chinese (the term Parry is sometimes used with reference to both Block and Intercept, another defensive energy down the list). The objective here is to stop the advance of the partner’s sword by pressing or knocking it usually to the side. This technique employs the strongest lower portion of the sword. To avoid damage to the edge of the blade, it has to be done done with the flat of the blade or, rather, with the ridge on it.
Image credit: Tai Chi Notebook
Block, as in photo above, can be performed with a two-hand grip. And, to be sure, two hands are stronger than one! In most cases, however, this is not necessary. The idea, as Zhang Yun puts it, is not to use all your strength to stop the incoming sword. Rather, it is to adhere or stick to it, getting a temporary cover for your body, so that you can dodge the attack and launch a counterattack.
Typically, Block is done with the right palm turned to the left and with the tip pointing up, as in the photo. In Yang 54, this kind of Block is used several times, mostly between the main movements (for example, between Swallow Pecks the Mud and Great Peng Spreads Its Wings). In Gao’s Chen 48, the same type of Block is used in a movement called, tellingly, Su Qin Shoulders Sword, whereby one has to turn the torso (and shoulders) almost 180 degrees, to block the incoming sword.
There are quite a few variations on this technique. I will mention just three.
One has to do with the hand position: Block can be also done palm up. One interesting case is discussed by Rodell in connection with Dragonfly Touches the Water in Yang 54. To many of us this movement feels like a combination of Carry and Draw. Rodell, however, offers a different explanation which is, in fact, more compatible with the name of the move. He suggests that what often feels like two long slicing cuts are actually two Blocks conducted on a nearly horizontal plane. First your sword touches the partner’s sword obliquely (as a dragonfly touches the water) palm up. Then it touches the partner’s sword in a more conventional way, palm down.
The tip position can also vary. There are, for example, some circular Blocks, done with the tip of the blade pointing down. They are used in Wudang Taiji as well as in other taiji weapon forms, such as Sword 32 and Yang sabre forms. One is a circular block designed to protect your left flank and shoulder from a frontal attack. Another is a larger circular Block that covers your flanks and the back.
And, if this were not enough, there is more fun on the way. In Two Person Sword we can see, for example, a technique called Bumping Parry. It is performed, unconventionally, with the guard rather than with the flat of the blade. Thus, partner B uses the guard to bump A’s sword forward in the movement called Running Cuts. Later, B uses the same technique to bump the partner’s sword backward, as a way to get out of A’s Enclose with Sword.
Blocks, blocks, blocks! Different in different situations, they all use the strongest parts of the sword to impede the advance of an incoming blade.
... and how about Press and Push? In the 13-energy classification, Lift and Block are seen as analogous to Press (Ji) and Push (An). At first glance, this does not make much sense. Take Press in the hand forms, for example. It is clearly an offensive movement while Lift, its sword counterpart, is used as defense.
Nick Gracenin points out, though, that Press in hand forms and Lift in sword have lots in common in energetic terms. In both cases the internal energy in concentrated or squeezed into one single point. In Press, this point is located in the area of your hands and forearms . In Lift, it should be somewhere in the middle of your blade, in the contact point used to raise your partner’s sword.
Gracenin also finds energetic similarities between Push in hand forms and Block in sword, even though in this case they may appear less overwhelming. But here is how it is supposed to work... As we all know, in Push you have first to pull your partner down and towards yourself as a way to destabilise your partner and absorb his/her energy. After that, you have to push him/her forward and up. To describe these two phases, Michael Garofalo uses a quotation from “Song of An” (Thirteen Postures of Taijiquan,p.6). “It is like flowing water... when it comes to a high place, it swells and fills the place up; meeting a hollow it dives downward” (this is something that is also reflected in Ian Murphy’s drawings of waterfalls).
Image credit: Ian Murphy
Sounds great, one may say, as long as we are talking about Push. But does this description also apply to Block? It does, but only to some extent. When Block is performed as a press tip up, we can definitely see at least some affinity with Push: one has to press the partner’s sword to the side and slightly down in order to absorb the incoming energy and, if possible, to destabilize the partner. This is similar to the first phase of Push. The second phase, however, seems to be absent. Instead, Block is followed by another, usually offensive, technique. This may be, for instance, Draw or Carry discussed in part 1 of this article. But it may also be Strike and Thrust which follow Lift and Block on the list and which will be discussed in part 3.
Garofalo, Michael. Thirteen Postures of Taijiquan, http://www.egreenway.com/taichichuan/powers13.htm
Gracenin, Nick. 13 Energies of Wudang Taji Sword (DVD). Wushu Publishing, 2010.
Higgins, Steve. Taijijian: A Cold Mountain Internal Arts Notebook, 2015.
Huang, Yuan-xiou. The Major Methods of Wudang Sword. Blue Snake Books, 2010.
Masich, Sam. Traditional Yang Style Taijiquan 54 (DVD). Little Productions, 2005.
__________. 5 Section Taijiquan, vol.2, Two Person Sword Form (DVD). Little Productions, 2005.
__________. Yang Style Taiji 13 Sword (Jian), Workshop on Taijijian Core Principles, Milton, Ontario, May 13-14, 2006.
Olson, Stuart. Tai Chi Thirteen Sword: A Sword Master’s Manual. Multi-Media Books, 1999.
Rodell, Scott. Chinese Swordsmanship: The Yang Family Taiji Jian Tradition. Seven Stars Trading, 2005.
T’ai Chi Classics. http://www.pdfdrive.com/tai-chi-classics-e10950541.html (among other editions)
Wang, Ju-Rong and Wu, Wen-Ching. Sword Imperatives: Mastering the Kung Fu and Tai Chi Sword. The Way of the Dragon Publishing, 2006.
Yang, Jwing-Ming. Taiji Sword, Classical Yang Style. YMAA, 1998.
Zhang, Yun. The Art of Chinese Swordsmanship. Weatherhill, 1998.