The Two-person Sword Experience
The snippet of accompanying video shows me, Tanya Korovkin, Bob Wiljer and Patricia Beretta performing Sam Masich's 'Five-section Two-person' Taijijian (Tai Chi straight sword) form. There is an interesting range of experience on display. I learned the form from Sam many years ago, but Patricia (rear in white) is a real beginner. Her dexterity is the product of her own dedication and the expert teaching she received over a period of six months from Bob, who partners her here.
In a previous post Lisbeth has given an intense and very intimate insight into what this practice feels like on an artistic and spiritual level. What I'd like to comment on is the conceptual change-in-gears it required from me.
Initially it consisted for me of learning two independent but interlocking forms, one acting as the shadow of the other. Then Sam recommended that I explore writings on swordsmanship from the Renaissance such as those of Achille Marozzo, Cornelius Agrippa and George Silver. On studying them I came to see the form as a window into the technical applications of the sword in personal combat. This greatly influenced my research into sword-art in general and has affected our club curriculum. It is my hope that a future installment of this e-zine will explore this aspect of sword training.
In time the psychology of the two-person exercise became clearer. Even in a genuine life-and-death duelling situation there is a 'conversational' element. Through posture and stance one invites certain kinds of attack. The opponent has the option of accepting the invitation... or not! Similarly, the contest consists of a series of exchanges, one partner taking the lead and then the other, like a dance. The form illustrated in the video is choreographed and cooperative, yet these qualities can be clearly discerned.
Solo form should ideally not be self-referential. Our purpose is self-improvement, but we must not lose sight of its martial intentionality - the fact that the movements and postures were originally developed to manage a combative situation. The principle of martial intentionality requires that all movement takes into account the actions of a notional partner or opponent. But engaging with a real physical partner, although no real combat is involved, lends a touch of realism even in such a cooperative situation. This is profoundly illuminating. One takes into account their physique, body movement, and in a deep way the quality of their energy. A bond temporarily develops that is almost mystical.
By better understanding the distinction between martial purpose (why we practice) and martial intentionality (what the original design function of the techniques was), I have come to comprehend the practice of Tai Chi sword as a martial meditation and form of dual cultivation. The speed and demands of the exchange require concentration and commitment. There is no room for sloppiness or absent-mindedness. There must also be an accompanying respect for your partner, for their needs and potentialities. And also, there is a requirement that you discover an inner quiet, a space at the centre which is still.
This is both prerequisite and pay-off! At the end of the two-person exchange there is a clarity, a moment of serenity and elevation.