Levels of TAI CHI SWORD – Tai Chi Sword 20


“If one practises with a feather, respecting it as if it was steel, ultimately steel may be used as if it were a feather.”

Cheng Man Ch’ing

I have organized my teaching of Tai Chi Sword into a four level system:

  1. Feather Sword Form
  2. Feather Sword Fencing
  3. Spring (Jing) Sword Fencing
  4. Water Sword Fencing

I am separating the fencing study into four parts in order to clarify these stages.


is what I call the form and the fencing that Professor Cheng taught. It is the core and basic level of study and the following levels depend on it.


reinforces our understanding of the Tai Chi principles and shows us how they function through practice with this instrument. As the sword becomes an extension of our bodies, the principles of sticking, following, interpreting and using the O’s energy can be clearly perceived.

We learn to listen, stick, follow, adhere and interpret. At the same time we are extending our Chi and fine tuning our sensitivity through blade-to-blade contact.



is a way of responding to the kind of attacks that offer no possibility of sticking. This level requires an expansion of the student’s skill set. The form contains all of the movements that are necessary to accomplish it.

If the O comes at you with power and speed, you use the same basic technique that you would to stick to a slow movement but with a different result. It is paramount to continue to neutralize in the same direction, as their blade is moving, and not parry or block their blade, but let it glance off your blade and continue a circular movement that returns to cut them.

Practising at this level will enable you to stick to higher blade speeds than before, but hardly to the fastest. However when fencing with multiple opponents one does not have time for the luxury of sticking.

Many movements from the form that have been a mystery to us will make sense within the context of Spring Sword.

This level requires vigorous and athletic practice. In order to prevent injuries we may also use soft swords or shinais (Kendo swords), gloves, high-impact glasses and helmets. Regular hard wooden swords may be used, after some degree of proficiency has been achieved.


is the highest level, Feather Sword fencing requires subtle focused study and long practice, Spring Sword fencing requires dynamic engagement and some hard knocks. Water Sword cannot exactly be taught, it comes as a jump in one’s fencing evolution, a ‘getting it’ that is a result of long and conscientious training in the earlier stages. What Cheng Man Ch’ing taught us I call Feather Sword, the way he fenced I call Water Sword.

Water Sword fencing is thoughtless and effortless. The sword turns toward the O’s centre the way a leaf turns to the sun, it adheres to the other blade as one magnet to another and it seeks the O’s centre as water seeks it’s own level.

In order for fencers to accomplish this we must get out of our own way, we must be in the moment, without anger, fear or desire. We must respond without agenda, merge with the O, and fully embody the principles of Tai Chi.

I have not fenced with many Tai Chi masters, but I have with a few. So far I have only experienced Cheng Man Ch’ing demonstrate this level. I have been working on it for years and so far, I can only do it with fencers well below my level.

Author and Images: Ken van Sickle

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