Second International Swordplay Festival

An international festival celebrating Chinese historical weapons traditions.

Students from three continents converged on the small town of Otepaa, Estonia to take part in the International Swordplay Festival for Chinese Traditions. This Festival was the second focusing on Chinese Swordsmanship organized by Estonian Branch students of Great River Taoist Center. For six days, participants trained nine hours a day learning four weapons essential to the Chinese military tradition double-edge sword (jian), saber (dao), two-handed saber (shuangshoudao), and spear.

The opening days of the Festival were dedicated to learning the basic cuts of each weapon. Through an understanding of technique, participants got a sense of the style of free swordplay favored by each weapon. For instance, Teacher Seth Davis, from America,demonstrated how the leverage of the two-handed grip translated into powerful beating, pressing and cutting techniques for the shuangshoudao. Shield and saber specialist Hendrik Kivirand, a local Estonian, showed how the added protection of a rattan shield (tengpai) was a great blessing for the Chinese infantryman, but one not without its weaknesses. With a shield, the soldier could simultaneously defend and attack but had to deal with obstructed vision. Teacher Scott M. Rodell, from the US, showed that the jian, while having the least raw power of the four weapons, drew strength from the versatility of its double-edged design.

The main trust of the Festival was learning the strengths and weakness of each weapon type and how to apply each type facing the other types.

Each morning of the Festival began with everyone training the long spear together under the direction of teacher Efimov.

In contrast to the focus of the sword teachers, spear teacher Albert Efimov, from nearby Russia, focused on his weapon primarily as tool for refining one’s entire practice. He reminded the participants that in addition to direct martial application, weapons training should increase one’s overall gongfuor acquired skill. Spear, because of its size and the physical demands of its form, requires a high degree of softness and flexibility in the muscles and magnifies any deficiencies in one’s body mechanics. Teacher Efimov pointed out that these same flaws permeated all aspects of one’s taijiquanpractice, from form to tuishou to sanshou to training in the other weapons. The difficulty of the spear, and of all the weapons in general, allowed the student to more clearly see his errors.

As the week progressed and students gained an elemental understanding of each weapon, the Festival’s focus turned to how a stylist of one weapon would deal with

the other three.  Students of the two-handed grip saw how leverage could be used to their advantage in manipulating a sword held in a weaker one-handed grip. Those armed with shields learned to jam and simultaneously attack an opponent not also armed with a tengpai. Jianstudents studied precise voiding techniques to nullify the powerful cuts of the other weapons and position themselves for a counter-cut.

The Festival concluded with a simulated mass battle that pitted all four of the weapons against each other in a military setting. The event demonstrated not only the stark reality of pre-modern warfare but also why the military arts prefer direct simplicity in their forms. Having gotten more of than their fill of bumps, bruises, and simulated death, weary but happy, participants retired to a final celebratory feast and parted ways as friends.

Dutch & American students practicing shuangshoudao techniques