The traditional Chinese martial arts probably evolved from ancient rituals pertaining to shamans ‘dancing’ or otherwise purposely ‘moving’ in a highly ritualised manner premised upon the behaviour of living animals and the spirit of animals, etc. The shamans dressed in furs, wore make-up, jewellery and elaborate head-dresses. The manifestation of the shaman would change depending upon which animals was being represented. The head-wear might well have contained various types of ‘horns’ or ‘antlers’, etc. Although communication with the ‘hidden’ spiritual realm – these shaman (around 2000 BCE or more) was believed to possess ‘special’ or ‘magical’ martial skills assumed to be the product of spiritual influence. The ‘Huangdi Neijing’ (黃帝內經) states that the daily ‘shapes’ made with the body, determine the strength of the internal energy-flow, and the general health of the individual’s mind and body. This observation is often used as one of the main medical principles behind the justification for the structure of ‘Forms’ as used within develop Chinese martial arts.
Overtime, the ‘dances’ took-on a special significance, and came to represent particular ‘styles’ of Chinese martial arts premised upon the behaviour patterns of animals ‘fighting’ for their lives in self-defence! Although the mind is ‘calmed’ and ‘strengthened’, martial skill is attained not from the spiritual realm, but is rather slowly acquired through continuous, physical repetition and critical assessment from those who have more experience. The ‘Forms’ of Chinese martial arts are vehicles for preserving, maintaining and transmitting the martial secrets of particular lineages. The concept of martial arts being practiced this way is thousands of years old in China, and was probably developed during the Zhou Dynasty and perfected during the Qin Dynasty, etc
Thousands of men, women and children would practice together in an open area, whilst instructors led the training usually to a count – demonstrating and correcting the movements when required. These ‘Forms’ were practiced in the daylight so that every movement could be clearly seen, communicated and copied. Martial arts ‘Forms’ designed to be practiced in ‘secret’ or in the ‘darkness’ of the night – are often referred to as ‘Black’ arts (as in ‘hidden’). These ‘Black’ arts are not practiced in the open, but rather behind ‘closed’ doors. Rather ‘Light’ or ‘dark’ martial arts – the ‘Forms’ involved serve exactly the same purpose and are structured in the same manner. Perhaps around thirty distinct kicking, punching, blocking, elbowing (and other strikes) are expertly weaved together in an integrated pattern of movements. Continuous practice builds technical skill and familiarity within the context of the style concerned.
The ideogram ‘形’ (xing2) is comprised of the left-hand particle ‘幵’ (jian1) - contracted to ‘开‘ - refers possibly to ‘two hairpins’ designed to make the hair ‘level’ and ‘straight’. This particle could also imply an ‘even’ and ‘flat’ open space within which martial art ‘Forms’ are practiced. However, ‘幵’ (jian1) is also created by doubling the particle ‘干’ (gan1) - with ‘干’ (gan1) representing a ‘two-pronged’ (shafted) weapon depicted during the Shang Dynasty as:
The right-hand particle is ‘彡‘ (shan1) - which literally translates as ‘three strands of hair’. This may be used to denote a large collection of objects so that when assembled everything becomes ‘clearly visible’. ‘形’ (xing2), therefore, can refer to martial arts practice being carried-out in the open and by many individuals - so that all the movements are clear and observable. Interestingly, ‘形’ (xing2) used to be written as ‘𢒈‘ (xing2) - with ‘𢒈’ being viewed as a variant of ‘丹’ (dan1). This refers to the ‘three’ energy-centres (丹田 - Dan Tian) spread throughout the body. These are areas of great importance for developing the various internal energies as found within Daoist self-cultivation. As martial arts practice develops these areas – the ideogram ‘𢒈’ would make more sense.
The related ideogram ‘型’ (xing2) is comprised of the upper particle ‘刑’ (xing2). The left-hand particle ‘幵’ (jian1) - contracted to ‘开‘ - refers possibly to ‘two hairpins’ designed to make the hair ‘level’ and ‘straight’. This particle could also imply an ‘even’ and ‘flat’ open space within which martial art ‘Forms’ are practiced. However, ‘幵’ (jian1) is also created by doubling the particle ‘干’ (gan1) - with ‘干’ (gan1) representing a ‘two-pronged’ (shafted) weapon. The right-hand particle is ‘刂’ (dao1) - a contracted version of ‘刀’ - which refers to a short, single-edged blade such as a knife. ‘刑’ (xing2), therefore, refers to the concepts of ‘punishment’, ‘sentence’, ‘punishment’, ‘massacre’, ‘slaughter’ and even ‘torture’! The lower particle is ‘土’ (tu3) which translates as ‘potters clay’, or the ‘broad earth’. As the area where martial art ‘Forms’ are practiced is thought of as ‘holy’ or ‘scared’, etc, ‘土’ (tu3) is related to the ideogram ‘社‘ (she4) - which refers to the ‘God of the Earth’. ‘型’ (xing2), then, refers to ‘martial’ or ‘violent’ movements performed in a wide-open (public) space – the technique of which can be ‘moulded’ and ‘improved’ through regular practice whilst exposed to continuous expert scrutiny.
Translator’s Note: Although ‘劍‘ is pronounced ‘Jian’ within Putonghua (which is the dialect of the Chinese language spoken in Beijing) - also known in the West as ‘Mandarin’ (the language of the scholar-officials) - within the Hakka language ‘劍‘, is pronounced ‘Kiam’ (in the ‘Sixian’ variant) and ‘giam’ (in the ‘Meixian’ version). As the Hakka language is considered far older as the language of Northern China used by the ruling elites, It would seem that ‘kiam’ and ‘giam’ were the normal ways of pronouncing ‘劍‘ - and that the Cantonese people of the South (originally the ‘Tang’ people of the North before they migrated en masse) - logically adopted ‘gim’ as their rendition of ‘劍’. Of course, I am assuming that the Hakka pronunciation is ‘older’ and probably the ‘original’ rendition of ‘劍‘. The Hakka people, in full or in part, probably ruled China through the Qin and Han dynasties from the North of China (but not Beijing), before being forced into a number of historical migrations Southward over two-thousand years. Certainly, our ancestral ‘Hakka’ village in the Sai Kung area of the New Territories of Hong Kong not only upholds the Hakka martial traditions of North China – but when I was young, we were taught to refer to the ‘long sword’ as the ‘giam’ - a tradition we retain to this day. The ‘long sword’ is used within our practice of the single and double sword routines as is exclusively associated with advanced Taijiquan practice. ACW (21.2.2021)
This ideogram dates back to the Bronze Inscription Characters of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties (c. 1600 BCE – 300 BCE) and was depicted in the following manner (amongst a number of similar of variants):
This means that swords designed to be ‘long’ and ‘thin’ to varying degrees (made out of metal) probably developed during this era. Today, these ‘劍‘ (jian4) swords are around three-foot long and constructed from a sharp double-edged blade. Although designed for the expert (and ‘effortless’) ‘piercing’ of the opponent – such a weapon can be used to ‘hack’ and ‘slash’ if the situation demands (although this is considered very much a ‘secondary’ skill). The Confucian scholar carries this type of sword as a symbol of his ‘learning’ and his ‘academic’ authority – although like with the bow and arrow – such a scholar was expected to be a ‘Master’ of self-defence, particularly if he held Public Office. The opponent’s defence (and body) must be decisively penetrated without any undue effort due to a perfect timing, positioning and movement. Furthermore, as such a scholar possesses a ‘calm’ and ‘wise’ mind – at no point in the execution of his sword technique does his weapon become ‘entangled’ with the weapon of the opponent! All ‘movements’ pursued with the long-sword must be effortless and ‘touch’ nothing other than the surface of the body that is to be ‘pierced’.
‘劍‘ (jian4) is composed of the left-hand particle ‘僉’ (qian1) - the top part of which is ‘亼’ (ji2) - an ‘inverted mouth’ that is used here, to denote the meaning of ‘gathering in from three-sides'. The bottom part of which uses a double ‘兄’ (xiong1) which refers to ‘an elder brother’. The right-hand particle is ‘刂’ (dao1) which refers to a ‘knife’ or a ‘single-edged; blade. ‘刂’ (dao1) is a contraction of ‘刀’ which within the Bronze Inscription Characters is drawn in this way (despite the character dating further back to the Oracle Bone Inscriptions:
When all this data is assembled into the ‘劍‘ (jian4) ideogram – it seems (to me) to read ‘community defence’. The elders of the community – symbolised by two mature but physically ‘fit’ older brothers used to bearing responsibility – unite to ‘protect’ a community (that is drawn together on three-sides) to form a more ‘solid’ centre that is easier to defend with ‘weaponry’. The ‘weapon’ in question has evolved from a simple (and shorter) single-edged blade – to that of a longer double-edged ‘sabre’ or ‘sword’ that requires an incredible amount of skill to use effectively in combat. As ‘劍‘ (jian4) is so complex when compared to the far simpler ‘‘刀’ ideogram depicting a short-knife – it would seem that an element of ‘elaborate’ ritual is implied in the formulation of a long-sword' that extends to its ‘ownership’ in peace-time, and its ‘usage’ in times of war!
Certainly, Confucian scholars are considered academic ‘warriors’ who often carry the scabbarded long-sword in their right-hand which means they have no intention of ‘drawing’ and ‘using’ it. Order within society is maintained simply by the ‘presence’ (and the ‘use’) of the long-sword – although this level of harmony and tranquillity manifest in the outer world implies exactly same level of attainment within the mind and body of the scholar-warrior! Should a ‘divine’ violence be required on the physical plane, then the scholar-warrior carefully places the scabbarded long-sword carefully into his left-hand whilst he right-hand secures a firm grip upon the long-sword handle... Having to resort to ‘violence’, however, would be thought of as a ‘failure’ by the scholar-warrior – as ‘peace’ is always preferable to ‘violence’.
Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) was of the opinion that ‘Taijiquan’ (太極拳) is an advanced martial art developed by Confucian scholars for the perfect of archery skills. After twenty-years of my own research - I would agree. Of course, Taijiquan is very much part of the Daoist tradition – but as it is premised upon the philosophical principles of the ‘Change Classic’ (易經 - Yi Jing) - specifically those elucidated within the ‘Great Treatise’ (大傳 - Da Zhuan) of the associated commentaries. This is where we learn about the ‘Tai Ji’ (太極) concept which serves as the centre of the Confucian world view - ‘cosmology’. Tai Ji’ (太極) literally translates as ‘Grand Ridge-pole'. In this early model of the cosmos (the content of the ‘Da Zhuan’ probably developed over a thousand-year period – c. 500 BCE – 500 CE, etc, with the concept of ‘Tai Ji’ being included in its earliest strata – perhaps 300 BCE). The ‘ridge-pole’ equates to the human-spine which unites the ‘head’ to the pelvic-girdle and legs – which in transit also includes the arms and hands. This is the human-body as it exists in the material world. The early Confucians assumed that the spiritual (unseen) realm mirrored exactly the material (seen) realm – and so the human-spine was transposed onto the cosmos so that it linked the ‘divine sky (head) - with the ‘Broad Earth’ (lower body, legs and feet). Just as a developed martial artist positions the limbs in perfect repose through the timely ‘turning’ of the spine – the cosmos rotates its cycles around the ‘grand ridge-pole'! Just as the cosmos turns around a central-point – and the planets rotate around individual suns – the seasons come and go in a timely manner – just as night turns into day and vice versa.
This fits-in with the Confucian attitude of everything occupying its rightful place at the correct time. Movement is always timely and only performed for a good reason and never impulsive or ill-disciplined. A Confucian scholar brings order to the mind and body – and through his or her example – a similar order is brought to the material world. The Confucian scholar practices the unarmed martial art of ‘Taijiquan’ so that the foundations of ‘long-sword’ and ‘archery’ can be imbued in the mind and body well before a bow or a sword is ever picked-up. The ‘Taijiquan’ practitioner learns effortless ‘penetration’ of the opponent – this gives an insight into how a sword and arrow-tip ‘penetrates’ the target. More to the point, the ‘Taijiquan’ element of ‘inflating’ the joints with a buoyant qi-energy prepares the mind and physical-frame for the drawing and releasing of the arrow from the bow! When a bow is drawn (a Confucian scholar was expected to draw and fire with an equal accuracy from both sides of the body) the physical-frame is brought under a great intrinsic ‘pressure’ from the draw-poundage of the bow! When the arrow is released – this accumulated energy ‘rushes’ out of the body with the arrow!
By aligning the bone-shafts and joints so that the body-weight drops into the floor through the centre of the feet – a rebounding ‘force’ is generated from this ‘rooted’ stance that raises up through the body and which can be released through any part of the body. Any stance and shape that is ‘held’ can be ‘rounded’ to such an extent that an ‘intrinsic’ force is accumulated in the joint areas – which can be ‘released’ as a striking-force where needed (adding to the rebounding body-weight). This ability of the advance ‘Taijiquan’ practitioner to accumulate this force mimics the reality of drawing a bow. It just so happens that when accomplished without holding a bow – this ‘massive’ force can be ‘released’ through any part of the body as an overwhelmingly powerful strike. This skill can also be used as a ‘brick wall’ that stops an opponent in his or her tracks! When I have demonstrated the ‘immovable’ posture – usually the biggest man present puts all his strength into pushing my palm – but as I ‘reflect’ his force back at him – the more he tries the greater the force I have at my disposal to reject his intention! He gives me all the energy I need. This is just like drawing a bow...
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.