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’.
It is best (or most advantageous) to perfect martial movement during the first half of your life – say aged 0-50 years – and then use that experience to integrate with the changes that happen to the mind and body from 50-100 years, etc. This is the ideal model. However, many people are not in a position to achieve this for various reason, and so a more serious attitude of self-organisation is required. The distractions of youth are interesting and enjoyable, but even when young there should be an inner core of training-attitude that is isolated from the worldly life. This oasis of peace, quiet, tranquillity and harmony will allow for the development of a deep and profound state of mind, the awareness of which will thoroughly ‘penetrate’ all aspects of bodily movement within the martial context. This is the traditional way which becomes ever more important the older a practitioner becomes. Do not become distracted by the ego-accomplishments of worldly-markers as these things, although interesting within their own context, do not give you any understanding or ability to cope with the ageing process. Those who become enmeshed in worldly concern may win this medal, that belt or this competition, etc, and although there is nothing inherently wrong with this, many people involved in such a superficial path simply ‘stop’ training at around 30 years of age because no one ever taught them about ‘what happens next’. If a practitioner must become involved in combat-derived competition, participate quickly, prevail swiftly and leave, as there are much more important martial elements to master.
Form movement is the key to mind, body and environmental mastery. A Form passes on the physical and psychological aspects of the martial lineage concerned. Intense practice when young allows for the dialectical elements of training to continue to permeate (and penetrate) the body and mind long after physical practice has ceased. The physical movements coupled with their reflection in the mind generate spiralling cycles of growth throughout the body-cells that eventually continues even outside of times of formal training. Ageing happens for a reason, and has many positive elements to it, as even young people age. With age comes maturity, experience, understanding, mastery, appreciation, wisdom, compassion, loving-kindness and selflessness. There is a certain ‘joy’ to giving-up the tyranny associated with youth! The other side is that physical abilities change. Within youth orientated societies it is said that abilities are ‘lost’, but this is not entirely true. It is better to say that physical abilities ‘change’, ‘evolve’ and ‘mature’, and manifest in a manner that is ‘different’ from that of the mindless years of youth.
Chinese martial arts are an interesting subject that has historically emerged from within Chinese historical experience. If a barracks, community, homestead or temple, etc, is attacked by a ruthless enemy, then everyone (men, women and children) are expected to ‘resist’ in one way or another, irrespective of ‘age’ (at least within Hakka Chinese family tradition). Between times of communal self-defence, people practiced the movements of martial forms to a) keep-fit and healthy (through preventative exercise), b) to perfect martial technique (i.e. retain ‘grace under pressure’ during intense combat experience), and c) deepen psychological and emotional maturity (or what might be more broadly referred to as developing a more profound sense of ‘spirituality’). Although there are numerous stages that an individual must traverse throughout their life, a paradox occurs whereby an elderly master moves with both ‘lightness’ and ‘speed’, whilst retaining massive striking-power with any part of the body that happens to make contact with the opponent. A mature practitioner knows how to correctly and appropriately ‘give things up’ without losing strength of mind or suffering any kind of detrimental reaction. Certainly, as the ageing process unfolds, the ‘physicality’ of youth is slowly replaced with the ‘psychological’ awareness of maturity.
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.