Sàn jiàn fǎ
The practice of free swordplay is divided into three methods.
The first method is standing in place striking at each other, adapting with a lively wrist. The intention is for the eyes, mind, and hand, these three to become one qì.
The second method is moving and striking. Use hand technique and footwork for swordplay.
The third method is a lively, adaptive body.
Hand techniques, footwork, back and forth, make a noise in the east and attack in the west, sometimes high, sometimes low, moving fast and unpredictable, the sword moves like lightening. The body moves like a dragon.
Commentary and Notes: In this chapter on swordplay, the author follows a common plan of development seen in Chinese martial arts, namely moving from fixed step two-person exercises to moving step set routines. Naturally, students commence training in these exercises after techniques have been learned and thoroughly practiced through solo forms and drills. Once the student has integrated the hand techniques with their footwork through the moving-step two-person forms, they can then move on to actual free play.
A common error, particularly amongst newer sword students is to always give distance, retreating to neutralize attacks. The problem with this is that once out of distance, one cannot counter-cut. This allows the opponent to control the flow of the action. By making sure the beginning swordsman has a sound foundation in his or her hand techniques, meaning he or she can properly deflect and counter-cut before adding footwork to the response to an attack, the student prevents this error of excessive or unnecessary footwork.
The author describes developing a lively wrist as part of the first step in learning free sword. The word for lively used here is huó (活). Huó means loose or lively, but in this context it does not simply mean the the ligaments are loose and adequately stretched out. It means that one is able to adapt quickly and easily to any given situation. The quick changes that provide jiànfǎ with its versatility, rely on this lively wrist.
“Make a sound in the east, hit in the west” is a classic Chinese strategy idiom for creating a diversion.
-Scott M. Rodell