Sunday, February 23, 2020

Chinese Jian - Zǐwǔ Sword (子午劍), by Huáng Hànxūn (黃漢勛), 1958 Trans.- Scott M. Rodell

Zuìgāo yuánlǐ zé biànhuà wúqióng, hū kāi hū hé, shōu bì rúyì, zhānqiángùhòu, zuǒyòu xiāng pàn, gāo lái dī tiāo, dī lái gāo diǎn, wú zōng kě zhuī, wú jì kě xún, tiāndì guó qīn shī wǔháng bìng jì, ruò tàijí zhī bāoluó, rú liùhé zhī fàngzòng, jiàn bùguò nǎo, zìgǔ yǐrán, wú yǐ jiàn zuò dāo zhì yí fāng jiā zhī xiào, hòu zhī xuézhě qí miǎn zhī zāi.
The highest principle is limitless variation. Suddenly opening, suddenly closing, sealing closed as one likes. Attentive forward and back, left and right. (Attacked) high, (respond with) spring cut from below. (Attacked) low, (respond with) pointing cut from above. (Leave) no track that can be chased, no trace to be sought. Heaven and earth, country, family, and teacher (representing the five elements), work together, as the taiji principle embraces everything, is as the six directions are unrestrained. The jian does not pass over the head. Since ancient times, this was already so. Using the jiàn like a saber will cause learned men to laugh, students are encouraged to study properly.
Quoted from the Zǐwǔ Sword (子午劍), by Huáng Hànxūn (黃漢勛), 1958
Trans.- Scott M. Rodell
Notes and Commentary-
In the first line, biànhuà wúqióng is translated as limitless variation. A more common and literal translation might be transform or change endlessly. Given that an essential element of jiànfǎ is versatility, especially the ability to adapt effortlessly to changing conditions, applying a wide variety of techniques and strategies, limitless variation fits the context. The lines that provide responses to receiving blows from above and below, mention two basic cuts common to different systems of jiànfǎ. When receiving a high line cut, the text gives tiāo as the response, and provides diǎn as an answer to a low line attack. Given that are other possible responses to both actions from one’s duìfāng, the author likely chose these examples to stress one common strategy in jiànfǎ. That strategy is to open a door, i.e. invite an attack, then allowing the duìfāng to make his or her intention clear, intercept that action with a cut to the sword arm. Zhuāngzi describes, "The art of the jiàn is to deliberately expose a weakness, giving the enemy the impression they have the opportunity to attack. Your hand moves after the enemy, but your jiàn strikes first,” (夫為劍者,示之以虛,開之以利,後之以發,先之以至). Concerning leaving no track or trace for your duìfāng to follow, if one gives up oneself and follows others, there is no track for the duifang to find and follow.
More than one classic of jiànfǎ ends with a line mentioning that wielding the sword like a saber would cause laughter amongst the immortals or learned men. Two examples are the Tàijí Jiàn Gē (太極劍歌) and the Hòu Jiàn Jué (後劍訣). By mimicking these classics, Huáng Hànxūn, author of the Zǐwǔ Sword, is demonstrating his knowledge of these earlier works.
The name of this sword system is an interesting choice. Zǐ and wǔ refer to two of the twelve times of the day, namely midnight and noon, and imply an ebb and flow between yin and yang. This idea fits nicely with the manner in which the jiàn is wielded. Zǐwǔxiàn (子午線) also refers to the central line of the body which the swordsman looks to control with the way he or she deflects and cuts.


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