Thursday, February 13, 2020

Li Bai learns Swordsmanship - By Bernard Kwan

"This is an interesting little article by Hu Nan written in the 1980s for Wushu magazine. I know nothing about the author's background but the article was relatively well written and provided many interesting snippets about Li Bai, the famous Tang poet and thus I am happy to share this here with my readers, particularly given my fascination with the sword. I have supplemented it with some additional information which I deemed interesting and it has somewhat evolved into my own composition.  

The sword is considered a short range weapon in wushu, easy to use and useful in close combat. The sword originated in the warring states of Wu and Yue and reached its apogee during the Tang dynasty and was termed the "Lord of the hundred weapons" 白兵之君 or the "Master of the hundred weapons" 白兵之師. In ancient times the weapon was used for war, self defense and for training the body. From the Spring Autumn period and the Warring States until the end of the Qing dynasty, swords were worn by the officer class as well as the cultured gentry. Indeed many common folk also had the interest to learn the sword and demonstrated a mastery of both literature and the marital arts. The relationship between the poets and was also a close one and there were many poems through the ages that praised the art of the sword. Amongst them, the poet Li Bai had studied the sword from his days of his youth and was skilled in the art of the sword.

Li Bai studied the sword as a child, and he woke up at the same time as the birds to practice, and trained until both his eyes shone with spirit, and his body was strong.  His first teacher was his father Li Ke, who was an unemployed literati who kept a famous Longquan sword in his house, which was a family heirloom.  Unfortunately, he was not a good teacher and did not have a refined technique, so in 724 to continue his study of the sword, he received the Longquan sword from his father left his relatives and moved to Shandong to study under the famous master General 裴斐. Under the tutelage of a famous master and due to his own hard work, his sword work showed great improvement. The sword was his constant companion and source of inspiration. :「寧知草間人,腰下有龍泉」

Li Bai had the greatest respect for knight errant swordsmen, and his poem 《俠客行》 was a poem in praise to the life of a swordsman. And in it he showed his respect for the life of a martial hero and his distaste for power and authority. He would visit friends and look for teachers everywhere and by the time he had acquired of the sobriquet of being  one of the "three ultimates" of the Tang Dynasty he was already a master swordsman will a very high level of skill, having studied under the legendary  Hermit Zhao「趙處士」. Thus he exemplified the famous line "五嶽尋仙不辭遠 一生好入名山遊"  from his famous poem 《庐山谣寄卢侍御虚舟》, "I do not find travelling the five sacred summits to look for saints to be far, my life is devoted to travelling the famous mountains." and he wrote many poems praising the beauty of his native land at this time.

He was not afraid to fight and he stated "when I was fifteen, I was fond of swordplay, and with that art I challenged a few great men". Before the age of 20 he had killed a number of men during his wild youth in Sichuan.  「少年學劍術,凌轢白猿公」. Even though he calmed down as he was older, when he visited the capital Changan when he was 30, he was once surrounded by a bunch of gamblers and he chased them off with his sword with the help of one of his friends, showing no sign of fear, demonstrating his proficiency with the sword.    

He left behind many beautiful phrases praising the sword that are still quoted today. 「安得倚天劍,跨海斬長鯨」、「願將腰下劍,直為斬樓蘭」represented his desire to obtain military honors, fighting for his country. 「彈劍作歌奏苦聲,曳裙王門不稱情」、「知音不易得,撫劍增感慨」,represented his setbacks, when he could not serve his country in face of military defeat. 「起舞拂長劍,四座皆揚眉」、「醉來脫寶劍,旅憩高堂眠」,showed his disdain for riches and power and hthe importance he placed on freedom. 「撫劍夜吟嘯,雄心日千里」、「冠劍朝鳳闕,樓船侍龍池」reflected him chasing his dreams and his romanticism. In these poems, the swords were contained within the poems and the poems were contained in the swords, reaching a plane where swordsmanship and poetry were fused together, representing Li Bai's soul, dreams and burden.「長劍一杯酒,男兒方寸心」"With a longsword and a cup of wine, only then does a man have a heart".

There is also a marital arts set called Tai Bai Jian that is still extant today that is used to commemorate Li Bai. 太白 or "Great White" was his courtesy name." 

by Bernard Kwan FOUND HERE 

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