The Swordsmanship of Wudang Style

The Swordsmanship of Wudang Style


Located in central China’s Hubei Province, Wudang Mountain sits the apex of the four sacred mountains of Taoism. Wudang is also home to one of the ancient martial art schools in China. It has been mentioned many times in swordsman fiction.


As time went by, the Wudang Sword became an outstanding weapon technique.

Chen Shiyu-5


“The swordsmanship is one of the features of the Wudang school,” says Chen Shiyu, inheritor of the Taoist kung fu in Wudang style. “The sword is considered as ‘king of weapons’. It has a sense of elegance.”


Different from deterrent cold weapons like broadswords and spears, the sword achieves a balance between hardness and softness, manifesting special beauty. “When you pull out the sword, it feels cold and lifeless. Yet it can be very mild once you wield it well, like communicating with a virtuous gentleman,” Chen said.


He came to Wudang Mountain in 1994 to pursue his swordsman dream, having learned some local boxing in his hometown.


But things were not as he had imagined. “At first, we spent more than 8 hours a day practicing the basic techniques, such as kicking, squatting and straight punching.”


Six months later, Chen finally began to learn swordsmanship.


Swordsmanship requires basic boxing techniques because the weapon is only an extension of your limb. “To merge the sword and the person, it is not a sword anymore, but a part of your arm,” Chen said, demonstrating. “Always point the sword at where your hand reaches out. You stab and pull back the same way like this.” That is essential in mastering the techniques.


Other than martial art training, the students need to learn about Taoism and traditional art forms, as well as grow vegetables by themselves. Taoist philosophy argues that people take things from and return to nature. The Wudang swordsmanship also shows the concept of integration between man and nature.

“给剑招取名的时候,往往会从自然中找一种相似的来决定动作的名称。” 陈师宇介绍说,“比如燕子抄水。燕子飞过的时候,会俯身下来点一下水就过去了,是吧?一样的,我们剑撩起来,点一下就上去了。”

“Many names of the moves come from imitating other creatures,” says Chen. “For example, ‘the sparrow skims over the water.’ You see the sparrow fly swiftly and skim over the water, right? It’s just like that. You wield the sword, tap on it and go up.”


“There’s also ‘the cat swoops on the mouse.’ Imagine how the cat throws itself on the mouse, try to understand the move and use it in the swordsmanship. When you get the essence of it, you master the techniques.”


Chen has been practicing at Wudang Mountain for more than 20 years. When he’s not teaching tai chi at the club, he’ll undertake spiritual practice on the mountain. “When one keeps a clear and peaceful mind, he is embraced by the heaven and the earth.” Chen has found his ideal lifestyle by combining Taoist philosophy and swordsmanship.

The Wudang Sword Art

The Wudang Sword Art

Wudang is world famous for his masterly sword art. The calm and serenity needed to control energy and power is an important hallmark of Wudang Sword Art and a result of years of intense training.

Authentic Wudang Sword

From each original, there are a variety of offshoots that would also like to. These are unfortunately in the majority, as the traditional and intensive way of Wudang sword art is denied most, for time and often financial reasons.

How do I recognize the authentic art?

That is relatively easy; If you look at the shape above in the video, you can see that the movements return to calm again and again and the static positions empower the movements. The control of yin and yang and rest are important techniques to guide energy through the sword. By comparison, in other Wudang lines or in many schools in the West, swordsmanship tends to seem more like a dance, uninterrupted fluidity, and a high attitude. These “dancers” stress themselves unnecessarily and have no real control over the sword. So take the video above as a reference for Wudang swordsmanship and compare it with others. Try to focus on the practitioner’s focus and notice if he is really calm or struggling from one position to the other.

Master the Sword

In order to learn the Wudang sword art traditionally and correctly, it first requires a detailed basic training. This is the main reason why Chinese are often better than western students. It’s a long and hard road that can not be done by anyone but yourself. The result is the true identification with the Wudang art and the advanced training with the sword.

Clear execution is the mastery, additional and unnecessary movements have no deeper reason and no place in the inner martial arts. It only confuses most and conceals one’s own mistakes.

Book recommendations:

How to Practice Tai Chi Sword Combat

How to Practice Tai Chi Sword Combat

In general, we rarely practice Tai Chi sword with combat applications, but in reality, this is very important. During my Tai Chi classes, I found out that my students learn much faster when we go through every little section and its combat application. This is not common in traditional schools, but I want to present you a method that may benefit your training.

Swords for Tai Chi are generally too light

This is a fact, but this does not mean you should buy the next solid steel blade which is around three times as heavy! The thing is the balance point, without a decent balance point the whole practice is wrong. Let me explain:

The connection between the sword hand and the sword is necessary, the sword hand is always the other hand on the opposite side which is for directing your sword. The connection between these two never changes, and because of this connection, the hip can generate power from the Dantian to move into the tip of your blade. As long you keep the connection between sword and sword hand centered you can direct your power in all directions with the help of the hip movement.

This is precisely why we use flexible blade sword which is cost efficient for daily practice. You can look at such a sword in our shop here.

But with flexible blades, you cannot practice combat methods

This is partly true, but indeed, it is not the best way to practice the combat applications. Regarding technique, sword alignment and posture the flexible blades are more than enough. But, if you want to apply pressure and test out the technique for the students to learn than you might consider another type of sword.

The sword for combat applications!

Blank weapons with a reinforced blunt edge are not really a cheap and good way to go since the balance point would be way too off for realistic practice. A much cheaper variant to achieve this is polypropylene swords. Polypropylene is an unbreakable material, it will bend when extensive force is added but can always go back to its shape. The material is prone to scratches, but besides that, it will last for a very long time, it is the material often used for Kali stick sparring. The thickness of polypropylene will decide its amount of pressure resistance.

In Tai Chi sword the posture and technique are decided by the type of sword. The most common is the modern Tai Chi sword like these:

Click the pictures to buy the swords on Amazon!

This design favors passive movements decided by force applied by the attacker. Feeling the pressure and going around the opposing blade to attack second but strike first. The blade is not made for long striking movements, instead, the longer blade helps to keep your distance pointing always at your opponent. Similar style to french fencing but always going around in circles to find an opportunity.

Here are some product links for modern polypropylene Tai Chi swords, I ordered best to worst in the list below:

Historical sword combat practice

It was common during the early Han dynasty to have bronze swords looking like this:

This design is the ancestor of the more popular Han swords which came right after. You can read my article about Han swords here if you are interested a little more about their background!

The closest polypropylene sword I could find to match these properties is here.

Click the picture to see this product on Amazon!

This design is quite short but thick and combined with the polypropylene material this is perfect for powerful sparring matches. The Han sword type promotes fast striking and stabbing movements, make sure to use the knob on the hilt to support your striking and for applying pressure when needed! It is very similar to old roman fighting methods. There is no guard needed since you defend yourself with each strike. Striking technique and angle alignment are the keys in this combat method.

Final Words

I hope you enjoyed this article, always fully utilize your weapon! Combat applications are important also when you are simply practicing Tai Chi for health. Turn this “magic” movements into movements that you understand.