Original text by Tom Cheung (https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/p9KRmnjFWb-_F5bYDHfU-Q
Translation by Mustinar Ali
The Commander’s Sabre set, also known as the military sabre, is one of the more unique weapon routines in the Lam Family Tiger Crane Hung Kuen system. This kind of military sabre is not one of the traditional weapons of China, and it was introduced after China’s modernisation period, especially after the military modernisation of the Qing Dynasty New Army Reforms.
The origin of the Commander’s Sabre
The Commander’s Sabre is not a traditional Chinese weapon, so it is very rarely seen in Chinese martial arts. The reason why the Lam Family Tiger Crane Hung Kuen system includes the Commander’s Sabre set is because Grandmaster Lam Sai Wing once had the experience of exchange with the new army of the late Qing and Republican Era of China, which brought him into contact with this weapon, resulting in this routine appearing in the
Lam Family Hung Kuen system.
When it comes to the Commander’s Sabre, it is necessary to briefly mention the modernisation of the Chinese army in the late Qing and Republican Era of China. It is well known that before the Westernisation Movement, the Chinese army’s equipment mainly consisted of traditional swords, spears, sticks, bows and other cold weapons. Although the use of firearms appeared very early in the history of Chinese military practices, they were not widely equipped in the old Chinese army. After the 1894-1895 Sino-Japanese War, the Qing government realised that the army must modernise quickly. Therefore, the “use Western firearms and learn Western methods” military reform movement was enacted.
The Beiyang New Army armed with Western military sabres
As a result of the establishment of the Qing New Army, Western weapons, equipment, military training methods, and combat methods were introduced to China. The Western military sabre, as both a ceremonial weapon for giving commands, and for actual use in combat, was naturally introduced with it. At first, this weapon was only circulated within the New Army, so it had not yet entered the realm of folk martial arts.
During the Republican Era of China, the achievements of the Qing Dynasty New Army Movement were preserved. At the same time, due to historical reasons, China was experiencing an era of warlord separatism, during which time a wide range of martial arts masters served as combat instructors. During this period, the armies of the warlords included not only local martial artists, but also martial artists from other places, especially in the armies of Fujian and Guangdong where there were many masters of northern styles of Chinese martial arts. Martial arts exchanges in these armies may be part of the reason for northern fist and weapon routines appearing in many southern styles.
During this time when exchanges between martial arts of different areas were popular, it was under this kind of North-South martial arts exchange that Lam Sai Wing exchanged skills with a master who could use the military sabre while in Guangzhou, and brought the Commander’s Sabre into the Lam Family Hung Kuen system.
New army soldier armed with a military sabre
The position of the Commander’s Sabre in Lam Family Tiger Crane Hung Kuen
In the Lam Family Tiger Crane Hung Kuen system, there are several sets for short bladed weapons: Great Circling Moon Double Knives (Daai Hang Yuet Seung Do), Commander’s Sabre (Ji Fai Do), Plum Blossom Double Dragon Sabres (Mui Fa Seung Loong Do), Chopping Hanging Single Sabre (Pek Kwar Dan Do), Kunlun Sword (Kwan Lun Gim), Life Gate Sword (Sang Mun Gim), Butterfly Double Knives (Wu Dip Seung Do), etc. Among them, the Chopping-Hanging Single Sabre (Pek Kwar Dan Do) and the Plum Blossom Double Dragon Sabres (Mui Fa Seung Loong Do) use traditional Chinese willow leaf or oxtail sabres, which are types of “waist sabres” (Ming and Qing eras).The Life Gate Sword (Sang Mun Gim) and the Kunlun Sword (Kwan Lun Gim) naturally use swords (gim). The Great Circling Moon Double Knives (Daai Hang Yuet Seung Do) and the Butterfly Double Knives (Wu Dip Seung Do) use butterfly double knives, a type of paired short knives unique to southern styles of Chinese martial arts. The weapons listed above are all traditional Chinese weapons. The method of using these weapons is undoubtedly of the style of traditional Chinese martial arts. However the Commander’s Sabre is comparatively special. The special feature is that the Commander’s Sabre uses a Western military sabre, but the method of use is neither Western-style swordsmanship nor from Western-style sabre fencing, but from the weapon methods of southern styles of traditional Chinese martial arts.
Lam Sai Wing served as a martial arts instructor at the General Headquarters of the First Army of the
Chinese National Revolutionary Army
The Commander’s Sabre is a short weapon with a single blade and wielded in a single hand, and its usage is more in line with the style of southern Chinese martial arts when compared to Chopping-Hanging Single Sabre (Pek Kwar Dan Do), Kunlun Sword (Kwan Lun Gim), and Life Gate Sword (Sang Mun Gim), the source of these three sets being northern styles of Chinese martial arts. As it is more in line with the logic of southern style Chinese martial arts practice, the Commander’s Sabre occupies a relatively important position in the Lam Family Tiger Crane Hung Kuen system. It can be said that the creation and inheritance of the Commander’s Sabre set is a very successful attempt at combining local and foreign in the martial arts field.
The main technical characteristics of the Commander’s Sabre
The first thing that needs to be clear is that although the weapon used in the Commander’s Sabre set is a Western weapon, we can confidently say that it belongs to the Chinese method of swordsmanship from the perspective of its sword techniques, body shape and footwork, and it particularly belongs to the swordsmanship of the southern style of Chinese martial arts. Since the Commander’s Sabre has both a single-edged blade and the narrow and long characteristics of a sword (gim), this sabre can simultaneously make use of traditional Chinese sabre practices such as head-wrapping (cin tau), and sword skills such as coiling (cin), pointing (dim), binding (fung) and flicking (bang). This is enough to differentiate the Commander’s Sabre from the common sabre or sword. For Chinese martial arts, it is not just as simple as changing a weapon to practice a set. If you want to better make use of some of the advantages and characteristics of this set’s design, it is recommended to practice with and use a Western-style military sabre.
Since the Commander’s Sabre is a Hung Kuen weapon set, it naturally has the characteristics of Hung Kuen: strong symmetry, focus on movement, and attacking and defending in multiple directions, particularly focusing on the corners. In the Commander’s Sabre set, much attention is paid to body shape and footwork. There are many repeated movements, especially in the first half, with the same sets of movements being repeated in several directions. Generally speaking, in the first half, the set mainly follows the directions of a cross, that is, a set of movements is done to the front, back, left, and right. In the second half, the set covers the 8 directions, that is, the four cardinal directions and the four corners. It is worth mentioning, in this sabre set, a kind of body method known as “driving body” (cheh san) is widely used for the movement. The term “driving body” is a Cantonese opera term. The main point is to control the centre of gravity, keeping it close to the ground to achieve very fast lateral movement. Lam Family Hung Kuen attaches great importance to this “driving body” technique. This kind of body method doesn’t only appear in the Commander’s Sabre, but in all the sets of Lam Family Hung Kuen.
The sabre techniques of this set contain both the head-wrapping (cin tau) technique of the Chinese sabre, and the coiling (cin), pointing (dim), binding (fung) and flicking (bang) of the Chinese sword (gim). Following are some of the main techniques that appear in this set:
1. Circling sabre (dau do): execute a strike from the bottom to the top (upwards cut)
2. Combination of blocking and cutting (dong do and got do): the intention is to defend and
counter-attack against a top-down attack
3. Cutting/Chopping sabre (zaam do/pek do): turn sideways and slam the opponent’s
midsection, the cut is to the inside of the body, and the chop is in the opposite direction of
the preceding cut
4. Circling sabre (hyun do): Similar to the circling pole technique of the Fifth Brother 8
Trigram Pole set, this circles around the opponent’s weapon and attacks their front hand.
Here you can see that it has certain characteristics of the sword (gim)
This sabre set is relatively simple, not difficult to learn, and close to the movements of practical use. Grandmaster Lam Jo once emphasised that when practising this set, disciples should try to use heavier sabres. It is best to follow the historical weight and
shape of military sabres as this can be used to master the feeling and power of the Commander’s Sabre, instead of using light and flimsy weapons to practice this set.