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The Wudang Drunken Sword


One of the highlights of the All China Wushu Tournament held in Fuzhou in October 1981, was the participation of American Wushu masters in the demonstration segment of the programme.

Among the most popular performers was Master Bow Sim Mark of Boston, Massachusetts, who performed Combined Taijiquan and the Taiji Sword, to the thunderous applause of an appreciative audience.

Master Mark should not be a total stranger to the readers of these pages. Born in Canton (Guangzhou), China, she immigrated to the United States in 1975 and established the Chinese Wushu Research Institute in Boston in 1976. She was the first person to openly teach modern Chinese Wushu in the US, and she was also the first person in the US to publish a series of books expounding on various aspects of modern Chinese Wushu. Her pioneering efforts have contributed to the spread and popularisation of Wushu in America.

A disciple of the famous master, Fu Wing Fay she specialised in the study of the internal systems (i.e. Taiji, Pa-Kua, Hsing-I) and the associated weapons, especially the Wu Dang Sword. Currently she is the only instructor of the traditional Fu style Wushu in the US.

The purpose of her China trip was to attend the national tournament, to observe and learn from the participants, exchange experience and compare practice, (especially for Combined Taijiquan', to which she has devoted more than ten years of her life on research and refinement), with that of the leading authorities of the internal systems in China today.

At the conclusion of the tournament, the organisers summarised their findings and their comments on Master Mark's performance of Combined Tai-Chi Chuan are as follows:

"Her movements were tranquil and steady, with a good balance of hardness and softness, yet they were soft but not loose, hard but not stiff". 

·        "They were continuous and natural without breaking. These movements achieved a complete sense of smoothness. She was in deep concentration, exhibiting calmness in motion.

·        "Her movements were precise and correct. Her focusing appropriate. This reflected on her solid foundation in basic training".

·        "The combination of the movements with the music and the choice of her uniform achieved a high degree of harmony. Her performance conveyed a sense of great pleasure and a feeling of relaxation".

Immediately after the tournament, she was invited to go to the Peking Physical Culture Institute (PPCI) to exchange her experience with the professors and lecturers there and with the officials at the National Chinese Wushu Association (NCWA) in Peking.

During her three-month stay at the PPCI, she had a fruitful collaboration in the research of the Wu Dang Sword with Master Li Tian-ji, one of the leading authorities of that system. Out of that experience, she adapted the drunken sword routine she learned at the PPCI into the Wu Dang Drunken Sword form, which is now part of her performance repertoire.

There are many different styles of swords. In this article, the sword we refer to is the straight or double-edged sword (in Chinese Jin), which is not to be confused with the Broadsword (in Chinese Dao), which is an entirely different weapon.

Basically they can be grouped into four main categories: the single sword, the double sword, the tasselled sword, and the two-person sword. Each of these categories has their own unique characteristics. The basic techniques of the sword are chop, thrust, flick, upward cut, deflect, and jab. The drunken sword form is the result of the practitioner imitating the antics of a drunkard, combining the body and the sword techniques with the falling and tumbling movements.

The Wu Dang Drunken Sword of Master Mark combines the special characteristics of many different sword systems, using the Wu Dang Sword as the foundation. Unfortunately an exposition of the Wu Dang Sword System is beyond the scope of this article! It has the continuous and tranquil movements characteristic of the tai-chi sword, the rippling step, the turning and pivoting of the Pa-Kua sword, the artistic, the artistic formations of the grade A standardised sword form, the ferocity and thrusting of the double-hand sword, and it makes special use of the tassel to emphasise the state of inebriation, combined with the appropriate use of the falling and tumbling movements of the drunken system.

Master Mark's Wu Dang Drunken Sword managed to exhibit a great deal of internal control within the framework of the traditional drunken system. It blazes a new path in Wushu, as the emphasis of the traditional drunken system is more on acrobatics and physical agility.

At the end of her stay at the PPCI, Master Mark performed the Wu Dang Drunken Sword for the leaders of Wushu in China. They were all astounded that a woman could perform such a physically demanding form with such grace and fitness. Cheng Chuan Rui, a lecturer at the PPCI, himself a former national champion of the sword in the Chinese national tournaments in the fifties, remarked that it was the first time that he had seen a woman perform the drunken sword in public, let alone the Wu Dang Drunken Sword.

Now that she is back in America, Master Mark is working harder than ever to devote herself to the spreading of Wushu. Through her efforts, the Wu Dang Sword System will undoubtedly develop a large following.

Modern Day Representatives of the Wu Dang Sword System

Two of the most respected masters of the internal systems in China today are Master Fu Wing Fay of Canton and Master Li Tian-ji of Peking.

Both Master Fu and Master Li learned the Wu Dang Sword from General Li Jin Lin, one of the most famous swordsmen in the modern era. General Li was the head of a group of seven masters, renowned for their skill in the sword, known as the Seven Swordsmen of Wu Dang.

For many years, General Li improved his skill by inviting all the leading swordsmen from far and wide to his home for sword contests and he honed his skills to such a degree that he was known as Miracle Sword Li. From his experience, he developed the Wu Dang Sword System.

Master Fu Wing Fay is the eldest son of Master Fu Jen Sung, probably the most famous master of Pa-Kua in recent Chinese history. In addition to the traditional Fu style Wushu, (Fu style and Sun style tai-chi, Pa-Kua and Hsing-I), he learned from his father, he also learned the Wu Dang Sword from General Li when his father, Master Fu Jen Sung, was an instructor of Wushu in General Li's army.

A colleague of Master Fu Jen Sung in General Li's army was Master Li Su Man, nicknamed Li the Miracle Spear. Master Li's skill with the spear was so great that he could pin a fly on to the windowpane without breaking the glass. Master Fu Wing Fay studied from all these masters and he is now one of the most knowledgeable authorities in the internal systems in China today.

One of his accomplishments was the refinement of the Wu Dang Sword techniques he learned from General Li and his compilation of them into 5 groups of 25 techniques of the sword. For more information, the interested reader is referred to Master Bow Sim Mark's book Advanced Sword.

He established the six basic requirements of tai-chi (i.e. the six crucial requirements which must be satisfied by all practitioners of tai-chi, regardless of the style. For more detail, Master Mark's book Combined Taijiquan would be helpful). He followed his father's footsteps and completed the development of Leung Yi Chuan (soon to be published as a separate book) and Sze Shang Chuan.

Master Li Tian-ji is the son of Master Li Yu Lin, who served as a Wushu instructor in General Li's army. He is now the secretary general of the National Chinese Wushu Association and is one of the highest-ranking authorities of Wushu in China today. He was selected as the coach of the first Chinese National Wushu Team in 1954.

Since then he has devoted his life to the research and compilation of Wushu, the training and coaching of Wushu performers and the development of the rules for Wushu competitions.

Many of the most famous coaches of the professional Wushu teams, professors and lecturers in the physical culture institutes and judges of national Wushu competitions number among his pupils, e.g. Tsai Lung Yun of the Shanghai PCI, Liu Man Fu of the Tianjin PCI, Cheng Chuan Rui of the Peking PCI, and Shao Shan Kang, coach of the Shanghai Wushu Team.

In addition to teaching he has been the moving force behind the publication of all the standardised Wushu forms, serving as editor-in-chief. He was the leader of the two groups of masters who compiled the very popular Simplified Tai-Chi Chuan form, and the Combined Taijiquan form.

Master Li's other works include Taijiquan, Taijii Sword, Taiji Pushing Hands, and the recently published Hsing-Yi Chuan System. He is currently involved in the compilation of a work on the Wu Dang Sword System.