Swordsmanship with Scott M. Rodell -- the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview

Scott M. Rodell, Taiji instructor and swordsman.

My last act of 2022 was to put this podcast episode together. I interviewed Scott M. Rodell about swordsmanship last week.

Scott teaches the Yang style Taijiquan that he learned from his principal teacher, Wang Yen-Nien, at the Great River Taoist Center in Annandale, Virginia. He is best known, however, for his swordsmanship. 

I've used swords in my martial arts for 35 years but even though I know and can use all the fighting applications from the sword forms I know, I don't consider myself a swordsman since it is not something I focus on any more than I focus on empty-hand techniques, staff, broadsword (dao) or spear.

I learned from this interview, and I bought Scott's cutting jian this past weekend from his website. Enjoy the program. The podcast runs one hour 15 minutes. Please send the link to any friend who might enjoy it.


Scott's website is www.grtc.org

A Different Look at the Chen Tai Chi Straight Sword Form - Through Fighting Applications

I had an idea. Instead of demonstrating a form just showing the movements, how about doing the form from start to finish using fighting applications?

I have never seen this done, and since I love exploring the self-defense meaning and mechanics behind each movement I do, I figured I'm just the man for the job. The sword has been part of my practice since 1987, and I feel strongly that if you are going to learn a weapons form, your art is empty if you don't know how to use it.

So here is the Chen Tai Chi Straight Sword (Jian) form, shown through applications. If you know the form, you'll recognize the moves. If you don't know the form, you can learn it through my DVDs on the Chen Straight Sword Form, or you can become a member of my website and study it with me. In the meantime, I hope this video helps you understand the form better. My student Colin Frye is helping me, and since we are using metal swords, we are being careful. This is not a "cutting" video, but it should give you plenty of ideas to work with -- deflections, angles, and cuts, including a variety of targets, both thrusting and cutting.

--by Ken Gullette


New DVD Set Teaches Bagua Elk Horn Knives Form and Applications

Bagua Elk Horn Cover-250Have you ever bought an instructional DVD that didn't really teach much detail?

Yeah, so have I. 

Some DVDs include different views of a form, different views of movements repeated over and over, but not very much about WHY you're moving this way, exactly what the body mechanics are, and what the movement means for self-defense.

That's what I decided to change when I began making videos and DVDs back around 2003.

My latest DVD contains 3 1/2 hours of detailed instruction on the Bagua Elk Horn Knives form, a Cheng-style weapons form that teaches the form step-by-step, with an emphasis on internal body mechanics and the "intent" of each movement.

It is a 2-DVD set.

The elk horn knives are also called "deer horn knives" or "Mandarin duck knives" because elk horns, deer horns and Mandarin ducks are always found in pairs. The names are used interchangeably, depending on the teacher.

Disc 1 is 2 1/2 hours long and includes complete demonstrations of the form -- a front view at normal speed and a rear view in slow-mo. I do solo instruction for each section, starting at the beginning and taking you move-by-move through a section. Then, you learn as I coach a student through the section. It drives home the mistakes to avoid when you see a student learning a form and being corrected on mistakes. It truly is the next-best thing to being in an actual class.

Disc 2 is an hour and 10 minutes long, featuring fighting applications for each movement of the form. If you are going to learn a weapons form, you must learn how the weapon is used. Martial arts depend on the "intent" of movements and techniques. By the end of Disc 2, you will know what each movement means and how to apply it against an opponent with a weapon. There is also a section on how to take the applications and begin sparring with an opponent.

This 2-disc set costs only $24.99 and is available through this blog with free shipping anywhere in the world. Click here to go to the order page. It is also available on Amazon with Prime 2-day shipping. Check out the clip below for a highlight of what to expect.


 Click to Order and Start Learning!


Chen Village Girls Practicing Chen Taiji Straight Sword Form

One of my former Taiji teachers, Mark Wasson, visited the Chen Village many times to train with members of the Chen family.

On one visit, he took some great video of the village, the Chen family, and their students.

This short video shows young girls practicing the Chen Taiji Straight Sword form as Chen Xiaoxing watches.

Mark passed away a year or so ago. He took several Americans to Chen Village, introducing them to the Chen family. I have not been to the Chen Village, but through Mark, I met and trained with Chen Xiaoxing when he visited the United States. In 2006, I sponsored Chen Xiaoxing's visa so he could come to the US for a series of workshops.


6 Reasons Why You Should Train with Traditional Martial Arts Weapons

Ken Gullette - Chris Miller - Spear
Ken Gullette (right) practicing spear fighting techniques with Chris Miller.

I saw a cool video today that I'm not putting up because of the profanity involved. Two men on a commuter train begin punching and kicking another man repeatedly as other people in the train car look on, afraid to help. Except for one bystander who happened to be carrying a samurai sword. This young guy pulled out his sword and held it above his head in a good Samurai pose, ready to strike. He moved toward the attackers. They ran away and got off the train.

Apparently a sword can be an intimidating weapon in modern times.

I have some instructional weapons videos on YouTube, including one video on the fighting applications of the straight sword. Occasionally, an anonymous idiot will flame the video with a comment such as "That sword would be useless against a 9mm." 

Ken Gullette - Kim Miller Swords
Ken practicing the Chen Double Broadsword Form with Kim Miller.

To an outside observer who has never studied traditional martial arts, I suppose it might seem a bit silly to practice with straight swords, broadswords, elk horn knives, and similar ancient weapons that were used in battle centuries before Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson were gleams in their fathers' eyes. If your idea of fighting is MMA, it probably looks bizarre for someone to walk the circle and spin with elk horn knives. But there are several very good reasons we train with weapons. Here are six of them. Maybe you can add more.

1. Tradition -- Weapons such as these are part of the history of our arts. They were used in combat and to defend villages and families against bandits and other invaders. Peasant farmers could pick up an implement such as an axe or scythe, leading to the development of weapons such as the elk horn knives. One of the oldest known weapons was a spear, believed to be up to 300,000 years old, discovered in Ethiopia. 

2. Deeper Insight into the Art -- It is one thing to learn how the five elements of Xingyi are translated in fist postures using empty hands, but learning how they are used with a sword or staff gives you a deeper look into the art. Walking the circle and doing palm changes with empty hands in Bagua is the essence of the art, but doing it with a broadsword or a staff gives you an entirely different perspective.

3. Conditioning -- Weapons such as the Kwan Dao provide the benefits of weight training while also working cardio. Traditionally, the Bagua broadsword was huge and heavy, giving you an excellent whole body workout. Staff and sword also require more strength than empty hands, and provide good upper body exercise. After I lost the function of my left lung in 2009, the additional work and cardio required for weapons forms was very obvious. It's good for you!

4. Coordination and Footwork -- Movements that require you to control a weapon can be complex, involving twirling, turning, and coiling. You develop subtlety as you learn to deflect the weapons of opponents and counter. When an opponent thrusts with a sword, it requires control to deflect just enough with your sword to cause his sword to miss while putting your sword in position to counter. Footwork must be quick, light and lively with weapons. And while you may always use a sword with your right hand (if you are right-handed), using weapons such as elk horn knives, double sticks or double swords helps you develop ambidextrous skill.

5. Practical Self-Defense -- If I am in a situation that calls for self-defense and I can pick up a stick or a broom, I will be grateful for every moment I've spent training with a sword, staff, or stick. You can bet your life on it. Training with a knife can help you anticipate the movements of an attacker who is armed with a knife, a situation that could happen in real life.

6. The Phrase is "Martial Art" -- Don't forget that the word "Art" is included in this phrase. Yes, we are learning to defend ourselves and the people we love. But let's be realistic. I am 61 and I have not been in a real fight since I was 18. If my luck continues, I will never be in another violent self-defense situation. Why would I obsess about it at this point? I learned to defend myself decades ago, and still practice those skills and techniques and principles today. But as I have gotten older, I have learned to appreciate the art a lot more than I did when I was in my Twenties. I appreciate the beauty of forms such as the Chen Straight Sword Form and the Bagua Elk Horn Knives Form, the grace and the bursts of power, and I enjoy the strength and power of the Xingyi Staff Form. I enjoy the precision required by these weapons, and how to cut with a sword so that the air makes very little sound as the blade makes its most efficient cut. I also love the fighting techniques.

Here are a couple of bonus reasons to practice traditional weapons. Weapons are cool. And they are fun. And isn't that why most of us got into martial arts? Sure, we started because we wanted to learn better self-defense, but also because we thought it was fun and cool. I've been practicing now for almost 41 years and I still think it's fun and cool.

Weapons training has many benefits, even if you never see anyone carrying a broadsword down the street. So what if the anonymous flamers on the Internet don't understand? Who cares if their idea of self-defense begins and ends with MMA? 

Traditional martial artists know better.

I invite you to leave a comment with your reasons for training with traditional weapons.

A Lesson in Etiquette for the Straight Sword (Jian) in Kung-Fu

Ken-Yin-Yang-swordSome people think it's useless to train in martial arts weapons such as the straight sword because we no longer have swordfights on the street.

I believe training with weapons is important to train body mechanics, coordination, and the ability to transmit internal power through the weapon. The same techniques that make a straight sword useful can also be used if you are attacked and can pick up a stick.

And, of course, weapons are cool, and isn't that one of the reasons we began studying in the first place? One of the coolest parts of Enter the Dragon was when Bruce Lee whipped out different weapons. His nunchaku action was a crowd favorite. I saw that movie in 1973 and spent a lot of time practicing nunchaku moves.

I still train weapons including the single and double sticks, staff, straight sword, broadsword, spear, and elk horn knives.

The straight sword, known in Chinese arts as the "Jian," is considered the "master's" weapon because of the skill it requires. In traditional Asian arts, the straight sword was considered a sacred object, possessing its own spirit, and treated with the highest respect. It was often placed on a shrine in the home. 

Even today, sword etiquette should be observed at all times by serious students.

Straight Sword Parts

The parts of the sword include: the pommel, the grip, the blade guard, the round blade (the dullest part of the sword that is closest to the blade guard), the middle blade (a little sharper than the round blade), the flying blade (the section of the sword closest to the tip) which is extremely sharp, and the tip at the end of the blade.

Sword Etiquette 1
When sitting in a hostile environment, sword is on the left with pommel forward.
In a hostile environment, the sword is placed to your left.

Here are a few etiquette tips that Amy Vanderbilt never mentioned.

When sitting in a hostile environment, it is best to keep your sword at your left side with the pommel facing toward the front. This gives you the chance to draw the sword with your right hand if the situation deteriorates.

If you are in a friendly environment, place the sword on the right hip or on the floor next to where you are kneeling. In this position, you are not able to draw as quickly. It is a signal that you consider yourself among friends.

When presenting the sword, if for some reason you do not trust the person you and presenting it to, keep the grip on the right side, giving you the chance to draw the sword if needed.

Sword Etiquette 3
A sword on the left side is easier to draw.
With the sword at your left side and pommel facing front, it is easier to draw.

When you are presenting the sword to someone you trust, hand it to them with the grip on your left side. This shows respect, and in theory gives the person receiving the sword the ability to draw it with their right hand.

I have to admit that my students and I have had some fun with this over the years. In tournament competitions, when I am using the straight sword, judges have a tendency to ask for the weapon to examine it before you do your form. I am always interested in how they present it back to me.

Usually, nobody has a clue about sword etiquette.

Sword Etiquette 5
Presenting a sword to someone you trust - pommel is on your left.
Present the sword to someone you trust with the pommel to your left.

There are also times - as I am waiting to compete - I will kneel with my sword at my left side with the pommel facing forward, indicating I am in a hostile environment. Only my students and I know this, and we have had a few chuckles over the years.

I believe that you should learn to fight with a weapon if you are going to learn a weapons form. That's why my website has fighting applications for all the weapons I teach, and why I include fighting actions for movements in each form I put on DVD, including the Hsing-I Straight Sword Form, the Hsing-I Staff Form, the Chen Taiji Straight Sword Form, the Chen Broadsword Form, and the Bagua Elk Horn Knives. I haven't yet videotaped Chen Spear fighting

Sword Etiquette 7
When the pommel is on your right side in this situation, it is easier to draw.
Presenting your sword with pommel on your right side makes it easier for you to draw.

applications but that is coming soon.

Weapons are important, both as part of the internal arts' rich history, and as part of your personal development as a martial artist. And you never know when the parries and deflections, strikes, and other techniques will be useful in self-defense with a stick, broom handle, or similar object.

Thanks to my friend Sean Ledig, who appeared in these photos back in 2008.

An Amazing Weapons Form - the Chen Taiji Straight Sword on DVD


I held a workshop in April to guide a variety of martial artists through the Chen Tai Chi Straight Sword form step-by-step, with an emphasis on body mechanics.

The individual movements were broken down and I have assembled it all on my newest DVD - The Chen Taiji Straight Sword Form.

There is just under two hours of training information on one DVD, including multiple views of each movement, complete demonstrations of the form slowly and at medium speed by front and rear views. 

The best part of the DVD is that you get to be part of the workshop and learn along with the other martial artists. Some fighting applications are demonstrated along the way to add to the understanding of a movement's intent, but most fighting applications will be shown in the sequel later this year.

The DVD is available on my membership website, also my DVD website, through this blog, and on amazon.com

The Chen Straight Sword Form is amazing -- great fighting techniques requiring all the internal body mechanics that you need in the empty-hand forms. The footwork is lively and there is a wonderful blend of relaxed internal strength and explosive fajing -- the hallmark of a good Chen form.

As with all my videos, I try to go deeper than what you usually find on other DVDs. Instead of just repeated movements, we drill into the mechanics of the movement. Check out the video clip below and make this DVD part of your collection. The cost is only $22.50 and that includes free shipping and a money-back guarantee, no questions asked, if you are dissatisfied for any reason. 

A Good Exercise for Taiji, Bagua, Hsing-I practice -- Freestyle Sparring with Weapons

Weapons-Spar-1 If you're going to learn forms with weapons, you should learn how to defend yourself with that weapon.

When martial arts were created, the gun was not yet a weapon. Warriors used sticks, staffs, spears, swords, and other weapons.

In our arts, we learn forms that include the staff, straight sword, broadsword, spear, and elk horn knives. We also practice single and double sticks, although they are not part of our internal curriculum.

Here's a great exercise -- and for this, you should pad up or use foam weapons. It's very important not to thrust at someone's face, and if you're going to allow non-contact thrusting to the face, everyone should have head gear that covers the face and goggles for the eyes. I've never believed in hurting anyone, or being hurt, just to learn martial arts.

Weapons-Spar-2 This article shows photos taken last week at our practice. Chris Miller (black sash), Kim Kruse (brown sash), and I took turns in the middle and had to defend and counter while we were being attacked by weapons. Chris and I chose the Bagua Elk Horn Knives as our weapons to defend ourselves. Kim chose the broadsword.

The most difficult part of learning a weapon, other than the internal body mechanics required in our arts, is how to use it against an attack. To recognize the incoming attack, deflect or block it and counter-attack are the skills you're trying to develop.

With the Elk Horn Knives, one is used to defend while the other is used to counter, usually with a cutting/slicing action but sometimes with a stabbing/thrusting action.

Weapons-Spar-3 With weapons, as in empty hand combat, you have to be fast on your feet, and against multiple opponents, as we were practicing Thursday night, it's a good idea to get your opponents on one side of you.

You start by having someone attack. The person in the center has to defend and counter, and then turn to the other attacker.

It teaches you a lot about how well you can use a weapon. Winning a weapons form competition is nice, but if you have no idea how to use it in self-defense, your form will be empty of intent. Remember, in the internal arts, intent does not mean anything mysical, and it doesn't mean you're focusing on "chi." Intent is the meaning of the movement, and the body mechanics required for the movement. All movements are fighting applications. This is why all the weapons DVDs that I make have detailed instruction not only on body mechanics, but also fighting applications.