About this famous sword form, which was created in the republic era and adopted by many schools including Xingyi and many Shaolin-esque schools.
The san cai jian (literally translated as “three talents sword”) was handed down to me by Master Han Chin Tang. There are three components: basics, form and two person form (san cai dui jian).
It is well known that the usage of martial sword is essential. The usage of the san cai jian mainly involves “leakage.” That is, “finding a leak” and “mending the leak.” These two are opposite yet complementary aspects in combat.
“Three talents” means Heaven, Earth and Man. They refer to the upper, middle and lower parts of a body. In plain words, we can just call them high, middle and low.
Regrettably, the history of this famous sword art is unclear. Since it was a mandatory training course in the Central Martial Arts Academy (in the Republic of China), it is widely practiced. But it is not so favored by aficionados, their accusation simply unbelievable: not pretty enough.
San cai jian follows strictly classical rules in martial sword, keeping the form unadulterated by unnecessary theatrical gestures. But some san cai jian practitioners only train hard for acrobatic showmanship, not for proper usage. This tells us that pretty moves are not always practical; and practical moves are not always watchable!
To learn this sword, one must study the basics: thrusting, splitting, pointing, uprooting, etc. As to how many, some count ten basics, some twelve–these are minor details. Most important is to practice the basics until one is in full control of the “one-tip-two-blades” of the “three-foot-cold-spring” of a sword. This is the technique of the offense and defense of all sword art and the only way to master all sword art.
Next comes solo and then two-person form practice. The san cai jian combines basics with footwork and upper-body work to “finding the opponent's leak” and “mending your own leak” in a series of attack and defense movements. Three parts alternate, rapidly moving high then low; three gates snake swiftly from left to right. This simulates life and death combat with an opponent. Repetitions of moves and direction change, variation, familiarity and clarity of intention are the foundation of the san cai dui jian (two-person form).
It is worth mentioning that the two-person form just folds the solo san cai jian in half to make two complimentary halves. This enables one to practice with a fellow student, taking turns in offense and defense. The twin halves match and compliment each other perfectly and snugly. So to make progress in “finding leak” and “mending leak,” one does not need to learn yet another two person form.
I'd like to highlight an important point of technique: the pragmatism of the san cai jian demands that the target of every move is flesh, either to intercept the wrist or pierce the heart. It never attempts direct contact with another sword, ringing “ding-dong ding-dong” like percussion instruments. The sparks between clanging swords in martial art (kung fu) movies are simply absurd, like seeing blacksmiths work their craft on screen!
A martial proverb says that “Sword is power in stillness.” Here's another one: “Take off later yet arrive earlier.” Their manifestation in the san cai jian is: first cripple the enemy's hand in order to disable his sword; then the opponent can be captured or killed at leisure!“Unearthing the Treasures: The True Kung Fu Sword, Part II” by Adam Hsu