Why Does Wang Zi-ping sword look like Opera?

Because Wang Zi-Ping is the real thing. One of the top two swords of China in the Republican Era, who fought in the boxer rebellion, sword against gun.

His only rival was "Miracle Sword" Li Jinglin, representing Wudang. From everything I can tell they were equals, and no claimed to be better at jian.

We consider jian to the be king of all cold weapons because it is the most versatile, that's probably why they naturally fell into running the Shaolin and Wudang divisions a the Guoshu Institute at Nanjing.

Martial artists, especially at a high level can take offense easily. Egos are brittle. Duels were still common, often and fatal.

So the guys who ran the divisions at the Institute couldn't be simply administrators, they literally had to be able to "kill at will" anyone in their own ranks or nobody would fall in line.

This leads to the thesis question:

Question: Why does Zi-ping do sword in the manner of Opera?

Answer: Because all of the movement is clear, everyone in the audience can follow it, and this gives the performance meaning.

Answer: Because the stepping is the most important part, both in boxing and fencing, how to step, where to step and when.

The audience understands this, having the cultural context to interpert the meaning, despite the stylized form.

Chinese swordplay is a conversation between the players, and real sword dance requires communication with the audience.

There are even aspects to how we construct forms, involving repetition of core techniques, that are consistent with Claude Shannon. It's one of the methods by which we maintain the real art despite all the noise.

When most people go around talking about what's "real" and what's "not real", they're no qualified to make those claims. If they're popilar on youtube, I guarantee they're unqualified. Experts in sword from any system look at these Wang Zi-Ping videos with great interest, and instantly recognize a true master.

In the linked clip below, you can see Wang Jurong, Wang Zi-Ping's daughter and top disciple, at 1:24.

1963 Cultural Survey [Courtesy of Getty Films]

If you you can't see why she was considered among the best of the best, you just don't understand jian or real swordplay. It's all about timing, control, and calm. If you get rattled or excited facing straightsword, you die. Very few could say they were as good as the Wangs.

This Getty video reinforces the goal of promoting the art in a non-threatening manner, as a family activity, much as it is taught today in Wushu schools across the world. There tends to be greater family engagement because it is part of the culture. One only has to look at the success and prestige of Judo as a gentle martial art, ideal for fitness, sport. Wushu has those qualities and the added dimension of performance art. Sword dance has existed in China for over 2000 years, back to the Three Kingdoms of Wu, Wei and Shu.

There is great utility to the positive and peaceful expression of martial arts.

As for this new marketing term "Chinese Swordsmanship" (sexist!), it's hard to find guys willing to fence on 2lb jian, much less a 4lb shuang shuo jian. I personally swing an 8lb bar of 1080 steel every day to train for that, and, inspired by martial artists like Zi-ping, work out with a 20lb iron staff, always with light footwork.

But when my muscles need a rest and I pick up the light swords, it's useful to also be able to do it like Madam Wang. Practicing that way in addition to how you train to spar improves you ability to spar. It gives an extra clarity to the movements, and obseration of the core characteristics from alternate perspective. It's important to be able to look at it from the outside. When you return to your normal drills, you might find there's a little something extra.

When I demo in the post-Opera, post-Shaw style, like my big brother Donnie, it's significantly more dynamic than the previous generation, because that's how the contemporary audience wants to see it expressed. That's what's convincing to them. We may have better athleticism and more advanced technique because we're standing on their shoulders, but these are the teachers we learned from. How can you say what they taught us is fake? Especially when everyone in the martial world has seen the results of our training?


It's easy to test someone's qualifications in sword, whether Asian or Europan. Ask them to show you some sword. If the movement is not perfectly clear, with perfect posture and fine point control, they're an amateur.