So, how do you select a Taichi sword? Well, now is when you think about the details of the geometry, or shape, of what you want. There are zoro katana Swords, and there are T’ai Ch’i Broadswords (also called sabers or knives). Each one has a different use. The Straight Sword is used for finesse work (that is, working around the opponents weapon and pin-pointing your targets) and stabbing. The Broadsword is more appropriate for power moves such as blocking, overpowering, and chopping.
(As you may have noticed, I do use the words Tai Chi, Taichi, and T’ai Ch’i interchangeably. This is correct because the only difference is pronunciation between regions of China coupled with the phonetic translations in the West.)
For swords, the intended use should dictate what would be the most appropriate balance point of each. A lot of people say a sword has a “nice balance”, but what they really are referring to is the “feel” in the hand and, perhaps unwittingly, the harmonic vibrations of the blade (I’ll get to this later in this article). That is purely subjective and varies greatly from one person to another.
The correct “balance” of the sword is much more objective and directly refers to the fulcrum of the sword. Generally speaking, for a quick-moving, with a lot of wrist movement sword (such as the Straight Sword), you want the balance point to be right where you grasp your sword or just in front of it. This will normally be within 1/2″ behind the guard, right at the guard, or about 1″ in front of the guard. This will depend on whether you will be using a tassel to practice or not, and how much wrist mobility you will be using. The basic trade-off here is that the more the balance is in your grip, the stronger you have to be to hold the blade if the sword is struck by your opponent. A forward balance point will allow you to use the inertia of the blade to your advantage.
For the Broadsword, you want a more forward balance because your weapon is meant to be used for hard swings where the weight of the blade will do most of the work. Typically this will reside somewhere between 4″ and 8″ in front of the guard.
Now, “harmonic vibrations.” This may sound strange, but yes, the way the blade vibrates, and how those vibrations flow up and down the blade, is the main reason most blades “feel” a particular way to different people. Also, most people do not realize that this is one of the common reasons a sword will break. Imagine the ripples that a rock makes when dropped in a water pond, and how those ripples reflect and refract off the edges of the pond. Think about where the outgoing and returning ripples interact, forming peaks and valleys. These are outgoing and returning waves of motion.
Have you ever used a hard stick to hit something hard and felt pain in your hand from it? That pain was caused by the harmonic vibrations peaking in your palm, delivering the energy of that hit right into your hand. Grab a different stick of a different length and make the same hit, and you might not have any pain at all, even if you hit harder. Well, the vibrations peaked somewhere else and you felt nothing. The reason many swords break is because the harmonic vibrations peaked at the exact point where the blade and the tang of the sword meet (this is usually right where the blade goes into the hand guard). The sword makers solution to this has often been to either shorten the blade, or to add weight to the pommel (the butt end of the handle) to compensate. Sometimes, a large tassel will also give a false feeling to the vibrations of the sword. When “feeling” a sword, take the tassels off, or hold them in the other hand.