An ancient Chinese sword is a work of art. Sanmei - two softer steel layers sandwiching a hardened central layer. The softer steel gives resilience, while the harder, more brittle core, holds a wickedly sharp edge. And that's only the beginning. Look into the steel and lose yourself in the unique lines and marks left by the folding. We call it "blade activity". Then there's twist core - the royalty of the forge. You can't describe it well in words, but you can feel a life about it that demands attention. "I'm going to have one of those one day." A common saying among swordsmen. Most of us would need a bequest from one of those philanthropic rich uncles to achieve that wish.
The wonder is that ancient Chinese swords are still out there. They have survived for hundreds of years, and with the care of martial artists and collectors, they will last many more hundreds of years.
As a martial artist, it is important to know where you come from. This section of the Chinese Swords Guide is dedicated to those who want to connect with the past and keep historical accuracy in their art.
hinese swordsmanship was handed down from teacher to student over many generations. The basic cuts, deflections, guards and footwork were written into forms. These sequences of movements served as textbooks in a world before books were affordable and film was available. Unfortunately, much of the true swordsmanship has been neglected in favour of developing other aspects of the arts. This is changing as teachers such as Scott Rodell begin to revive real Chinese swordsmanship, and students, such as myself, put effort into learning these almost extinct skills of ancient China and passing them on to the next generation.
We still have many sources of reference for accurate weapons and costume. Pictures of ancient Chinese warriors, such as this one, show us what the weapons and armour were like, how they were carried and worn, etc. We also have a large number of ancient Chinese weapons, full suits of armour, and some useful texts for those who can read Chinese.
Chinese art is not just pictures and sculptures. The ancient Chinese art techniques used on armour, is a study all in itself.
This is a detail of the bigger picture, showing the warrior drawing a jian out of its scabbard. The details of shape, motifs, how he is drawing the sword, and the armour he is wearing, are all important in the historical accuracy of our art. You can't make a case for an historical precedent from just one picture. Artists have always had a certain license in their work. Notice, for example, how the size of the people in this picture diminishes with their importance. Rank was also depicted by animal or bird symbols.... Understanding builds up block by block from many different sources. Chinese symbology and badges of rank will have their own pages in the Chinese Swords Guide.
Click this link for more information on how to reseach Ancient Chinese swords using the primary resources available. It will help you learn what to look for. Did you know, for example, the five-clawed Chinese dragons are the sole property of the Emporer.
Another detail from the picture of Guan Yu Capturing his Enemy Pang De, shows a warrior holding a polearm. We still have such ancient Chinese weapons available to us today, in museums and private collections - perhaps even at that garage sale you hope to pick up a treasure from one of these days...
The picture to the left of this detail is a custom polearm, made by a modern forge. It was fashioned after General Kwan's weapon - a Kwan Dao, or General Kwan's knife. This is an example of how we use ancient Chinese historical sources to provide training tools that are as accurate as possible. This is very important for maintaining real skill. Think about it for a moment. Perhaps you are training in sword forms that were created to document actual sword fighting moves, in the days when they had to be good enough to protect a man's life. Those forms were created with the real weapons of the day. If you take that form and train with a light, flippy sword, just for the effect and artistic look of the thing, you have a sword dance. That's okay, if that's what you want. I really enjoy watching the flexibility and grace of an artistic form performance. It's an art in itself and I admire people who can make such a beautiful job it it.
.... but don't call it swordsmanship. Don't try to make out it's historically accurate, or that those movements are martially correct. To achieve martial correctness you need a real weight sword for practise. A wooden sword will do, but it's nice, if you can get one, to have an antique, also, a good modern reproduction. You wouldn't want to be using an ancient Chinese sword for cutting practice. Cutting is important for developing correct edge angle and control. Use a good quality reproduction sword for cutting and keep your antique for forms and types of training that do not use a target.
Look for more in this section as the Chinese Swords Guide continues to grow:
Martial Arts Insight
Martial Arts Insight provides unique online perspectives into the fighting arts as a way of life and for personal development.
If lots of people add their pieces, our combined knowledge and understanding will grow. Arts on the brink of extinction will be restored. The Chinese Swords Guide is a gathering place for people of similar interest and their passion. I'm inviting you to contribute what you have learnt and enjoy the research of others.
Please share it with us. It takes a long time to research anything from the past and your work will be appreciated by the Chinese Historical and Martial Arts community. Please share your area of passion and enjoy the contributions of others.
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...
Information on an Old Sword Not rated yet
I have an antique Chinese Jian. I have been told it dates to the Qing Dynasty. My question is this: There are, on one side of the blade, four Chinese symbols....