The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Brilliance of the Chinese Longsword

We have another guest post by Jonathon Bluestein. The topic of this one is the Chinese Longsword. Enjoy.

The Brilliance of the Chinese Longsword

By Jonathan Bluestein

The purpose of this very long article is to familiarize readers with a uniquely Chinese weapon – the Miao Dao. During the 20th century, this sword has been pushed out the spotlight in favour of the much more popular Dao (Broadsword), Da Dao (Huge Broadsword), Guan Dao (a staff with a huge broadsword blade at its end), and the Jian (the Chinese straight, double-edged sword). Historically-speaking however, the Miao Dao was very popular on the Chinese battlefields, and nowadays it is regaining its popularity in various martial arts communities in China, south-east Asia and the West alike. The article shall first discuss the history of the sword, later its structure and utility, and at last its training methods, usage in the martial arts and the characteristics of it in fighting.

In the picture:  the author, shifu Bluestein, wielding a typical modern training miao dao. This is a generic model that was very common in China throughout the early 21st century.

The weapon’s history and name

Two-handed swords of various styles have a history in China which goes back over 2000 years. According to my teacher, late master Zhou Jingxuan, the first Miao Dao date back to about the 5th century. It emerged around the time when round hilt guards first became widespread in Chinese sword design. It was known by many names throughout history. Originally it was mostly commonly referred to as simply ‘Chang Dao’ (長刀; Longsword). Later in the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1644 AD, 1644-1911 AD), it was plainly called ‘two-handed sword’. At that time, it was also commonly known as ‘Mao Dao’ (矛刀; Spear-sword). Another name for it over the centuries (beginning in the Song dynasty, 960 – 1279 AD) had been ‘Zhan Ma Dao’ (斩马刀) – Horse Cutting Sword. An appropriate name for a blade which is big, heavy and fearsome enough to cut down horses’ legs and stab them to death. This may sound archaic, but modern Miao Dao forms still feature movements which can be used for such horrendous purposes, and the weapon can be demonstrated to easily cut through the corpses of large animals (this I saw myself on Chinese documentaries, even when the cutting swords were held by only moderately-skilled individuals). The sword was also wielded by cavalrymen, and when used in that fashion it was most often utilized for stabbing (rather than hacking, cutting or slashing). Since all of these names were used interchangeably, sometimes they referred to miao dao, and other times to very similar designs with some modifications.              
The modern name, ‘Miao Dao’ means ‘Sprout Sword’, and refers to the resemblance of a grounded sword (blade in ground and handle facing upwards) to that of some green sprouts. My teacher told me that the reason the sword began to be referred to by this name was confusion in pronunciation, with ‘Miao Dao’ sounding similar to ‘Mao Dao’. This error persisted and the name stuck.

Wielding nodachi swordsIn the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) there had lived a very famous martial artist – General Qi Jiguang (November 12, 1528 – January 5, 1588). Born into a hereditary military family, he came to hold a mythical position in Chinese military history and culture. During his lifetime and career, the Chinese army was busy fighting off Japanese pirates, and it is more than likely that at the time, Miao Dao and Katanas crossed blades on the battlefield. Indeed, in the 14th century painting below, dated before the time of Cheng Chongdou and Qi Jiguang,  we already see Japanese pirates (Wokou 倭寇) wielding what appears to be Katanas (this is also evident in other paintings of these pirates), and it is known that many of them were former Samurai (those who wish to read more about these pirates can do so here:  ). Qi was called forth to command the resistance against these pirates, who were attacking the cities of Zhejiang province (浙江省), which he eventually did quite successfully, partly by utilizing the miao dao as counter-measures to the very long nodachi used by the pirates.

Initially, in 1557, Qi trained 3000 volunteers to fight the pirates. The fighting went badly for them in the following year, and Qi reasoned that one of the chief reasons was that the majority of these soldiers were urban dwellers, who did not possess strong physical foundation for fighting. Henceforth, Qi decided to only train farm boys for the job. He further honed his strategies by inventing the ‘Mandarin Duck Formation’. This squad was composed of basic units of twelve men each, consisting of two rattan shield & sword men, one leader (carrying a flag), two with bamboo lances, and four with long lances, two fork (trident) men, and a cook, who also acted as a logistics man. They were to advance in that order, or in two five man columns dividing the weapons equally, but with the strict ruling that all acted to protect the leader from being wounded. Had the leader lost his life, during a battle that ended in defeat, any survivor in his unit was to be executed. Thus each man was drilled in the spirit of win or die. At the same time the weapons were specifically designed to fight the Pirates whose long bows were deadly and whose sharp swords could sever any Chinese hand weapon. In Qi’s tactics the shield was to take care of the arrows, and the bamboo lance, with its bushy branches intact, could slow down the onslaught and entangle the swordsman making it possible for the other lancers to dispatch him. The lengthened blades of the swords also accommodated for the long Japanese reach. The image above, illustrating the Mandarin Duck Formation, was taken from General Qi’s book military tactics which he wrote following the successful anti-pirate campaigns, in 1560 (age 32). The book was called ‘Quanjing Jieyao Pian’ – A New Treatise on Disciplined Service. Free English translations of this book are available online.   
General Qi Jiguang also famously issued Miao Dao swords to many of his soldiers when fighting the Mongols. Qi was only 22 years old (1550) when the Mongols breached through the walls of Beijing, and he helped defend the city. In the aftermath, he and others proposed taking the fight with the Mongols to the northern borders, to prevent such an event from recurring. The Mongol front was far from that Qi Jiguang had with the Japan, which serves to demonstrate the sword had proven much versatility in usage under different conditions and upon various terrains. 
Qi served protecting the Great Northern Wall from Mongol threats in the years 1568-1583. He repaired the Wall, built more observation towers (to serve as his early warning net), organized training centers, and concentrated on drilling cavalry and wagon troops. He thought that the Mongols, like the pirates, were strongest in their element: in their case, on horseback on hard ground. His defense strategy emphasized attacking the Mongols once they had either penetrated, or been allowed to penetrate, the Great Wall. Miao Dao were were issued to four types of squads:  Combat Wagon squads who used their wagons as cover, Baggage Supply Wagon squads, regular infantry squad which was similar to the Mandatin Duck Formation, and a Cavalry squad. Each of these had men wielding miao dao, which were at the time called ‘Chang Dao’ (Longsword). Usuaully, they were carried by bowmen and musketeers, to be used after the ammunition was exhausted.
Later in his life, Qi Jiguang wrote another book, about the Miao Dao, titled ‘Xīn Yǒu Dāo Fǎ’ (辛酉刀法). The words ‘Xīn Yǒu’ refer to the year the book was released in during the Ming dynasty (58th year of a 60 year cycle), and ‘Dāo Fǎ’ means ‘Sword Methods’. Together – ‘The Sword Methods of the 58th Year’.

The weapons of General Qi Jiguang’s soldiers and their opponents also tell us much about how skilled these men were. It is written and recorded in both Japanese and Chinese histories that during that era, the Samurai, Japanese Pirates and General Qi’s soldiers commonly used swords that reached the upwards of 200cm in length. A true battlefield miao dao at the length of 135cm, such a sword I own myself, weighs roughly 2.5kg. This means a miao dao or nodachi as long as 200cm should weigh over 3.5kg. Let it make this very clear – such a weapon is unwieldy for normal individuals in our time, even most well-trained martial artists. To be able to effectively fight with a sword so massive and effectively control it for many minutes, perhaps hours on end in combat, means that the Asian warriors of the period were exceptionally fit and strong. Each must have been an equivalent in ability to a superior, world-class athlete of our time.  

In the pictures:  Left - A samurai of that era, with a huge nodachi, which I estimate to be about 2 meters long. Note that the mass and lever of this massive weapon are further added to by the armor this warrior had to carry!
Right – Manchurian soldiers from the 1640s (a generation after Qi Jiguang’s death), carrying Miao Dao. Based on the ratio of weapon-to-body seen in this painting, I estimate the length of the swords to be 135-155cm – about the same as modern miao dao.                 

Much time had passed since the days of Qi Jiguang, and the Miao Dao was nearly forgotten. Its place was taken by the classic broader, shorter and more curved design of the Dao. Cold weapons were in any case undergoing a long process of being permanently replaced by firearms. Despite this, various miao dao traditions persisted, scattered across China.

A little later, but at around the same period (of Qi Jiguang) had lived another famous martial artist by the name of Cheng Chongdou (程冲斗 ; Also known as Cheng Zongyou 程宗猷). He was born around 1561 in Anhui province. He is said to have been called by a representative of the Chinese emperor to teach army troops in Tianjin when he was 62 years of age. Skilled with many weapons, he wrote a famous book about the usage of Miao Dao, titled ‘Dān Dāo Fǎ Xuǎn’ (单刀法选) – ‘Selected (most important) Techniques of the Single Sword’. In the book are also notably featured other weapons, such as a crossbow (being carried by the soldiers as he wields the Miao Dao) and a short dagger (which is depicted  as been carried passively or thrown at an opponent). The image to the left is from his book.

In the picture:  An image from Cheng Chongdou’s book, Dān Dāo Fǎ Xuǎn. The book features a lot of illustrations of soldiers carrying crossbows, together or without a Miao Dao. As seen here, the crossbow (like the musket) took a whole-body effort and quite a lot of time to load, and could not have been used together with the Miao Dao. At the time, a popular tactic would have been to utilize projectile weaponry from a safe position or shelter, and resort to an all-out charge at the enemy once ammunition ran out. It is interesting that in this book, the soldiers are often both archers and infantrymen, while in European Medieval armies there would have been a greater distinction between the two fighting classes. It seems that the crossbow, being easier to shoot with than the bow, allowed for more verasatility in its uses among the soldiers.        

In the beginning of the 20th century, master Guo Chengsheng (1866-1967) combined his extensive knowledge of Pigua Zhang (a Chinese martial art) with that he had of the Miao Dao, and created a second variation for the Miao Dao form (known as ‘Er Lu’ – Second Road), with the aid of his friend, master Ma Yingtu. Both the first (original) and second form are mostly closely associated with the techniques shown in Cheng Chongdou’s book, Dān Dāo Fǎ Xuǎn. Here is a video of my teacher, master Zhou Jingxuan, performing the Er Lu Miao Dao form:

As of now, I am aware of at least four distinct miao dao traditions still extant in China:

1. Master Han Yiling of Hebei province created a comprehensive martial arts style which he named ‘Cloud Demon’, and taught in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The curriculum included the practice of miao dao, which Han possibly learned in Tianjin from his Tongbei teacher, Deng Hongzao.

2. A lineage passed down within the Hui Muslim community of Xin Yi Liu He’s miao dao. In the 20th century it was passed down by Liu Fengming and his disciple Song Guobin, and notable masters of it who were likely still living in the early 2000s were Ma Zhiqiang (马志强) and Liang Hong Xuan (from Bengbu, Anhui province). There appear to be at least two long forms in this lineage. Routine one has 58 postures, and routine two has 64 postures. The tradition is called Wansheng Miao Dao after the Wansheng Security Firm. The Wansheng company, which provided armed escort services, adopted this sword somewhere between the end of the Ming dynasty and the beginning of the Qing dynasty and made it a specialty weapon of theirs. The miao dao were originally up to five chi, or 166cm long (blade 126cm and handle 39cm), with the weight of 2.5kg. This tradition now have a fixed length of 150cm (handle 20c, blade 130cm) and weigh 1.25kg. Unique, the practitioner will also perform with a set of three throwing knives attached to waist, which would be tossed in the middle of a form (the knives resemble the Japanese Kunai). This method was also featured in the Qi Jiguang’s book, Xīn Yǒu Dāo Fǎ.

3. The Guo Changsheng lineage, to which I belong:   Cheng Chongdou, Qi Jiguang and others in ancient times >>>>>>>>>>>>>>  Mr. Yang (18th century) >>> Xie Jinfen (18-19th centuries) >>> Liu Yuchun (19th century; instructor at the Nanking Central Martial Arts Academy. Was a master of Pigua, Tongbei and Miao Dao) >>> Guo Chengsheng (1866-1967) >>>  Guo Fengming >>> Pang Zhiqi & Wang Lianhe (20th century) >>> Zhou Jingxuan (in the video above) >>> Wielding a miao daoJonathan Bluestein.   |   Though Guo Changsheng’s teachings of the Miao Dao had been of traditional battlefield techniques, over time his forms spread across China, with the majority of people practicing them in altered versions, adhering to the mindset and framework of modern sports Wushu. Thus, it came to be that as in the past, relatively few people still practice the Miao Dao as originally intended. In our lineage, the length of the Miao Dao changes according to the person’s height, and the weight according to personal preference and ability. The handle should be the length that is measured between the end of one’s elbow and the end of one’s one’s outstretched pinky finger, on the same arm.

In the picture:  Guo Changsheng’s son, Guo Ruixiang (born 1932), himself a famous master. Note the closeness of the blade to the thigh as it passes in a circular fashion near it – a trademark of Miao Dao movements.       
The Guo family still manufactures and sells their own Miao Dao:

4. There might exist in Korea a fourth school, or several schools, of miao dao. A sword the size of the miao dao with an odachi-like design, called ‘Ssang Su Do’ (Double-Handed Saber), is featured in a few Korean traditions. It has been suggested that when the Chinese Ming Dynasty troops lent their assistance to Korea against the Japanese invasion, General Qi Jiguang's sword methods were taught to the Koreans. These were later adapted and included in the comprehensive Korean martial arts manual, ‘Muye Dobo Tongji’, under the Ssang Su Do chapter.

Physical appearance and design

The sword which bears the greatest similarity to the Miao Dao in design is strangely the Japanese Katana. This must be an uncomfortable piece of truth for the Chinese and Japanese, a large percentage of whom had been seriously resenting each-other (for good reasons) over the last few centuries. General Qi Jiguang even had the miao dao of hi soldiers made like traditional high-quality Japanese katanas – with laminated construction, creating a hard steel edge and more flexible iron spine.          
Some claim that the Miao Dao is the sword that inspired the creation of the Japanese Katana. This sounds reasonable given the fact that Japan had borrowed significant portions of its culture, art, philosophies and even its entire writing system from China. However, Katanas are evidenced to have existed in Japan already countless generations ago – from at least the 14th century (The abovementioned Ming Dynasty in which the Miao Dao became commonplace, was only established in 1364). This puts into question the former claim of native Chinese influence, and it is possible that there had been cross-influences in the development of both swords. Nonetheless, it is still claimed by some that the Miao Dao influenced the creation of the Katanas before that time, perhaps even as early as the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD).
I have also encountered claims that Cheng Chongdou, author of the Miao Dao book Dān Dāo Fǎ Xuǎn I mentioned earlier, was influenced by the Samurai school called Shin Kage Ryu (新陰流; ‘New Shadow School’), and that Qi Jiguang, author of the other Miao Dao book, Xīn Yǒu Dāo Fǎ, based his work upon a Japanese swordsmanship manual he acquired in battle. We cannot tell how much of this is true. In modern times, the body mechanics of traditional Koryu styles are extremely different to Chinese Miao Dao methods. Furthermore, the Katanas had always been shorter than the Miao Dao, and the substantial difference in both length and weight, as well as handle size, etc, makes for a very different wielding experience. Such things would be compared more thoroughly later in the article.            
Another important point to consider is that Shin Kage Ryu was founded in the middle of the 16th century (when Qi Jiguang was already middle-aged and Cheng Chongdou was a child). This means that for this styles to have influenced any of the two, it ought to have become very influential and widespread within less than 30-40 years – so wide spread as to reach the shores of a different continent, wherein it would be used by several people and influence two major military figures in a foreign army. While possible, this is unlikely. To add to this unlikelihood, Qi Jiguang’s book is said to have been written circa (1560) – around the time Shin Kage Ryu was founded, and at most not long afterwards. The comparisons drawn with Shin Kage Ryu seem to have been based on matching supposed similarities between written manuals, which is often a poor way to make such judgments, especially when the persons involved are self-taught on the art of sword wielding.  
I was told, in confidence by a martial arts historian whom I trust, that there is in existence a decent and authentic Japanese drawing of a very (!) notable Japanese samurai, a founder of a known system, wearing Chinese armor of his period. This would be a very clear proof that Samurai warfare was influenced by Chinese methods. Unfortunately, I was sworn to refrain from revealing, in public or private, who is the person in question and what was his style, because this information has been handed out in trust and secrecy. Other records of Chinese influence over Japanese swords arts also exist ( We know for instance that Ogasawara Genshinsai (1574–1644), the 4th inheritor of Shin Kage Ryu, lived for a period in Beijing, China, where he studied Chinese fist and weapons methods and also taught Japanese Bujutusu to the Chinese (this is documented, based on translations from ancient scrolls, in a book called ‘Legacies of the Sword: The Kashima-Shinryū and Samurai Martial Culture’).

In terms of metalworking, it is important to remember that Japan, unlike China, had always been scarce in natural resources, and especially high quality steel. This had forced Japanese swordsmiths to become more innovative in their art, and also significantly prolonged the time it took them to produce blades. These facts made the Katana a very prized weapon – the weapon of professional warriors (Samurai) and the aristocracy. Blades like the Miao Dao, on the other hand, could have been more readily made in China, and their commonality made them less valuable – financially, culturally, artistically and otherwise.           
The entire cultural perception of these weapons varies significantly. This would soon be illustrated when comparing their innate structural attributes and physical form, but can already be witnessed by a keen eye in the pictures presented so far in the article. For instance - above in the first image in this article, we see a soldier throwing the sword in the air and catching it (a technique still found in the Wansheng tradition). This type of action is unheard of in Japanese Koryu arts as they are practiced today. Not to mention the fact that Miao Dao forms utilize classic stances from Chinese gong fu – Ma Bu, Gong Bu, Hou Bu, etc – which are not identical to those used in Japanese arts. With regard to the significance of the sword to its owner – the Japanese Samurai often considered the words to be ‘his soul’, and would bow to it before practice. That type of near-religious practice is not something a Chinese warrior would do. At least, it is not something the Chinese have kept in practice into modern times.

In the pictures:  Above - an image from Cheng Chongdou’s book, Dān Dāo Fǎ Xuǎn. Below – two 20th century practitioners of Ninjutsu, of the Bujinkan school, help each other draw their Nodachi.

Historical documents teach us that Miao Dao were always fairly long – so long at times, that some varieties could not have been unsheathed single-handedly with ease when the scabbard is attached to the body, and to speed the process bearers would be aided in this action by their partner before or during combat. We see this in the picture above (though ironically, the swords featured in the image are in fact easily sheathable by a single person). At a greater length this would make sense, as the swords would be too long to be carried at the waist, and would have to be positioned on one’s back. At that position, having a friend to do the drawing for your saves a lot of time. This was also common practice with Japanese Odachi. Another solution for quick drawing had been to grab the handle and throw the sword directly upwards into the air, catching it as soon as it fully exists the scabbard and lowers to the ground. This method is recorded in the practice of the Wansheng tradition.      
Though Miao Dao lengths can vary greatly, one constant has been that they are always notably longer than most Japanese Katanas, and therefore not suitable for quick drawing and with a tendency for clumsiness at indoor fighting. Unlike the Chinese straight sword (Jian), these swords were not originally intended for dueling – they were first and foremost instruments war. This is important to remember for another reason. The Miao Dao’s greatest enemies on the battlefield were not other Miao Dao, but spears and staffs (AKA cut-off spears), because they had a significantly longer reach. The Miao Dao has the edge to cut through these weapons (and even harder objects), but that requires timing, skill and very specific angles. I shall go more into these things as the article progresses.

The length of the Miao Dao used in my lineage varies proportionally to the height and measurements of the practitioner. The handle should be anywhere between the length of one’s forearm and fist put together, and the distance between one’s elbow and the edge of the pinky finger. That is pretty long compared with a Katana’s handle, and has several purposes. First and most important, to make it easier to switch hand positions. Second, so a wider grip could be used – making for a more effective lever, and allowing for arms and shoulders to open more in movement (this is important for utilizing the structural mechanics of wielding a Miao Dao in the Pigua style). Interestingly, because the length of the handle reflects that of a person’s forearm and palm, and the grip slides along and changes all the time, training with the Miao Dao also coincidentally aids in learning to work with an opponent’s arm when empty-handed, teaching a certain type of sensitivity in this regard.              
The height of the blade reflects utility of action. A characteristic Miao Dao technique which we use involves an upwards slashing with the sword, following the drawing of a large circle. To increase effectiveness and partially hide the sword from the opponent’s field of vision, the sword’s circle is drawn as close to one’s body as possible, passing very near to one’s legs (the unskilled can actually cut themselves). Given that the blade is in this sort of action almost perpendicular to the ground in the moment before the upward slashing maneuver, it ought to be short enough to avoid hitting the ground, yet long enough to maximize potential reach. For a person of modest height such as myself, at 170cm (5’7) tall this makes the length of Miao Dao most appropriate for me about 135cm (4’4). Another member of your gongfu family, Etai, is about 196cm (6’4) tall, and his Miao Dao is proportionally longer.  Still, at the more common length of about 135cm (4’4), the Miao Dao is fairly close to the upper-end of longer Medieval Broadswords (~130cm) and is comparable with the length of traditional Claymores (120-140cm), while being smaller than most Greatswords (130-180cm). Interestingly, the miao dao and these European swords I just mentioned rose to prominence at about the same time frame in history, during the 15th century. Note that unlike their mistakenly stereotyped image, the ‘Chinese’ are not necessarily a short people at all (and respectively, their swords are not necessarily small!). Up north in Tianjin city where my teacher resides, many males exceed the height of 182cm (6’), and northwards to Tianjin people can be even bigger.                
The length of the Miao Dao, though suggested as limiting at times in close quarters within walls, has of course the advantage of reach, and the latter is not limited to offense. With a shorter sword, when another weapon is aimed at one’s lower extremities, one is often forced to crouched in order to parry, or jump to avoid being hit or cut (as common in Katori Shinto Ryu). The Miao Dao is long enough to defend these parts without resorting to such methods, and the body can be used for other purposes instead (though forward leaping, as opposed to jumping in place, does exist in the practice of this sword).  

In the picture:  A samurai with an Odachi. Note the bronze (perhaps gold) decorations on his scabbard – these resemble Chinese designs more than Japanese art of that sort.

Interestingly, the length of the Japanese Odachi (大太刀; Greatsword; also ‘O Katana’) tends to be the same as that of Miao Dao (sometimes much longer), though the former has never been nearly as popular as the Katana. In the Heihan period (9th-12th century Japan), the Odachi were rather common, similar in length to the Miao Dao, and was likewise carried on one’s back (rather than at the waist like Katana), and often unsheafed by two people. The handle though always maintained reminiscence to the Katana, with a tight grip. Despite the similarities in older samples, in many examples today we see that the Odachi’s blade is shorter and often more curved, and its handle longer, than those of the Miao Dao, which would call for significant changes in the way these two weapons are wielded. Both weapons were nonetheless used by cavalry. I speculate that the change in the Odachi’s design, as compared with the Miao Dao, may have been in order to save precious steel, and ease the forging process (which is challenging for extremely long swords using traditional Japanese methods). By lengthening the handle and shortening the blade, the swords still maintained its superior reach while on horseback. Also, a cavalryman has to change the reach of his weapon, but is often limited since when the horse is stationary, he cannot advance or retreat much. A longer handle, such as that of the Odachi, is useful for adjusting one’s fighting range in these conditions. The infantryman would benefit more from the Miao Dao’s design, which gives more blade at the expense of an extended hilt.

Odachi practice is very rare, but still survives among some Koryu schools in Japan. The Kôden Enshin ryu Ken-Pô school, for instance, still has people practicing with this weapon. Their Odachi is much larger than a standard Miao Dao, and its wielding appears vastly different. The length itself justify the different usage, more so than the weight, since it prevents the wielder from passing the blade close to the floor. While Miao Dao could potentially be used indoors at times, despite their clumsiness in such an environment, the Enshin ryu shinken are simply too long.               
Another koryu school, Shin Muso Hayashizaki ryu, interestingly preserved a tradition of Battou-jutsu (Iai-jutsu) using Odachi of similar size to modern miao dao. This tradition is quite different to Chinese miao dao usage and features very intricate close-range fighting tactics with this long weapon. Some Shin Kage ryu practitioners also still preserve odachi fighting methods (reminding that this is the school that is claimed by some to have been related to mutual Sino-Japanese longsword evolution). An additional school that kept similar traditions is Kage ryu (unrelated to the predecessor of Shin Kage ryu).    
All that being said, there are Odachi which feature almost identical design to the Miao Dao. By the beginning to middle 17th century though, the Japanese governments forbade the production of blades above a certain length. From that century onwards the Odachi almost became extinct, and endured mostly as a religious artifact in various shrines as a symbolic prayer to gods for gods of war. Most of the original blades were either lost in time, purposely destroyed, or cut to length to fit the new laws.

In the pictures:  Top – Japanese Odachi (from – a wonderful weapons shop). Bottom – Miao Dao.

In the picture:  A classic old Chang Dao (‘longsword’). Examine the most notable differences:  Existence of a large round pommel-ring. Different guard design. Handle cylindrical rather than elliptical. Blade becomes thicker towards the end. The top (unsharpened) part of the blade is thinner than in the Miao Dao.

For the Miao Dao, a greater length also equals a greater weight, and the historical weight of the battlefield miao dao had been 2.5kg (without the scabbard; as recorded in the tradition of the Wansheng Security Company). Modern miao dao tend to weigh around 1-1.5kg, which is more manageable for training. Personally, I own a regular miao dao of a 2.5kg weight, and a strength-training special custom-made piece which weighs 9kg.   
It would be a mistake to simply compare the weight of two swords as it appears plainly on scales, though. It tells one nothing of their balance and handling. Most battlefield weapons, even the huge Chinese great spears, do not feel too ‘heavy’ when held in place or in one’s hands for a few moments. The weight of a weapon becomes significant only after one has trained with it for a while in a given session, and especially following its swinging with the true intent of causing harm.   
A weight difference of mere 500 grams (17oz) can make for a huge difference when having to swing a weapon for a while with full force (because of the lever and momentum). This any Western Boxer knows well, as even heavy training gloves rarely weigh more than 470 grams (16oz). Katanas do not tend to exceed 900 grams (2.1lbs, 34Oz), while the Miao Dao can easily top 1400 grams (3.1lbs, 49Oz). There is therefore usually more than a 500 gram (17Oz) difference in weight between the two (comparison is for swords without the scabbard). The Japanese Odachi though can weigh as much as a Miao Dao and more.          
What the Miao Dao earns in powerful momentum with its weight, it loses in agility to the swift katana. It takes much greater skill and strength to wield the Miao Dao as quickly and accurately as its Japanese counterpart. Knowing this, the Miao Dao is understandably less evasive and more confrontational, as due to its length and weight, it is more challenging for its wielder to bounce the blade around the opponent’s attacks. The latter option exists, but is favoured to a lesser degree.
Unlike its length, the general shape of Miao Dao tends to remain constant. The curve is slight, similar to classical katanas. One does not see overly-curved Miao Dao. Some Chang Dao variations exist which are completely straight. It would have been interesting to see a more curved Miao Dao, as such a novelty may come to combine the strategies of both this weapon and the Chinese Dao.

One interesting design choice for the Miao Dao is the handle material, which is most commonly mildly-smooth wood. This differs greatly from the traditional emphasis in the design of katana handles, which stress a firm grip, with anti-sliding folds & crevices and usage of materials like leather, woven rope and dried stingray skin.         
Here too we are hinted to the differing functionality of these swords. The Katana, which at its later development was mostly thought of as a dueling weapon, is meant to end a fight with one or two blows, requiring a firm grip for a single decisive action. The Miao Dao, a battlefield weapon, assumes that if you remain alive, you would be fighting for quite some time, and would be changing your grip a lot throughout. It is also possible that in China, given that the greater part of the country does not border the ocean (more common in Japan), something like a stingray was not in the thoughts of many sword designers. But in any case, this is more of a functional choice.      

Apart from the length of combat, the Chinese two-handed weapons in general tend to normally show more favour than their Japanese counterparts for a sliding of hands across the gripping surface (a preference also maintained with staffs and spears of all sizes). Our Miao Dao in particular, which is heavily influenced by staff techniques (and vice-versa), is fond of this mechanism. Too rugged a grip is therefore considered a limiting factor, and wood is a more forgiving material in this respect. Anyone who shall get a hold of a traditional, well-made Katana will feel that it is almost impossible to slide the grip like one could do with a staff, which is exactly what the makers of this sword intended. Perhaps, the grip may solve the riddle as to whether there had truly been a Japanese influence on Chinese methods. Wherein ancient Miao Dao techniques and body methods similar to what is being used today, it would have been impossible for it to have a grip like that of the Katana. The opposite is also true – if the grip was identical to that of modern Katanas, then the ancient Miao Dao could not have been used in the same fashion as it is utilized in modern times.

In the picture:  Classic Katana hilt designs. All three show a favouring of a firm grip over maneuverability of the palm across the hilt. Notice the beautiful carvings intertwined with the rope. These are never found on traditional Miao Dao, even though the Chinese are no strangers to the art of miniature carving, and such wondrous items are still extremely popular in Chinese markets today.

The blunt upper section of the blade (‘Mune’ in Japanese) is often thicker than in Katanas, and sometimes rounded. This is no arbitrary choice. This part of the sword is commonly used to strike down an enemy, parry his weapon or even break it. When using the Miao Dao in this fashion, it can resemble a medium staff in its mechanics. Unlike with European swords, a pommel at the butt of the handle is uncommon nowadays (attribute shared with Katanas), but may have been more common in the past. Metal rings are sometimes present instead, but are actually detrimental to the appropriate execution of some techniques as they make the gripping of the tip of the hilt more cumbersome.

Generally speaking, the Chinese seem to have not considered their Miao Dao as fine works of art. Most of them are plain and boring in appearance – nothing like the colorful and alluring Japanese Katanas. The Hada (grain of the blade) is most often absent. The Tsuba (hand guard) is dull and uniform, and has no holes in it or carvings on it. At most it may match in colour the butt of the sheath and that of the handle. The sheath itself is tied with a simple rope and bears little decoration, if any. Here is not an artistic sculpting in wood and steel or the carbonized soul of the warrior. Here is found a metal instrument for the sole purpose of killing.

From the standpoint of medieval European swordsmanship, the Chinese and Japanese hand guards may seem too small or even poorly designed. But it is their size and circular shape which allows them to support well the top section of the upper gripping palm, and serve as pivoting point to lean against when maneuvering the blade. A cross-shaped guard like that of a Claymore, Greatsword or Broadsword may be more efficient in stopping an incoming blade, but offers less of a pivoting lean, and can possibly interfere with some Miao Dao techniques that require tight angular shifting of the hands and blade. It is therefore a matter of give and take – some functionality is always lost for another useful trait.   


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Methods of training

The Miao Dao is primarily practiced either with solo movements and combinations or with a long form. Usually, one would learn the solo drills first, then the form, and after a period of training the form diligently will also carefully practice applications with fellow students. Sparring is exceedingly dangerous to attempt, even with wooden swords. A weapon whose original purpose was to cut through horses with heavy and powerful strikes is not akin in its movements to a Kendo Shinai, which seeks to score points and is constantly probing around like a housefly looking for sugar. I am not familiar with fixed partner drills with the Miao Dao, although with wooden version is it easy to adapt the common staff and spear ‘push-hands-like’ drills to be used with this weapon.

Like other Pigua movement forms (Tau Lu), the Miao Dao form is geared towards the 1 and a half minute mark, when practiced at full speed; emphasizing solid anaerobic endurance and a very rapid pace. The form as demonstrated by master Zhou earlier in the article lasted some 65 seconds, rather than 90, since he purposely omitted a few movements along the way, and had performed it faster than most people can.                 
The length of this form is characteristic of Chinese martial arts, but not so of Japanese (including Samurai) arts. Its intensity reflects the needs and calling of warfare, while the shorter kata practiced in Japanese Koryu styles mirror the reality of life and death duels with swords, engaged by professionals, in which the victor is usually decided more quickly. These are of course generalizations, and there are many exceptions. However, we still see that the originators and inheritors of the arts had differing fighting concepts in mind.
Though traditionally the way to practice the Miao Dao form is at either ‘walking speed’ or as one would fight in combat (90~ seconds per repetition), I personally believe that the practitioner can greatly benefit from very slow and intentional practice. Because of my background in Xing Yi Quan, I take care to practice almost everything I know at a rate which would put the common turtle to sleep. A long form such as that used with the Miao Dao can easily be stretched to over 4 minutes. Experience has taught me that this is the best method for gaining a deeper understanding and true control of whichever movement in the martial arts one chooses to practice.

The Japanese schools have traditionally been keen on cutting practices for the testing of blades. Once, the Samurai would volunteer to cut the heads and limbs of criminals (dead or alive), or simply find a good opportunity to kill someone. Later, it became more common (to this day) that Japanese schools would test their blades against rolled-up tatami mats or bamboo – both said to mimic well the feeling and difficulty of cutting through human flesh and bone. The cutting in itself is a science in the Japanese schools, which is taught to perfection, and concerns many minute details of execution and post-cutting examination. I am not aware of similarly organized ‘testing protocols’ in the Chinese arts (or with the Miao Dao for that matter), though the Chinese would also occasionally test blades by cutting through bamboo like the Japanese (tatami mats are uncommon in China). I was informed, however, that shifu Scott M. Rodell have written a book on the subject, titled ‘A Practical Guide to Test Cutting for Historical Swordsmanship’, and perhaps he has researched the matter more thoroughly.

Characteristics of practice and application
Generally speaking, the Miao Dao is a distinctly Chinese weapon. The stances used in training and fighting are classical stances from traditional Chinese martial arts, with no exceptions. The basic frontal-cutting stance is neither Gong Bu (Bow Stance) or Ma Bu (Horse Stance), but a stance in which the most of the weight is on the rear leg. Several variations could be used. I favour Xing Yi’s San Ti stance (70% of weigh on rear leg, rear foot at 30-45 degrees, front foot pointing straight ahead). Other use Baji Quan’s 60-40 stance, with both feet on the same line and pointing at 45 degrees. When charging at full speed, the stance is often shifted into Hou Bu (Monkey Stance), with most of the weight on the front leg, and about 10% of it on the rear foot, which is either at the back or should-width apart from the other.        
Why are these stances important? Because when charging with the Miao Dao, the front foot would move first, the legs would cross very close to each other, and the stepping would be springy and agile. To allow for this mechanism, which is identical to ‘Chicken Stepping’ in Xing Yi Quan (not to confuse with the same name in XinYi LiuHe Quan), the rear leg should be ‘charged’ with weight, and the front leg ‘empty’ enough to advance comfortably from a stationary position. Then when no longer stationary, it Is easier throwing the weight from leg to leg, using Hou Bu. In other words – charging instantly with the Miao Dao is difficult to do when one has a 50-50 weight distribution between the legs (Ma Bu) or when most of the weight is on the front leg and one is using a long frontal stance (Gong Bu). The same advantage is used for withdrawal of one’s leading foot and evasion when another weapon has targeted one’s front leg.       
Nonetheless, from said positions, it is also common to lean the weight forward momentarily in order to increase one’s reach with the sword and be able to stab or cut a retreating or evading opponent. This would be seen later down the article in the description of the movement ‘Dian’.         
Ma Bu is also used, but primarily when the blade is transitioning and slashing from side to side with very specific techniques. I have seen practitioners on internet videos standing in ‘ma bu’ with their toes pointing sideways. That is a Karate ‘Sumo Stance’, or ‘Shiko Dachi’. A correct Ma Bu has both feet parallel. In the case of the Miao Dao, the width of this stance reflects more the needs of the moment – it is less important, in the context of the form itself, how low the stance is (though a lower Ma Bu in training is always favourable in terms of developing good skills).

In the picture:  My teacher, master Zhou Jingxuan, in a ‘ready’ stance. He is slightly leaning forward as this is a part of a demonstration for a particular technique which immediately followed.

I once read an article in which a person stated, when comparing Japanese Katana and Western Rapier fencing: “A long lunge (with a rapier) can strike a lethal hit from well outside the effective distance of a man with a long cutting sword”. This is not the case with the Miao Dao, which not only contains in its arsenal the affective combination of the Gong Bu stance and thrusting, also has the advantage of a very long handle to aid these mechanics and drive the blade well into its target. Then again, without solid prior foundations in empty-handed stance work, it would be difficult to hold a low and stable ‘lunge’ position with a weapon as heavy as this.

The Miao Dao’s blade is more flexible than it seems. It takes well to vibration, and those skilled in issuing power from a short range (cun fa jin) can use this skill to an extent with the Miao Dao. This is useful when the Miao Dao clashes and is pressed against another weapon for more than a second. Then after gaining an advantage through sensitivity, a sudden issuing of explosive power, to which is added a small circular movement, would send the opponent’s weapon flying far enough to allow an opening for stabbing, cutting or slashing. The blade can also effectively parry sideways with explosive power issued into it, and those trained with the Chinese large spear would feel at home with such a technique.

The Miao Dao in my lineage has a very close relationship with the eyebrow-level staff (Qi Mei Gun). As the name suggests, the staff is matched to the height of the practitioner’s eyebrows. In Pigua it is better known by the name of its form – Feng Mo Gun – ‘Crazy Demon Staff’. The Miao Dao is nearly as long as this staff, and the height of both is limited just to the extent of preventing them from touching the ground while rotating them next to one’s body, whilst still keeping an effective range.               
The two weapons share so many similarities, that after 2 years of practicing Feng Mo Gun well (and quite a few years of practicing Xing Yi spear prior), I was able to learn and practice ‘decently’ the Miao basics and form within a single week. The mechanics are that similar.         
Both staff and sword carry the ‘whipping’ flavor of Pigua into their movements. These objects may be solid, but the body which wields them is pliable and agile. It is interestingly easier to ‘whip’ with a weapon than with only one’s body, as the added weight at the edge pulls on one’s limbs, forcing the body to be thrown. Therefore, Pigua features a rare scenario in which, at least in my opinion, its weapons practice is easier and less physically demanding than its empty-handed practice. With the latter, one does not have a weight to counter the whip, so all of one’s core muscles have to work extra-hard to control the abundant momentum.         
These common whipping mechanics also mean that the Miao Dao works through the Pigua principle of “a pearl in a jar”. It is said that the power manifestation in Pigua should be like the continuous flowing motion of a pearl spinning in a jar. This is a very interesting concept, which sets Pigua apart from other arts. In Taiji Quan, it can be said that one uses listening power (Ting Jin) in order to sense a weakness in the opponent's structure. In Xing Yi Quan, the practitioner can use subtle circles, vibrations and explosive powers in order to shock the opponent and penetrate his defenses. In Aikido, one attempts to unite with the momentum of his opponent, blend with it, and then lead it. Pigua is much more violent. It is like a tornado. It generates an immense momentum, passes through the opponent, and sweeps everything it touches with big swinging, coiling attacks. The momentum keeps rolling, and this is a theme in all Pigua movements and forms, including the Miao Dao’s. With the sword in hand, the practitioner would use the added weight as a guide for his body, and follow the momentum of the sword into the next movement.       

In the pictures:  Master Ma Juxiang (马俊祥), student of Guo Ruixiang (son of Guo Changsheng), demonstrating the flowing momentum of Pigua in the Miao Dao form.

Sometimes, the Miao Dao would be extended further to slash or stab with just one arm holding it. This helps speed one’s momentum and gain some distance, and reveals an interesting aspect of Miao Dao gongfu – that it can in fact be wielded single-handedly with many of its techniques. The two-handed grip simply provides more power and stability when the sword makes contact.   

In both Feng Mo Gun and Miao Dao, the hands are ‘alive’ – switching positions and places quite a lot and often. The rear of one’s palm is also used for stabilizing the handle, as well as rotating it. Because the Feng Mo Gun is a single piece of wood, the hands commonly slide along much of its length. While using the Miao Dao, the hands usually move along a much smaller cross section. The rotation of the handle often feels like rotating a volleyball in one’s hands. The handle itself is a straight line, but it is constantly drawing circle, as if it had been a bridge between two opposing sides within a ball. These medium-sized rotations lend themselves well to people who have practiced Internal martial arts, who may find this sword’s mechanics easier to comprehend than others.

In Japnese Koryu styles, it is more common than with the Miao Dao to step off the line of attack. This works well for the Miao Dao two when fighting against a slower weapon, such a big spear. Against smaller weapons though, while the Miao Dao can be evasive like the, it prefers a head-on collision with small circles used to divert, rather than going around the blade of the other person. This preference, which involves sticking to the opponent’s weapon, is more characteristic of Chinese martial arts, and shows Pigua’s inclination to ‘roll’ one’s momentum unto another like an overbearing wave. It is enabled by the weapon’s heavier weight and greater length, and also due to its use of sophisticated body mechanics (‘shen fa’) and the Dan Tian. Sticking to the opponent’s weapon, especially the spear, with one’s Miao Dao, is meant to reach the body while keeping the opponent ‘in check’, and preferably cutting his fingers on the way. This is demonstrated nicely in the following three images, featuring my teacher, master Zhou Jingxuan:

Along with sticking, other characteristic techniques are sideways slashing - usually diagonal and not horizontal, and upward or downward cutting, with the weapon passing very close to one’s body and centerline. When coming up from below, this assures the opponent would have a more difficult time assessing the incoming sword’s distance and length, as it seems to be a part of your own body. Whichever technique one may use, the sword does not ‘stop’ at the target or slightly past it, buy continues with its momentum for what may be otherwise considered ‘an overkill’. This requires that the practitioner be able to recycle large-scale momentum shifts – something which Pigua’s empty-handed practice develops.   

Wing Chun’s notion of “the fastest way between two points is a straight line” does not apply to the Miao Dao (and neither to Pigua Zhang for that matter). This weapon excels at cutting and slashing more so than stabbing, and requires angular momentum. All of its techniques involve circles (stabbing included), which are more commonly large, and the weapon is always in a process of drawing a curve of one kind or another.

In the video:  Master Zhou is showing how Pigua ‘Gua’, or ‘Hanging power’, can be used with the Miao Dao to entangle an incoming weapon’s momentum with one’s own.

Fighting methods

It is impossible and uncalled for to specify here all of the actual methods, so I would only be writing of a few of them in order that readers could gain some perspective.

One very common technique is Dian (点). It means ‘to Dot’ – like the action of using a brush to abruptly and gracefully place a dot on a canvas while reaching from afar. It has the feeling of trying to shoot a basketball into a very far hoop, with one’s entire body and intention extending from within towards the target, sending the power through the back. The hands send a wave which travels through the spine in a very noticeable manner (unlike its more refined variation in arts like Southern Mantis, Xing Yi and Bagua). The wave snaps at the tip of the blade like a whip, with the final ‘snap’ provided for by the rear palm, which grabs the end of the handle.     
Below is shown one variation of Dian, with Zhou shifu leaning his weight unto the front leg. Another variation would be to go into an empty stance (most of the weight on the rear leg) while leaning over and above. The latter variation is very reminiscent of empty-handed movements in Pigua and Tongbei.

Another trademark Miao Dao technique is ‘Pi Dao’ (劈刀), or ‘Axing Dao’. It can at times be performed very similarly to how one would execute the same movement with a spear, though the range of motion with the Miao Dao tends to be larger. The technique calls for a forward-downward cutting, like Xing Yi’s Pi Quan. Before the chopping, one may use an upward-backward motion for deflecting and lifting up and away the opponent’s weapon (Tiao  ), which is followed by the forward-downward cutting.               
There are generally at least 4 possible ways to use this. The chopping motion can be with either the blunt or sharp side of the blade. The deflection can be without flipping the blade (which sticks to the opponent’s weapon and keeps it close), or with a fast twisting of the Miao Dao, which tends to bounce the opponent’s weapon away. It is interesting to note in this respect that the Miao Dao can be used to smack someone without killing him.

Characteristically, the miao dao wielder is more offensive than defensive. It is a weapon for the brave. In the past, only the most courageous soldiers would be chosen to charge with it at cavalry, because such a task is so intimidating. The miao dao forms and methods therefore engage the practitioner in a constant charge against imaginary opponents. This is depicted well in the video below, in which master Zhou demonstrates a flowing, constant offensive:

In one online video demonstration I saw a Miao Dao wielder holding the sword with one hand, using the other hand to parry and stick to the opponent’s thrusting spear, and then stabbing with the Miao Dao. Needless to say, that person recreated his knowledge of Miao Dao wielding from books. It makes no sense to try and manipulate a spear with a hand, when you are already holding a weapon which is supposed to be sharp enough to cut through most spears, and is at the least heavy enough to slam it away, or stick to it effectively. An attempt to manipulate a spear with one hand, while the opponent is grasping it with two hands, can easily lead to the opponents sliding the spear into one’s body, or across one’s arm or palm, stabbing or cutting them in the process. The same people who had produced that video where also demonstrating techniques in which one evades the spear with the body, and then advances to strike with the Miao Dao. That in turn is a misunderstanding of Spear mechanics. The spear can be drawn back just as quickly as it was thrust forwards, and one has to keep the Miao Dao ‘checking’ the spear by being nearby to it or sticking (unless one is already very close to the opponent.

The Miao Dao is a sophisticated weapon in terms of the body mechanics and stepping methods utilized with it. Yet it is surprisingly straight forward and simple in its actual application, if its wielder has the skills for using it. Its brutality and decisive nature in action make the finesse and lightness of the Chinese straight sword blush in their relative femininity; its strength and expansive cuts put fear in the hearts of those who stand before it – even when these are merely students of a friendly teacher in a cooperative setting. It provides a very interesting counter-balance to the school of thought in European swordsmanship, and embodies in it much of the cultural and physical traits of Chinese martial arts. Its practice is a blessing, for it hones the senses, improves one’s perception of combat, aids in developing a truly whipping body and limbs, and is overall a delight and much fun to play with. May the chance come upon you, do not miss training with this exceptional instrument of warfare past, which had made a great impact on China’s martial history. 

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sunahbill said...

Interesting that Liu Yuchun was a miao dao expert but miao dao was NOT part of the curriculum at the Nanjing Guoshu Guan. A small group did practice it 'after regular classes' but according to Adam Hsu it was not that popular.

Abi Moriya said...

First I would like to thank Jonathan Bluestein for the article.
Regarding sunahbill's remark:
It is true that miao dao was not part of the curriculum at the Nanjing Guoshu Guan, however we can find some major figures who found interest in it.
Liu Yuchun himself learned the 'Yi Lu' – first road routine, from Guo "the swallow" Changsheng 郭长胜 “燕子“。
Two famous martial artists who learned the miao dao from Liu at the academy were Shuijiao teacher Chang Dongsheng 常東昇, and Changquan teacher Han Qingtang 韓慶堂.
Both moved eventually to Taiwan. I was fortunate enough to learn the Yi Lu in the 80's from Peng Hanping 彭韩萍, aka "Xiao Peng"(1962-1999) in Taipei, who learned it from Han.

Best regards,
Abi Moriya, Xingyiquan - Israel

sunahbill said...

Abi: My comment was not to detract from Johnathan's article - which I also thought was quite good but rather to keep people from getting into the same old and erroneous discussion about it and Nanjing. For example one sword practitioner claimed that he was teaching the miao dao form from the Central Military Academy at Nanjing as taught by Shrfu Han ( and which he learned at the Guoshu Guan). Han never taught at the Military Academy nor did the Military Academy ever teach miao dao. So the importance of the miao dao was exaggerated via (unofficial) association with the Guoshu Guan. BTW Chang Deng Sheng & my teacher were life-long friends. My teacher was the xingyi & military strategy instructor at the Central Military Academy - interesting connection

Abi Moriya said...

Dear suanbill

Thank you for your comment. The only person I can think of that matches your description "xingyi & military strategy instructor" at the academy is Zhang Xiangwu 張驤伍. Since he passed away in the 50's I'm probably wrong because you mentioned him as your teacher.

Anyway, as you wrote, the history of the miao dao at the academy was not the major topic, regardless the connection to my liniage.

Best regards,
Abi Moriya, Xingyiquan - Israel

Wang Guan Nan said...

There are some serious incorrect information in this article,and initially I was trying to be nice and informed the author Jonathon Bluestein directly via facebook, hoping he would revise his writing. However it turned into an argument on his personal page, and after I presented indisputable evident to prove my points he blocked me on Facebook. So instead of trying to show him the mistakes I'm just going to post it here.

First of all in the paragraph that discuss about name, he failed to mention that the original name for this blade is Wo Dao 倭刀, Miao Dao was a name that the Chinese came up in 1921, while Wo Dao was the name used since its adoption from the Japanese pirates by General Qi Jiguang, all the way through Qing dynasty, while there are other slain/nicknames for this weapon, its original and official name has been Wo Dao for most of its existence. This blade has never been called Zhan Ma Dao as that is a completely different weapon serving a completely different function.

Although in this article he sounded like he is open minded about the possibility that Miao Dao came from Japan, but in real life he completely dispute such claim, naturally this topic became the center of our argument. The author believed that Miao Dao was originally a Chinese weaponry with its root dated back to Tang Dao of the Tang dynasty, he also suggested that Tang Dao of Tang, Zhan Ma Dao of Song and Miao Dao of Ming are evolution of the same blade. He refuse to accept that Miao Dao which was originally called Wo Dao was influenced by nodachi from Japanese pirate.

While it is true that Tang dynasty warriors used a type of two hand swords, but that weaponry and its techniques were lost during the Song dynasty, and the earliest form of Miao Dao appeared in the Ming dynasty, indicating an obvious gap and chronological flaw in this imaginary lineage, the simple fact is Miao Dao has no real connection to any older form of two hand sword, it was a reinvention by General Qi Jiguang.

So where did Miao Dao really came from? During the late Ming dynasty, Japanese pirates were constantly raiding Chinese southern sea boarder. The central government sent the legendary general Qi Ji Guang to deal with this pirate issue. Initially Qi's troops did not fare well against the pirates, and General Qi once made a comment on this by saying "长兵不捷,短兵不接,身多两断!".which roughly translate into "(our) Long weapon is not agile enough, (our) short weapon does not have enough reach, and is often cut in half" This is a clear indication on how the design of the Japanese Nodachi being much more superior than the conventional weapons used by Ming troops at the time.

Take note that at this point in time, Ming troops does not have anything like a two hand sword, otherwise General Qi wouldn't need to make such comment. Which indicates the Ming troops did not come into battle with access to double hand sword.

This also proves that its incorrect for the author to say " it is more than likely that at the time, Miao Dao and Katanas crossed blades on the battlefield." Because firstly if Qi Jiguang had access to Miao Dao against Japanese he would not have said the above. And secondly if Japanese pirates were using katana, then Qi Jiguang would not say the Ming's short weapon does not have enough reach, since katana is usually between 90cm to 1m which pose no problem in term of reach for any conventional short weapon used by the Ming troops.

After many years of struggles, Qi Ji Guang eventually came up with something known as 鸳鸯阵 aka mandarin duck formation, where 12 soldiers form a collaboration, some use shields to defend, some use sharp bamboo, some use spears, some use short broadswords and one person using rifle. This formation is how Qi Ji Guang eventually defeated the pirates, not some miracle new weapon called Miao Dao. Why would he go into such trouble in training his troops with this battle formation if he could just simply give everyone a Miao Dao if it was indeed available at the time?

Wang Guan Nan said...

Although Miao Dao was not used against the pirates, it indeed was reinvented by General Qi during or after the battle against Japanese pirates, however its original name was 倭刀 meaning the Japanese blade. Its really not hard to see from its name that this weapon was not of Chinese origin. And unlike what many claims its original intention was not to fight against the pirates. If one read the text of Dan Dao Fa Xuan, the "bible" that gave birth to modern Miao Dao technique, its not hard to see that most of its description was about how to use Wo Dao 倭刀 against a spear. As far as I know Japanese pirates did not use spear as their predominate weapon of choice, in other word General Qi saw the value of Wo Dao against his own troops and decided to adopt it as a ace for future warfare against inland people who were still using conventional weapon. If general Qi actually trained troops to used Wo Dao against pirates then the documented techniques should have been more about how to counter nodachi instead of spear.

If the original name of this blade was Wo Dao, then there is no argument about its adoption from Japanese pirate. However the author then argued that the name Wo Dao could simply be a mistake in wording, as he sees no reason why the Chinese would name a blade using the character "Wo" " which according to him means "dwarf" and act as a derogatory name for the Japanese race.

Clearly he does not speak proper Chinese because "Wo" while do refer to the Japanese race, it does not have any connotation of "dwarf" initially and thus is not derogatory in anyway. Ever since the Chinese first learnt of the existence of Japanese race in the Han dynasty, they have always referred to them as Wo Ren which means people of Wo, it is commonly believed that this was due to the fact that in Japanese language "self" is called "wara", and Chinese took that sound and start calling them Wo people. One can not find any connotation of "dwarf" or "short" attached to this word in the text Shuo Wen Jie Zi 说文解字, which is the book of authority on explaining the meaning of Chinese words.

In other word Wo Dao simply means Japanese blade instead of dwarf blade, and I see no reason why general Qi couldn't name this weapon as such. There is no shame in learning the strength of your enemy and make it your own, and giving credit where due is a very honorable virtue. Its unfortunate that some modern Chinese martial artist value "face" and racial dignity over honoring real history.

My point can be further proven by text from the book Dan Dao Fa Xuan 单刀法选 by Cheng Zong Xian 程宗猷, its one of the most comprehensive guide that modern Miao Dao technique was based on. This article also talks about this book in high regards, however I highly doubt the author actually read this book, because on the first page it reads "余访求其法,有浙师刘云峰者,得倭之真传," which roughly translate into "I (Cheng Zhong Xian) searched for such technique, eventually found a teacher Liu Yun Feng, who acquired real teaching from Wo."

If this is not enough evidence, the next paragraph reads "今以倭刀为式,刀(三尺八寸)、靶(一尺二寸),则长有五尺。" roughly translate into "Now we use Wo Dao as the weapon of choice, blade (114 cm), handle (36 cm), total length 1.5 m " Here it clearly indicate that this weapon is referred to as Wo Dao aka Japanese blade by Cheng Zong Xian. Unless Cheng is illiterate in which case he could not have written this manual, otherwise I do not see how he could have mistaken Wo with anything else, the character Wo in Chinese exclusively refers to Japan, there are no confusion in that.

Wang Guan Nan said...

Furthermore, under the description of technique 8 and 9, it reads "此二势乃倭奴之绝技也。" Which roughly translate into "These 2 moves are the most devastating techniques of Wo Nu", here Wo Nu is a derogatory term referring to Japanese roughly meaning Japanese servants, take note that servant here does not mean real servant but is used to lower their social statues.

From the examples above, its easy to see that the original Miao Dao aka Wo Dao came from Japanese influence without a doubt, and everyone back in history knows about this. Like I said earlier the modern name of Miao Dao only came about in 1921. There are no official statement as to the reason behind this name change, but its highly possible that this was done in reaction to the increasing tension between China and Japan during that era, the Republic of China at the time was trying to promote national pride, and teaching a weapon system called Japanese blade surely does not match their political endeavor.

No matter why this weapon is eventually called Miao Dao, there is no denying in the fact that it was adopted from Japanese pirate. And I believe no Chinese need to be ashamed of such history. Its a great virtue to be able to remain humble and learn from those who were better than you, even if its your enemy. Its also a virtue to admit to a mistake when shown instead of blocking the person and pretend there is no problem.

sunahbill said...

Abi: Unfortunately you are confused. You are thinking of General Chang, not my teacher Col. Chang. Same sounding name, different characters for the name and different rank too. General Chang (or Zhang) did die in the 1950's and was NOT the xingyi & strategy teacher at the Central Military Academy. My teacher Col. Chang was, and he came out of the 3rd graduating class Whampoa Military Academy - you can look him up on the Academy website in Taiwan. He died approximately 17 years ago at the age of 91.



sunahbill said...

Abi: Here is a picture of my teacher from my facebook page with Chinese name, etc. on scroll behind him

Abi Moriya said...

Denis: Thank you for the correction and picture. Can you add col. Chang chinese characters ?

Best regards,

Paul said...

The use of a particular type of weapon will depend on particular situation. Japanese pirates in Ming Dynasty simply used a longer blade Japanese sword. A longer blade apparently made more successful raids. It was however not agile enough in Samurai open fights, and therefore not used as such. I believe the Ming army learned the Wo Dao because they needed to know the Japanese sword techniques in order to defend themselves better. (supporting reference 《單刀法選》Chinese Long Saber was Written by 程宗猷 (Cheng Zong You) during the Ming Dynasty, when the Japanese pirates fought with the Ming soldiers. He was taught by 刘雲峰 (Liu Yun Feng), who learnt Japanese swordsmanship (Kenjutsu) directly from the Japanese.)

I concur with fellow commenter that Miao Dao is Wo Dao. Needless to say Chinese martial artists would later add Chinese sword techniques to Miao or Wo Dao.

Miao or Wo Dao later became less popular because the reason for its original existence was gone. In the Republican period, a common double-hand weapon was Da Dao (大刀), which is a short-handle form of the traditional Kwuan Dao (関刀). The change was due to a change in the reality of battle field. Da Dao was a good weapon in close combat - against bayonets of the Imperial Japanese army.

Wang Guan Nan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Paul said...

It's a pity that Wang's latest comment was "moderated" away. To be fair to everybody, and an answer to Wang's latest comment (I hope it can be revived because it does raise an interesting point worth discussing), most legends in martial art are just "legends" or fictional, in modern terminology, it is called myth, PR or propaganda (some might even say "outright lies") depending on where one stands (to benefit from it). In HK, most people read such stories as mere (interesting) stories, afterall many martial art students are interested to be part of such myth. So, I say: why NOT? I have been repeatedly viewing God Father (1...etc)several times every year for the past X years. Why NOT? Documentaries are oftentimes rather boring.

One caveat: don't believe the God Father stories to be documentaries

Rick Matz said...

Wang's last comment was getting personal.

Paul said...

Rick, I can certainly appreciate your point. Having said that more tolerance can make discussions more interesting (and hence more viewership). When I did my MBA at college, there was (and still "is") always a disclaimer to case study: any comments made(however "personal" it seems) are for the sole purpose of learning only and do not reflect on any inefficiency (or deficiency) of the companies and managers concerned. Lively discussions ensured.

My view: In this particular case, your ruling is too harsh - unless you have been categorically asked by your guest writer to do so (which is not impossible). If that be the case, I will support your action.

Rick Matz said...

It's my blog. I rarely intervene.

End of discussion.

Rick Matz said...

Regarding comments that I haven't yet approved:

Drop it.

Compass Architect said...

Thanks Ms. Bluestein for the very informative article on the Miao Dao.

hermann said...

Reinvention or Japanese, you must decide for one thing, otherwise you are not stringent...
With due respect to your sources, which any sinologist knows, I believe that the 2-handed, one edged sword did originated in China, not Japan!