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 ~


Saturday, June 06, 2015

The World's Largest Miao Dao


Previously Jonathan Bluestein had written about the Brilliance of the Chinese Longsword. Today he writes about the world's largest Miao Dao. Enjoy.



World's Largest Miao Dao - A Review

By Jonathan Bluestein

The Chinese Miao Dao is a wonderful sword which has been gaining immense popularity in China and the West in recent years. Of this sword, its history, attributes, techniques and more you can read in the following extensive article I have published previously:



For me, when I began training with the miao dao, that was following years of practicing spear and staff methods. The spears I use are very large, 3.5 meters long (11.5ft), quite thick and heavy. Therefore, when I took miao dao into my hands, it was not long before the weight stopped being a challenge. Averaging mere 1-2kg (2.2-4.4lbs), they are usually heavier that a katana, but are not truly ‘heavy’ as a hand-held weight. While I believe that the normal weight of the miao dao is very functional and is key for performing with good technique, I sought something that would challenge me more and provide a good resistance training quality. This was when I began seeking a swordsmith that would make me a larger miao dao. The article of you is a review of my ‘quest’ to do so.



Picture below – a regular miao dao:





It should be understood that miao dao are already quite large by nature, bigger than katanas and certainly less wide-spread than them. Very few smiths outside of China make miao dao, and in China too it is just not as common as other types of swords. Therefore, it was reasonably difficult to find a willing swordsmith.    
 
When I wanted my project done, I simply googled things like ‘customs swords’ or ‘custom katana’, and began doing research on various smiths and manufacturers. I must have sent emails to at least 30 of those I thought were up to par, but less than 10 actually answered my letters. Of them, the only forge that was willing to undertake the challenge fully (for a price lesser than that of a small car) was Sino-Sword. It should be noted that the Japanese company Tozando was also keen, but their smiths could not guarantee that they would be able to produce a blade over 3kg in weight.


Below – master Fu Zhensong (1872–1953), with his famous huge Bagua Dao, which he received as a gift from a friend. He wielded it skillfully and gracefully to his last day. This had been my inspiration for the large miao dao:


Sino-Sword are from Longquan, which is a region in China well known for its swordsmiths. Much of the Chinese sword industry resides there. This company has been operating since 2009, and many Westerners have purchased blades from them.     
 
After much digging into Google, I managed to find over 10 reviews of their products. They seemed legit. Most customers were happy, and those who had complaints almost always received refunds or had their swords repaired as demanded. It also looked as if the quality of service and production was improving over the years (as Sino-Sword themselves indicate on their website), and I decided to give them a chance.


The task at hand was daunting. I demanded a 9kg (19.84lb) sword. I could not see his reaction on the other side, but I am pretty sure Mr. Kane’s jaw dropped to the floor at first. Let it be clear – no one orders such things, historically there were almost never swords of that weight, and it is even difficult to believe it will be wieldable. I even doubted myself of that last part. Despite this, Mr. Kane, whose English in exceptionally fluent compared with most Chinese, was very professional about the matter and took my request seriously. From that point on, our communication, spanning over 70 emails (!), was very good and friendly.


Mr. Kane initially believed that it will take their people 50 days to make the sword. It should be understood that with such a custom project, a group of artisans is involved. There is the blade maker, the polisher, the scabbard and handle carpenter, the bronze decorations person, the man or woman making the guard, and possibly a few other people. Therefore, the production is a layered and step-by-step process, and by no means an easy one.   

The original 50-day estimate made by Mr. Kane proved too optimistic. They do make most swords within 30-50 days’ time. But my project was something else. Because of the immense size of the blade, possibly the first one of its kind ever made, it was incredibly difficult to forge. The heat treatment in particular, which formed the final shape, was a delicate process. Their people had to throw away no less than 4 different blades, which came out bent or imperfect, until the fifth one came out alright. I know this for fact – I received images of those blades that were trashed later. That alone pushed the production time considerably.


The package shortly after I had received it:          








This did not mark the end of Mr. Kane’s headache. Over time, I made further customization requests that must have caused them lots of trouble.     
 
First, I wanted a special type of wood for the sword’s handle and scabbard. Sino-Sword do provide some 3-4 wood options, but I wanted to have something else. I did a week’s worth of research on wood types, and sent Mr. Kane a list of about 10 different woods, complete with their various names in Chinese characters. He went and checked around the area, but no one was selling these woods. Others, it turned out, were not fitting for swords, as their acidic nature rusts steel. I then located a wood sellers on TaoBao.com (the Chinese mother-site of AliExpress.com), of which I chose one that sold what appeared to be high quality African Redwood (African Padauk) for a relatively cheap price. Mr. Kane agreed that I pay for the wood and shipping (inside China), and they will use that wood. This was lovely, as I do not think they have done this before. The level of customization that company will afford the customer is excellent, no doubt. The wood lingered the affair more because of its shipment, and the need to let it sit and dry for a while before working on it. 
 
Secondly, I asked that the guard will be made with a classic katana guard design, known as the ‘Musashi’. It is said that this design and another were created by legendary Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. Frankly, I only chose it because it was aesthetically pleasing. Yet because of the size of the blade, which Mr. Kane explained would have to be enlarged to make weight as demanded, the guard also needed to be bigger. Adding to that, I requested a guard made of heavy cast iron. I was right to believe that such a huge blade will unbalance the sword in a major way, and a heavy iron guard will help in counter-balancing. This was also partly why I chose the African Redwood, which is heavy, for the handle (and scabbard). When choosing woods, it is also important to remember that they change color over time, with exposure to sunlight. The Padauk was orange-red when it first arrived to Sino-Sword, changed into casual red and will over time likely become dark, ‘wine’ red, which I find beautiful and matching black brilliantly.




The entire production of the sword eventually took 150 days, but was well worth the final result. The final specifications were:


Height: 7.8cm at the highest point.   Width: 2.4cm at the thickest point (near the guard).

Height: 138cm.   Weight:  9kg (without the scabbard).   


I believe I request a 135cm long sword, but the handle came out slightly longer. Miao Dao should match the height and arm length of the wielder. My small 170cm  (5’7) frame works best with a 135cm sword.


I did not request a fluffy katana rope (Sageo) to be attached to the scabbard, but it had been a great surprising addition to the design! 

To my surprise I can even comfortably carry the sword around by the scabbard holding the rope.




No blood groove was carved into the blade, as it was not intended as a functional sword, but a strength training instrument. Less holes, more weight.


Quite unintentionally, the design resulted in that the sword can easily and comfortably rest on its base on an even floor. The scabbard is wide and square enough to support it, and because the musashi guard has a V-shaped inward curve on the top and bottom, it also keeps the blade stable in this way. This is a very good by-product of the design, as the sword is too big to be placed on a traditional horizontal weapons rack. 





Back in the day in Japan, they traditionally folded the steel many times to remove impurities and refine the metal. Today this is not particularly necessary to have a good blade, especially if one does not intended to cut things with it, but I nonetheless opted for this option in production (just slightly more expensive) because it results in beautiful patterns on the blade. That, combined with a mirror finish, really do justice to this behemoth of metal.


I did not request that the blade be sharpened, but it is still somewhat sharp just by design. I did however want to keep my options open. This is why I requested it be made of 1095 steel. Swords are usually in the grading of 1050 – 1095. This indicates the carbon amount in the blade – 0.50%-0.95%. More carbon means the blade is harder (makes it somewhat more brittle upon impact) and prone to rust when exposed to the elements, but can take a better edge and keep the edge after repeated abuse. Because the blade is so thick and massive I did not have to worry about ‘brittleness’. However, if you care to order a sword which is not meant to be used for cutting, it might be a better choice to go for something like 1050 steel. A piece of 1070 steel will provide a good compromise between cutting ability, flexibility and durability.    







The balance of the sword is off, compared to a regular miao dao, which is usually wonderfully balanced. It makes sense, given the size. Yet it is not as bad as I imagined it might be. In fact, the balance is still superior to that of my large spears.  
 
The weight is more of a challenge than the balance point, especially when the sword is accelerated through the air. Such a heavy weapon quickly reveals which of one’s muscles are the weak links in the chain – something which usually cannot be felt with a normal sword, unless one is frail to begin with. During my first training session, I managed to practice the basics (jiben gong), but could not manage past the 5 minute mark. However, I am certain that within a month of training or so I would be able to (barely) make it through the entire miao dao form I practice.





The grip is more challenging as well. Because of the weight, Sino-Sword made the handle thicker than usual. Interestingly, what usually holds the handle inside the wood – two pieces of bamboo going through the metal, are missing from this new design. I suspect that the metal handle is fixed to the wood by screw or similar hidden within the pommel. Regardless, the handle of this high-quality custom work feels much more stable that that of the cheap training miao dao I have, which I bought for less than 100$ in China on my last visit in 2014. Here, the wood type also plays a role. Some woods are naturally more ‘stable’ than others, and African Padauk is a very stable specimen. It remains to be seen whether this thick wood handle would be able to contain and hold firmly in place the blade in the years to come. With my training miao dao, the metal is already rattling inside the handle. Likewise, the bronze fittings are expertly made and feel snug and tight around the wood, with no apparent movement, even under stress.
















For just 595$, I feel that this unique sword was a very good bargain. Though it had taken Sino-Sword 5 months to make, their patient and forthcoming customer service made time pass faster. Their willingness to compromise on many issues, some I have not mentioned, and trying to answer all of my demands, is greatly appreciated. They also made sure to send me pictures of the sword at each step of the way at my request, and change things based on my feedback.       

This is not a perfect sword. The blade had a few little scratches here and there. The bottom bronze fitting had a dent, which was likely caused by the rough people at the mail office (as Sino-Sword sent me pictures right prior to shipping they do not seem to have caused it themselves). It did end up taking quite a lot of time to make; and the blade rattles just a little bit within the scabbard.     
 
But overall, what can I say? One can hardly not fall in love with this piece of human engineering. The wood work is splendid. The blade is breathtaking. The colors do it justice; and the thing is just tons of fun to handle and play with. I would have never gotten such a fine sword made for that price anywhere else in the world, and as a matter of fact I was told by many smiths that this kind of thing simply “could not be made”. I am so glad Mr. Kane and his crew did not share that opinion.


Therefore, I would like to recommend Sino-Sword to the rest of you as a custom sword forge – if only for their kind service and beautiful final product, even with those little faults mentioned. I have received what I have asked for, and I am overall very pleased with my purchase.   


Final costs:   Sword – 595$. Shipping – 183$ (via EMS). African Redwood I requested they order – 60$ (after a 50$ discount for the wood not used).  Customs tax (Israel) – 158$  .  Total cost for the entire project:  996$ .  For possibly the largest miao dao ever made, and certainly the only one of its kind in the world today. 

The Sino-Sword website is here: http://sinosword.com/

Mention Jonathan and you'll get a $10 discount on your order. 

______________________________________________

The author of this article, Jonathan Bluestein, can be contacted directly at:  jonathan.bluestein@gmail.com . Shifu Bluestein is a practitioner and teacher of Xing Yi Quan, Pigua Zhang and Jook Lum Southern Mantis. These arts are taught by him at his academy in Israel, and also in seminars abroad. Shifu Bluestein is also a best-selling author on the martial arts. Be sure to check out his popular books:  Research of Martial Arts and The Martial Arts Teacher



You may also subscribe to shifu Bluestein's youtube channel, which is regularly update with rare and fascinating martial arts videos


All rights of this article are and the pictures within it are reserved to Jonathan Bluestein ©. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission, in writing, from Jonathan Bluestein. Jonathan may be contacted directly via email:  jonathan.bluestein@gmail.com

5 comments:

Blade Jones said...

I like this blade. I have loved Miao Dao for 30 years. I love the width (back to edge) most of all. I think the handle should have been oval. I also think there should have been a chisel point. As seen on a Katana. This cannot be overstated. I have seen them on some other Chinese long sabers and in illustrations in some of the old long sword manuals. Mind you, I understand if you bought this as a practice weapon. The excessive thickness of the blade granting extra weight makes it ideal for that. While some of this blade's characteristics suit Me others do not. That being said, it's all just a matter of perspective. I'm thinking of a combat steel, combat ready blade who's characteristics reflect that. The end result. the actual blade. Made ready for the function in which it was intended. killing. Except that it would be made to suit a few of My own quirky tendencies. All that being said, this is a thing of beauty.

Dan said...

Very impressed by your tenacity and follow through skills -which remains me of myself :-)
Thank you for sharing that extraordinary experience, AND a trustworthy Chinese factory, which otherwise I would not trust. Will explore option of ordering a "shinken" (katana) from them for cutting purposes -since Japanese katanas prices are just prohibitive... Best, Dan

Jonathan Bluestein said...

Thanks for the feedback Mr. Jones :-) This sword is too large to function as a combat weapon, so a blood groove and sharpened edged are not necessary. However, I will be ordering another miao dao from sinosword, this time of a regular size, that would have these features. I intend to use the same wood, by the way. The African Redwood was by far the best design choice I made, and it is a shame that it is not more commonly used for the craft. In China such piece of wood for a sword as the miao dao costs 110$, including inland shipping, which isn't a lot given the wood is exotic and imported. It might be possible to get it for even cheaper in the USA or Europe.

https://www.google.co.il/search?q=african+padauk&espv=2&biw=1366&bih=667&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=yP9zVdfIIaes7AbJ14F4&ved=0CAYQ_AUoAQ

Zacky Chan said...

Daaammmmn that's a big blade! Very cool. (Apologies for the over simplistic comment in relation to the great text preceding...but damn that's a big sword!)

Compass Architect said...

Mr. Bluestein,

Thank for the article. Good purchase

The African Redwood was a good choice regardless of the price. Conclusively, it is better to show positive respect to the manufacturer and let him make a few more percentage points of profit especially if you want him to do some more customization work for you.

In terms of business, establishing a positive relationship takes awhile. Screwing it up takes a quick moment.