Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

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, October 03, 2020

The Chinese Saber

Today we have a guest post by Jeremy Thomas on the Chinese Saber, the Dao.

 Dao: The First Weapon of Kung Fu

"Cut pulling back,
 Cut pushing forward;
 Chopping the wrists,
 There is no enemy."

Most martial artists who aren't JSA (Japanese Sword Art) practitioners or smiths don't realize that the Japanese katana is a type of saber. If one were to seperate and classify a list of swords and sabers, it may look something like this:


U.S. Cavalry Saber

These are just two short lists of handy examples, but the general idea is: swords are for stabbing, sabers are for slashing/cutting.

Of course, there is overlap; swords have a sharp edge (or two) and sabers (generally) have a sharp tip. This observed, it's fairly obvious there is going to be a certain amount of overlap with technique between the two.

Which brings me back to the katana. 

When I started learning Lam Hung Pak Mei, I was mostly excited about learning jianfa. I thought, in essence, it would be most similar to the katana in usage. Little did I know, in most kung fu systems, weapons are taught in a certain order for reasons of progressive training. Even "little-er" did I know, jian is one of the most advanced kung fu weapons and is often taught late or dead last in weapons cirriculums.

What brightened this otherwise cloudy outlook was the dao, the Chinese saber or broadsword.

At that time, I knew literally nothing about it's use, forging methods/materials, nor history. I didn't really like the shape of it..

At first.

My very first lesson with my Sigung, Master Simon Lui Long Chun, we worked on daofa. Even early on, I could feel similarities in the mechanics of kenjutsu and iai, arts of the Japanese sword. Many techniques in kenjutsu ryuha (Japanese sword schools) are done one-handed, techniques known as kataté-waza (lit. one-hand technique).

Daofa felt exactly like kataté-waza.

One of the most common beginner's mistakes in kenjutsu and iaijutsu is the mistaking of trying to use too much power, or "muscle" cuts. As anyone who uses tools or weapons knows, you have to let the tool do the work. If one tries to "muscle" the dao (saber/broadsword) they will quickly burn up their ging, and the cuts will be weak and ineffective. Using different joints and points-of-rotation, one must use the centrifugal force created through large and small rotations of both the dao and the body itself. Using the off-hand, or empty hand, against the back, unsharpened spine of the saber creates a point of leverage to add extra speed (and thus, cutting power) to saber attack techniques. With any unserrated blade, it is always important to remember, deep cuts are made both pulling and pushing the sharpened edge against the target.

In our Lam Hung Pak Mei single saber form, our stepping is done "large", as in, we should cover as much ground with our steps as possible. The footwork should lend to the aforementioned rotations, moving as to allow the dao to "wrap" and "unwrap" around the body. Cross-stepping is often used to facilitate centrifugal force, allowing the body to rotate as the crossed legs "unwrap". This same footwork should be applied to "rotating" inside the opponent's range, when they are using a pole or spear.

To that point, it is wise to train the dao against an opponent armed with another dao, but training the dao against the gwan (staff/pole) should likewise be done often. Getting inside the longer range of the pole can require grabbing or knocking-aside the pole with the non-saber hand, which in real-time, requires a keen sense of timing.

This is yet another example of the principle we refer to as, "Beware the Empty Hand". In regards to training this principle, in this instance, the pole-fighter is learning as much about his range and attack/defense with his chosen weapon, as we are with the saber.

I'm very glad the dao is "the first weapon of kung fu. Coming from a strict Japanese martial background, the dao was a bridge between worlds, that helped me to feel more comfortable in a new environment, with a totally foreign art. In fact, the character for katana and dao is the same "刀".

Nearly 8 years later, I can now say the dao is my favorite kung fu weapon, and the one I practice most frequently. My students practice it frequently, as well; the Pak Mei Daan Dao (白眉單刀) form is an important form to my school, in particular. Because of the forms large stepping, it is one of the earliest templates I use to teach footwork. Holding the weapon builds grip-strength, arm-strength and encourages awareness. Lastly, Pak Mei Daan Dao was the first form I performed formally, in front of Sigung Lui, Sifu Aaker and the rest of the pai at the 2016 banquet. We put in a lot of time training and free-sparring with sabers.

Currently, I'm in the process of learning Liu Ye Sueng Dao, (柳葉雙刀), "Willow-Leaf Double Sabers". Two sabers are a great challenge, and one I'm enjoying taking on. The foot work for sueng dao is difficult, as is the "flowering", or double-spinning, but it is definitely a unique skill-set worth persuing. The following poem, or saying illustrates the different defensive approaches to single and double dao:


Single saber look hand,
Double saber look “to go”.*

(Look at feet, advancing or retreating)

On the field with archers, a single dao with a rattan shield (tengpai) would be a good set-up. However, certain positions and duties would lend to having two weapons in each hand, either of which can be defensive or offensive. On the field, foot work has to be consistently fast, at least until one can find cover from arrows and crossbow bolts.

Cutting high-speed projectiles out of the air can be done, but it's more trick than tactic, in my opinion.

A soldier or retainer skilled in the use of two sabers might be positioned as, "the last man guarding the gate"; abandoning all defense to protect his lord, employer or family.

The dao is a deep well.

The jian is an amazing and beautiful weapon, and a joy to watch in the hands of a master. That said, it can also be a joy to watch a beginner getting good with a dao, improving their confidence in other areas of training. 

Don't overlook the dao.

-- Jeremy


Joplin Pak Mei Athletic Association Contact Information:

To learn more about our school, about Lam Hung Pak Mei Kung Fu, or to contact us about scheduling training, private or online, please do so @

Joplin Pak Mei Athletic Association Facebook Link:

Joplin Pak Mei YouTube Channel:


Certified Pak Mei Instructor Jeremy Thomas Phone:


Simon Lui Pak Mei Athletic Association of Minnesota homesite:

Special thanks to my Sigung, Master Simon Lui, whom taught me the fundamentals of the dao, personally. Additionally, special thanks to Sifu Ruston Aaker for his invaluable teachings on both the subjects of dao and sueng dao. Thank you, Sifu.

Thanks, also, to Rick Matz @ "Cook Ding's Kitchen", whose been kind enough to continue publishing my ramblings.  


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