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 ~

Friday, June 02, 2023

Modern Han Dynasty Style Chinese Swords

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Kung Fu Magazine. The full post may be read here

For aficionados of Chinese swordsmanship, it’s a good time to be alive. Present day sword makers are reproducing some of the finest authentic replicas of historic Chinese swords that we’ve ever seen. Magnificent replicas have been coming from Chinese master craftsmen like L.K. Chen, Hanbon Forge, Shen Guanglong Sword The Art of Fire & Iron, among others. And these are live blades with properly tempered steel. Many are even making blades that are pattern-welded. Some of these masterpieces command prices over $25,000. Others are more affordable, only costing a few hundred dollars, just slightly more than the average prices for most Chinese weapons nowadays.

Several factors are contributing to this surge in fine swords. China has become more affluent in recent years, resulting in the flourishing of its cultural inheritance. Collectors are now recovering history thought lost during the Cultural Revolution and bringing it forward to share across the internet. Additionally, accessibility to better manufacturing tools has improved for China’s swordmakers. When I visited some of the sword forges at Shaolin years ago, they were doing everything the old-fashioned way – all by hand. Now makers have modern power hammers and CNC machines (CNC stands for ‘computer numerical control’). A CNC device can carve sword fittings to exact specifications from solid metal, which is a vast improvement to filmsysword fittings that have proliferated modern Kung Fu weapons ever since they went into modern mass production.

Beyond inferior blades, the bulk of today’s mass-produced Chinese swords are not constructed with fittings that can withstand the rigors of actual combat. Most sword guards and pommels are made from cast pot metal or braised brass sheets over wood. These can be so fragile that they’ll break if you drop them. And the blades are often just light spring steel, not tempered to withstand impact. Few are even sharp. The old blades don’t even compare to the refined beauty of pattern-welded steel. These newly made blades are gorgeous and built to cut, like any true sword should be.

Making the Cut

Beyond better sword making technology, another major factor contributing to the interest in more authentic swords is the rise of HEMA, or Historical European Martial Arts, as well as other similar reenactment groups. European martial arts weren’t passed down to the modern age in the same way that Asian traditions have been, however there is a significant body of literature and documentation. HEMA aficionados have been assiduously reconstructing history, and within that, sword cutting has become a popular pastime.

Japan has a longstanding tradition of cutting practice known as Tameshigiri. This is the classical sword cutting art where rolled tatami mats are sliced up to test the quality of the blade and how true your cut can be. The tatami mat roll is allegedly the best simulation of the resistance met when cutting human flesh. HEMA enthusiasts have made their own forays into revitalizing of cutting, appropriating tatami rolls and adding other cutting targets like pool noodles and water-filled plastic soda bottles, all to deepen their understanding of how blades really work. Not to be left behind, there’s a growing movement amongst some Chinese martial arts practitioners towards test cutting.

Beyond being constructed well enough to make a cut, themost intriguing quality about these next gen Chinese sword offerings is that they are historically accurate. Makers like L.K. Chen are now actively researching genuine archeologic examples held in museums and antique swords kept in private collections. By taking precise measurements of the originals, Chen is using a CNC machine to reproduce the exact proportions and details of swords that actually saw combat. His swords are working weapons, as close as the originals as most practitioners can get. And Chen challenges his clients to test his work by cutting. His website includes testimonial videos from practitioners all around the world as they cut stuff and rate the performance.

Surprisingly, cutting in Chinese martial arts is revolutionary. It's staggering to discover how many self-proclaimed Chinese masters of swordsmanship have never cut anything, or even worked with a live edged blade. The emerging trend of cutting with Chinese blades is a fresh shift and a solid step towards authenticity. Today Chinese martial arts are entering an era where real swords are available again, swords that are both cut worthy and based on authentic designs.



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