Often, when we speak of ancient martial arts and how it was used, we speak of swords and blades and other melee weapons. In China, there is of course a long history of swords and sabers. From the dueling culture of the Han (202 BC–220 AD), through the development of advanced metal working techniques through to the Tang(618 – 907), early Chinese swords were the envy of many Asian cultures at the time. As such, many weapons from this time were distributed to other nations. However, as time wore on, the invention of gun powder weapons for war and a reliance on long and ranged cold weapons, much of this development slowed or stopped in China after the Song(960–1279). By the time of the Ming (1368 to 1644), the tide had reversed and foreign weapons started to be bought and collected by wealthy and elite Ming era people.
By the end of Ming, the hereditary system started to break down, there were many rebellions and invasions throughout the land, and corruption and deceit were rampant with officials and leaders. It is during this tumultuous time that Qi Jiguang 戚繼光 operated and formulated his training regimen which he then published in the Jixiao Xinshu 績效新書(JXXS). Later, Mao Yuanyi 茅元儀 compiled his masterwork the Wubei Zhi 武備志 (WBZ). Much of General Qi’s writing made it into the WBZ, and so his influence is wide ranging even today.
The short section on the Dao is taken from Qi Jiguang and the Jixiao Xinshu(JXXS). Qi is a large contributor of the martial arts section of the Wubei Zhi(WBZ). Qi was of course an accomplished General and military leader, something Mao aspired to be himself. However, it is notable that when Mao was compiling the WBZ, he included three sections on swords and sabers. Qi himself, saw these cold weapons and being much less preferable to guns, and did not include much on the topic at all in his writings. What he did include was a two handed sword style he “obtained from the Japanese”, and the section on Shield, which uses the dao.
Qi’s Long Saber
Qi, like many in the Ming Dynasty, was fascinated by and held in great respect, the Japanese sword. During the early Ming, large numbers of steel swords from Japan were imported. The collectors market for these swords was fairly large. Connoisseurship of many things including swords and knives was widespread in the Ming. The Japanese swords and swordsmanship were already famous among the literate population. This extended into Military realms, resulting in a lot of cross pollination between cultures.Although much of this was in relation to the Incursions of the Japanese Wokou, there are records dating back to 1380 that mention the production of “倭滾刀” Wo Gun Dao, meaning “Japanese styled saber” clearly indicating that the fascination had been present before.
The style is taken from the “Kage ryu” (陰流 or 影流). The accompanying scroll is in Japanese script and Qi apparently only included drawings with no explanatory text. These are the drawings the Mao reproduces in the WuBei Zhi. Mao offers explanation and a little lineage to Qi’s saber style which he states was created in the “Xin You” period. Qi’s saber style has thus been dubbed “Xin You Dao” and was thought to be lost until it was found in the Korean manual, Muyejebo (《무예제보》 or 《武藝諸譜》). It is called “Ssangsudo” (쌍수도 or 雙手刀) meaning “double handed saber”.
The Two handed Sword translated below is from the Muyedobotongji (무예도보통지 or 武藝圖譜通志-MDTJ) . This is actually the 1790 expansion of the original Muyejebo (무예제보 or 武藝諸譜-MJB) published in 1610. The two handed dao was included inthe original work before the 18 new skills and manuals were added to create the Muyedobotongji. The MJB was written by a military officer named Han Kyo, and included 6 weapons learned from the Ming Wanli troops that had helped resist the Japanese invasion. Korea’s military might had declined up until the 1500’s and became rife with invasion from northern tribes like the Mongols as well the Japanese that invaded from the coast. The Japanese incursions of 1592-1598 made an impact and King Seonjo of Joseon (26 November 1552 – 16 March 1608) commissioned the techniques of the Ming troops be recorded. It is unlikely that the material came directly from Qi Jiguang himself, but many of the troops would have been trained by him. And the material presented in JXXS is included.
Kage Ryu-影流 or 陰流
There is some confusion over the number and lineage of “Kage Ryu” groups in Japanese history. 影流 which was founded in 1550 and 陰流 founded in 1490 are the two main roots to which modern styles trace back their history. It is likely that the scroll originates from the former, 影流. This school was founded by Yamamoto Hisaya Masakatsu in 1550. This style uses large sabers, much larger and heavier than their counter parts. These weapons are called chokan or more popularly, Odachi. This seems to be the weapon that Qi was interested in. Since his system consisted of shield and waist sword with javelin, and also long saber. The Chang Dao went on to considerable fame and popularity in the later Ming and was eventually added to the list of standard saber configurations in the Qing Dynasty under the name “Zhan Ma Dao”. The school today still practices with large swords some weighing as much as 3.15 kgs.
Another clue to the origin of this scroll is the first four pictures that Mao included in his presentation. The first four pictures are of Monkeys wielding swords. This is the strangest part about this manual. But some clarity is found in the origin story for the Kage Ryu. The story goes, its founder saw a monkey using a stick to get at fruit that was out of his reach. So the depictions of the monkeys seems more appropriate in this light. It is difficult to imagine what other reference would Mao be making to include monkeys playing with swords?
These questions need far more investigation. As with any martial art lineage, the Kage Ryu story is tangled with branches and hearsay. The difficulty in dealing with Asian texts, many of which are incomplete, or less explanatory we like can present challenges to comparative study. It is also possible, if not likely, that Genreal Qi didn’t “learn techniques” but rather simply commissioned the production of these weapons and devised his own system based on how he encountered it in the hands of the enemy Wokou.
The Chang dao 長刀
The Long saber is the product of and a perfect exemplar to the cultural exchanges of China and Japan. And it is probably the weapon that has been the origin of many the folk tales lore about Japanese and Chinese weapon exchanges. Qi was impressed with the weapon as he saw it used in the Jiajing crisis. Although the long saber is often cited as being used against the Wokou, it was not adopted by Qi until after the conflict. He did train troops in the use of the weapon in his northern campaigns against the Mongols and later his methods were used against the Japanese in the Korean conflict. Mao most likely had contact with some of these returning Wanli troops when he was younger and some theorize that this is where Mao obtained his Sword style presented in the “Jian” section of the WBZ.
This underscores the complicated relationship that Chinese and Japanese martial cultures have with each other. The exchange in the Ming Dynasty was enormous because of trade and conflict. However, this exchange was not new. Ma Mingda postulates that during the in early dynasties, notably the Tang, Chinese swordsmanship and sword making techniques were imported to Japan. By the time of the Ming, this flow had reversed its self. This is for many reasons, chief of which was the Chinese having abandoned fencing on a large scale. Much of these techniques found their way back to China with the Japanese incursions, along with their weapons:
Just as sword making techniques spread to Japan from China, Chinese fencing was exported to Japan. After a long time developing their techniques, they integrated Chinese swordsmanship’s core principles of “using the short into long, and swift vertical and horizontal” into their traditional systems. Chinese swordsmanship was later abandoned by China, a fraud like an ornamental picture frame used to make the painter look better. It was later recreated with simple and neat techniques, trying to emulate the characteristics of Japanese swordsmanship.
Compared with the general state of Chinese swordsmanship after the Tang and Song dynasties, Japanese swordsmanship was technically superior in many ways.Ma, Mingda馬明達. 無系列Wu Xi Lie. chu ban. ed. Vol. A113-A114, 武學探針Wu Xue Tan Zhen. Taibei Shi: Yi wen chu ban you xian gong si, 2003
All of this underscores a phenomena that has been mentioned before. At the time of these writings from Qi Jiguang and Mao Yuanyi, swords as a major military weapon were rapidly going out of style. Much of the techniques talked about during the time talk about how certain methods are not practiced anymore. Were it not for circumstances like the Jiajing Crisis and the literati becoming enamored with martial arts, one wonders what may have become many of these cold weapon systems. It was people like worldly generals and military minded literati that published books and made huge efforts to record these systems. As we see, these writings have huge impact on much of the Asian world back then, showing up in Korea and Japan through out the next 300 years or so. And the fascination with forgiven swords and systems also continued into the future, creating many inroads of intercultural relation and exchanges.
The weapon described in the text is the Chang dao 長刀. This should not be confused with the modern Maio Dao苗, Which is a separate weapon developed in the Republican era. This sword is the one brought by the Japanese to China during the Wokou raids. The Chinese were fascinated with Japanese swords of all kinds, even developing the Ming side arms on many features found in the Japanese sword. Qi Jiguang was very impressed with this weapon and decided to employ it with his Musketeers (gunman for lack of a better term). The dao being used after volleys and when the enemy is in close range.
The weapon described by General Qi had a five “Chi” blade. A “Chi” is around a foot in imperial measurement. The handle is one Chi and Five “Cun” which is analogous to an inch. That makes the recommended dimensions of the sword to be about 6.5 feet or 2 meters and change. That is a very long sword indeed. There is supposed to be a copper “blade protector” on the blade. This is not clear on the drawings in the WBZ or JXXS, but in the Korean MJB, the illustration does include a blade collar. This copper or bronze piece is to be 1 Chi long and be affixed to the base of the blade above the hand guard. (Ming measurements list on Great Ming Military Blog)
The one thing that stands out from descriptions of this weapon being used by Wokou, is the aspect of shining. It seems from General Qi’s description that the Japanese swords had a high polish on the blade. They would then use this high polish to reflect the sun en masse, blinding and disturbing the enemy force. This was also an intimidation tactic, like a taunt. But the large highly polished blades, shining in the sun is a report that is quite common when speaking of this weapon.
There is maddeningly little written by either Qi or Mao on this weapon. The entire entry for Dao in the WBZ is only two paragraphs long. The illustrations are not accompanied by any explanatory text in the WBZ or the JXXS. Qi did not even include the section on Dao in all of his editions of the JXXS. Later, he omitted them all together. This is part and parcel to the trend away from cold weapons like swords and sabers since the Song. Spears, shields, and archery coexisted with the advent of gunpowder weapons and incendiary technology, but the side arm and the more exotic dao and Jian virtually disappeared from the battlefield and from the training regimens of soldiers. Mao begins this chapter with an example of 8 dao types that had been recorded in the Song. He laments quickly that all but the “hand saber” methods have been lost. Only the “waist saber” and the “Long Saber” persist. But they do so despite martial development.
The Wokou factor largely into the development of the weapon and method by Qi Jiguang. Qi had encountered the Odachi or Nodachi used by Japanese Pirates during the coastal crisis. The scroll was obtained by Qi in some manner that is not discussed. Nor is it discussed where the technical method originated. This particular question has been core to the interpretation of this style. The only things that Qi Jiguang left in his writings, and thus, the only things included in the WBZ, are a hand full of pictures. Mao gives some background but nothing more and even refers the reader to the subsequent chapter on the Shield.
The pictures show one handed use in those from the WBZ, although the weapon is ostensibly a two handed weapon. The first few drawings are of monkeys with swords. This is presumably some reference to the Kage Ryu story of monkeys using sticks in the founding of the style. The 12 drawings are not accompanied by any instruction in either the WBZ or the JXXS. This gives us little original material on which to base any interpretation.
Also included is the Section on the Double handed sword in the MDTJ. The section was recorded in the original text from the time and is presumably the closest thing we have to a accounting of Qi’s method. The section in the Korean manual outlines a form. Names are given to the various postures and linked to the illustrations. These names have a much different feel than Chinese names for such postures today. It is unclear if this is due to a Korean translation or simply a contemporary manner of naming. The text is written in Classical Chinese and not Korean script as was the custom with such material. The set was ostensibly learned from the troops training in Korea at the time, many of whom may have been trained by General Qi himself. It is therefore, considered one of the few remains links to Qi Jiguang’s actual method for Long Saber. Although it is a set, it still can offer clues to the movements and mechanics intended in the style.
The “Wu Jing Zong Yao” (Collection of Important Military Classics) identifies 8 types of saber, and those with only small differences are not given classifications, but their techniques are no longer practiced or taught. Today, only the long saber and the waist saber are still practiced. The waist saber is useless without the shield, hence they are presented together, the long saber was practiced by the coastal pirates.
During the reign of Sejong [the Japanese] invaded the South East and there, the Japanese techniques were obtained. Qi Jiguang obtained these practices in the year of Xin You while at war and are recorded below. These methods have not yet met with wide practice, but the sabers themselves are uniform in construction but short and heavy.
End Dao WuBei Zhi
From Muyedobotongji 무예도보통지 or 武藝圖譜通志:
本名長刀，俗稱，用劔， 平劔。戚繼光曰；刃長五尺，後用銅護刃一尺，柄長一尺五寸，共長六尺五寸重二斤八兩。此自倭犯中國始有之, 彼以跳舞光閃而前我兵已奪氣矣。倭一躍丈餘遭之者兩斷。緣器利而雙手使用力重故也。今如獨用則無衛惟鳥銃亥仲切手可兼賊遠發銃賊斤用刀。本名長刀今呼雙手刀，以有雙手使用之文故也。今亦不用此也惟以腰刀代習但存其名耳。
The original name for this weapon is the “long saber”, more commonly referred to as a “practical sword” or a “flat sword”. Qi Jiguang has said: the blade should be five Chi long, a blade protector of copper one Chi long at the base of the guard. The handle is one Chi and five Cun long, making the entire weapon six Chi and five Cun long and weighs two Catties and eight Liang. The weapon appears at the beginning of the Japanese Pirate invasion of China, they leap and flash their sabers to intimidate my troops. The Japanese can cover in excess of 3 meters with one leap and can cleave an enemy in two with their sharp weapon and powerful two-handed attacks. It provides no protection by its self. But when used in conjunction with the musketeers, they may shoot the brigands from far away and use the saber when in close. Originally called the “Long saber” it is now called the “Double Handed Saber” as it is used with both hands. Today its use has been replaced by the “Waist Saber”, but the name “Double Handed Saber’ remains.
茅元儀 曰；長刀倭奴之制甚利于步。古所未備然中華古今注曰漢世傳高帝斬白蛇劔長七尺。漢書廣川惠王越（漢景帝子也）孫去作七尺五寸劔。後漢書馮異傳車架送至河南賜以七尺玉具劔 （以玉為琕琫之屬）。刀劍錄周昭王鑄五劔各投五嶽名曰鎮嶽。長五尺石李龍，（五胡後趙石虎字季龍）, 刀長五尺慕容垂,（五胡後㷼也）,二刀長七尺一雄一雌。則長刀之來亦舊矣。
Mao Yuan Yi states: The long saber was used by Wunu (Wokou) effectively on foot. This was not recorded, but, the “ZhongHua Gu Jin Zhu” says, in the legend of the Han Dynasty, emperor GaoDi Beheaded a white snake with a seven foot sword. In the “Han Shu” Prince of GuanChuan, Prince Hui (Son of the Han Emperor Jing, went on to make a seven Chi five Cun long sword as well. The History of the Later Han records the Legend of FengYichuan, who brought a seven Chi Jade Sword to Henan and presented there (Jade is able to be used as decoration on the handle). In the “Records of Swords and Sabers” King Zhao of the Zhou, cast five swords and sent them to the Five Mountains naming them “the Mountain Guards”. Shi Jilong’s sword was five Chi long (This is Wu of the Later Zhao, family name; Shi, given name; Hu and courtesy name: Ji Long). The saber of Mu Rong Chui was five Chi long (This is King of later Yan). [He had] two sabers 7 Chi long, one male one female. The Long Saber indeed has a long history.
Double Handed Saber
負劒正立以左手持刀柄, 旋作見賊出劒勢 , 進一步以劒從頭上一揮, 作持劒對賊勢
Stand straight and upright, hold the handle of the saber in the left hand. Turn and perform “See the Villain and Draw the Sword”. Advance one step while wielding the saber once above the head. Assume “Grasp the Sword and Face the Villain”.
Enter one step with “Defend Left”, Enter with another and assume “Defend Right”.
Turn body and jump one step forward. Assume “Defend Upward”. Turn around and perform “Strike Forward”. Strike once and step in one step. Strike left with “Strike Forward”. Take another step forward. Strike to the right in “Strike Froward”.
轉身作初退防賊勢 , 退至原地回身進一步, 爲進前殺賊勢一擊
Turn around and assume “Retreating Defense”. Retreat to the starting point, turn and step forward once into the “Attack Forward” stance.
Continue to turn and perform “Grasp the Sword and Sit Forward”, then do “Wipe the Sword Waiting for the Enemy”.
還退一步作閃劒退坐勢, 起立㪅進一足以進前殺賊勢一擊 , 又進一足爲向上防賊勢, 即進一足爲進前殺賊勢一擊 ,. 仍作揮劒向賊勢連進三步 㪅進一足以進前殺賊勢一擊 又進一足爲向上防賊勢 進一足以進前殺賊勢一擊 又進一步一刺
Retreat one step into “Dodge Sword and Sit Back”. Stand up and advance one step. Using “Forward Attack Posture” throw one strike. Again, advance a step and assume “High Defense”. Quickly take a step forward and deliver one strike with “Forward Attack”. Then assume “Wield the Sword Toward the Enemy” taking three continuous steps. Then take one step in and assume the “Forward Attack” position making one strike. Advance one step again and perform “High Defense”. Advance a step. Strike once with “Forward Attack”, and advance one step with a thrust.
轉身以刀三揮, 退作再退防賊勢 , 退至原地回身進一足, 爲向上防賊勢, 又進一足爲向前擊賊勢一擊, 轉身爲持劒進坐勢爲拭劒伺賊勢, 回身進一足以左手揮劒, 向前以右手㪅把, 爲向左防賊勢, 進一足爲向右防賊勢, 轉身進一步爲向上防賊勢, 回身進一步
Turn the body and wield the saber three times, step back again and assume “Retreating Defense”. Retreat to the starting point, then turn and advance one step. Perform the “High Defense”, and take another step in to strike once with “Forward Attack”. Turn around and assume “Grasp the Sword and Sit Forward”, then “Wipe the Sword Waiting for the Enemy”. Turn and step in once to wield the sword with the left hand, face forward and grab the sword with the right hand, perform “Left Defense”. Step in one step and perform “Right Defense”. Turn around, advance one step, and perform “High Defense”. Turn the body and advance one step.
爲向前擊賊勢一擊, 又進一步以向前擊賊勢, 向左一擊, 又進一步以向前擊賊勢, 向右一擊 轉身作三退防賊勢, 退至原地, 回身進一足, 以向前擊賊勢一擊, 又進一步一擊 , 轉身爲持劒進坐勢, 爲拭劒伺賊勢, 回身作藏劒買勇勢畢
Perform “Forward Attack”, strike once, and advance one step with “Forward Strike”. Face to the left and strike once, And enter one step with “Forward Strike” , face right to strike once. Turn and do “Retreating Defense” three times. Retreat to the starting point. Turn and enter one step. Strike once with “Forward Strike”. Advance again one step with one strike. Turn around and perform “Grasp the Sword and Sit Forward”. Then “Wipe the Sword Waiting for the Enemy”. Turn and assume the “Hide the Sword and Gather Your Bravery”, to end.
If anyone is interested in these documents, check out Chinese Longsword. Jack Chen does translations and provides pdfs of the original texts. His efforts have been instrumental in this entire movement. You can buy translations electronically or in hard copy. Check him out!
Huang, Ray. 1587, a Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty in Decline. New Haven: Yale University Press, ©1981.
Kim, Sang H. (Translator) Muye Dobo Tongji: Comprehensive Illustrated Manual of Martial Arts. english language ed. Hartford, CT: Turtle Press, ©2000.
Ma, Mingda馬明達. 無系列Wu Xi Lie. chu ban. ed. Vol. A113-A114, 武學探針Wu Xue Tan Zhen. Taibei Shi: Yi wen chu ban you xian gong si, 2003.
Robinson, David M. Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series. Vol. 87, Martial Spectacles of the Ming Court. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Asia Center, 2013.
Shapinsky, Peter D. Michigan Monograph Series in Japanese Studies. Vol. 76, Lords of the Sea: Pirates, Violence, and Commerce in Late Medieval Japan. Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, The University of Michigan, 2014.
Swope, Kenneth. Campaigns and Commanders. Vol. 20, A Dragon’s Head and a Serpent’s Tail: Ming China and the First Great East Asian War, 1592-1598. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, ©2009.