Butterfly swords/knives

Sword typology and Edge Weapons forms of the Chinese Empire and related cultures with an emphasis on their relationship to Swordsmanship.

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David R
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Butterfly swords/knives

Post by David R » Fri Mar 11, 2011 5:52 pm

I am inspired to ask a question here by a thought that occurred while posting elsewhere. At what date did the lightweight paired sword/knives often called "butterfly" appear in China. They often (always??) have knucklebows like a European hunting sword/hanger, and even horn grips also like a Hanger. Did one inspire the other, and which appeared earlier?
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The sort of thing I am talking about.
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Re: Butterfly swords/knives

Post by Freebooter » Thu Mar 24, 2011 8:07 am

The earliest I have been able to place these with reasonable deductions is approx 1860.
Don't consider them all light weight though ;-) They come with and without guards and are typically timber grips.

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Re: Butterfly swords/knives

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Thu Mar 24, 2011 11:09 am

David R wrote:... They often (always??) have knucklebows like a European hunting sword/hanger, and even horn grips also like a Hanger. Did one inspire the other, and which appeared earlier?
Whether or not these "D" guards are inspired by European sabers is an open question, but given that the forward hooking quillion is essential to the use of the paired butterfly knife techniques, it would seem that this was a native invention.

It should also be noted that pair Butterfly knives should not be confused with a similar single knife called a Pai Dao or, literally, a Shield Knife. Pai Dao are short, heavy knives used in tandem with tengpai (rattan shields). Some pai dao have D guards like many Butterfly knives & some have small guards with no D. Pai Dao look essentially the same as Butterfly knives in profile, the only real difference being that pai dao have grips of round cross section as they are not designed to nest in pairs in a scabbard the way butterfly knives are.

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Re: Butterfly swords/knives

Post by David R » Thu Mar 24, 2011 5:36 pm

I have no agenda to prove one thing or another. I am fascinated by the exchange of ideas, technology and techniques between cultures. Even the most isolated cultures recieve influences from others. Jade sword guards found on European swords, lamellar armour in German warrior graves. Chinese origin chalcedony gems inlaid in a Migration period helm in Achen, Germany.
There seems to be a definate "convection current" of ideas, East to West via the silk road on land and West to East via the Spice route by sea. I have seen a 16thC German blade, reshaped and retempered to fit a japanese Tanto in the Royal Armouries. I have seen Ceylonese Kastane worn by 17thC English gentry in their portraits. I have been told by a Martial artist that the head butt was a Western trick that shocked the Chinese when they met it in the ports of China. Savate is heavily influenced by Eastern Martial arts.
I was intrigued as to the flow of ideas about the light cutting swords that to Western collectors are known as Cuttoes, Hangers, and Hunting Swords, and whether they influenced Chinese Dao, some of which look very like the Euro blades.
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like this?
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Re: Butterfly swords/knives

Post by David R » Thu Mar 24, 2011 5:42 pm

Some examples of what I mean. I will post others later, if this thread attracts interest.
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Colonial again.
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Colonial European
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David R
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Re: Butterfly swords/knives

Post by David R » Thu Mar 24, 2011 5:45 pm

Sorry , the pics are a little mixed up, hope you can make sense of them. Btw, more on the textile armour later, I am running a little ragged at the moment.

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Re: Butterfly swords/knives

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Fri Mar 25, 2011 7:59 am

David R wrote:... I am fascinated by the exchange of ideas, technology and techniques between cultures. Even the most isolated cultures recieve influences from others...
I have also found back & forth of ideas, techniques, styles, very interesting. Chinese arms particularly have benefited from interaction with other cultures & it is interesting to trace the whens & wheres. It is sometime difficult to know whether in a particular cases, an idea was born in one place & migrated to others or if different people, disconnected in different places, working to solve the same problem independently arrived at the same answer. It seems, that in general, people are too quick to look for a single point of origin approach. The bow is a great example of that. I believe nearly every culture in the world developed the bow. Concerning sword hilts, it is amazing to me that everyone didn't realize that some sort basket hilt was a good idea.

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Re: Butterfly swords/knives

Post by Michael » Tue Jun 14, 2011 4:47 am

As a student of primarily Western weapon arts, I don't understand butterfly swords. Even after studying some Wing Chun, they seem bizarre to me. They are weighted completely unlike any weapon I've ever used. Generally I tend to trust weapons that appear independently in many different cultures, but I've seen almost nothing with the balance properties of a butterfly knife in any other culture. My experience seems to be useless when handling them.

To be fair, I could have been handling improperly-balanced modern replicas.
Scott M. Rodell wrote:Concerning sword hilts, it is amazing to me that everyone didn't realize that some sort basket hilt was a good idea.
I think that complex hilts were very probably too expensive to manufacture for a lot of groups to use them on a large scale. On the other hand, upper-class weapons are disproportionately represented in extant weapon collections. If I were to guess, I would say that the techniques of swordsmanship developed to utilize the most abundant types of swords. Those techniques, once developed for a sword with a simple handguard, might not benefit much from a complex hilt.

For example: A handguard allows you to graduate an engagement closer to your hilt in order to take advantage of added leverage. Many Western sword arts take this as a fundamental principle, so you constantly see them extending into an engagement. Compare this with something like Filipino stickfighting, which uses weapons with no hand protection whatsoever. It would be suicide to graduate an engagement closer to the hand in this case, so they tend to catch a weapon closer to the end of the stick, and simply work without the leverage advantage that other styles enjoy. If the Filipino system were to be used with a complex hilt, that complex hilt might not be very useful because the techniques aren't designed with it in mind. They are based on fundamentally different premises.

Complex hilts seem like a great idea, but there are a couple of drawbacks. The most obvious is manufacturing: They are more labor- and resource-intensive to produce, and sometimes require special methods(see: Schiavona hilts). Besides that is the question of weight. Complex hilts add more weight to the weapon and tend to shift the balance toward your hand. A swordsmith can compensate for this by reducing the size of the pommel, cutting out portions of the hilt, etc, but ultimately he may have to make the blade heavier to even it out. The weapon can still be balanced properly, but it may require more skill to do so and the weapon may be heavier overall. This has not been a major problem in Western Europe to my knowledge, but it may have been prohibitive for other places.

Finally, let's not forget that some cultures are very conservative when it comes to war. The Japanese, for example, achieved a near-obsessive level of continuity among sword designs. Those who study Japanese swords will tell you that there are many variations. However, these are almost all subtle variations on the same designs, and the difference between variations tends to be much smaller than the difference between sword types in other cultures. It would have been shocking to add a complex hilt to a Japanese sword before the end of the Edo period.
The conservatism in Japanese swords can probably be attributed to two things: 1) Traditionalism in Japanese martial culture, and 2) The relative isolation of Japan.

China is a different case, but cultural traditionalism may still apply. Confucianism is a very conservative ideology, one which was dominant for long periods of time in Chinese history. And while some cultures favor innovation, others prefer an "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality when it comes to war.
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Re: Butterfly swords/knives

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Thu Jun 16, 2011 5:49 am

Dear Michael, Thank you for your insightful comments...
Michael wrote:... I think that complex hilts were very probably too expensive to manufacture for a lot of groups to use them on a large scale...

...Complex hilts seem like a great idea, but there are a couple of drawbacks. The most obvious is manufacturing: They are more labor- and resource-intensive to produce, and sometimes require special methods(see: Schiavona hilts). Besides that is the question of weight. Complex hilts add more weight to the weapon and tend to shift the balance toward your hand. A swordsmith can compensate for this by reducing the size of the pommel, cutting out portions of the hilt, etc, but ultimately he may have to make the blade heavier to even it out. The weapon can still be balanced properly, but it may require more skill to do so and the weapon may be heavier overall. This has not been a major problem in Western Europe to my knowledge, but it may have been prohibitive for other places...
I've heard the argument before concerning the cost/manufacturing considerations as to why more cultures didn't develop more extensive hand guards, & it certainly seems reasonable. Also I've noticed that, perhaps like those studying Filipino martial arts, student of Chinese Swordsmanship generally progress to a level where they learn not to get hit on the hand. For example, in the recent First European Full Contact Chinese Swordplay Tournament (5/28/2011), there were few hits to the hand. Competitors had learned to keep their distance & not give away quick little cuts to the hand. On the other hand, I find that I am still able to sneak in cuts like tiao on even my more advanced students, albeit less frequently. Still, all it takes is one good cut to the fingers & anyone would be in real trouble.

With this in mind, I think your argument about balance may actually be the most relevant. I've had a hand in mounting or re-mouint blades for use for many years & I've noticed that it is not always a simple matter of just adding a bit more weight to the pommel. Most think that a good, lively balance is a simple matter of a certain point of balance. But in more than one case, I've noticed jian that ended up balanced like a clumsy crowbar after weight was added to the pommel. The POB was "right" but the mass distribution was wrong. So it could very well be that given the extra cost AND problems with getting the balance just right (& you really want it perfectly right if your life is going to hang in the balance), is what kept cultures like the Chinese from developing a basket hilt.

Thanks again for you insights...

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Re: Butterfly swords/knives

Post by Michael » Thu Jun 16, 2011 2:15 pm

Scott M. Rodell wrote: Most think that a good, lively balance is a simple matter of a certain point of balance. But in more than one case, I've noticed jian that ended up balanced like a clumsy crowbar after weight was added to the pommel. The POB was "right" but the mass distribution was wrong. So it could very well be that given the extra cost AND problems with getting the balance just right (& you really want it perfectly right if your life is going to hang in the balance), is what kept cultures like the Chinese from developing a basket hilt.
"Mass distribution" is a good way of putting it. I've heard the problem described using the following example: Imagine two metal bars with the same weight, length, and point of balance. One bar achieves this POB by putting a big weight right in the center, whereas the other achieves this POB by putting a smaller weight at each end. If all you knew about these two metal bars were their measurements and POB, you'd have no idea about the difference in handling. But if you were to pick them up, the difference in handling would be clear as day. This is the problem with equating "balance" with "point of balance."

(I hope I didn't steal that analogy from someone on this forum.)

Also, with asymmetrical weapons, there are three dimensions of balance to think about, not just lengthwise. So "mass distribution" is a good overall way of looking at it. I think that mass distribution is one of the major challenges of modern swordsmiths, because it's something that's very difficult to perceive in antique swords. I think a lot of it amounts to trial and error experience.
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Re: Butterfly swords/knives

Post by bond_fan » Sat Jun 18, 2011 1:10 am

Hi!

I wanted to add that the above photos of the swords that are supposed to be hudiedao for Wing Chun don't look like any of the ones I am familiar with being a sifu in Wing Chun and a collector of antique hudiedao. Here are pictures of two sets of hudiedao, which look like traditional Wing Chun broad swords that a practioner would use for this Bat Jan Dao form. The ones on top are probably from the 19th century and the ones on the bottom are from the 20th century.

Image

Image

Just because a Chinese sword has a "D" guard and the quillion sticking out in the front doesn't mean they were made for Wing Chun. Sifus I have talked to who were direct students of Ip Man told me that the swords are supposed to be an extension of the hands in fighting, which is why the form looks very much like an empty hand form. The balance is such that the blades will be an extension of the hands. The above pictured swords in the previous post by David R. look like fighting knifes with a "D" guard for protection. As an European sword may have a similar guard, but if the blade is really long then it would not be suitable for the Wing Chun style which utilizes short quick strokes close to the body.

I used to own a really nice pair of hudiedao I got from Philip Tom, but they were way to long and heavy for Wing Chun. The blades were 22" long, thin from back to cutting edge and too heavy Wing Chun's form. When one gets to try an actual set of Wing Chun Bat Jan Dao instead of a set that look sort of like one then they will understand how the proper balance should be.

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Re: Butterfly swords/knives

Post by David R » Sun Jun 19, 2011 9:27 am

Hi everyone, long time no posting. Re the pics I posted of D guard blades, I downloaded them from chinesearms.com for my own files, and posted them as relevant to the discussion. I have no idea of their balance or handling characteristics, or the style of use they were intended for. I was and am primarily interested in their shape and construction, and their resemblance to European cuttoes/hangers, often called hunting swords, but as often as not carried for self defence by urban civilians.
Perhaps the most popular and well known form of basket hilt was that carried by Highland Scots, but also popular with English Military and civilians from the 16thC to the 18thC. I have handled a number of these, and one of the most striking things about them is how small the hilts are. You can only just fit your hand in, and I have small hands. They do not allow for elaborate sword play, being such a close fit round the wrist. Military basket hilts are larger than civilian, and less restrictive, probably having to allow for regulation sword drill and exercises. I suspect that the full basket hilt was the choice of those who used a sword in an untutored manner, and those with elaborate skills prefered a hilt style, D guard, half basket, or a shell guard, that allowed more freedom of movement.

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Re: Butterfly swords/knives

Post by Michael » Sun Jun 19, 2011 10:33 am

David R wrote:I suspect that the full basket hilt was the choice of those who used a sword in an untutored manner, and those with elaborate skills prefered a hilt style, D guard, half basket, or a shell guard, that allowed more freedom of movement.
Let's not forget, though, that this is probably not a general rule for basket hilts outside of the British Isles. Some of those Germanic and Italian basket hilts can be quite roomy, even while providing a huge amount of coverage. Naturally, it requires a fair amount of metal to do so.
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Re: Butterfly swords/knives

Post by David R » Tue Jul 05, 2011 6:23 pm

I have been able to handle a fairly representative selection of original basket hilts, not just Scottish, but Sciavonas and Sinclaires, also mortury hilts, and 18thC grenadier hangers which are also basket hilts, they are all tight to the hand. Modern replicas are much larger than the originals, which are even slightly uncomfortable for me, and I have small hands.
Modern service swords for the highland regiments are bigger in the hilt than the old basket hilts, and the replicas are huge in comparison, and this can be very misleading if you use these as your exemplars. Without wanting to be contentious or confrontational I will stick by my original statement.

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Re: Butterfly swords/knives

Post by jOphExx » Thu Oct 06, 2011 6:21 am

I really like these knives they are really cool.

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