"Mao" spearhead with oblique steel insert

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Peter Dekker
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"Mao" spearhead with oblique steel insert

Post by Peter Dekker » Wed Feb 28, 2007 9:34 pm

This is a spearhead of the mao type.

In contrast to qiang spearheads, these were made with an emphasis to powerful thrusting while the qiang type was more versatile and could also be used for cutting. Most qiang are often leaf shaped but some even had hooks or other more unorthodox shapes. Mao seem to be characterized by a comparatively thick and narrow blade with less emphasis on sharp cutting edges.

It would seem to me that mao would be the weapon of choice against armor and for cavalrymen for which it was hard to use a spear for anything else than the thrust. Qiang type spearheads would be excellent for infantry fighting lightly armored or unarmored men. When horses and armor got largely obsolete it is no surprise that most late Qing spearheads encountered appear to be of the qiang type while in Tibet where armor for man and horse was carried up until the 20th century the qiang style spearhead never seemed to have gained popularity.

After a polishing job by Philip Tom this particular spearhead showed an odd steel "insert" at the tip, not covering the edges but running obliquely through it and showing at both "flats" on either side of it's blade.

I showed it to Andrew Jordan, a fine bladesmith that had studied making Japanese swords in Japan for two years and who currently studies and reproduces the particular construction features of edged weapons from around the world. (http://www.jordanknives.com)

He thought the insert was done purposefully, and had seen the feature on a number of Japanese made Yari as well. He thought it had to do with armor piercing. (Where a strong tip was more important than hardened edges for cutting.)

Although hard to date with certainty, I think this spear could well be an 18th century spearhead dating from the time when armor like mail was still used on the battlefields. This spearhead has a nicely engraved brass sleeve with floral designs.

See pictures:
Overall
Image
Insert
Image
Sleeve
Image

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Re: "Mao" spearhead with oblique steel insert

Post by Kenneth, H. » Tue Mar 13, 2007 4:03 pm

Peter Dekker wrote: After a polishing job by Philip Tom this particular spearhead showed an odd steel "insert" at the tip, not covering the edges but running obliquely through it and showing at both "flats" on either side of it's blade.

He thought the insert was done purposefully, and had seen the feature on a number of Japanese made Yari as well. He thought it had to do with armor piercing. (Where a strong tip was more important than hardened edges for cutting.)
Is the body-steel folded, or homogeneous? Do you know the hardness degree of the inserted steel vs the body-steel? Are both edges sharp, or is only the most forward part of the tip sharp enough to cut?

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Post by Peter Dekker » Tue Mar 13, 2007 9:21 pm

Hi,

The body is forge folded, but I don't know the degrees of hardness on either part.

If you hit something hard enough with it, it will probably cut but it doesn't seem to be designed for it that much. Its unflattened diamond cross-section in this case appears to be mostly to reinforce it instead of forming cutting edges. (I'm not quite sure but I believe it was about 16mm thick ad the bade) The tip is a bit sharper than the rest.

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Post by Scott M. Rodell » Wed Mar 14, 2007 8:06 am

Peter Dekker wrote:... If you hit something hard enough with it, it will probably cut but it doesn't seem to be designed for it...
I can see why it is tempting to assign slashing propertes to certain spear tip forms, but I would question the real value of such a property in spear tips for two reasons:

1- unlike swords, a spear often rotates in the hand & there is nothing about the round cross section of the shaft to inform the user about the orientation of the blade in relationship to the possible cutting angle.

2- a spear hits with so much power that if it were cutting I suspect it would likley cut too deep causing the tip to become caught in the target.

I would suggest that in addition to piercing, the tip is used to hit & gash the target instead of cut into it. There's no question in my mind that a spear tip hits with more than enough shock that the blunt force trauma alone is more than great enough to cause death.

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Post by Peter Dekker » Wed Mar 14, 2007 9:04 am

I see your point.. I wouldn't even want to be hit with a stick that long. The spearhead weighed some 620 grams before polishing so no matter the shape, you want to avoid getting hit by it.

I've given the round cross section of the spear some thought too, but there are quite some pole arms out there with similar shafts that do seem to focus on the cut, like a yanyuedao. The HCLQTS also lists something that can be best described as a jumonji yari or cross-shaped spear, where one would expect the wielder needs to pay attention to the alignment two additional spearheads facing each way.

All this makes me think, let's build a good spear and attempt some cutting with it, perhaps on the sword festival? I'd be very interested in seeing the effects of this weapon on a cutting target... Has it been done before?

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Post by Dan Pasek » Wed Mar 14, 2007 10:46 am

While most movements that use a slashing motion in forms are probably intended as deflections with the spear shaft, I would not be too quick to rule out the possibility for slashing movements with the spear point.

For one thing, the orientation of the edge of the spear point is not too difficult to control after a little practice. Other weapons require this control of the cutting edge while holding a round shaft – for example, using the yinyuedao (Spring/Autumn falchion, Guan Dao). Granted, the spear point is smaller and faster moving, but try it and you will see that the edge of the spear point can be controlled with a little practice.

One form that I learned (from Fu style Taijiquan) includes a movement following a thrust, where you withdraw the spear while snapping it upwards into an opponent’s arms or hands. While this could still be effective in disrupting an opponent’s grasp on a weapon if the spear shaft is used, think about how much more effective it could be if the cutting edge of the spear point were used. Granted, Fu style Taiji forms would be of relatively recent origin, but I don’t see why one should assume that this same type of technique would not be used in the more distant past. Other movements that occur when turning from front to back also seem to consider the orientation of the cutting edge of the spear point, at least as I was taught for Fu style Taiji.

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Post by Scott M. Rodell » Thu Mar 15, 2007 7:14 am

Peter Dekker wrote:I see your point... let's build a good spear and attempt some cutting with it...
Dan Pasek wrote:... I would not be too quick to rule out the possibility for slashing movements with the spear point... Other weapons require this control of the cutting edge while holding a round shaft... One form that I learned (from Fu style Taijiquan) includes a movement following a thrust, where you withdraw the spear while snapping it upwards into an opponent’s arms or hands...
These are excellent points... Certainly a spear point could be used to cut, I've no question about that. However, there are two reasons why I questions that that is the intented use. The first is that the more I learn from test cutting & instruct beginners in the practice, the more obvious it is that exact edge control is critical. A blade that is a few degress out of alignment with the plane of a cut, won't cut, it will tear into the target. While this is a problem with a sword, I don't think it would be with a spear, given the added power the length of the shaft provides. This leads me to my second reason, the spear tip can hit or gash with such power that it doesn't matter whether it is cutting or not. Take for example Daniel Pasek's example of the upward flicking tiao with a spear to the duifang's arms. I believe the movement will be just as effective where the tip cuts into the arm of strikes it, gashing open a hole. Either way the duifang is going to be immobilized with pain.

But as I sit here thinking this over, it also occurs to be that this need not be an either or situation. Perhaps it is a matter of yes a skilled spearman might/could use the spear tip to slash, but the un-skilled militia man could also use the weapon effectively.

Peter, you're going to have to find us an old spear manual that provides us with an answer...

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Post by josh stout » Thu Mar 15, 2007 9:23 am

The unrestored antique swords I have seen are still sharp, while the unrestored spear points are dull at the edges to the extent that they are somewhat rounded in some cases. For those who have seen more spear points than I, would you say they are sharpened for cutting? I have seen spear movements where the point moves in a slashing fashion, but it seems like this could be done with just the very tip rather than the edges. The more blade like spear points might be able to cut, but the ones I have seen don't seem to have been sharpened for that purpose.
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Post by Peter Dekker » Fri Mar 16, 2007 2:50 am

Scott M. Rodell wrote:Peter, you're going to have to find us an old spear manual that provides us with an answer...
Does that Ming era shoubilu say anything useful about the spear? It does contain a form.. I'll be on the lookout for any more stuff while.

I was thinking, if the leaf shaped qiang was not intended for cutting, then the main reason for it's shape must have been extra damage when penetrating armor wasn't an issue anymore.

My beloved Huangchao Liqi Tushi lists quite a range of qiang, but as far as I can remember only mentions design features but not what they are for. This while it does mention the purpose of most arrows.
josh stout wrote:The unrestored antique swords I have seen are still sharp, while the unrestored spear points are dull at the edges to the extent that they are somewhat rounded in some cases.
I have also seen quite a few of these dull and rounded spearheads. What these all seem to have in common is a lot of wear, so I tend to think that this it the reason for their dullness. On the other side, I've seen some spearheads that did not show as much wear which were all still pretty sharp.

Perhaps more swords survived relatively sharp because sharpening of swords was regarded more important than that of spears. Any of the dull spears I saw would still be quite dangerous on the end of a long shaft.

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leaf shaped qiang

Post by Dan Pasek » Fri Mar 16, 2007 10:01 am

You make good points, Scott, and since I have not done test cutting (and don’t even know of anyone doing test cutting with a spear), I trust your experience. Even without the precise control needed to cut with the edge of a spear point, I would think that the “gashing” with the metal edge would still be more desirable than striking with the flat of the spear point or striking with the spear shaft.

I only have one leaf shaped qiang (probably pre 1800), and it is in fairly poor condition: pitting, unsharpened, and rusty when I acquired it… I can not tell if the triangular sides to the tip were sharpened (it seems possible), but I can say that the portion closer to the socket that narrows and re-widens was definitely not sharpened.

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Re: leaf shaped qiang

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Fri Mar 16, 2007 5:05 pm

Dan Pasek wrote:... Even without the precise control needed to cut with the edge of a spear point... “gashing” with the metal edge would still be more desirable than striking with the flat of the spear point or striking with the spear shaft...
Absolutely, I generally focus on using the tip of the spear to strike with, I have no question that it can be used to puncture regardless of whether the edge angle is correct or not.

BTW, we'll have to get you up here for one of test cutting trainings, I'm sure you would not only enjoy it but find it very useful & interesting.

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Post by Dan Pasek » Tue Apr 10, 2007 3:45 pm

Scott,

Sorry for the late reply, but I have been away for three weeks.

Thanks for the offer to attend your test cutting training. If it happens on a Sat. or Sun. afternoon, then it would be nice to try and attend. I could drive up in the morning and back in the evening (it takes roughly 5 hours travel time from my place to yours, assuming no traffic delays). Weekdays would be more difficult as I would need to take vacation leave from work and much of this year’s leave is already committed for other things. Please email me when the test cutting sessions are and I’ll see if I can attend.

DP

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Post by Scott M. Rodell » Wed Apr 11, 2007 6:21 am

Dan Pasek wrote:... test cutting training. If it happens on a Sat. or Sun. afternoon...
FYI, anyone who is interested in the Virginia Test Cutting Trainings, we usually hold them on Sunday Mornings at 9 AM. It takes some time to fill all the bottles with water & then cut 'em all up. So we typically have a cook out or go to a local Vietnamese or Korean Resturant afterwards for lunch after cleaning up. If you are thinking of coming, please start collection plastic jugs, 50+ per student is not too many...

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Post by Nicholas Wardigo » Fri Apr 20, 2007 9:00 pm

I hope I'm not too late to add my two cents.

Please keep in mind that I am not familiar with spear techniques in any martial art, but I think it's important to keep the idea of thrusting versus cutting in context. The usefulness of spears on the battlefield had nothing to do with any one man's proficiency, it had everything to do with a platoon of men using spears effectively and in unison. Again, I've never done this myself (obviously), but I imagine that when you're dealing with cavalry bearing down on your position, the best defense is to stay shoulder-to-shoulder with a few hundred of your buddies and brace your spears. Correct me if I'm mistaken, but I think slashing techniques would be of little use in this situation, and I believe the vast majority of spears were forged with precisely this situation in mind.

Sure, one could cut with a spear. I won't argue against that. But it may be a mistake to think that spears were designed to do that.

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Post by Graham Cave » Sun Apr 22, 2007 2:13 pm

Nicholas Wardigo wrote: I imagine that when you're dealing with cavalry bearing down on your position, the best defense is to stay shoulder-to-shoulder with a few hundred of your buddies and brace your spears.
My knowledge of Chinese spear is virtually zero but the more I see the more interested I become. In many of the pictures I've seen the spear is counterbalanced with a pointed fitting at the tail end - I've seen similar ends on fishing rods enabling them to be anchored in the ground. Perhaps if a spearman were to face charging cavalry then he would similarly want to anchor his spear against the coming onslaught?

Graham

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