Average Size of Miao Dao

Discussion of Chinese historical swordsmanship from all styles.

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KyleyHarris
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Average Size of Miao Dao

Post by KyleyHarris » Thu Jul 01, 2010 10:44 pm

I am wondering what the typical length of these blades are. It seems that it is the predecessor to the Japanese NiHonto, although weilded completely differently. The MiaoDao that I see in youtube tend to be very long, light weight blades. The Wushu Competition blade states a blade length of 55" which is huge. Adam Tsu Blade is 43"

Here is a Quote from a blog i found which is interesting.
specifications of miao Dao:

Just like any Chinese weapons, the best size/specification should be according individual difference/preference. Nevertheless, the common size of miao dao should be around 5 "Chinese feets" where the blade counts 3.8 Chinese feets and the the handle around 1.2 Chinese feets.

In recent years, as Chinese swords have become popular, I have seen many shortened miao dao made by people who actually have no idea about miao dao, and I have also seen people ordered "specific custom made miao dao" according to "original sizes" which ended up to a disaster.... a super huge + heavy sword that can never be used!

Well, the simply fact is that the Chinese feet is different from feet we are using today. The Chinese Feet (especial in this case) is only around 24 CM to 27 CM depending on the type of measures used, which normall feet is is around 30.48 CM.. so the difference will be 24*5=120 ~ 27*5= 135CM against 30.48*5= 152.4 CM!
This seems to make sense. Most weapons ususually need a size and basis revolving around the height and size of the user, otherwise they can be too big and unweildy.

So.. is there an educated opinion about them?

I very much like the style of blade. In-fact, I find the forms and blade more appealing than the Jian. but both are quite beautiful. I personally have more affinity with single edged blades that can entwine with the body and lash out deceptively far.

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Re: Average Size of Miao Dao

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Mon Jul 05, 2010 9:05 am

Keep in mind that the term "Miaodao" is a modern one, no one to my knowledge has found it in a QIng or Ming period manual... as a non-regualtion weapons that was quite a minority tradition in China, we can not state with authority what the dimensions of Miaodao type weapons were & I've yet in encounter a period example. Oral tradition suggested the blade was 31 to 33: long with a grip length equal to the length of one's forearm, about 14".

A similar weapon known in the historical record is the dandao, (See Ming period illustration below). This type of dao was used in the late Ming dynasty, during the Wanli period (1572 - 1620 AD). This period diagram gives the blade length as 2' 8", the handle as 9" long & with an overall length of 3' 7" (all measurements in Chinese feet, the Chinese foot being approximately 12 English inches & 30.5 cm. in length).

You might also like to cross reference with the thread - dadao and shuangshoudao in this forum - viewtopic.php?f=15&t=415&hilit=dandao


Dandao-
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Re: Average Size of Miao Dao

Post by KyleyHarris » Tue Jul 06, 2010 9:23 pm

Thanks. That size blade seems more reasonably in length for a weapon.

One thing that would be interesting to know is the average size or height of the chinese people at the time this blade was commonly used.
I'd love to find some photos of authentic blades in this kind of style.

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Re: Average Size of Miao Dao

Post by Peter Dekker » Wed Jul 07, 2010 5:13 pm

There is a lot of confusion about these sizes indeed! It doesn't really help that there were so many different long two-handed sabers in China history. One Qing text mentions no less than five quite similar long sabers, ranging from about 120 cm to no less than 170 cm in length. One wonders whether those of approximately the same sizes were interchangeable, or whether they were made for very specific and different styles of use. One of them could well be what later got known as the miadao.

It is also conceivable that the sizes stated in this work were just a snapshot of that time and that they varied during the course of time in the same way that shield sizes and arrow sizes changed to match changing battlefield conditions.

Another thing is conversion. Chinese chi measurements varied not only between dynasties but also between regions, and even professions / guilds. From re-calculating measurements on weapons of certain provenance like some of the Qianlong emperor's marked weapons that appear in texts, it seems that the imperial armorer's chi was about 35 cm. However, there is no way of knowing whether this measurement was also maintained among the arms makers for the soldiers. It probably came close enough, though, or so we hope.

Considering the above the blog post doesn't seem too well-informed. Large sabers much exceeding 152cm in length were effectively used, their perceived unwieldiness is probably mainly a problem of the untrained wielder. Also, sizes for Chinese military weapons have long been standardized and no texts mention a relation to the size of the wielder. The Qing army in the mid. 18th century was a highly professional and effective conquest army that drew for resources on a population of 400 men per warrior to be maintained. The amount of craftsmen available to make their gear was amazing, even their standard military arrowheads were forge folded just like swords. If they had seen good reason in matching sword length to wielder they would have done it. That they didn't tells us something.

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Re: Average Size of Miao Dao

Post by KyleyHarris » Wed Jul 07, 2010 9:23 pm

Thanks for your reply.

I think in Any and Every Military situation conformity of equipment is standardized for logical reasons. When you are an isolated martial-artist then you want to select a weapon that suits your body perfectly so that you maximize the function of the tool to your body. In a regulated army having different sizes would be counter productive. You would have to size up every person for a sword. they would then train with the sword and get used to its size and weight.

In a battlefield where every sword is the same then if you loose one, and have to grab one from the hand of a dead comrade then its going to perform in the same way. your instictive training wont get confused.

Its a bit like modern guns. the army provides the same equipment to everyone and trains them so that anyone can pick it up and use it effectively to their training. If the gear was customised then the time taken to readjust each time you got a new weapon could be costly..

So.. I think there are 2 key elements to historic swordsman ship... just like there are 2 key elements to modern warefare.. Those that are private soldiers, or private citizens tend to customize and enhance their gear, and weapons to get the maximum output.. but any group mind like an army wants to create uniform conditions for everyone to train to.

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Re: Average Size of Miao Dao

Post by taiwandeutscher » Fri Jul 09, 2010 3:01 am

[quote="Peter Dekker"]...

Considering the above the blog post doesn't seem too well-informed. Large sabers much exceeding 152cm in length were effectively used, their perceived unwieldiness is probably mainly a problem of the untrained wielder. Also, sizes for Chinese military weapons have long been standardized and no texts mention a relation to the size of the wielder. The Qing army in the mid. 18th century was a highly professional and effective conquest army that drew for resources on a population of 400 men per warrior to be maintained. The amount of craftsmen available to make their gear was amazing, even their standard military arrowheads were forge folded just like swords. If they had seen good reason in matching sword length to wielder they would have done it. That they didn't tells us something.

-Peter[/quote]

Peter,
did you ever study the very early source Zhouyli 周禮, Chap. 40 Kaogongji 考工記, Taoshi 桃氏, blocks 7/8?
There we find sword proportions between handle and blade of 1 : 3, 1 : 4 and also 1 : 5. The weights mentioned there could range from 1250 g up to 1800 g, the lengths of swords between 40 cm to 120 cm. (If calculations have been right).
Do you give any value to such ancient text sources?
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Re: Average Size of Miao Dao

Post by Nik » Fri Jul 09, 2010 9:11 am

I think that again relies on the exact translation of the mentioned base quantity into centimeters and grams. I don't think they had any reason in those ancient texts to blow the sizes out of proportions, so the numbers should be accurate. However, there is always this tendency to take a fixed measure from one source for the eternal size of the said quantity in today's measures. If the notion is correct that this had a solid variation over times and regions, we have to be careful to derive lengths and weights.

A practical thing could be, if you cannot wield a remake of such a weapon within a year or so with some authority and speed, chances are that it is simply too heavy and imbalanced. I have moved 1,40m long European two-handed swords of 1600g, and because of their balance, it was effortless. So weapons of that size can be handled, probably also much longer ones, with the appropriate handle length and properly balanced. A much shorter saber (100-105cm, 39-41") of 1130g was in comparison too hard to handle, as it simply had a much longer balance (~17cm, 6.7") compared to the heavier, longer German sword.

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Re: Average Size of Miao Dao

Post by Peter Dekker » Tue Jul 13, 2010 10:29 am

taiwandeutscher wrote: Peter,
did you ever study the very early source Zhouyli 周禮, Chap. 40 Kaogongji 考工記, Taoshi 桃氏, blocks 7/8?
There we find sword proportions between handle and blade of 1 : 3, 1 : 4 and also 1 : 5. The weights mentioned there could range from 1250 g up to 1800 g, the lengths of swords between 40 cm to 120 cm. (If calculations have been right).
Do you give any value to such ancient text sources?
Thanks for quoting! I am familiar with this text, but only studied its archery section so far. It is nice to have the chapters on swords, I am going to have to check them out.

Anyway the text seems to have a lot of merit: theories on bow- and arrow making make a lot of sense also to modern makers of this equipment, and compare well to later texts and knowledge preserved in living traditions such as Korean bow-making. But it does describe a utopian state rather than a real empire where factors like precision and uniformity were likely exaggerated. It was probably a description of ideals, rather than reality but nevertheless these ideals have intrigued Chinese craftsmen over the ages and did in fact serve as examples to many. For example, Qing texts still quote the Rites of Zhou in regards to arrow making and aspects of arrow making described in the text can be found even on late Qing arrows.

Nik wrote:I think that again relies on the exact translation of the mentioned base quantity into centimeters and grams. I don't think they had any reason in those ancient texts to blow the sizes out of proportions, so the numbers should be accurate. However, there is always this tendency to take a fixed measure from one source for the eternal size of the said quantity in today's measures. If the notion is correct that this had a solid variation over times and regions, we have to be careful to derive lengths and weights.
I agree. Measures are always a tricky in these texts. For the Zhou Li one can wonder whether we should take the measurement conversion of the time it was written (some 400 years after the actual Zhou period) or the time it describes. Ratios are more useful though, they are probably accurate.

I also agree on the balance point. Weapons of pretty large sizes can still be surprisingly well manageable when balanced right.

-Peter
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