Name of Wooden Swords

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Aidan O'Brien
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Name of Wooden Swords

Post by Aidan O'Brien » Mon Aug 09, 2010 10:46 pm

Good day all,

I got my new training jian from Graham Cave and a) I was amazed at the quality and b) Disappointed that we don't have a proper name for them.

Here's what I mean, The Japanese Sword Arts have their Bokken and Shinai, depending on what they are doing.

European styles have their Wasters.

We have.. Wooden Swords. Or more commonly Wooden Jian/Dao.

While I am aware that Bokken literally translates to Wooden Sword, there is a certain professional sounding link between the name and the product. Plus it doesn't sound awkward mixing the English (or other language) with the Japanese name. Plus as Jon Palombi said while I was chatting to him earlier, Bokken is so evocative of the Japanese Sword. We also agreed that having a proper Chinese name for them would feel much better, even from a personal standpoint just for referring to it in general.

Even though it's a wooden one, simply the way it is referred to helps get your mind into the set for training with it.

My problem is, I don't actually speak Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese) so I have to resort to Google Translate for my ideas, so any help with the actual name from people more proficient in the language would be great.

But here are a few of my suggestions, based upon what Google tells me is the correct translation. I have only used Jian here as an example because I didn't feel like having so many

木劍 (Mù jiàn) or 木製劍 (Mùzhì jiàn) - Wooden Sword*

訓練劍 (Xùnliàn Jiàn) or 訓練之劍 (Xùnliàn zhī jiàn) - Training Sword

實踐劍 (Shíjiàn Jiàn) - Practice Sword

玩劍 (Wán Jiàn) - Play Sword [In that you play at Sanshou, you play at swordsmanship etc]

*If there are two translations: First Chinese Translation is translated as Wooden, next line, Sword. Then Second is Wooden Sword all on one line. And so on.

I'm interested in your thoughts, albeit that wooden is the most accurate (since you can get steel training/practice swords.) I'd be hoping for two, but no more than three syllables, so it's not an effort to say and won't be corrupted.

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Re: Name of Wooden Swords

Post by Michael » Tue Aug 10, 2010 4:11 am

If you want to say "wooden sword," saying it in Chinese doesn't change anything.

Language is one of the most powerful tools of exoticization that there is. Everywhere in martial arts, people use foreign words like they have some hidden, special meaning, even when they simply refer to generic ideas. The more exotic the culture, the stronger this effect will be. It makes us focus on style over substance. The reason that the word bokken sounds dramatic is because Japanese martial culture has been exoticized, perhaps more than any martial culture on the planet. I don't think that it's a coincidence that there is a tremendous amount of shallow, adolescent interest with the least substantive aspects of Japanese martial arts. That's not the sort of attention that I would be looking to attract.

You're on the right track with your translations insomuch as the Chinese would simply have called them "wooden swords" and moved on. It's good to learn the original language for scholarly reasons, but if you're trying to elevate the idea of a sword, you're moving in the wrong direction.
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Re: Name of Wooden Swords

Post by KyleyHarris » Tue Aug 10, 2010 5:16 am

I have to agree that the Japanese are only using the word Bokken because it means wooden sword. There is no special intent behind it.

When studying JMA you learn everything in Japanese simply because the Sensei teach you in Japanese, (because they in turn learnt the art in Japanese) and for comprehension you must repeat it back in Japanese.. There is simply no reason to convert the language to english and risk confusion. Imagine if a European went to Japan and learnt Aikido, and came back and worked out all the meanings in english and taught everything from an english frame of mind. Nothing would change in the education of the students.. but those students now would lack the ability to communicate these ideas with their peers across the Aikido world.

when going to china to learn a chinese skill, you would probably be taught by someone in Chinese because they dont speak english, and therefore you would be forced to speak and recite the forms and moves in Chinese, even if you learn not a whit more of the language.

the words Parry, and Riposte also have different words in JMA.. simply because JMA is taught in Japanese, not english. if I say Hi-Lunge, low-lunge, wide sweep.. its describing what I do clearly.. perhaps if I was to teach a western sword to a Japanese who speaks no english it would have exotic connotations to them also. :)

I'd just stick with Practise Sword, or Training Sword, or Wooden Sword..

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Re: Name of Wooden Swords

Post by Aidan O'Brien » Tue Aug 10, 2010 6:24 am

Yes, but there is also the consistency point. If you read the various swordsmanship books that have been put out over the years, they may be written in English, but the moves, strikes, deflections, etc are all named in Chinese. Hell even the sword is named in Chinese. If we simply referred to it as Wooden Sword, I wouldn't have this issue. It's the glaring "Wooden Jian" issue.

In addition, language IS powerful, because when you speak in another language, you think differently. Hell even inside English, depending on whether you are writing or speaking, formally or informally, the way you think changes. Many of the precepts in CMA are carried with the Chinese Language. Just take Qi for example. There are so many meanings, the English language way to take it is, have one meaning in that context and that is it. The Chinese way is to have all those meanings at once.

This post isn't a you must name it this way. Whatever you want to use is fine, however, I enjoy consistency, it helps me learn and I enjoy it.

Plus there is a distinct difference in the way Chinese swords are named. They have the description of it plus what it is. eg: Yanmaodao, Niuweidao etc To the experienced practitioner, you know what shape they are, what their general usage was and the like. Because all over the market there are the cheap $10 that act as a nice placeholder for a sword, but they're light and can't actually be used to spar or train in anything other than forms with. Naming the quality ones that are capable of being used, to differentiate them, (because there IS something special about them) would be nice.

Similar to how the sword collecting community has Swords and Sword-Like Objects. While they can look very similar they have very different properties. The ones that have a similar geometry to a real sword, and thusly would snap if lightly tapped on something compared to my new hickory one. While it may contribute to the exoticification, I believe that the benefits of clearly defining a type of weapon, even one that is wooden, even if it is modern, would outweigh the disadvantages. So I am quite happy for the ones you can't use for sparring being called wooden swords, but again, having the differentiation between the two by using the Chinese word for it would be nice.

Also, I am one of those people (and I know I'm not alone) that likes to have a name for their prized possessions. My custom has a name for example.

But since I personally will be referring to it using the Chinese wording, does anyone know the correct Chinese grammar for it? And the ideal choice for the name, even if it isn't the translation of Wooden.

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Re: Name of Wooden Swords

Post by KyleyHarris » Tue Aug 10, 2010 6:43 am

Sorry Aidan..

I my point was that you are correct that if you wish to use the chinese word (as you already use Jian) then thats correct. but I dont find the use of the foreign words exotic, or enhancing what it is in any way. as long as there is a consistency, then that is the best.

But the answer would only lie in finding out what the many schools of chinese sword actually do call it. if you are a student if GRTC, i guess Scott is the one who would answer what his school calls the wooden jian.

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Re: Name of Wooden Swords

Post by B.Ko » Tue Aug 10, 2010 10:43 am

In Cantonese, Muk Gim....Mu Jian in Mandarin.

Being a Chinese practitioner of CMA, it always boggled my mind the Western preoccupation with exotic terminology and clothing. Many Chinese Sifu, just teach in casual exercise clothes and when possible use common language to explain concepts. The use of the original Chinese terms is quite common however. Apart from organized 'schools' with official uniforms most smaller/non commercial classes have at most a T-shirt with the school name. I found it actually shocking when I went to the US and saw many CMA practitioners wearing mandarin collar shirts as a uniform.

A prime example of the Chinese lack of emphasis on uniforms are the films/pictures of old Chinese masters teaching with a dress shirt/pants and a cigarette dangling out of their mouth.

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Re: Name of Wooden Swords

Post by KyleyHarris » Tue Aug 10, 2010 9:19 pm

B.Ko wrote: A prime example of the Chinese lack of emphasis on uniforms are the films/pictures of old Chinese masters teaching with a dress shirt/pants and a cigarette dangling out of their mouth.
hehe.. I wonder if this is also some form of simple humility of the craft. They see the art as simply a part of their "being" and everyday life. not something to be raised to a pedestal of accomplishment. I mean.. a true internal art should be internal in all ways..

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Re: Name of Wooden Swords

Post by Aidan O'Brien » Wed Aug 11, 2010 5:50 am

Yes, but keep in mind that for nearly every club we also have a uniform or dress code. It was almost inevitable that we ended up using SOMETHING to identify us when we went to our club. Be it sports or martial arts.

Just happens that this is a Chinese activity, so someone decided to wear Chinese attire for it. Same way JMA wear Gi's (sp?).

Personally, the furthest I've ever gone is standard black loose martial arts pants, flat black shoes and a white T-shirt. Red Sash if we were doing a demonstration. Because it looked pretty.

However, as I mentioned earlier, I prefer consistency in the naming conventions. Hence wanting to know what the full name in Chinese languages would be. As an Australian, from Victoria, the odds were for me learning it in Cantonese, (one guy I knew was taught that it was a Gim and would not even consider the option that the rest of China would speak a different language) however, I learnt the most details online where Jiàn was the most common form.

Hence Mù Jiàn for me at least, rather than Mok Gim (thanks for that B.Ko) the knowledge is interesting.

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Re: Name of Wooden Swords

Post by taiwandeutscher » Thu Aug 12, 2010 2:02 am

Yes, it is just plain mujian.

As a long term resident in Taiwan, I still find my teachers using highly specialized termini technici in teaching IMA, so specialized that some terms are even not to be found in any common dictionary.

Concerning uniforms, I must agree: The silkies are just ridiculous, for training unpractical and not very historic for performances, either.

We prefer high tech sweat absorbing T-shirts and light cotton gongfu pants, for the tropical summer heat, with a very small embleme on the left front side, nothing fancy.

But yes, westerners can be more Chinese than the Chinese themselfs, the opposit also true for my Chinese language students of my European mother tongue. with Chinese being more European than the Europeans, funny, isn't it?
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Re: Name of Wooden Swords

Post by J HepworthYoung » Thu Aug 12, 2010 10:16 am

The conservation of foreign words as opposed to the translation of concepts is a fascinating practice.
What motivates this?
Pride? Secrecy? Boredom?
I wouldn't know.

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Re: Name of Wooden Swords

Post by Michael » Thu Aug 12, 2010 1:46 pm

J HepworthYoung wrote:The conservation of foreign words as opposed to the translation of concepts is a fascinating practice.
What motivates this?
Pride? Secrecy? Boredom?
I wouldn't know.
Two things, I think:
1) It has an exotic appeal.
2) It is a repetition/preservation of how earlier teachers taught the art. That is to say, students repeat the lessons that their teachers taught them. Of course, terminology doesn't actually preserve the teaching method in itself.


This is related to an interesting phenomenon which I like to call "Zweihander Syndrome." A zweihander is a type of German great sword, and nowadays it is associated with some very specific elements. It tends to be huge, often with a second, smaller crossguard in front of the ricasso, sometimes with a flamberge blade. They were among the largest swords in Europe and, like the two-handed claymore, seems to have been popularized partly as a result of its size. As a result, practitioners of western swordsmanship have a very clear idea of what a "zweihander" is.

The problem is that "zweihander" is not the name of a sword. Those of you who speak German can probably see where I'm going with this. "Zweihander" simply means "two-hander," and thus applies equally to all two-handed swords when speaking German. Despite the fact that modern practitioners think that it is a specific weapon, it is a generic term. When foreign generic terms are imported into another language, they often come to refer to specific ideas, however inaccurately. This is Zweihander Syndrome.

You see this all the time. "Kung Fu" and "Wushu" are good examples. Lots of people think that there are specific qualities that you can attribute to either of those terms, but in reality, they both basically mean "martial arts." They don't even mean "Chinese martial arts." Of course, the words themselves are Chinese, so they tend to refer to Chinese martial arts in the same way that the word Zweihander tends to refer to German two-handed swords. But if you were speaking Chinese, there would be nothing wrong with talking about "European wushu" or the like. There's no other way to say it.

Crazy things happen when you import these names into a country where the practitioners don't speak the language. People erroneously attribute specific qualities to generic terms(e.g. "Wushu is circular"), or they take two interchangeable terms and start to find the differences between them(e.g. "Kung Fu is more X while wushu is more Y"). When we don't fully understand the terminology, our minds naturally start to organize information on a faulty foundation. It's a problem that I see constantly, and this is one of the reasons why I caution anyone against importing more foreign words from a language that they don't understand.
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Re: Name of Wooden Swords

Post by taiwandeutscher » Fri Aug 13, 2010 3:15 am

Well, I don't agree here.

We are not only talking of generalized terms like gonfu, wushu or guoshu.

For me, most important are technical term, which lack any equivalent in western languages. Be it Qi, Shen, Jing or terms link fangsong, songzhen or the like, they are just not transferable one to one. In writing, you could add a long and explaining footnote, but not in daily practice. There, such terms used in Pinyin transcription show that they have special meanings, which are only approachable for westerners step by step.

Therefore it is important that any serious practitioner of CIMA should get at least a basic understanding of Chinese. The more the better, and I personally found, that studying traditional characters and classical Chinese knowledge are helping my personal understand of my teachers' teachings a lot.
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Re: Name of Wooden Swords

Post by Michael » Fri Aug 13, 2010 4:15 am

taiwandeutscher wrote:Well, I don't agree here.

We are not only talking of generalized terms like gonfu, wushu or guoshu.

For me, most important are technical term, which lack any equivalent in western languages. Be it Qi, Shen, Jing or terms link fangsong, songzhen or the like, they are just not transferable one to one. In writing, you could add a long and explaining footnote, but not in daily practice. There, such terms used in Pinyin transcription show that they have special meanings, which are only approachable for westerners step by step.

Therefore it is important that any serious practitioner of CIMA should get at least a basic understanding of Chinese. The more the better, and I personally found, that studying traditional characters and classical Chinese knowledge are helping my personal understand of my teachers' teachings a lot.
I said it was related to the above phenomenon, not that it was an example of it. You mentioned some good examples(especially Qi) of terms that do not translate well and thus should be kept in their original language. "Wooden sword" does not fall into that category either. But my point was that the process by which we maintain the exoticness of martial arts terms can have unintended drawbacks.
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Re: Name of Wooden Swords

Post by jonpalombi » Fri Aug 13, 2010 9:26 pm

Greetings Folks,

I'm on board with Aidan! One should consider this idea in the light it was intended. Aidan was suggesting a name befitting of Graham Cave's masterful woodworking skills, that would be in keeping with traditional Chinese terminology. The fact that it can easily be translated and therefore should simply be called, "wooden straight-sword", is a hollow argument. Why not refer to them in Chinese words? I'm not going to stop saying, "bokken", in preference of wooden sword. I like the sound of Japanese being spoken. Mandarin, as well. Now, I'm not really in favor of an obsession with every nit-picking, linguistic detail but certain things are of great importance. Like steel and wooden jian and I think there is room to squeeze such a term into our martial vocabulary. Yes? I so detest the terms: "straight-sword" for jian and "broadsword" for dao. There is a tendency towards genericism, in contemporary martial arts circles. The elimination of a cultures native terminology, for easier to pronounce English translations... is, in and of itself, a form of cultural sterilization. :shock:

Sure, you can say, "Teacher" instead of "Sifu" or even, "Laoshi", but some of the traditional taste is diluted and the flavor made more bland. Capiche? Using the Chinese words, while it doesn't add to one's abilities in the arts, it does add a quality of genuineness. So, in a nutshell... I'm in favor of mujian and mudao and even mumiaodao, for that matter. Aidan has been thinking outside of the box and I salute his integrity. MUJIAN!!! I like it. It's certainly a more charming way to describe our trusted companions, than "wooden straight-sword". :wink:

Arrivederci, Jon
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Re: Name of Wooden Swords

Post by Michael » Fri Aug 13, 2010 11:58 pm

jonpalombi wrote: I so detest the terms: "straight-sword" for jian and "broadsword" for dao. There is a tendency towards genericism, in contemporary martial arts circles. The elimination of a cultures native terminology, for easier to pronounce English translations... is, in and of itself, a form of cultural sterilization.
I'm not sure that I would agree that it is cultural sterilization, but to the extent that this tendency toward genericism exists, I wholly endorse it. I think that it's important to strip away the flash and style from each component in order to better understand its real value. While "straight-sword" and "broadsword" are poor translations, I think that an excellent translation for jian is "sword." It helps remind us of the following:
a) There is nothing extraordinary about Chinese swords when viewed in a worldwide context.
b) While jian commonly take on certain shapes and sizes, few of these are intrinsic to the idea of a sword, or even a Chinese sword. In other words, many of the characteristics of jian are incidental.

Which leads us to the corollary,
c) Some aspects of Chinese swordsmanship are dependent on the typical characteristics of Chinese swords, and others are not. This differentiation is critically important.

It has nothing to do with ease of pronunciation, and everything to do with clarity of ideas.
Sure, you can say, "Teacher" instead of "Sifu" or even, "Laoshi", but some of the traditional taste is diluted and the flavor made more bland.
This is exactly what I was talking about when I wrote about exoticism above. In other words, I believe that the "traditional taste" is based on an exoticization of traditional Chinese culture. And I don't blame you for feeling that way. I think it's what got a lot of us started to begin with and helps motivate us along the way. But I don't think it's healthy in the long run.
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