Development of swords for chinese swordmanship

Discussion of Chinese historical swordsmanship from all styles.

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Nik
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Development of swords for chinese swordmanship

Post by Nik » Thu May 07, 2009 2:29 pm

As I already explained at times, I am helping a germany located spanish sword smith who learned his tradition in Solingen to produce other items than todays armies military sabers and sport fencing weapons, in this case chinese jian and possibly dao.

As a reference point for getting opinions, feelings, ideas, etc., I want to have this in a separate thread to not distribute too much "advertizing" over other threads.

The idea is to first have typical, historically correct jian for three purposes: a) blunt for training with mild contact, target hitting on stuff, b) cutting, and c) full-contact fencing with hard impact, with a special safety layout but still as close to correct weight and balance as possible. Collectors items with sanmei construction, high quality wax model made gem ornated fittings, and ray skin scabbards are not in primary scope up to now, but may be available also, in smaller numbers. The three primary versions will be mono steel constructions using highest quality spring steel (55Si7).

The weight is targeted at 700-900g, for versions with heavier fittings 800-950g, POB will be 6" or 6.5" (the latter is a lot faster but feels top-heavier, requiring some strength in the wrist). As each blade is made by the smith master personally, and grinded to form by the same two polishing masters, the weight will be dead on point for each on, with only minor differences (say within 20g, possibly less). So the weight is more a case of preference and selection, not due to make problems, I am open to suggestions here (like having 3 weight groups to select from).

The blunt one which will be the cheapest (price estimated at $450-520) will be satined and have a so-called hitting edge which is unsharpenable without major rework, around 0.3-0.5 mm width. It will be hardened to 50-54 HRC, final decision will be after stress testing different versions. The main purpose is to do forms, light-contact partner work (1600 N fencing mask is a must when using stabs of any kind), and hitting procedures to practice hitting with the tip, for example on heavy steel chains etc.

The sharp one will obviously be like a historic example with a razor-sharp edge, mirror-polished, not intended to be used for forms, partner-work strictly forbidden. Actually I suggest to use a butchers chainmail equipment for cutting since it prevents many dangers of freak accidents happening at times when for example a sinew "jumps over" and your grip loosens in the wrong moment. Hardness somewhere from 54-60 HRC, also not finally decided. Different steels would allow to go as far as 67 HRC, but since I have no information on the durability of such over time, I am hesitating to sell something like this for the sheer appeal of the number.

The full-contact fencing one will have a special layout and a safety tip that is stab-safe, of course using high-duty fencing gear (lacrosse gloves, ice hockey gear, 1600 N fencing mask, neck protector). The only comparable sword is made by the same smith for the historic european medieval fencing group led by Thomas Stöppler. The price for this is in discussion, since the polishers at the moment ask an outrageous price for the grinding work of almost $200 for each blade. Without them reducing their fee this would be too expensive for most.

Attached are pictures of the samples I made meanwhile. The tang as you see is forged out of the blade in one piece leading into a rat-tail also forged out of the tang without welding, which is possibly subject to change if I find a better solution. The fittings used at first will be the middle one, the upper and lower is possibly available but costs 4-5 times as much, so I hesitate to use it on the budget version.

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Re: Development of swords for chinese swordmanship

Post by Linda Heenan » Thu May 07, 2009 5:52 pm

I'm interested in the blunt. I think we have to go to steel for realistic training not too much further in the future. It plays very differently to wood and some of the movements we use often do not have the same effect with steel. At present I'm using a longsword, mostly single handed for steel swordplay. A jian would be really nice (when I can afford it). Is the weight and balance realistic? Is the tip rounded enough for real swordsmanship without unnecessary danger to a training partner in a gambeson and perhaps maille?
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Re: Development of swords for chinese swordmanship

Post by Nik » Fri May 08, 2009 6:09 am

The simple blunt one has an edge of ~0.3-0.5 mm, so it does not cut on contact. However, since it is otherwise a normal jian, it is too stiff to do full contact without HEAVY protection gear. I don't know how stiff and stab-safe your colored gear is, but if it is not on the level of butchers chainmail, a strong person would penetrate it at the belly even with a blunt.
I don't know if I would trust a person enough to take it for granted that he sticks to the level of contact negotiated to use such a weapon in practice (_light_ contact to the body).

The full-contact version has a safety tip that bends away like sport fencing weapons. Thomas Stöpplers group does full, heavy contact fencing with this, in the mentioned safety gear.

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Re: Development of swords for chinese swordmanship

Post by Linda Heenan » Fri May 08, 2009 6:23 am

I use my Chinese gambeson and tasset in Reenactment with steel blunts. So far, not even a bruise. Definitely no penetration of the material. I also use a steel helmet, upgraded lacrosse gloves, or borrowed maille backed gauntlets, soccer shinpads under the tasset. I fight against various swords, short and long axes, spears, etc. As long as the jian are not sharp tipped, they should be okay with that armour. I wouldn't want a bendy tip - just a blunt one.

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Re: Development of swords for chinese swordmanship

Post by Nik » Sat May 09, 2009 8:13 am

These are pictures of the tip of the blunt one, it has a normal jian tip, just dissharpened.
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Re: Development of swords for chinese swordmanship

Post by Peter Dekker » Mon May 11, 2009 5:26 am

Nik wrote:The weight is targeted at 700-900g, for versions with heavier fittings 800-950g, POB will be 6" or 6.5" (the latter is a lot faster but feels top-heavier, requiring some strength in the wrist). As each blade is made by the smith master personally, and grinded to form by the same two polishing masters, the weight will be dead on point for each on, with only minor differences (say within 20g, possibly less). So the weight is more a case of preference and selection, not due to make problems, I am open to suggestions here (like having 3 weight groups to select from).
I would suggest complete weights of 650, 750 and 850. Huanuo already covers the 800-950 range, which in my experience many people find quite heavy, and it would be thus good to see some more options on the lighter end of the spectrum.

Nik wrote:The sharp one will obviously be like a historic example with a razor-sharp edge, mirror-polished, not intended to be used for forms, partner-work strictly forbidden.
I personally would urge anybody that wants to understand the art by getting into test-cutting to do train their routines and forms with sharp weapons as much as possible. Of course not in a full hall with many people around for safety reasons. What I see now is that people are often used to their wooden swords or unrealistic floppy steel weapons, and they only pick up a sharp sword when cutting. They thus haven't spend enough time with a real sword in their hands to feel at ease with this sharp edge, get tense, and get a lot sloppier than they are with their safe weapons. This often results in pretty dangerous cutting with little control. I think it is much safer to commence cutting only when one is at ease with a sharp sword in their hands. This can be only attained over time by slowly practicing the various movements with a real sharp sword regularly while paying attention to proper posture and control, and slowly increasing the pace.

Safety weapons should be substitutive tools to be used in the many situations where a sharp sword is undesirable, like during sparring, in crowded training halls, or with unpredictable kids or pets around. But use them too much and the practitioner will get an unrealistic image of what the art is about and tend to lose touch with reality.

Nik wrote:Attached are pictures of the samples I made meanwhile. The tang as you see is forged out of the blade in one piece leading into a rat-tail also forged out of the tang without welding, which is possibly subject to change if I find a better solution. The fittings used at first will be the middle one, the upper and lower is possibly available but costs 4-5 times as much, so I hesitate to use it on the budget version.
What is the brass looking part that seems to fit over the tang at the transition between tang and forte?

Fittings all look good and pretty historical, but my preference would go out to the top and bottom ones. Too bad they are so expensive. Prices these guys in longquan often ask in the West are often outrageous, if you ask me, because they are higher than is normal here and labor is really cheap there. Could you perhaps buy one set and have them cast for less in Europe? http://www.highlandhorn.com can cast similar parts for I believe about 5-6 pounds each. That's about 40-48 quid for a full set.

The one you are intending to use has very wide quillons. I personally haven't seen them quite this wide on antiques. I am very familiar with these fittings and have cut with swords fitted with them in longquan when a visited. With a short handle like on this one, and a proper jian grip (being the "brush-grip" as described in books such as Scott Rodell's Chinese Swordsmanship" and Zhang Yun's "The Art of Chinese Swordsmanship"), the quillons tend to get in the wrist when doing the standard high deflections that come before a liao cut. They make it difficult to keep the point aligned at the target when the sword is raised. A way to work around this is to lengthen the grip somewhat so it can be gripped slightly further away, but better would be to use fittings with slightly less wide quillons.

My two cents, I hope you find my comments useful.

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Re: Development of swords for chinese swordmanship

Post by Nik » Sat May 16, 2009 11:47 am

Peter Dekker wrote:I would suggest complete weights of 650, 750 and 850. Huanuo already covers the 800-950 range, which in my experience many people find quite heavy, and it would be thus good to see some more options on the lighter end of the spectrum.
I thought of that 750 and 850 options, since 650 is probably too light. I assembled a 700g one, and it's already very light to move. 650g is already hard to achieve without a very thin blade and light fittings. Anyways, if people really want that, I let the smith probably make those when they hold up.

Regarding the sharp weapons, I have a different opinion. It's plain too dangerous to take the burden on me to let people use that. I see what happens when I after a long break put my hands on a sword again, it just happens that you make mistakes. And I literally had a blade "in my hand" without even realizing where I touched it, it was a damascenian make, and so incredibly sharp that even this light touch I was not realizing cut my hand to the bone. Not looking nice. One bad move cutting into your leg damaging the arteries, and it takes only 20 seconds to lose consciousness. It's not worth it to gain the necessary seriousness that way.

My advice, and how I learned it, is for the handling to use the blunt to hit chains wrapped into hard leather just with the tip. This way you feel when hitting wrong, it gives you a good feedback. And you need only to protect your eyes when the blade flops around for some mistake. For the mind, you do just the usual practice in a Wuji state of mind, all the necessary follows from that. This also may lead to a state of consciousness where you become a weapon, with all consequences both good and difficult ones. Another approach is to enforce some things with a semi-sharp blade, sharp enough to cut if done properly, but not that sharp that a light touch would cut to the bone. But I would still use a cut-safe woodwork trouser and top. I have enough scars in my face, I don't need any more. ;)
What is the brass looking part that seems to fit over the tang at the transition between tang and forte?
That only fixes the fitting tightly to the blade. It's otherwise not tight enough.
Fittings all look good and pretty historical, but my preference would go out to the top and bottom ones.
Me too. Look below, the samples look really, really good.
Could you perhaps buy one set and have them cast for less in Europe?
I could probably have that made in Romania or other low end locations where work is very cheap. But it doesn't feel right. My approach is, I am willing to give those people a certain fraction of the turnaround of a blade, not necessarily the lowest I can get. When they get more expensive than when I let a german high tech company do it, I will tell them and negotiate something appropriate. I already told them that I will buy the stuff at that price only for the sample shipment, since they went over the line. They were telling me a price X, say $40, and when I ordered they made it suddenly $50, $70 or more. That got me quite furious I must say. They need to make a living off that, since that is their only expertise, which I am accepting. But it has to be kept in perspective. The golden fittings in the middle are very attractive in price, in comparison. I hope we will find a solution on the nicer versions.

On the wide quillons, I see that this style of quillons cuts in the back of the hand (not wrist ?) in extreme positions. This would only worsen with narrower quillons, the other fittings have them displaced from the top line to the handle so the hand cannot touch them. My take on it is, the people who made these fittings were no fools. The extreme hand positions where this gets a problem were most probably not possible due to the way the sword was held and due to the actual techniques used. My handle was long enough to have enough room for that.
My two cents, I hope you find my comments useful.
Yes, of course, that was the intention, to discuss. :)

Here are pictures of the recent samples of jian fittings, for the more expensive versions.
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Re: Development of swords for chinese swordmanship

Post by Nik » Sat May 16, 2009 11:49 am

And here are pics of the dao sample fittings. I have not yet decided if I will have my smith make them since the demand in germany is considerably low.
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Re: Development of swords for chinese swordmanship

Post by Nik » Sun May 17, 2009 11:24 am

I played around with a crudely assembled prototype, and the only problem I encountered with the quillon is that it cuts into the back of the hands when doing certain blade handling practices. On normal movements I didn't touch them.

However, I will try to get some basic fitting without that problem for an acceptable price, but that will pose a task. Otherwise I will just make a version using that better fittings with the price difference just added (with no "premium surcharge").

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Re: Development of swords for chinese swordmanship

Post by Peter Dekker » Mon May 18, 2009 3:14 pm

Hi,
Nik wrote:Regarding the sharp weapons, I have a different opinion. It's plain too dangerous to take the burden on me to let people use that. I see what happens when I after a long break put my hands on a sword again, it just happens that you make mistakes. And I literally had a blade "in my hand" without even realizing where I touched it, it was a damascenian make, and so incredibly sharp that even this light touch I was not realizing cut my hand to the bone.
It can't be stressed enough that edged weapons need to be treated with respect, the forum is drenched with warnings and instructions of safety. But this is the art we practice. Many people are going to do test-cutting with live blades. I am saying that those people would do good in practicing their forms with live blades before trying to cut something up full speed.

Cutting to the bone without realizing where you touched it sounds like some pretty unmindful swordplay. Always visualize the movement one wants to do and be sure to have practiced them slowly before going full-speed.

I've been using sharp swords for about 16 years now, and in these last few years almost only with my forge folded sanmei saber. It is very sharp, but I've never cut myself during play. I got a few cuts in polishing various blades though, but those were small cuts to the hands.) None of the people in my environment that practice cutting have taken any kind of injury from their sword either. This is not a matter of luck, but of mindfulness and of following strict cutting protocol as set out by people like sifu Scott Rodell and also by Paul Champagne.

The bottom line of what I am trying to say is: Yes it is dangerous to handle live blades and everybody should decide for themselves whether they want to get into live-blade training. But only taking out a cutting sword only to cut without practicing basics with it without getting more familiar with it through forms and basic drills, to me, is getting in the heat with too little preparation.

What is the brass looking part that seems to fit over the tang at the transition between tang and forte?
Nik wrote:That only fixes the fitting tightly to the blade. It's otherwise not tight enough.
This is non-traditional. Is this due to the size of the fittings and is there another way to fix it?

Nik wrote:When they get more expensive than when I let a german high tech company do it, I will tell them and negotiate something appropriate. I already told them that I will buy the stuff at that price only for the sample shipment, since they went over the line.
That sounds very familiar! I appreciate your concerns for the profit of the Chinese makers, but in my experience they're often a little too concerned caring about themselves. Prices often go way over the top because they think all Westerners have a million bucks!

Nik wrote:They were telling me a price X, say $40, and when I ordered they made it suddenly $50, $70 or more. That got me quite furious I must say. They need to make a living off that, since that is their only expertise, which I am accepting. But it has to be kept in perspective.
Keep in mind that one can do a lot with little money in China. One can have a wonderful dinner for $3 per person and rent an apartment overlooking the Forbidden City for $400. I've lived there for a while, (and yes had THE apartment) which gives me an idea of what fortunes they are trying to make by charging us way too much when we order.

Nik wrote:This would only worsen with narrower quillons, the other fittings have them displaced from the top line to the handle so the hand cannot touch them. My take on it is, the people who made these fittings were no fools.
It depends on how you grip it, when using proper "brush" grip one gets the of the quillons blocking. Many use a "saber grip" where it is less apparent, but harder to keep the tip at the duifang's head n free play. (Which are the movements one does with training and cutting as well.) Antique quillons were usually quite narrow for a reason. I can't remember ever seeing them this wide on antiques, and those guys had more reason to get it ergonomic than any modern longquan fitting maker.

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Re: Development of swords for chinese swordmanship

Post by Peter Dekker » Mon May 18, 2009 3:17 pm

On fittings, the jian fittings look pretty good. How thick is the brass?

I'm not so sure on the saber fittings. The proportions aren't right and styles not really historical. For example, suspension bars are too short. Do they have more options? I'm really looking forward to some good saber alternatives hitting the market. But if I were you, I'd look for something better styled and proportioned than this.

Do you have Alex Huangfu's book? I may be able to help point out a few good styles.

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Re: Development of swords for chinese swordmanship

Post by Nik » Tue May 19, 2009 5:40 am

Hello Peter,

the brass pieces look very good but are actually too heavy for a one-handed jian. :( I will have to make them lighter grinding off material on the inside. When I order more of them, I may ask the maker to create a lighter form for me. It's wax modelling anyways.

On the saber fittings, I just wanted to have some fittings for a guy who asked me on a heavy training oxtail saber. Unfortunately, I know only crude historical versions of that type, the museum quality ones are the better known imperial dao of which I never saw an oxtail version (do they exist ?). The oxtail fittings should be the ones used by Cold Steel or one of the other big sellers, and they didn't have any other. At the moment I don't think the smith should make highly historical accurate daos of the high end portion of the price range, but frankly, I have no idea if that would be a good market. If so, I think I would look for more accurate fittings. Or did you mean the yanmaodao ones ?
I attach a pic of the three versions I ordered samples on.

On the cut in my hand, it did not happen during practice. I visited a shop and the owner showed me his blades, and when leaving I noticed blood on the ground. I did not even realized I ever touched a blade with my fingers or came near to them, but somehow it happened. I am very reserved on using blades of that incredible sharpness without appropriate gear, it's in my eyes not necessary and not worth the risk. We used other methods to form the state of the mind, but that has consequences.
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Re: Development of swords for chinese swordmanship

Post by Peter Dekker » Fri May 22, 2009 10:39 am

Hi,
Nik wrote:Unfortunately, I know only crude historical versions of that type, the museum quality ones are the better known imperial dao of which I never saw an oxtail version (do they exist ?).
As a late weapon, you'll probably only find relatively crude versions of this weapon. I therefore think that reproductions should also be kept relatively plain. No imperial oxtails are known, they probably didn't exist.

All saber fittings you showed seem historically off quite a bit. Look at the type that has one suspension band and a ring, that's Japanese WW2 inspired stuff. It would be best to have a new set made, while longquan has a few sets of historical jian fittings available, I've never seen a good set of saber fittings coming from there. You could get some inspiration from existing sabers that were published, like those in the Met journal 36, in Philip Tom's article "Some Notable Sabers of the Qing Dynasty in the Metropolitan Museum of Art"

Nik wrote:On the cut in my hand, it did not happen during practice. I visited a shop and the owner showed me his blades, and when leaving I noticed blood on the ground. I did not even realized I ever touched a blade with my fingers or came near to them, but somehow it happened.
That's why I keep stressing slow and mindful sword use. If you touched an edge without knowing, your mind was at one place and your hands at another. Else you would have known what happened and when it happened.

Nik wrote:I am very reserved on using blades of that incredible sharpness without appropriate gear, it's in my eyes not necessary and not worth the risk. We used other methods to form the state of the mind, but that has consequences.
As a purist I take a different view. The danger of one's own edge was a real and daily thing for a Qing -or any other sword wielding- warrior. And so it will be for me if I want to understand, best as I can, the arts practised by the Qing officers, soldiers, rebels and militia I attempt to study. Other fellow cutters have their own reasons for test-cutting, but apart from plain fun this is my main reason for taking this risk: proper understanding of as much facets of the art as possible. The more authentic, the better.

-Peter
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Re: Development of swords for chinese swordmanship

Post by bond_fan » Mon May 25, 2009 7:23 pm

Nik,

These fittings look really good and if can be purchased at a reasonable price as you indicate they can be without having to do too much work to lighten them or clean-up any excess brass leftover from the mold then they would be great for someone trying to restore an old jian or make a newer one look more authentic. 100% solid brass fittings, if they were a weight where if they were be put on a jian blade, so that the total weight is about 850 - 1000 grams, I think would be a good weight if the balance is good.

Thanks for all our efforts!

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Re: Development of swords for chinese swordmanship

Post by Nik » Tue May 26, 2009 6:34 am

You still have to consider that the balance of a given sword can change dramatically when switching the fittings. The lighter, carved, flat simple fittings you can see on the topmost sword in my first post (3 swords) are just half in weight as opposed to the chiseled, contoured one (same post, lower hand sword), they're ~170g to ~350g. The latter is as far as Scott told me a copy of a sword showed in the Metropolitan museum, so it's authentic, but I would have to have a close look to the original to say whether it may be much thinner and thus lighter. However, a friend of mine has an old ceremonial sword that was made as a gift for a statesman, it is totally overmade with blink and jewelry and thus completely off in weight and balance. Same way as you had medieval european swords made for rich or important people which are also of no use as a weapon since they're excessive in weight and decoration.

So, when replacing fittings, you have to keep close to the original weight, or the balance will shift. This leads to completely different feel when the weight changes heavily.

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