Dao (sword)

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Chinese Saber

Dao (Template:Zh-cpw) is a category of single-edge Chinese swords primarily used for slashing and chopping (sabers), often called broadswords in English because some varieties have wide blades. Dao is actually a generic word used to denote any member of a family of single-edged, broad-bladed cutting or slicing tools, but in common, everyday usage means knife. The weapon, also known as dan dao (large knife), is thereby thought to be an adaptation of the kitchen knives common to Chinese cuisine.

The same character, 刀, is used in Japanese, and one of its readings is katana.

Ancient History

From the original bronze swords of the Shang dynasty, to the steel swords of the Qin dynasty through the Qing dynasty, the swords of China had either single-edge curved or double-edge straight blades, and usually had a tip for thrusting. Towards the end of the Han Dynasty, the single-edged dao became increasingly favored over the jian, since the dao was a much more effective cavalry weapon. The initial daos only had a slight curve. The Mongols invaded in the early 13th century in the process of conquering the largest empire in history. The Yuan dynasty of the Mongols influenced China and other nations considerably, particularly in the tools and tactics of war. A favored weapon of the Mongol cavalry was the saber: in modern times merely referred to as a "Turko-Mongol Saber" this simple, one handed, curved blade had been used by the Turkic tribes of Mongolia since the 8th century. Its effectiveness for mounted warfare and dispersion across the entirety of the Mongol empire had lasting effects. It spawned descendants across the continents that in turn produced even more kinds of curved swords over the years. The Persian shamshir, the Indian tulwar, the Afghani pulwar, the Turkish kilij, the Arabian saif, the Mamluke "scimitar", and the European saber and cutlass are all progeny of this Mongol curved blade.

China, being firstly (and completely) conquered by the Mongols, spawned a variety of new blades over the centuries. As well, different regions of China had their distinctive styles. The two most notable breeds of saber are called the liuyedao ("willow leaf knife") and yanmaodao ("goose quill knife"). Derivatives may also include the pole-arms kwan dao and huyadao which bore curved blades on the end of wooden hafts of varying lengths; in addition the neighboring Burmese dha and Siamese krabi bear strong resemblance to the Chinese sabers. The last and still surviving blade of the Mongols' is the niuweidao (oxtail knife), which is the archetypal "Chinese broadsword" of kung fu movies today. The niuweidao was developed in the Qing dynasty but was used only by civilians: it was not a war sword.

The Chinese spear and Dao (liuyedao and yanmaodao) were commonly issued to infantry due to the expense of and relatively greater amount of training required for the effective use of Chinese straight sword, or jian. Dao can often be seen depicted in period artwork displayed proudly both on officers and infantry.

Recent History

Some of the blades from the Qing dynasty lived on and even had descendants see military action in the 20th century. A direct derivative of the huyadao, called "da dao" was used by some Chinese militia units against Japanese invaders in the Second World War. Looking something like a machete with a long handle, these were used during planned ambushes on Japanese troops. Many Chinese martial arts schools still train extensively with the dao, seeing it as a powerful conditioning tool and a versatile weapon, with self defense techniques transferable to similarly sized objects more commonly found in the modern world, such as baseball or cricket bats, for example.

One measure of the proper length of the sword should be from the hilt in your hand and the tip of the blade at the brow and in some schools, the height of shoulder. Alternatively, the length of the sword should be from the middle of the throat along the length of the outstretched arm. There are also significantly larger versions of dao used for training in some Baguazhang and Taijiquan schools.



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