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#340669 - 05/10/07 11:31 PM Cultural / technical questions about the Han sword
Tashigae Offline
Mister Bendy

Registered: 03/08/05
Posts: 690
Loc: Samarobriva, Gallia
Hi there, could anyone here by chance have a clue about the proper way(s) to fasten the Chinese straight sword (jian)? As much as my iaido classes are pretty strict about the right way one should fasten the sword to the obi of the hakama, my gongfu classes never taught me that…

I’ve had the chance to see two kinds of scabbards for Chinese swords. The most common of them has a little chain attached to the scabbard, and although I don’t know the details, it doesn’t look like too much of a mystery (I would imagine they’re worn somewhat the same way as the older Japanese tachi. … [scratches his head and realizes he’s not that sure how the tachi was fastened either] ).
But one that got me wondering more is the older Han-style sword. The scabbard has a funny-shaped piece of metal attached to it. My first idea was that the belt simply had to pass through the long-shaped gap between the said piece and the scabbard, but that wouldn’t account for the then completely useless side parts of the piece. Besides, it would seem very impractical to me since the position of the scabbard fastened that way would in my opinion get in the way of the user’s footwork (or plain walking for that matter) and if needed couldn’t be got rid of without untying the belt entirely; and since every jianfa taolu is performed without the scabbard, I would assume that the Chinese doctrine, unlike the Japanese one, is to fight without keeping the scabbard on (Chinese jianghu movies – although a frequently unreliable source of information – confirm that, except in a few cases when the scabbard is worn on the back, Hollywood-ninja style).
I even wondered for a while if the Chinese sword was even meant to be fastened AT ALL. But I don’t think this possibility holds water either, because if the scabbard was merely meant as protection of the sword for transport, the metal piece I’ve talked about would be superfluous.

Same question goes for sheathing the jian.
Every iaido kata starts with drawing the sword and ends with sheathing the sword., but every jianfa taolu I’ve seen starts with the sword drawn and without the scabbard. Does anyone know how the Chinese straight sword’s 'noto' is performed? I usually sheath my sword the way I’ve been taught to in iaido, but I’m only able to do so because my sword – although of seemingly decent quality – isn’t sharpened on the edges. Unlike the Japanese katana, both edges of the jian are (meant to be) sharp. So you can forget sliding the back of the blade along your left hand…

Come to think about it, some early versions of the Japanese sword, although curved like the classical katana, WERE sharpened on both edges. How were they sheathed ?
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#340670 - 05/11/07 09:44 AM Re: Cultural / technical questions about the Han sword [Re: Tashigae]
Charles Mahan Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 06/14/04
Posts: 2502
Loc: Denton, Tx, USA
Keep in mind that Iaido principles will not apply to other swords. There is no reason to think that your iaido experience will apply to your chinese martial arts. There may have been no noto at all, you simply put the sword up when the fighting was done and your sword had been cleaned.

Not all Japanese arts start with the sword in the saya. Pretty much only that subset of kenjutsu which focuses on nukitsuke(the drawing cut) spend any time training with the sword in the saya. From a practical standpoint, noto is a part of Iai practice, because at some point after the waza is finished the sword has to be put back in the saya so the student can start the next waza. It is also a good oppurtunity to re-enforce the idea of zanshin. In reality there is nothing to stop you from keeping your weapon out until you are well away from the area of combat and can take a moment to properly clean the weapon. Then you can perform any form of noto you like.

I would suggest not getting to caught up on trying to apply the things you learn in Iai to your CMA. It is only going to lead to confusion and corruption of technique. Keep the two things completely seperate.
_________________________
Iaido - Breaking down bad habits, and building new ones.

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#340671 - 05/11/07 10:02 AM Re: Cultural / technical questions about the Han s [Re: Tashigae]
iaibear Offline
Veteran

Registered: 08/24/05
Posts: 1304
Loc: upstate New York
A search in Google for "Chinese Han sword carrying"
turned up an article from Paul Chen swordmakers that said:

"The Paul Chen Han Sword is based on a cavalry pattern from the Han Dynasty ... Although the originals had no scabbard, a simple carrying case is provided ..."
(Please note: no scabbard. They might have been referring to another blade in their catalog.)

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#340672 - 05/11/07 01:03 PM Re: Cultural / technical questions about the Han s [Re: Tashigae]
Benjamin1986 Offline
Enthusiast

Registered: 10/17/04
Posts: 611
Loc: Republic of Texas
Could the "side pieces" you mentioned be for angling the scabbard? Due to the length of a rapier, there are quite often two straps that go through the belt. By adjusting the strap's length, the angle of the sword may be changed so that it is comfortable. I can definitely see something of the sort designed for a jian.

Also, for sheathing, I generally simply angle the blade into the scabbard and push it in. Perhaps use a finger of your off hand on the flat to help get the tip in. The Japanese method may work well for single edged blades, but with a double edge, you want to keep your fingers away.
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#340673 - 05/12/07 05:24 AM Re: Cultural / technical questions about the Han s [Re: Benjamin1986]
Tashigae Offline
Mister Bendy

Registered: 03/08/05
Posts: 690
Loc: Samarobriva, Gallia
Thank you all for your answers.

Mr. Sir ( ), my apologies if I sounded like a ‘sorcerer apprentice’ trying to mix his iaido with his gongfu.

I’ve seen this done a few times (a Japanese sword wielded Chinese-style is not an uncommon thing in western action movies), and my opinion is that it’s a pretty elegant heresy but a heresy nonetheless. Those arts are indeed extremely different and I wouldn’t think of trying to mix them – especially as I’m a beginner in both (not quite 2 years each). Only, noticing how all the ‘side’ actions such as tying the scabbard, drawing the sword, wiping the blade, sheathing the sword etc. are blended in the sword art itself in Japan, I started wondering how the Chinese did all those since they HAD to do them all too, but kept them apart from their sword arts per se. I find it hard to believe that there wasn’t some predetermined way(s) to do them, at least for the sheathing which is a rather delicate maneuver. Especially considering that even if the Chinese culture is a bit more ‘relaxed’ than the Japanese, its taste for codification is still very high according to western standards…

As for the metal piece on the scabbard, the way to use it is still mysterious to me but I’ve found on the net a picture of aother Han sword which has it too. I’ll post it and see if you guys come up with more ideas than me (can’t do it now because the link is in MY computer and I’m now posting from work. A morally highly reprehensible activity, quite in opposition to the ethics of the samurai – well known to have NEVER used their workplace’s computer to talk on their favourite forum while they were supposed to be working).
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#340674 - 05/12/07 01:46 PM Re: Cultural / technical questions about the Han s [Re: Tashigae]
northstar Offline
Member

Registered: 04/30/07
Posts: 40
You've hit a good point there, tashigae.

Unfortunately (in my limited experience) alot of Chinese martial artists aren't very knowledgable about live sword blades (swordcare etc), drawing and the steel they are composed of. Alot of Chinese martial artists don't even want to train with a live, sharp blade. I guess it depends on the reasons you train for, but personally I have always trained with balanced, sharp blades (www.enlightenmentswords.com).

It seems in Chinese martial arts, sword care and sword arts are not always taught together; especially when most "Chinese martial artists" only train with wushu steel type weapons. I've met some masters/people who were very accomplished but knew little about sword care (wiping, maintenance, etc).

The traditional way to maintain a sword was to rub a mineral oil (not exactly sure of its content though I believe it was made with some herb extract) into the blade, over and over again. The heat from the friction of rubbing, the mineral in the oil and the steel would cause a chemical reaction, thus nourishing the steel. Depending on the steel, it would go either a slightly blue or green tint (I believe green was considered the best). This nourishing process also developed a natural defense against rust and corrosion.

While I believe there not much emphasis placed on sheathing the sword in Chinese martial arts, there is an art to drawing.

There are methods of jian fighting that involved using the scabbard as a weapon, both in swordplay or in drawing.
The scabbard could be thrusted or thrown into the opponent as the sword was drawn.

I was told by one of my teachers that often the scabbard would just be tossed away or thrown into their opponent when fighting.

I have learned some miao dao (long sabre), and the first movement of the form is "drawing the sword" (although the sword is already drawn in the form). It involves a big circling body movement to allow for it's length (1.3 metres)! However in miao dao it is also taught to go for your opponent's miao dao if he has one, as it is easier to draw someone else's.

The piece of metal on the scabbard would be used for hanging a sword (jian or dao) on a wall. A sword was sometimes slung over the shoulder on a strap or simply carried. Not sure about attaching it to the sash, but I do know that the strap method was quite popular, easy to adjust the sword so it was positioned along the back or sitting across the lower back with the handle within easy reach.

Regards!

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#340675 - 05/13/07 05:57 AM Re: Cultural / technical questions about the Han s [Re: northstar]
Tashigae Offline
Mister Bendy

Registered: 03/08/05
Posts: 690
Loc: Samarobriva, Gallia
Thank you for your helpful post, Northstar.

Quote:

The traditional way to maintain a sword was to rub a mineral oil (not exactly sure of its content though I believe it was made with some herb extract) into the blade, over and over again. The heat from the friction of rubbing, the mineral in the oil and the steel would cause a chemical reaction, thus nourishing the steel.




I found this particularly interesting. May I ask what your source of info is? I would definitely like to find out more.

In my iaido dojo, we are told to rub the sword's blade with clove oil (makes it smell a bit like a dentist's).

Quote:

The piece of metal on the scabbard would be used for hanging a sword (jian or dao) on a wall.




I had thought of that possibility, and had - prematurely, obviously - discarded it, because the only way I had ever seen a Chinese sword displayed was on a stand, more or less like the Japanese 'kake'.

Knowing what it's used for, I still don't quite understand how it is used, though. This damn odd little bit of metal still keeps a lot of its secrets from me!

--------

I also checked the site you mentioned, and they definitely have some nice swords there. I can't seem to find any mention of the prices though...

Here in China, you can find some folded-steel, selectively tempered blades, for *comparatively* low prices (somewhere around US$600). Not something I'd use at my current level, but I'll post some links if you're interested...


Thanks again for the info!
Take care.
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#340676 - 05/13/07 01:01 PM Re: Cultural / technical questions about the Han s [Re: Tashigae]
northstar Offline
Member

Registered: 04/30/07
Posts: 40
Firstly, you're very welcome. Always happy to share and learn, especially with tidbits of knowledge which I feel fortunate to have discovered.

To answer your question, experience! I've repaired and polished many blades, often painstakingly over a period of hours (not weeks or months, thank goodness) and have handled many blades of varying qualities. While I do own some very fine blades, I haven't the time or environment to sit down and polish them as I described as I have been travelling for sometime now. My teacher however has owned and passed on a few blades that either naturally hued a green or blue tint or were later polished to such a degree.

Quote:

Thank you for your helpful post, Northstar.

Quote:
The traditional way to maintain a sword was to rub a mineral oil (not exactly sure of its content though I believe it was made with some herb extract) into the blade, over and over again. The heat from the friction of rubbing, the mineral in the oil and the steel would cause a chemical reaction, thus nourishing the steel.

I found this particularly interesting. May I ask what your source of info is? I would definitely like to find out more.

In my iaido dojo, we are told to rub the sword's blade with clove oil (makes it smell a bit like a dentist's).




Generally speaking, jian was more often hung on the wall rather than the dao which was more often placed on a stand. The same concepts apply (handle to the left - peacetime; handle to the right, active etc). The dao is a little more interesting though, if the blade faces up, the owner is still alive. Blade facing down, the owner has passed away. There is a Chinese superstition that if you pull the sword open slightly (while it is on display) that it will keep spirits away. A little bit more to it, but will leave it at that.

I'll get in touch with my teacher and find out what that metal piece is called.

Having been in the sword business myself and owning some very good blades (which I've tested) I'd definately be interested to see the links of the swords you were talking about, though I am dubious about alot of swords in the market, I'm sure you understand, being a sword enthusiast yourself.

Quote:

I had thought of that possibility, and had - prematurely, obviously - discarded it, because the only way I had ever seen a Chinese sword displayed was on a stand, more or less like the Japanese 'kake'.



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#340677 - 05/13/07 01:33 PM Re: Cultural / technical questions about the Han s [Re: Tashigae]
northstar Offline
Member

Registered: 04/30/07
Posts: 40
Firstly, you're very welcome. Always happy to share and learn, especially with tidbits of knowledge which I feel fortunate to have discovered.

To answer your question, experience! I've repaired and polished many blades, often painstakingly over a period of hours (not weeks or months, thank goodness) and have handled many blades of varying qualities.

While I've polished blades to bring out their temperline, remove rust, bring them to a mirror sheen, I've yet the patience to rub a sword blade for hours for days on end (plus I'm travelling right now).

My teacher however has owned and passed on a few blades that either naturally hued a green or blue tint or were later polished to such a degree.

Quote:

Thank you for your helpful post, Northstar.

Quote:
The traditional way to maintain a sword was to rub a mineral oil (not exactly sure of its content though I believe it was made with some herb extract) into the blade, over and over again. The heat from the friction of rubbing, the mineral in the oil and the steel would cause a chemical reaction, thus nourishing the steel.

I found this particularly interesting. May I ask what your source of info is? I would definitely like to find out more.

In my iaido dojo, we are told to rub the sword's blade with clove oil (makes it smell a bit like a dentist's).




Generally speaking, jian was more often hung on the wall rather than the dao which was more often placed on a stand. The same concepts apply (handle to the left - peacetime; handle to the right, active etc). The dao is a little more interesting though, if the blade faces up, the owner is still alive. Blade facing down, the owner has passed away. There is a Chinese superstition that if you pull the sword open slightly (while it is on display) that it will keep spirits away. A little bit more to it, but will leave it at that.

I'll get in touch with my teacher and find out what that metal piece is called.

Having been in the sword business myself and owning some very good blades (which I've tested) I'd definately be interested to see the links of the swords you were talking about, though I am dubious about alot of swords in the market, I'm sure you understand, being a sword enthusiast yourself.

Quote:

I had thought of that possibility, and had - prematurely, obviously - discarded it, because the only way I had ever seen a Chinese sword displayed was on a stand, more or less like the Japanese 'kake'.



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#340678 - 05/14/07 03:55 AM Here are the swords! [Re: northstar]
Tashigae Offline
Mister Bendy

Registered: 03/08/05
Posts: 690
Loc: Samarobriva, Gallia
Quote:

I'd definately be interested to see the links of the swords you were talking about, though I am dubious about alot of swords in the market, I'm sure you understand, being a sword enthusiast yourself.




Here you go!
On this page, you'll see a few swords made by Zhou Zhengwu, a reputed swordsmith of the city of Longquan, well known for its long history in swordmaking. I'm not too sure how high the US$ currently is, but I believe the rule of thumb is 10 yuan = 1 dollar. All these swords are folded steel and differentially tempered. As you'll see, the prices vary between 500 and 800 US$ (if I except those swords which, for God knows what reason, appear as costing 0 yuan , which is definitely cheap for a traditionally forged sword by a master swordsmith). Those are mostly Tangdao, a rather little known Chinese sword which is probably the origin of the Japanese katana (in some cases the blade is almost identical, except the Chinese one is usually straight, much like the Hollywood-born 'ninjato' ).
Okay, enough chit-chat, here's the page.


Here's the site of Zhou Zhengwu. I was really impressed by the work of his crew and himself. Every model is available in a variety of configurations, allowing the buyer to choose how folded they like their steel, what type of temper, etc. He makes both Chinese and Japanese style swords (and spears), covers most types of Chinese swords (including the rather uncommon miaodao, by the way), all his models' styles are copied on historical pieces, and I really marveled at the beauty of some of his blades (I only once had the chance to see one with my own eyes, though). Besides, unlike most sites I could link you to, his site is in English - which might help.
Here it is.
There are no prices there, but I guess it might be cheaper to order directly to the forge rather than buying from a site like my first link...

Enjoy!



PS: Moderators, I hope this is not seen as advertising. I'm not connected to Zhou Zhengwu whatsoever and just want to share what I believe to be a good find. If, however, you consider my post to be against forum rules, feel free to delete it and I'll just PM anyone interested.
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