The jian (pronunciation [tɕjɛ̂n] （劍）, English approximation: // jyehn) is a double-edged straight sword used during the last 2,500 years in China. The first Chinese sources that mention the jian date to the 7th century BCE, during the Spring and Autumn period; one of the earliest specimens being the Sword of Goujian. Historical one-handed versions have blades varying from 45 to 80 centimeters (18 to 31 inches) in length. The weight of an average sword of 70-centimetre (28-inch) blade-length would be in a range of approximately 700 to 900 grams (1.5 to 2 pounds). There are also larger two-handed versions used for training by many styles of Chinese martial arts.
Professional jian practitioners are referred to as jianke (Chinese :剑客; pinyin :jiànkè; lit. 'sword guests' or "swordsmen"; a term dating from the Han dynasty).
In Chinese folklore, it is known as "The Gentleman of Weapons" and is considered one of the four major weapons, along with the Gun (staff) , Qiang (spear) , and the Dao (sabre) . These swords are also sometimes referred to as taijijian or "tai chi swords", reflecting their current use as training weapons for taijiquan practitioners, though there were no historical jian types created specifically for taijiquan.
A guard or hilt protects the hand from an opposing blade. Guard shapes varied, but often had short wings or lobes pointing either forward or backward, the latter sometimes having an “ace of spades” appearance. Early jian often had very small, simple guards. From the Song and Ming periods onward guards could feature zoomorphic shapes, or have crossbars and quillons. A minority of jian featured the disc-shaped guards associated with dao .
The jian’s hilt can accommodate the grip of both hands or one hand plus two or three fingers of the other hand. Two-handed jiàn of up to 1.6 meters (63 inches) in length, known as shuangshou jian, existed but were not as common as the one-handed version. The longer two-handed handle could be used as a lever to lock the opponent's arm if necessary. Grips are usually of fluted wood or covered in rayskin, with a minority being wrapped with cord.
The end of the handle was finished with a pommel for balance, to prevent the handle from sliding through the hand if the hand's grip should be loosened, and for striking or trapping the opponent as opportunity required — such as in "withdrawing" techniques. The pommel was historically peened onto the tang of the blade; thereby holding together as one solid unit the blade, guard, handle, and pommel. Most jian of the last century or so are assembled with a threaded tang onto which the pommel or pommel-nut is screwed.
Sometimes a tassel is attached to the hilt. During the Ming Dynasty these were usually passed through an openwork pommel, and in the Qing through a hole in the grip itself; modern swords usually attach the tassel to the end of the pommel. Historically these were likely used as lanyards, allowing the wielder to retain the sword in combat. There are some sword forms which utilize the tassel as an integral part of their swordsmanship style (sometimes offensively), while other schools dispense with sword tassels entirely. The movement of the tassel may have served to distract opponents, and some schools further claim that metal wires or thin silk cords were once worked into the tassels for impairing vision and causing bleeding when swept across the face.[ citation needed ] The tassel's use now is primarily decorative.
The blade itself is customarily divided into three sections for leverage in different offensive and defensive techniques. The tip of the blade is the jiànfeng, meant for stabbing, slashing, and quick percussive cuts. The jiànfeng typically curves smoothly to a point, though in the Ming period sharply angled points were common. Some antiques have rounded points, though these are likely the result of wear. The middle section is the zhongren or middle edge, and is used for a variety of offensive and defensive actions: cleaving cuts, draw cuts, and deflections. The section of blade closest to the guard is called the jiàngen or root, and is mainly used for defensive actions; on some late period jian, the base of the blade was made into a ricasso. These sections are not necessarily of the same length, with the jiànfeng being only three or four inches long.
Jian blades generally feature subtle profile taper (decreasing width), but often have considerable distal taper (decreasing thickness), with blade thickness near the tip being only half the thickness of the root's base. Jiàn may also feature differential sharpening, where the blade is made progressively sharper towards the tip, usually corresponding to the three sections of the blade. The cross-section of the blade is typically lenticular (eye-shaped) or a flattened diamond, with a visible central ridge; ancient bronze jian sometimes have a hexagonal cross-section.
Jian were originally made from bronze, then steel as metal technology advanced. There are some, perhaps ceremonial, jian which are carved from a single solid piece of jade.
Traditional jian blades are usually of sanmei (three plate) construction, which involved sandwiching a core of hard steel between two plates of softer steel. The central plate protrudes slightly from its surrounding pieces, allowing for a sharp edge, while the softer spine protects the brittle core. Some blades had wumei or five plate construction, with two more soft plates being used at the central ridge.Bronze jian were often made in a somewhat similar manner: in this case an alloy with a high copper content would be used to make a resilient core and spine, while the edge would be made from a high-tin-content alloy for sharpness and welded onto the rest of the blade.
The sword smiths of China are often credited with the forging technologies that traveled to Vietnam, Japan and Korea to allow sword smiths there to create such weapons as the katana. These technologies include folding, inserted alloys, and differential hardening of the edge.While the Japanese would be more influenced by the Chinese dāo (single-edged swords of various forms), the early Japanese swords known as ken are often based on jian. The Korean version of the jian is known as the geom or gum, and these swords often preserve features found in Ming-era jian, such as openwork pommels and sharply angled tips.
In martial art schools wooden swords are used for training, so most martial arts students' first experience with a jian in modern times is with one of those weapons. Before schools were a formal way of passing on sword knowledge, students may begin with a simple wooden stick when training with their teacher.In some religious Taoist sects, those wooden practice swords have come to have an esoteric ritual purpose. Some claim that these wooden swords metaphorically represent the discipline of an accomplished student.
Contemporary jian versions are often forged (shaped with heat and hammer) and assembled by mostly traditional methods for training of practitioners of Chinese martial arts around the world. These jian vary greatly in quality and historical accuracy.
Contemporary jian are also sometimes forgeries (artificially aged and misrepresented as original antiques), for sale to tourists and collectors who cannot distinguish them from true antiques.
Originally similar to bronze double-edged daggers in varying lengths, jian reached modern lengths by roughly 500 BC. Though there is significant variation in length, balance, and weight of the jian from different periods, within any given period the general purpose of the jian is to be a multipurpose cut and thrust weapon capable of stabbing, as well as making both precise cuts and slashes, as opposed to specializing in one form of use. Although the many forms and schools of swordsmanship with the jian vary as well, the general purpose and use is still not lost.
During the Qin and Han dynasties, the first two dynasties which united China, jian from the by then defunct Chu dynasty were very highly regarded. Chu became particularly famous for its swords after conquering the state of Yue, who had previously been famous for their swords, and who credited their sword techniques to a southern woman of unknown ancestry referred to as Yuenü.
Among the Terracotta warriors in the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, figures representing officers were originally armed with jian made from an alloy of copper, tin, and other elements including nickel, magnesium, and cobalt. Several double-edged bronze swords have been recovered by modern archaeologists, but most were stolen centuries ago along with the polearms and bows of the enlisted men.
Historical jian wielders would engage in test cutting called shizhan, practicing their skills on targets known as caoren, or "grass men". Such targets were made from bamboo, rice straw, or saplings. Though similar to the Japanese art of tameshigiri, shizhan was never formalized to the extent that the latter art was.
Today many Chinese martial arts such as taijiquan and their martial artists still train extensively with jian and expertise in its techniques is said by many of them to be the highest physical expression of their kung fu. Famous jian forms include Sancai Jian (三才劍), Kunwu Jian (崑吾劍), Wudang Xuanmen Jian (武當玄門劍), and Taijijian (太極劍). Most jian today are flexible tai-chi or wushu jian used mainly for ceremonial or performance purposes and not for actual combat. These swords have extremely thin blades or a high degree of flexibility compared to historical battlefield quality jian, properties intended to add auditory and visual appeal to a wushu performance. These same properties render them unsuitable for historically accurate combat.
Since 2008, officers in the Chinese navy are issued with ceremonial swords resembling the traditional jian.Each sword has the owner's name engraved on the blade after graduation from the military academy.
There are several Taoist immortals who are associated with the jian. One example is Lü Dongbin. The bodhisattva Mañjuśrī (Ch: 文殊Wénshū) is often depicted holding a jian, which is then referred to as the "sword of wisdom".
Jian frequently appear in wuxia fiction and films. The swords or the techniques used to wield them may be effectively or explicitly supernatural,and the quest for such swords or techniques may be a major plot element.
A sword is a bladed melee weapon intended for cutting or thrusting that is longer than a knife or dagger, consisting of a long blade attached to a hilt. The precise definition of the term varies with the historical epoch or the geographic region under consideration. The blade can be straight or curved. Thrusting swords have a pointed tip on the blade, and tend to be straighter; slashing swords have a sharpened cutting edge on one or both sides of the blade, and are more likely to be curved. Many swords are designed for both thrusting and slashing.
The hilt of a knife, dagger, sword, or bayonet is its handle, consisting of a guard, grip and pommel. The guard may contain a crossguard or quillons. A tassel or sword knot may be attached to the guard or pommel.
Dao are single-edged Chinese swords, primarily used for slashing and chopping. The most common form is also known as the Chinese sabre, although those with wider blades are sometimes referred to as Chinese broadswords. In China, the dao is considered one of the four traditional weapons, along with the gun, qiang (spear), and the jian, called in this group “The General of Weapons".
Swordsmanship or sword fighting refers to the skills of a swordsman, a person versed in the art of the sword. The term is modern, and as such was mainly used to refer to smallsword fencing, but by extension it can also be applied to any martial art involving the use of a sword. The formation of the English word "swordsman" is parallel to the Latin word gladiator, a term for the professional fighters who fought against each other and a variety of other foes for the entertainment of spectators in the Roman Empire. The word gladiator itself comes from the Latin word gladius, which is a type of sword.
The kampilan is a type of single-edged sword, traditionally used by various ethnic groups in the Philippine archipelago. It has a distinct profile, with the tapered blade being much broader and thinner at the point than at its base, sometimes with a protruding spikelet along the flat side of the tip. The design of the pommel varies between ethnic groups, but it usually depicts either a bakunawa (dragon), a buaya (crocodile), a kalaw (hornbill), or a kakatua (cockatoo).
The English language terminology used in the classification of swords is imprecise and has varied widely over time. There is no historical dictionary for the universal names, classification or terminology of swords; A sword was simply a double edged knife.
A guandao is a type of Chinese pole weapon that is used in some forms of Chinese martial arts. In Chinese, it is properly called a yanyuedao, the name under which it always appears in texts from the Song to Qing dynasties such as the Wujing Zongyao and Huangchao Liqi Tushi. It is comparable to the Japanese naginata and the European fauchard or glaive and consists of a heavy blade with a spike at the back and sometimes also a notch at the spike's upper base that can catch an opponent's weapon. In addition there are often irregular serrations that lead the back edge of the blade to the spike. The blade is mounted atop a 1.5 m to 1.8 m (5–6 foot) long wooden or metal pole with a pointed metal counter weight used to balance the heavy blade and for striking on the opposite end.
In martial arts, a waster is a practice weapon, usually a sword, and usually made out of wood, though nylon (plastic) wasters are also available. The use of wood or nylon instead of metal provides an economic and safe option for initial weapons training and sparring, at some loss of genuine experience. A weighted waster may be used for a sort of strength training, making the movements of using an actual sword comparatively easier and quicker. Wasters as wooden practice weapons have been found in a variety of cultures over a number of centuries, including ancient China, Ireland, Iran, Scotland, Rome, Egypt, medieval and renaissance Europe, Japan, and into the modern era in Europe and the United States. Over the course of time, wasters took a variety of forms not necessarily influenced by chronological succession, ranging from simple sticks to clip-point dowels with leather basket hilts to careful replicas of real swords.
Korean swords have served a central place in the defense of the nation for thousands of years. Although typical Korean land battles have taken place in wide valleys and narrow mountain passes, which favor use of the spear and bow, the sword found use as a secondary, close-quarters weapon, especially useful during sieges and ship-to-ship boarding actions. Higher quality, ceremonial swords were typically reserved for the officer corps as a symbol of authority with which to command the troops. Ceremonial swords are still granted to military officials by the civilian authority to this day.
Since the 1970s, there has been a revival of traditional or reconstructed methods of swordsmanship based on the Korean sword in the Republic of Korea, supplementing the practice of Kumdo. There are historical sources on which such reconstructions are based, dating to the 17th and 18th centuries, notably the Muyejebo of 1610, its 1759 revision Muyeshinbo, supplemented with 12 additional fighting methods by Prince Sado who originated the term Sip Pal Ki, and the renewed revision of 1790, Muyedobotongji.
Sword making, historically, has been the work of specialized smiths or metalworkers called bladesmiths or swordsmiths. Swords have been made of different materials over the centuries, with a variety of tools and techniques. While there are many criteria for evaluating a sword, generally the four key criteria are hardness, strength, flexibility and balance. Early swords were made of copper, which bends easily. Bronze swords were stronger; by varying the amount of tin in the alloy, a smith could make various parts of the sword harder or tougher to suit the demands of combat service. The Roman gladius was an early example of swords forged from blooms of steel.
Qiang is the Chinese term for spear. Due to its relative ease of manufacture, the spear in many variations was ubiquitous on the pre-modern Chinese battlefield. It is known as one of the four major weapons, along with the gun (staff), dao (sabre), and the jian, called in this group "The King of Weapons".
Commissioned by King Jeongjo in 1790, the Muyedobotongji expanded on the eighteen weapons systems identified in the Muyeshinbo of 1758.
Taijijian is a straight two-edged sword used in the training of the Chinese martial art Taijiquan. The straight sword, sometimes with a tassel and sometimes not, is used for upper body conditioning and martial training in traditional Taijiquan schools. The different family schools have various warmups, forms and fencing drills for training with the jian.
Bladesmithing is the art of making knives, swords, daggers and other blades using a forge, hammer, anvil, and other smithing tools. Bladesmiths employ a variety of metalworking techniques similar to those used by blacksmiths, as well as woodworking for knife and sword handles, and often leatherworking for sheaths. Bladesmithing is an art that is thousands of years old and found in cultures as diverse as China, Japan, India, Germany, Korea, the Middle East, Spain and the British Isles. As with any art shrouded in history, there are myths and misconceptions about the process. While traditionally bladesmithing referred to the manufacture of any blade by any means, the majority of contemporary craftsmen referred to as bladesmiths are those who primarily manufacture blades by means of using a forge to shape the blade as opposed to knifemakers who form blades by use of the stock removal method, although there is some overlap between both crafts.
The parrying dagger is a category of small handheld weapons from the European late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. These weapons were used as off-hand weapons in conjunction with a single-handed sword such as a rapier. As the name implies they were designed to parry, or defend, more effectively than a simple dagger form, typically incorporating a wider guard, and often some other defensive features to better protect the hand as well. They may also be used for attack if an opportunity arises. The general category includes two more specific types, the sword breaker and trident dagger.
Scott M. Rodell is a martial artist, author, and teacher of Yang-style taijiquan. He is the founding director of Great River Taoist Center, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C.
Historically, all Chinese swords are classified into two types, jian and dao. Jians are double-edged straight swords while daos are single-edged, and mostly curved from the Song dynasty forward. The jian has been translated at times as a long sword, and the dao a saber or a knife. Bronze jians appeared during the Western Zhou period and switched to wrought iron and steel during the late Warring States period. In modern times, the ceremonial commissioned officer's sword of the Chinese navy has been patterned after the traditional jian since 2008.
Chinese swordsmanship encompasses a variety of sword fighting styles native to China. No Chinese system teaches swordsmanship exclusively, but many eclectic schools of Chinese martial arts include instruction for using one or two-handed versions of the single-edged sword (dao) and the double-edged sword (jian).
The Muyesinbo is a Korean martial arts manual published in 1759. The book is a revision of the older Muyejebo, made during the reign of King Youngjo (1724–1776). It adds twelve disciplines or "skills" of both armed and unarmed fighting by Prince Sado to the original six which were descbribed in the Muyejebo. No copies of the Muyesinbo have survived, but its contents can easily be determined by tracing back and comparing the Muyejebo with the later Muyedobotongji.
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