Last updated

Zhanmadao (斬馬刀)
A zhanmadao "horse butchering dao" from a Qing dynasty illustration, 1766
TypeInfantry anti-cavalry saber
Place of origin Han dynasty, China
Production history
VariantsPossible changdao, miaodao, wodao, zanbatō
LengthApprox 200+ cm
Blade lengthApprox 150+ cm

Blade  typeSingle edged, straight for most of the length, curving in the last third.
Hilt  typeTwo handed

The zhanmadao (Chinese :斬馬刀; pinyin :zhǎnmǎdāo; lit. 'horse chopping saber') was a single-bladed anti-cavalry Chinese sword. It originated during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) and was especially common in Song China (960–1279).


General characteristics

The zhanmadao is a single-edged sabre with a long broad blade, and a long handle suitable for two-handed use. It was used as an anti-cavalry weapon, dating from Emperor Cheng of Han, made to slice through a horse's legs. [1] This is mentioned in the "Wu Jing Zong Yao" a Song Military Manual from 1072. [2] It featured prominently against the Jin armies in campaigns between 1129 and 1141. [3]

The earliest variant of the zhanmadao is called zhanmajian (pinyin :Zhǎn mǎ jiàn), literally "horse beheading jian". Zhanmajian existed during the Han dynasty, so called because it was supposedly able to cut off a horse's head. [4] The difference between the two is that zhanmajian is double-edged whereas the zhanmadao is single-edged, which persists with the meaning of jian and dao. There is other claim suggests that zhanmajian was an execution tool used on special occasions rather than a military weapon. [5]

Surviving examples include a sword that might resemble a nagamaki in construction; it had a wrapped handle 37 centimetres long making it easy to grip with two hands. The blade was 114 centimetres long and very straight with a slight curve in the last half.

Similar weapons

Possible variations of these Chinese swords were the changdao of Tang dynasty and Ming Dynasty, wodao of Qing dynasty, as well as miaodao of the Republican Era. The zhanmadao may have also been the inspiration for the Japanese Zanbatō ( 斬馬刀 ); both are written with the same characters and have been said to have been used for killing the horse and rider in one swing. [6]

See also

Related Research Articles

Pole weapon Type of melee armament with a long shaft for infantry combat

A pole weapon or pole arm is a close combat weapon in which the main fighting part of the weapon is fitted to the end of a long shaft, typically of wood, thereby extending the user's effective range and striking power. Pole weapons are predominantly melee weapons, with a subclass of spear-like designs fit for both thrusting and throwing. Because many pole weapons were adapted from agricultural implements or other tools in fairly large amount of abundance, and contain relatively little metal, they were cheap to make and readily available. When warfare breaks out and the belligerents have a poorer class who cannot pay for dedicated weapons made for war, military leaders often resort to the appropriation of tools as cheap weapons. The cost of training was minimal, since these conscripted farmers had spent most of their lives in the familiar use of these "weapons" in the fields. This made polearms the favored weapon of peasant levies and peasant rebellions the world over.

This is a list of types of swords.

<i>Jian</i> Chinese double-edged sword

The jian 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 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. There are also larger two-handed versions used for training by many styles of Chinese martial arts.

<i>Dao</i> (sword) Single-edged Chinese sword primarily used for slashing and chopping

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".

Zanbatō (斬馬刀) Is an especially large, curved type of fictional sword used by characters in Japanese anime and manga. Books written about nihonto make no references to zanbatō as being actual swords used in feudal Japan. The name zanbatō translates to "horse-slaying sword" or "horse-chopping saber". Original examples came from Song Dynasty China and were employed by anti-cavalry infantry in the same manner.

<i>Ōdachi</i> Sword

The ōdachi (大太刀) or nodachi is a type of traditionally made Japanese sword used by the samurai class of feudal Japan. The Chinese equivalent of this type of sword in terms of weight and length is the miao dao, and the Western battlefield equivalent is the longsword or claymore.

Classification of swords

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.

<i>Guandao</i> Type of pole weapon

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.

The wodao is a Chinese sword from the Ming Dynasty and Qing dynasty. It is typically long and slender, but heavy, with a curved back and sharp blade. It bears a strong resemblance to the Tang sword, zhanmadao, Tachi or Odachi in form. Extant examples show a handle approximately 25.5 cm long, with a gently curved blade 80 cm long.


The miaodao (苗刀) is a Chinese two-handed dao or saber of the Republican Era, with a narrow blade, long hilt, and an overall length of 1.2 metres (47 in) or more. The name means "sprout saber", presumably referring to a likeness between the weapon and a newly sprouted plant. An early reference, in Jin Yiming’s Single Defense-Saber, makes a connection between the miaodao and the Qing-era wodao, as well as mentioning both single and two-handed versions of the ‘’miaodao’’, suggesting that the name originally described the shape only, without any connotations of size. While the miaodao is a recent weapon, the name has come to be applied to a variety of earlier Chinese long sabers, such as the zhanmadao and changdao. Along with the dadao, miaodao were used by some Chinese troops during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Chinese armour Type of armor

Chinese armour was predominantly lamellar from the Warring States period onward, prior to which animal parts such as rhinoceros hide, rawhide, and turtle shells were used for protection. Lamellar armour was supplemented by scale armour since the Warring States period or earlier. Partial plate armour was popular from the Northern and Southern dynasties (420–589), and mail and mountain pattern armour from the Tang dynasty (618–907). Chain mail had been known since the Han Dynasty, but did not see widespread production or battlefield use, and may have seen as "exotic foreign armor" used as a display of wealth for wealthier officers and soldiers. During the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), brigandine began to supplant lamellar armour and was used to a great degree into the Qing dynasty (1644–1912). By the 19th century most Qing armour, which was of the brigandine type, were purely ceremonial, having kept the outer studs for aesthetic purposes, and omitted the protective metal plates.


The changdao was a two-handed, single-edged Chinese sword. The term changdao has been translated as "long saber," "saber-staff," or "long-handled saber." During the Ming dynasty, changdao was often used as a general term for two handed swords. After Republican Era, the term miaodao is sometimes used to describe changdao due to similarity. Tang dynasty sources describe the changdao as being identical to the modao, but the modao may have been a double-edged weapon like earlier zhanmajian.

<i>Podao</i> Type of pole weapon

Podao or pudao is a Chinese single-edged infantry weapon which is still used primarily for training in various Chinese martial arts. The blade of the weapon is shaped like a Chinese broadsword, but the weapon has a longer handle, usually around one to two meters which is circular in cross section. It looks somewhat similar to the guandao.


Commissioned by King Jeongjo in 1790, the Muyedobotongji expanded on the eighteen weapons systems identified in the Muyeshinbo of 1758.

Chicken sickles are a number of Chinese bladed weapons similar to the Hook sword and the Okinawan Kama. They can be used as a single or double weapon. It is considered the special weapon of the Xinyi Liuhe style.

The Yanmaodao is a type of dao used as a standard military weapon during the Ming Dynasty and middle Qing Dynasty (1368–1800). The blade is straight until the curve begins around the center of percussion along the last 1/4 or so of the blade approaching the tip. The center of percussion is the point on the blade with the least vibration on hard contact, the spot on the blade that transmits the most power to the target in a hard chop. This allows for thrusting attacks and overall handling similar to that of the jian, while still preserving much of the dao's strengths in cutting and slashing. This type of sword seems to have lost its popularity with military and martial arts practitioners alike by the end of the 18th century.


The liuyedao or willow-leaf saber is a type of dao that was commonly used as a military sidearm for both cavalry and infantry during the Ming and Qing dynasties. A descendant of the earlier Mongol saber the liuyedao remained the most popular type of single handed sabre during the Ming Dynasty, replacing the role of the military role of the Jian. Many schools of Chinese martial arts originally trained with this weapon.

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

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).

Chinese polearms Overview of pole weapons traditionally used by Chinese armies

The three most common types of Chinese polearms are the ge (戈), qiang (槍), and ji (戟). They are translated into English as dagger-axe, spear, and halberd. Dagger-axes were originally a short slashing weapon with a 0.9 to 1.8 m long shaft, but around the 4th century BC a spearhead was added to the blade, and it became a halberd. The spear is also sometimes called a mao (矛), which is sometimes used to designate polearms with a wavy snake-like spearhead. There was another polearm weapon known as the pi (鈹), translated into English as either sword-staff or long lance, that was used from ancient times until the Han dynasty. It was essentially a short sword attached to a stick. From the Warring States period onward, the length of Chinese polearms varied from around 2.8 m to 5.5 m, however there is no specific designation for a pike in the traditional Chinese lexicon. A very long spear is just called a long spear.


  1. Yang, Jwing-Ming (1 March 1999). Ancient Chinese Weapons: A Martial Artist's Guide. YMAA Publication Center Inc. p. 65. ISBN   978-1-886969-67-4 . Retrieved 27 January 2013.
  2. "The Mongol Siege of Xiangyang and Fan-ch'eng and the Song military". deremilitari.org. Retrieved 6 November 2010.
  3. Scott, Richard Bodley; Gaukroger, Nik (22 September 2009). Empires of the Dragon: The Far East at War. Osprey Publishing. p. 107. ISBN   978-1-84603-690-3 . Retrieved 27 January 2013.
  4. Lorge 2011, p. 103.
  5. Zhan Ma Dao (斬馬刀) , retrieved 15 April 2018
  6. Breverton, Terry (26 April 2012). Breverton's Encyclopedia of Inventions: A Compendium of Technological Leaps, Groundbreaking Discoveries and Scientific Breakthroughs that Changed the World. Quercus Publishing. p. 18. ISBN   978-1-78087-340-4 . Retrieved 27 January 2013.