Jul 25, 2012

Weapons & Warriors: The Dadao of the Shaolin

The Dadao is also called a Chinese sabre, Chinese Big Knife, or Chinese Great Sword. This heavy blade has served several purposes over the centuries in China. Some Shaolin monks train in the use of this sword and some daring monks train to use both the Dadao and the Jiujie Bian together. One way to describe the Dadao is that of a machete on steroids.

The blade of the Dadao is perfectly designed for chopping and was modeled after an agricultural tool for harvesting. The Dadao is considered a peasant's sword because it is a pretty simple and does not require a lot of training. The heavy blade and long handle balances the sword so that it is not difficult to maneuver despite its weight. Although it is not a light sword, it is not as heavy as an axe. However, the broad blade is designed to cut with the same power as an axe. The long handle allows for wielding with one or two hands.

The blade is only about two feet in length and the handle is just over a foot. The entire sword’s weight will vary from two pounds to close to four pounds depending on the type of and quality of metal used to forge it. The blade widens at the tip and curves slightly back to the wielder to increase the momentum of the tip. The width of the blade gives the Dadao the strength and speed to chop through bone and leather armor with ease.

This sabre was used for beheading criminals as well as by militias and rebels. The military never used it very much, but on occasion was issued to the troops in desperate times. The sword always proved effective in close quarters combat. The basic technique is chopping, which is about as easy as it gets with swordplay.

In 1933, Northern China was invaded by Japan around the Great Wall of China. The Chinese military was not well equipped and most soldiers only had handguns. The Dadao was issued to a majority of soldiers. It gave the Chinese a chance to hold their ground for a time against the far more advanced and equipped Japanese military.

In the long run the Chinese were forced back south of the Great Wall before signing a truce with Japan. Even a sword that could remove your head without effort can’t stand against bombers and machine guns forever. I read some stories about the battles where some of the Japanese drew katanas to match the Dadao. It would be interesting to see that contest.

In later encounters, the Japanese issued iron collars for their troops when they invaded China. They hoped to protect the soldiers necks from the Dadao, but the fat blade had no issues sliding around the collar and removing the head, or a portion of it, from a different angle.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.

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