To watch a Shaolin Monk perform with Fu Tao is a wonder to behold. These hooked swords are as dangerous to the Monk wielding them as they are to their opponent. The monk will constantly twirl the swords and with a flash he can strike with the razor sharp edges.
The sword blade is narrow and the tip curls forward into a hook. The edges are sharpened so that anything that slips into the hook can be snared. The hooks have a variety of uses, including tripping an opponent or disarming. Another trick used by Shaolin is hooking two swords together to double the reach of the deadly blades twirling them out and slashing with the razor sharp dagger below the handle. The hand guard is a sharpened crescent moon with the points facing away from the hand. No matter what angle the blade strikes from, it can slice into a foe with ease.
These popular flashy swords are often referred to as the Twin Hooks, Hook Swords or Tiger Hooks. The origins of this blade are a little obscure. Historical documentation reveals that they were never used by the military, so they must have been designed by civilians. Some sources said the Fu Tao first appeared during the Qing Dynasty and some say the design is over two thousand year old. I lean towards the more recent period as this weapon seems as if it might not have been very useful in combat till the development of steel. Metals like bronze are softer without proper reinforcement and will bend and break more than a sword should.
The biggest problem with the Fu Tao is transporting them. The design of the hooks and blades makes them virtually impossible to sheath or carry around without cutting oneself. I assume that is one of the reasons that this weapon was never adopted by any military.
Techniques used to wield the Fu Tao properly take years of practice. The dagger at the bottom the sword is particularly dangerous to the Monk wielding the blade. A person who attempts to use the Fu Tao in combat without proper training would most likely slice his own wrists open before he even faces an enemy. This could be another reason military did not adopt these blades. Most military lean towards simpler weapons that can be trained quickly and easily to their soldiers.
There are two variations of Fu Tao. The modern version is made from a single thin piece of metal, but it very fragile. Although sharp enough to cause serious harm to an opponent or the Monk wielding it, this light version is designed for show only.
The heavier version of the Fu Tao was made for combat and requires great strength and excellent discipline to use properly. The hooked blade is thicker and durable so that blocked attacks will not break the blade. The hand guard is a separate piece of metal that is also thicker. This is the version of the weapon you will see in Mortal Kombat.
Here is a great video of a young Shaolin performing with the light version of the Fu Tao.
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.