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Broad Swords for Civilians

Oxtail Sabre.

broad swords niuweidao

The Niuweidao and other broad swords were a popular choice for Chinese civilians and martial artists from the mid 19th Century up to the Boxer Rebellion. The Niuweidao was never a military weapon. Niu Wei Dao means Ox Tail Knife/Sword. It is named, as many of these chinese weapons were, for the shape of the blade. The niuweidao has a much wider blade than the piandao, liuyedao and yanmaodao. Of these four main types of sabre, it was the only one exclusively used by civilians.

You can't always believe what you see in the movies. Soldiers were better trained. They could achieve the precision and control they needed with the narrower bladed swords. Farmers and other civilians were more effective with the oxtail broad swords. A chopping slash with one of them could inflict maximum damage for minimum training.

Even today, the niuweidao is favoured by martial artists and is commonly described as the Chinese broadsword. There are many forms utilising this weapon. In fact, most of the people doing them don't use a real sword. This changes the way a form can be executed because the light, extremely flexible sabers favoured by many schools are not made for martially correct cuts. I prefer to use a full weight sword, either in sharp steel, or in wood, for training in dao form. I like to train in real swordsmanship skills. Others consider this unecessary because they have different goals for their tai chi saber training.

I've put a video below from a practitioner by the name of Ma Chunxi. She is probably using one of the lighter oxtail broad swords I described but I liked the way she seems to be doing her form mindfully, more concerned with correct movements than with flashiness. See what you think.

Characteristics of the Niuweidao

  • Hand and a half grip (sometimes two hands, usually used one handed)

  • Originals were often sanmei construction

  • Broad blade, wider at the tip end than the hilt end, with a flaring tip.

  • Almost always had a canted hilt

  • Often had cord wrapped grips

Historical Notes

Niuweidao appeared in the mid to late 19th century. No one has clearly defined exactly where in China they originated. They were never, as far as we know, used as military swords. The earlier ones had narrower blades than the later ones. there wasn't such a difference between the width of the guard end and tip ends of the blades. This makes them fairly easy to date.

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