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Two Handed Sword Types
from China


The Chinese had many types of two handed sword. A common error is to brand all the willow leaf shaped two handed sabres, "Miaodao". This is, in fact, the name of only one specific type of sword, rather than a group of them. I'm in the process of researching these weapons, so this page will grow with my knowledge, and your input. Since I do not read Chinese, my sources are secondary, but I'll choose them carefully so as not to reiterate statements by people who have passed them on without research. Let's begin with something from a knowledgeable scholar - Scott Rodell, who never accepts passed on knowledge about martial arts history as fact, without looking into it carefully for himself.

Rediscovering the Chinese Longsword

by Scott Rodell

Miao Dao

A two handed sword of the Republican era. This sabre has a narrow blade similar to the one handed liuyedao shape. The Miao Dao blade can be up to 1.2 metres long and the hilt is also long. The hilt easily fits two hands with enough space to hold the sword in more than one way. When the hands are held close together or touching, the sword can be quickly spun into a cut. When the hands are held apart on the hilt, one can be used as a fulcrum while the other pushes or pulls the blade into a cut. These are different techniques, both useful and both part of Miao Dao swordsmanship.

The word miao means new growth or sprout. It describes a long grain leaf, which is what this sword shape resembles.

Zhanmadao, Dadao and Kanmadao

Zhan means severing or beheading. Zhanmadao were used in the Song dynasty and all the way through to the Qing. They had wide blades, unlike the Miaodao. There are plenty of pictures of this sword, often strapped to the back of soldiers carrying other weapons. Even when guns came into use for warfare, soldiers carried these swords. There was one division called the Big Blade Squad.

A two handed sword with a single sided long broad blade, such as this, was useful against mounted troops. Infantry carrying these swords used them against the legs of horses and then against the fallen or falling riders. One swing could take out both the horse and the rider if executed correctly. Such a sword might have a wrapped handle, a 37cm hilt, and a 114cm blade. It would be quite straight with a moderate curve towards the tip in the last half.

What you call zhanmadao (above) are more usually called dadao, hence their use by the da dao hui, the big sword society. I think dadao are often called zhanmadao in the south of China, but zhanmadao should more specifically be a two handed willow leaf shape as shown on p144 of "Iron and Steel Swords of China" as opposed to the dadao shown on p242. The zhanmadao is described and depicted in the Huangchao Liqi Tushi.

Longer handled dadao can also be called kanmadao (horse chopping knife), particularly in the south. In the north, a dadao with handle and blade of equal length is sometimes called a pudao. What would be called a halbard by Westeners could also be called a dadao when is does not have a more specific name like "reclining moon knife".


This means long edged big knife. There has been some conjecture that these were modelled after the Japanese taichi or nodachi used by pirates. It is possible but there is no clear evidence to support this theory. A changdao could be up to 5 feet long. These really long two handers were at their best used as part of an armed squad. Eight soldiers would team with different weapons including the big two handed swords, polearms, arrows, etc, to bring down the enemy together.


Used by Imperial Guardsmen during the Sui - Tang dynasties.

Forms and Manuals

Those who like to do thorough research for themselves might want to look into some of the following Chinese two handed sword forms and manuals:

  • General Qi Jiguang - Shuangsoudao

  • Monk Cheng - Dandao

  • Republican era adaptations of the Dandao called Miaodao

  • Huan Bo Nien (1880 - 1954) - Republican era Xingyi Fist and Weapons manual

  • Ji Xiao Xian Shu - General Qi Jiguang two handed sabre manual

  • Yin Yu Zhan (1890 - 1950) - Slashing Saber practice.

This page on two handed swords will continue to develop as my research continues. I practice Miaodao as part of my own martial arts training.

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