The Miao dao (苗刀) is a Chinese two-handed saber that came to some prominence about 100 years ago. As can be seen in the image below (of Wang Zhihai, famed for his Green Dragon form), the blade is long (up to 1.2 meters), narrow, and has a long hilt. The word ‘Miao’ describes a long, skinny rice sprout. The word has nothing to do with the Maio (also known as Hmong) peoples: given their unfortunate history, good swords and better swordsmanship would have been useful. There are earlier Chinese long sabers such as Zhan ma dao and Chang dao, whose relationship to the Miao dao is difficult to clarify. At any rate, Miao dao is found today in at least Tong Bei and Pi Qua.
Not visible, but above the two double-ended brass-shafted spears is a Bagua BIG broadsword. Below the spears from left to right a padded three-section staff (black), Bagua deer horn knives, a shorter kan dao, a ghost head broadsword, a goose wing broadsword, a longer kan dao, two daggers and an unpadded three-section staff (brown). Then butterfly wings (horizontal), a whisk (pink!), red and blue fans, two sun-moon spear swords and a throwing knife. Some miscellaneous staffs stored horizontally at the bottom.
There are at least four weapons in Chinese martial arts with flexible linkages. The theory is that most opponents are used to linear stabbing and more or less linear slashing. It is hoped that someone wielding a flail, which is a five foot long staff that makes up the handle to which is joined, usually by rope or a chain, a 12-18 inch wooden rod. There are a few problems: the flail is not blindingly fast on offense or defense; it can be reduced to firewood by most sabers, pole arms and swords; and the primary striking part – the rod – is not all that easy to control with any accuracy. For a variety of additional reasons Bruce Lee used a type of flail called a nunchaku in Japanese. Instead of a long handle and a rod we have two rods. The nunchaku has even less defensive capability than the flail. There aren’t a lot of kung fu or samurai movie scenes where a fighter armed with one or two nunchakus defeats a swordsman. Of the thirty-five weapons we practice with we’d rate nunchakus 34th least lethal ahead of only the fan.
However, in certain situations nunchakus, meteor hammers and flexible whips can be just the thing. They would be a tactical asset for someone in a wheelchair, for example. It is a bit awkward strapping a pu dao alongside, but a flexible weapon extends the reach and is certain to be a surprise for the despicable opponent (attacking someone in a wheelchair is really low). So if we had a student with limited mobility we’d encourage the study of at least three of the linked weapons. It turns out there are quite a few interesting moves with ProChux. Who could resist carving Lissajous curves in three-dimensional space?
Additional rack space for weapons will soon be needed so it was off to Home Depot for red oak (we love the grain patterns – the hardness of the wood not so much), L- and T- straps and various hooks. After getting the wood home it must be sanded and trimmed to length. Then a coating of mineral spirits is rubbed in to highlight the grain. Once that dries the future frame is laid out and the tedious process of aligning and drilling starts. Getting screws into red oak takes some doing as well as a little sensitivity: even brass screws can be over-tightened enough to snap them. This wastes time as one must try to get enough purchase with something like a vise-grip ply wrench to unscrew and remove the broken brass. Without leaving a crater. There are usually ten screws per strap. Some favor putting Gorilla Glue in the wood to wood joints. In this case when the four (4) 84 inch verticals were joined to the two (2) 60 inch horizontals it was time to drill the hook holes and apply the first coat of Rust-Oleum’s Varathane.
While all of this was going on a major fire near Mt. Diablo to the south had filled the skies with smoke. It was very alarming to hear that the fire had grown from a few acres to 100, 200 and finally 500 by Sunday sunset. As of Monday sunset the estimate is headed for 4,000 acres.
One alternative might be to replace the crescents with the nine-teeth style hand guards shown above. These are shown on some sickles from Wing Lam Enterprises.
These Sun-Moon swords, also from Wing Lam Enterprises, have a third kind of hand guard. Approximately half the length of the butterfly or cicada wing, but to compensate one has twice the number of blades, and now the two weapons can act more or less independently.
The way the crescent blades are arranged one gives up some extension if hands must stay in the blue-wrapped areas of the handle behind the crescents. By shifting the leading hand backward into the relatively unprotected middle area as shown above one increases the striking distance, at least temporarily. Perhaps a more continuous parallel second blade should replace the two crescents. That said, threading the needle to strike in the middle of the handle while the butterfly (or cicada) wing is flying is no easy task. The weapon as built seems ungainly were one to try to wield two at once. However, if it could unscrew or otherwise separate at the midpoint of the blue handle area one might have two formidable swords.
There is a short set involving this weapon or something closely related to it. There’s a great deal of spinning of the weapon along its long axis – some melons are going to experience satori or something in order to determine if the weapon has much offensive cutting power when it is spinning. To be sure, there’s plenty of damage that can be done stabbing with a point while both hands are in the handle area. Similarly, with two hands working a slash with one of the ends could be quite vicious. On the other hand, so as to speak, while the two small crescent blades make a defensive contribution, it is not so obvious that they are much of a threat even in a clinch. Maybe simple triangles would be more threatening – and deadly.
The Butterfly Wings Spear is also known as the Cicada Wing Spear.
I e-wrote to Sifu David Chang of San Jose (http://www.wushucentral.com/), and he suggested Sifu Bryant Fong (http://www.beijingbagua.com/) might know something about the weapon. The latter e-replied “I have seen Sifu Tony Chen perform it, but I didn’t ask him what style it was from…..tho he is primarily an Ermei Wushu stylist.”