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Sword Spotlight: The Chinese Dao

October 11, 2017

Sword Spotlight: The Chinese Dao

The dao is a traditional Chinese sword that was typically used as slashing and chopping weapon. Along with the staff, qiang and jian, it's considered to be one of China's four traditional weapons. To learn more about the dao and its characteristics, keep reading.

Overview of the Dao

Like other well-known swords throughout history, the dao was made in dozens if not hundreds of different variants. However, the most popular variant consisted of a sabre-like design (see photo to the left). It featured a short-to-moderate blade length with a slight curvature and a single edge. Because of its relatively short length, the dao was often described as a sword-knife.

The dao also featured a disc-shaped guard with a slight cupping around the outside. Not only did this protect the user from self-injury, the cupping also prevented water from getting into the sheath and potentially ruining the blade. Of course, there have also been dao specimens recovered that didn't feature any guard. Most, however, features a disc-shaped guard with cupping.

History of the Dao

Some of the earliest examples of the Chinese dao date back to China's Shang Dynasty (1766 to 1122 BC). Chinese swordsmiths created the sword using bronze cast moulds. These early model dao were referred to as zhibeidao.While different swordsmiths created zhibeidao in different ways, most designed the sword with either a straight or slightly curved blade with a single edge.

Originally, the zhibeidao was made of bronze, but this later changed as Chinese swordsmiths gained access to other metals. Fast forward to China's Warring States period -- a time during which swordmaking had transitioned to a new level -- and swordsmiths began making the zhibeidao out of iron and steel.

It's believed that China sold a substantial number of dao to its neighbours in Korea and Japan during the Tang Dynasty. This was important for a few reasons. First, it strengthened relationships between the countries (at least temporarily). Secondly, it influenced these countries' art of swordmaking. After seeing the dao, Korea and Japan began using similar elements in their own swords. The Japanese chukuto, for instance, featured a similar blade design as the Chinese dao.

Today, the dao remains a popular sword among both martial arts practitioners and collectors. Chinese martial arts schools often use the dao in their training, as this centuries-old sword is prized for its versatility and strength. Wushu competitions even feature dao routines.

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