In traditional Chinese martial art, majority of practice was dedicated to weapons training. These weapons were usually separated into these major
categories: 1) long, hard weapons such as the spear, 2) short, hard weapons such as sword, 3) soft weapons such as whip, 4) projectile weapons such
as bow and arrow, and 4) throwing weapon such as the dart. Then there were many special weapons used by different groups.
Dao is one of the most common weapons, used by almost every martial art group. Usually dao means single-edged sword with curved shape. Dao can
be either a short or long weapon, depending on how long its handle is. Most of the time if people just say dao, they are referring to the short dao. The
handle length of a short dao is typically from a half foot to one and a half foot, so that it can be wielded by either one or two hands. A long-handled dao
usually is called da dao, big sword. The handle of a da dao can be 5 feet or more.
When practiced as a short weapon, there are two basic styles: dan dao, where only one sword is used, and shuang dao, where two swords were
used at the same time. Many groups also combine dan dao with other types of weapon, such as shield, whip etc.
In China, jian – straight double-edge sword, appeared before dao. But dao later surpassed jian in popularity because it is easier to make, easier to
learn, and easier to use. There are many different types of dao. Depend on the length, width, and shape of the blade, the skills can be very different.
Taiji Dao belongs to the short weapons category. Within that category, dao is usually translated as either broadsword or saber. Taiji Dao does not
resemble the common broadsword, but it is not exactly like a saber either. For this reason, we usually refer to it as just Taiji Dao. But for easy reading,
in the article we will use the word "sword" when referring to it in this article.
1. The Features of Taiji Dao
Traditionally Taiji Dao is dan dao. Some Taiji groups also have shuang dao skills. Here we will just talk about the more common dan dao skills.
In Chinese, when we say the word “dao”, we can be talking about two things: the type of sword, or the type of sword skill. Taiji Dao is a special
shaped sword used in Taiji Quan group. Taiji Dao also refers to special sword skills which follows Taiji Quan principle, practiced in Taiji Quan group
using the specially shape sword.
1.1 The shape of Taiji Dao
The basic physically characteristics of a weapon dictates to a large extend the type of skill that can be used with it. So before we discuss Taiji Dao
skills, we need to talk about its shape.
Figure 1. The shape of a Taiji Dao
There are three major parts for a Taiji Dao: dao – the sword; daoqiao – the scabbard of the sword; and daocai – the tassel of the sword, used
occasionally during demonstrations, but not often in regular practice. As a sword, Taiji Dao includes four basic parts: the blade, the hand guard, the
handle, and the ring pommel.
(1) Daoti – the blade of the sword
A Taiji Dao blade is long and narrow, usually more than three feet long and one-and-a-half to two inches wide. It includes three parts and each is
associated with different types of skills.
Daotou – the head of the sword: The head of the sword begins at the tip of the blade and extends 6 to 12 inches down. Called daojian, the tip or
point of a Taiji Dao differs from the tip of all other dao in that it is double-edged. The sharpened top edge is called shangren. Its can be from half a foot
to two feet long, depending on the practitioner’s preference. The lower or front sharpened edge is called qianren. It extends the length of the head. Since
the upper edge makes the head of Taiji Dao look like a jian, Taiji Dao is also known as dan bei jian or single backed jian.
Daoshen – the body of the sword: Daoshen is the middle part of the blade. The side of the sword that extends down from the upper edge is called
daobei – the back or spine of the blade. Daobei, unlike shangren, is dull rather than sharp. Zhongren, the middle edge, refers to the side of the blade
that extends down from the front edge of the sword. Like the front edge, it is sharp and, as a result, the middle edge and the front edge are often
referred to as one continuous section called daoren, or the edge of the sword.
The flat side of the blade is called Daomian, or the flat of the blade. On both flat sides of the sword, there may be one or two grooves, primarily used to
allow the blood of the opponent to flow outward, relieving the suction that can be created sometimes when the blade enters the body. For this reason
this groove is called xuecao - “blood groove” or “fuller.” A second function of the groove is to lighten the blade while allowing it to retain its strength and
stiffness, similar to the effect produced by a steel I-beams used in modern construction.
Daogen – the root of the sword: Below daoshen is daogen, the root or ricasso of the sword. This 4 to 6 inch long section of the blade is the strongest
part of the sword. It can be used for hard blocks because the edge here is blunt, and it is also the part of the blade closest to the hand.
(2) Hushou – the hand guard of the sword
Shaped like an “S,” the hand guard of a Taiji Dao is unique. Its special shape allows the sword to be used not only to block an opponent’s weapon but
also trap it by hooking onto it. Consequently, the number of hand guard skills for Taiji Dao is much greater than that of regular dao.
(3) Daoba – the handle of the sword
The handle of a Taiji Dao is referred to as either daoba or daobing. At 10 to 12 inches long, it is longer than the handles of most other single swords.
It can be wielded with both hands.
(4) Daohuan – the ring of the sword
The pommel of a Taiji Dao is a ring with a diameter usually about 3 inches. The pommel’s shape dates back more than two thousand years ago. Many
Taiji Dao skills rely on this unique feature. These will be described in a later section.
1.2 The development of Taiji Dao
Compare to most other types of dao, the most salient
differences for Taiji Dao is that it is longer and thinner
than most dao. The total length of a Taiji Dao can be more
than 50 inches. This type of sword has a long history.
From archaeology discoveries, we know that this type of
swords was already very well made during the Han
Dynasty (see figure 2). Around that period (206BC –
220AD), Japanese people have started visiting China, and
tried to learning everything they could. It is during this time
that this type of sword was imported to Japan. Under
Japanese samurai culture, this sword eventually evolved
into their own samurai swords.
In China however, after Song Dynasty (960-1279AD),
this type of sword gradually fell out of favor, replaced by
the wider broadsword. During the Ming Dynasty (1500-
1600 AD), from fight with Japanese pirates, General Qi
Jiguang made extensive research into the characteristics
and use of Japanese Chinese swords of that time, and
redesigned and reintroduced this type of long, thin sword
to Chinese military. So this type of sword and its skill
became popular in China again (Figure 3 show a long and
thin sword used in the Ming army). Later many martial
artists researched its skills and changed its shape to
create their own special weapon.
Figure 2: A Han Dynasty ring pommel sword
Figure 3: A thin and long sword used in the army of the Ming Dynasty
In the Taiji Quan group, this sword was further modified and developed.
Today it is not clear exactly who and when initiated this, but we do know
the Beijing Taiji Quan group was using it around the end of nineteenth
century. Today, it can be commonly found in most Yang and Wu style
To understand the shape of Taiji Dao is very important because many
skills are designed base on this shape of sword. Since Taiji Dao is so
special, even in the old times, it is not easy to get. Usually people need to
place custom order from some very skillful sword smiths, as there are too
many special requirements. On the other hand, since the market for this
type of sword is not big, most sword smiths do not make it, or even know
how to make it. In the old times in Beijing, only one small mill could made
good Taiji Dao. The result is that the price of it was high. For these
reasons, many people just used regular broadsword or saber to practice
Taiji Dao skills. But doing so created many common confusions and
misunderstandings. Many special skills of that depended on those special
features are not practiced and even lost. If you cannot find an authentic
Taiji Dao and use a regular broadsword or saber instead, you must be
very mindful of the important differences that exist between those swords.
Figure 4: Grandmaster Wang Peisheng practicing Taiji Dao
2. The Features of Taiji Dao Skills
The skills of Taiji Dao means the special sword skills developed in Taiji Quan group. The best way to understand and practice them is to use a Taiji
Dao – the special shape of the sword.
(1) It is a sword, so it includes all basic sword skills
The general features of a weapon dictate its skills. So there are some foundation skills of dao that are common in all styles. Dao is used mainly for
chopping, so its basic skills are shan, kan, pi, duo, etc. Taiji Dao inherits all of these foundation skills. And because Taiji Dao also adheres to the
general Taiji Quan principles, it emphasizes and incorporates detailed, refined skills such jie, dai, mo, etc, to make dao skill in general more skillful,
rather than relying primarily on power.
(2) It is one foot long handle sword, so it includes many two-handed single sword skills
Usually one handed sword is shorter and lighter, so its skills are quicker, nimbler, and more changeable. But sometimes that may not be powerful
enough. A two-handed sword is longer and heavier, so its skills are more powerful. But its maneuverability is more limited. To balance these, Taiji Dao
skills combine these two kinds of features together: it keeps many quick and changeable refined skills, and it incorporate one foot long handle so users
can use it with two hands to get extra power when needed. Most of the time, the sword is held with only one hand. The other hand only is used when
necessary. So alternately use one or two hands holding sword is one of special Taiji Dao skills.
Although Taiji Dao has a two-handed handle, most of the time the rear hand does not even touch the handle. Instead, it holds on the ring pommel.
How to use the ring pommel is very special and important skill in for Taiji Dao.
Because the two-handed skills are “hidden” skills not shown in forms practice, where most of the time only one hand is used, it can cause a lot of
confusion for the practitioner. Besides the ring pommel and the handle, there are other places on sword the empty hand can be placed to assist. It is
said “for single sword practice, watch the practitioner’s empty hand”. That means from watching his empty hand movements, one can judge his skill
level. In practicing Taiji Dao, when and how to use the second hand is very important. This point need be paid great attention to, especially for people
who just use regular broadsword or saber to practice Taiji Dao skills.
(3) It is a weapon used in Taiji Quan group, so all its skills must follow Taiji Quan principle
Taiji Quan is very special martial arts. Its principle and practice are very different than other martial arts skills. Like Taiji Quan, Taiji Dao must follow
Taiji principle. We must understand how to apply the yin yang concept into its applications. It uses special training method to change people’s abilities
to relax and integration our body, to acquire sensitivities, to obtain Taiji Quan’s special skills such as zhan, nian, lian, and sui, to finally reach its special
goals, such as “luring opponent into an empty place”, “using a four-ounce force to manipulate a thousand-pound force”, and “borrowing the opponent’s
force to defeat his own force.” So all Taiji Dao skills, whatever their physical movements, must follow these principles. Without this, there are no
meaningful differences between Taiji Dao skills and other dao skills.
Yin Cheng Gong Fa Association North American Headquarters
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