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About Wing Chun Bat Jum Dao (Eight Slashing/Piercing Sword-Set)
by Danny Yinsheng Xuan


Sword Terminology


Wing Chun uses two types of weapons in its system. One is called the Luk Dim Boon Goon, or the Six and a Half Pole-Set in English. The other weapon is the Bat Jum Dao, or the Eight Slashing Sword-Set, in English. Although a misnomer, the swords are often referred to as Butterfly or Broad Swords in English.

The pole length is between 9 to 12 feet, depending on the user's stature. The swords' length also varies, depending on the user's arm length.

About the Name of the Swords

Among the Chinese Wing Chun community, the Wing Chun swords are never referred to as butterfly swords or broadswords. The reference may have come from Western spectators or reporters who did not know the name of the swords or form. They may have referenced it with other twin sword styles that propel their light blades like butterfly wings; or may have coined it in close proximity with butterfly hand knives. To my knowledge, Wing Chun's Bat Jum Dao was never referred to as butterfly swords in Chinese, and has only become associated with them in the English language.

As for the Bat Jum Dao being referred to as broadswords, it is once again an English misnomer. In Chinese, the broadsword is a long sword, whose blade is narrow at the guard, but broadens widely at the belly front.

Translated, Bat Jum Dao literally means "Eight Cutting Swords." However, in Chinese verbiage it means more than that. Bat (sometimes spelled Bot, Baat, Bart or Bard) clearly means Eight. Jum (sometimes spelled Jaam, Jarm, Cham, Charm, Chaam, or Chum) refers to any knife or sword wielding action such as cutting, slashing, chopping, thrusting, stabbing, and etc. Dao, (sometimes spelled Do or Dou) in this case refers to swordplay, swordset, or sword form. Therefore, I've translated Bat Jum Dao as Eight Slashing/Piercing Sword-Set.

About the Types of Bat Jum Dao

Chinese swordsmen often wielded two swords. However, twin short swords, or long daggers were uncommon. They were more prominent in southern China, where close-range fighting was more practical and popular. Hung Gar style, another southern fighting style, also uses a pair of short-swords, which the stylists call Mother-and-Son swords. Since the usage is quite different from Wing Chun's style, the swords are shaped and balanced differently. Most of the short twin swords sold online and in the market are either Mother-and-Son swords, or fake ones claiming to be either Wing Chun or Hung Gar swords.

There are two or three types of Wing Chun Bat Jum Daos. I say two OR three because one is really obsolete and non-applicable for the Wing Chun system.

Because of the transitions Wing Chun went through in different generations, different shape swords were used by different practitioners. (Read Sifu Benny Meng's article on BJDs at http://home.vtmuseum.org/articles/meng/butterflyknives.php.)


Pre-Wing Chun Era Swords

The first type, which I consider obsolete and non-applicable for Wing Chun, was used in the early days before the development of Wing Chun, or pre-Wing-Chun days. Remember that the roots of all Chinese martial arts came from the monasteries. The monks experimented and used many types of weapons, particularly household and farm tools. The first twin short-swords were probably kitchen or farm knives, which the monks used to defend themselves. They probably made some changes to them to avoid killing the bandits or invaders they encountered. They used them to disarm, disable or maim them; but not to kill them. Since the intend was not to kill, they probably used them for slashing arms and legs instead of stabbing or chopping bodies; therefore, the blades were most likely semi-sharp or sharp at the belly only; the tip was not sharply pointed; and the handle was not aligned to the tip of the blade.

This is the type commonly and erroneously sold and used by the shops and Wing Chun practitioners these days.

This design was probably used by the monks in what I refer to as Pre-Wing Chun era. It really does not reflect the principles and concept of Wing Chun. As you can see, the point of the sword is not aligned with the handle (as shown by the gray arrow). With such a design, one would NOT have full control of either stabbing, chopping or slicing. It is plainly a poor design; probably designed by a blacksmith who didn't know much about fighting or butchery. Unfortunately, this is the type of swords general sold in the market today as Wing Chun Bat Jum Dao, or Butterfly Swords.


Red Boat Era Swords

Bat Jum Dao really came into being in the era of the Red Boat Traveling Opera team or the Righteous Red Flower insurgents, where the swords merged into the Wing Chun system for real battles against the Manchurian soldiers. Because of Wing Chun's aggressive forward (versus lateral and retreating) movements, the blades were shaped like daggers (the handles were aligned to the blade tips) to facilitate stabbing. However, unlike a true dagger, where the blade is shaped symmetrically on both sides (back and edge), the BJD blades were asymmetrical. The back of the blade sloped to the blade tip, but the sharp-edge side followed a straighter path and bellied up to the tip. Thus, the wider blade spine weighed the blade down to facilitate chopping action, and the belly shape facilitated slashing action. The complete design balanced the swords for practical stabbing, chopping and slashing actions for Wing Chun practitioners.

This BJD design was used in the Chinese Insurgents versus Manchurians era. The point of the blade is aligned to the center of handle (as shown by the gray arrow). This design is particularly effective for thrusting but lends to chopping and slashing as well. This design is rarely known or seen in today's Wing Chun community. It is a lethal weapon, and dangerous to use for daily practice.


Modern Era Swords

After the warring years, when firearms became more prominent, Wing Chun became more of a self-defense art for individual than for "martial" purposes. Practitioners spent more time training and learning, as we now do today, than using it in the streets. Consequently, sharp, pointed, and lethal swords were not necessary anymore. In fact, the dagger-shaped BJDs were dangerous and accident prone. Thus, the BJDs were reshaped for training rather than warring. This was probably in the era of Leung Jan or Yip Man. The swords reverted to a flat and straight back; the handle was aligned with the blade back and point. The edge was almost parallel to the back line, but took on a slight incline to about 3 inches from the blade point, where it bellied up. The swords became either blunt or semi-sharp. The shape change took away some (not all) of the stabbing functions, and stress more towards chopping and slicing. On the other hand, the dagger-shape blade, even if the edge was blunt, would cause sever damage if thrusted into a body, since the blade point is so acute. By rounding the blade point, the depth of its entry into a body is limited.

This Bat Jum Dao design is seen and used by many Wing Chun sifus. The blade point is aligned to the edge of the handle, to facilitate chopping, slashing and some stabbing movements. The blades are usually unsharpened to avoid accidental cutting or stabbing.


Last Thoughts

Although the modern BJD blade shape reverted to almost the Shaolin days, the new BJD had some significant differences. First of all, the handle is aligned with the blade back and point. This gives the user more control over chopping, slicing, and even stabbing. The force from the user's hand, in this case, is directly in line with the blade point for thrusting. The hand is also above the blade (no blade above it), to give weight to the bottom, to give force to chopping action. The slight incline of the edge towards the blade, and the bellying in the front, facilitates slicing action.

Both BJDs, warring and peaceful era, were capable of thrusting, chopping and slicing; however, the functional priorities were different. The functional priorities determined the design; i.e. the alignment of the handle with the blade, the shape of the blade, and the specifications of the guards. The dagger-shape BJDs in the warring era leaned more towards stabbing, followed by chopping, and then slicing. On the other hand, the flat-back curve-front blade shape in the peaceful era leaned more towards slicing, followed by chopping, then stabbing. These two designs, I would say, are true Bat Jum Dao designs. The other designs do not fit the specs of BJD or the concept of Wing Chun.

It is a shame that Bat Jum Daos in the market are so ugly. They look like meat cleavers or wood choppers. There is absolutely no pride in the making of these swords. Bat Jum Dao is a symbol of achievement. It is the graduation trophy for a Wing Chun student. Many Wing Chun schools use the Bat Jum Dao as their icon in their certificates and logos. So, shouldn't you own the best pair of Bat Jum Daos to symbolize your achievement and respect for this magnificent ancient art? WCATS produces top quality, authentic Wing Chun Bat Jum Daos.

Copyright (c) 2005 the Wing Chun Archive and Danny Xuan 10/26/05


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