Preserving the Media of the World's Most Advanced Martial Art.


WCATS Bat Jum Dao
(Eight Slashing/Piercing Sword-Set)

by Danny Yinsheng Xuan


Thailand, like many countries in Asia, didn't modernize their weapons of war until after the Second World War. Until then, they mainly used swords and spears as their weapons. Even after modernization, villages and families continued making swords as a tradition. On the other hand, the West hung its sabers in the 18th century, at the arrival of firearms, and wore them only symbolically.

By the time guns and rifles came to Asia, they were too advanced for the Asians to manufacture. They were also too expensive to import. Only the high officers and the rich were able to afford them. Swords remained as their main weapon of war.

Swords were more than a weapon to Asian swordsmen. They were carried with pride; they were regarded as tradition, culture and art; and they were believed to possess spirits. Those who fought with them, died with them. Those who survived, passed their swords to their heirs, who cared for them until it was time to hand down to the next generation.

The Blasdesmiths

In Thailand, there was a period when some bladesmiths switched to making single-shot rifles; however, the trade was banned when the country transformed from absolute to constitutional monarchy. When the trade died, these families could not switch back to swordmaking, as the passing of the swordmaking knowledge and lineage had been broken. However, those, who did not switched to rifle-making, were able to continue making swords, and pass on their knowledge to the next generation to this day.

In the old days, bladesmithing was a well-respected art and career. Good bladesmiths were rare and respected citizens. Even when invaders conquered a town, they would spare the lives of bladesmiths, and make them their swordmakers. Although not as prominent, bladesmiths are still respected citizens in Thailand.

In my search for traditional blademasters in Thailand, I found several in different areas of Thailand. Some smelt iron from local ore and drop forge their swords from the scratch; and some imported high-quality stainless steel from US, Germany, Switzerland, and Japan, and forged them in charcoal or electric ovens. Some specialized in traditional Thai swords; some in Japanese katana; some in ancient European swords; and some in contemporary Western knives. Each area is famous for a certain type of work. Each area has its own renowned bladesmith.

Why Thailand Bat Jum Dao

I have located and narrowed my sources down to three master bladesmiths who will make my quality Bat-Jum-Daos. There are several advantages to making the swords in Thailand than in other countries:

The labor in Thailand is cheap compared to the West. Labor is the major part of sword-making. Although the labor in Thailand is higher than other parts of Asia such as China, India, Burma, Indonesia, and other developing nations, the infrastructure is better in Thailand than these countries, allowing easier access to required goods for sword-making. Being a freer society than these countries, Thais tend to be more artistic. If any of you have been to Thailand, you will know what I mean. The country flourishes with handicrafts of all nature. On the other hand, the other countries, for example, China ...although the labor is cheaper, and is developing at a phenomenal rate, the people have only recently began to express themselves. For 50 years, they were closed from the outside world. Their only concern was survival. There was no time or interest for any type of art. In fact, much of it was banned. The art of sword-making died a lot time ago. Today, China only produces mass replicas. There are absolutely no bladesmiths, per se. Thais, on the other hand, have improved their lives progressively. They demand quality and finer goods. They are very much influenced by the West. Many are educated, and keep themselves abreast with the latest technology and trends. Thus, their products are quality and style oriented.

West's passion for swords, particularly the Japanese katana, came about recently, after Hollywood's interest in martial art movies. Although custom knife-makers always existed in the West, there were only a few sword-makers until recently. There is a big difference between knife-making and sword-making because of the different usage. Balancing the sword is the most difficult part of sword-making. There really isn't a mathematical formula for balancing a sword. The bladesmith only knows it by his feel. It also depends on how the sword will be used. A Japanese bladesmith will know how to balance a katana the best. A Thai bladesmith will know how to balance a Thai dharb the best. However, both types of bladesmiths will know how to balance the other type of sword when they know how the swords are used. A sword form (shadow swordplay) would be the best source of information.

Factors in Making Bat Jum Dao: Balance

Making Bat Jum Daos are as peculiar as making katanas. The usage is very unique. The BJD form reveals the formula for BJD-making. There are several factors in making BJD. Making them from picture details will not suffice. Making them from measurements will not suffice. Even giving a sample pair to a bladesmith to replicate will not suffice.

A bladesmith needs to know exactly how the swords will be used for him to balance it. This can only be revealed by the practitioner of the BJD form.

For example, if the weight of the sword leaned towards the tip of the blade, the user's hand and arm would tire from "lifting the sword." If the weight leaned towards the hilt, then there wouldn't be supportive weight on the blade, to apply force to a strike. The force will mostly be exerted by the arm, which will cause the arm to tire as well. The force would not be as powerful. One is likely to believe that the balancing point of a sword ought be at the center of the whole sword; "Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!" Incorrect! It should be where it ought to be for the usage.

Bat Jum Daos are unique as they are used for stabbing (piercing/thrusting action), chopping (downward/forward action), slashing/slicing (pulling/pushing/dragging action), and pole/blade-trapping (blade-twisting action). How do you design a sword with such versatile movements? Not easily! I had the bladesmiths make several trial and error prototypes before settling on the perfect balanced BJDs. You can try copying my BJDs but will not succeed in balancing them right ... unless you're a knowledgeable bladesmith and a BJD practitioner.

For example, if you took the exact measurements of my BJDs and got someone to replicate them, you will not know where the balance lies. Using different material will render different weight. Replicating the thickness of the blade spine does not replicate the weight or balance of a sword. Even a bladesmith cannot determine the final weight of the sword until the sword is finished. Each sword he makes will vary in weight. He will create the balance point when he's forging the sword. The thickness of a blade and tang is one of the factors of balancing a sword. The bladesmith may subtly increase the thickness at the balance point; however, it would be too subtle and gradual for an inexperienced eye to detect. He may increase or lessen the weight on the hilt by changing the weight in the tang or the pommel. If necessary, the bladesmith may cut out a fuller (channel) on the blade to shed some weight and bring the balance point where he wants. (Note: The fuller's main purpose is to lighten and balance the sword, particularly for a long or broadsword; it is not really for passing the blood through ... although it does help reduce resistance when stabbing.) So, like everything else, making a copy from an image or not knowing the function of the original, will never make a good copy. This is not to say that a Western bladesmith would not be able to duplicate or make a new pair of BJDs from a BJD practitioner. They can be done ... but at a very high price. If you surf the web for custom knives, you will see US-made 6-inch knives sold from $300 to $1,000. BJDs sold online are so crappy that I'd be ashamed to line them up with my kitchen knives. A nice looking pair that I saw, although not correct in specs, but beautifully finished, are selling for $2,700.00.

Thoughts on Commonly Seen Bat Jum Dao Swords

When I see pictures in the net and magazines of people posing with their BJDs, I can tell that most of them don't know the BJD form, or don't know the true essence of it. When I look at the pictures of BJDs sold online, I can tell that most of the bladesmiths have no clue about the BJD form or usage, or the person who designed them knew nothing about BJDs, BJD form, or even swords.

The pictures usually show big choppers, with handles that do not align with the blade point. Some grips are not even aligned within the bodies of the blades. They're outside and above the blade back. The hand holding the grip will have virtually zero control over the blade. The design also tells me that the tang and the blade are two different pieces (instead of one piece like mine), or that it has a very thin tang inside the handle. It tells me that the two pieces were welded, or that the whole sword (blade, and hilt) was produced from pouring hot metal and synthetic mix into a mold (instead of drop-forged like mine). In either case, the likelihood of the sword snapping at the tang-blade joint is very high; and the likelihood of the sword snapping at any point of the molded sword is very high.

2-in-1 Swords

Grandmaster Moy Yat was not only a knowledgeable Wing Chun master, but was also an artist. He was a Chinese calligraphist and a poet. He was analytic and a very detailed person; and to my knowledge, was the first person to draft a blueprint of the wooden dummy (which I believe, is the one widely used in the Internet). When he was still in Hong Kong in the 60's, he had a pair of BJDs made, either according to Grandmaster Yip Man's or his specifications. The BJDs were made crudely by a blacksmith (as opposed to a bladesmith); however, the specifications were true to the form. When his god-son, and Wing Chun protege, (Sifu) Nelson Chan, left Hong Kong for Canada, GM Moy Yat gave him this pair of BJD as his parting gift. (See pictures below.)


Moy Yat's BJD Twin
Moy Yat's BJD Single
Moy Yat's BJD


Note that Sifu Chan's BJDs are, what I refer to as, 2-in-1 swords; that is, the two are flushed together to become one; in other words, each sword is half, and become one when put together. In the old days, this style was practical for concealment. Since the Manchu (Qing) Dynasty banned the Han-Chinese from carrying weapons, it was necessary for the Chinese insurgents to conceal their weapons. This was possible because the fashion of the era was loose-clothing, which allowed the BJDs to be concealed without notice. The monks who carried BJDs were also able to conceal them in their robes. Today, it is not necessary or possible to conceal this type of BJDs. In fact, it is not practical. When the handle is half covered, it is difficult to get a good grip. The hands would tire quickly, and would develop blisters from long training. The swords will not be well-balanced either, since each will lean outwardly towards the covered side of the tang. So, how did the old-timers manage them? Well ... they may have trained with fully finished swords, but carried the 2-in-1 when traveling; or maybe they just trained with the 2-in-1 BJDs and adapted to them. As with anything else, if you train hard enough, you will become proficient with your odd equipment. For example, Jimi Hendrix, the most famous rock guitarist, played with a right-handed guitar he rigged for his left-handedness. He didn't use a guitar especially designed for a left-handed person. He just strung a right-handed guitar backwards, and played backwards, unlike any other guitarist.

Here's an interesting note for you. To my surprise, one of the blademasters I visited owned a single BJD, exactly like that of Moy Yat's. As a bladesmith, he collects all types of swords. He bought this in a bazaar many years ago. He told me that he knows of a customer who has a pair just like his, and that he had owned it for over 50 years. The owner is an old Chinese Tong (mafia) Snakehead. I'm curious to know if the Snakehead is a Wing Chun practitioner. I wouldn't be surprised since many southern Chinese migrated to Thailand during WW II and Communist revolution. I have requested to meet him and see his swords the next time I visit this town.

Our Swords

With specifications provided by Sifu Nelson Chan, my understanding of BJDs, and the bladesmiths expertise, we have produced the finest, the most accurate, and the most practical BJDs in the market. For all practical purposes, we've redesigned the BJDs as two individual swords rather than 2-in-1. However, for those who are adamant about having the 2-in-1 style, we have also developed a pattern from GM Moy Yat's BJDs.

Note that buck and buffalo horn handles will be curved because of their nature. The curvature is ideal for gripping as the inside of our palms (in gripping position) are also curved by nature. (That is why the creases in our palms are curved.)

By nature, the two horns on an animal are not identical in size or symmetry; just as a person's left side is not identical to the right. This works to the advantage of using them for grips. One of our hands is always larger and stronger than the other (whichever is used more). Therefore, do not cry "Imperfect!" when you received two different sized grips. In fact, since the swords are hand-forged, the two swords will not be exactly the same. This again works to the user's advantage. The bladesmith was informed that the BJDs will be used as a pair .... one for the left hand, and one for the right; not one for each person, as it could easily be mistaken for. Therefore, they will be made specifically for one to weigh slightly more than the other.

The sword sheath or scabbard is a culture on its own. Sometimes, it can be more elaborate than the sword. I've used water-buffalo for most because of its toughness, durability, and practicality. They can be worn better than wooden ones. I've either seen BJDs sold without sheaths, or with cheesy looking ones. A sword without a sheath is like a sheath without a sword. How could someone carry or look after a sword without it? I've designed my leather sheath with a crossover shoulder strap, as I think it is the most practical way to carry the BJD. Alternatively, I can make a pair with wood, to be carried crossways on the back, like ancient Thai warriors. (See picture below.)

Thai Twin

The Quillon

I've seen BJDs designed with brass guard and quillon. This design is attractive because of the contrast between stainless steel and brass. However, the brass is not as strong as stainless steel. In fact the finials (the quillon-extension that runs along the back of the blade), which in the BJD is meant to trap an opponent's weapon, should be flexible, so it can adapt to various size weapons, and also prevent it from breaking under force. It should be flat, not round and hard, for the same reasons. The light and flexible finial concept is in line with the Wing Chun principle of yielding against hard force. The finials act as your forearms. They are soft, and yield against attacks. Note the similarity between the finials and the Wing Chun Bong arm. The straight quillon represent the fixed upper-arm, and the 45 degree angle finial represent the forearm. I've made some with more acute angles for other reasons. However, none have the wide gaps as seen on other vendors' swords. The wide open rounded finials of other "BJDs" look more like the outside prongs of Japanese Sais, which are really farm tools used as weapons. I have the feeling that these BJD designers were influenced by the design of Japanese Sai, which have absolutely no connections or similarities to BJDs. For Wing Chun BJDs, the finials (forearms) ought to be soft (yielding), the blades (hands and fists) ought to be hard (forceful) for striking. BJDs are small and short swords, therefore, will almost always be encountering larger weapons. Like anything else, the larger an object, the stronger it will be against a smaller object of the same kind. However, The concept of Wing Chun is to yield against a larger force. Only through yielding can you overcome it. So, consider these factors before deciding on the combination. If you are purchasing the BJD for collection or decorative purpose only, the brass trimmings would make a handsome set. If you are going to put the BJD to use, you will be better off with the stainless steel.

Below is a picture of a pair of Shaolin style "butterfly swords," sold in the market, made with rounded brass finials. As you see, one is broken. You will also see how poorly they are designed for Wing Chun. The handle is way below the blade point. The quillon and finials are too wide for trapping. An opponent's weapon could slip out too easily. In order to trap a weapon, the user will need to twist his wrist a lot. A twisted wrist is not as strong as a straight-flushed wrist. Obviously, this sword encountered a stronger weapon, or perhaps, simply dropped on a hard surface.


The Steel

For those of you who are not familiar with the differences between the types of stainless steel, the table below shows you the compositions for ATS34 and 440C.

  Carbon Manganese Phosphor Sulphur Chromium Silicon Molybdenum
ATS34 1.05 0.4 0.03 0.02 14.0 0.35 4.0
440C 1.2 1.0 0.04 0.03 18.0 1.0 0.75

Bladesmiths and knife-makers differ in opinions on which of the two is stronger. The compositions are similar except for ATS using more Molybdenum than 440C steel, and 440C using more carbon and chromium than ATS34 steel. The characteristics of chromium give the steel a colorful luster, while the Molybdenum give the steel a dark luster. Both types are used for commercial aircraft, therefore, understandably very strong.

I lean more towards 440C because of the extra carbon content. The carbon gives the steel more flexibility. This is a good property to have in a sword. When something is hard, it is also brittle. Under very strong pressure, it can snap. Although it is unlikely you will be swashbuckling your BJDs wildly with someone, the extra flexibility would ensure longevity and resistance against heavy use. On the other hand, ATS-34 is commonly used for knives. The property of hardness is more desirable for knife-length blades.

Namphi Iron

I made a pair of BJDs out of Thai Namphi iron for collection and uniqueness. I don't believe it would be as durable as 440C or ATS-34. However, the iron is unique, rare and soon to become extinct. It has historical and spiritual value. Namphi swords were exclusively made for kings of Thailand. Namphi iron is smelted from an ore pit located in the Namphi district of Uttaradit province of Thailand. The ore contains iron, manganese, silicon, aluminum, titanium, cerchromium, boron, lead-tin, niobium, cobalt, arsen, and 20 other unknown materials. The Thais believe swords and objects made from Namphi ore possess magical power and sacredness that can repel evil spirits and spells. As part of the ritual, bladesmiths in Namphi engrave ancient religious scripts on their blades to empower them against evil spirits. (See pictures of Namphi BJDs in the Bat Jum Dao Prices and Pictures chapter.)

The pictures below, taken in the Namphi Museum, depict Namphi villagers making Namphi swords.

Moy Yat's BJD Inside Moy Yat's BJD Single

Uttaradit, where Namphi is located, is well known for its teak growth. It boasts to have the most and biggest teaks in the world. For this reason, I've made the scabbard out of teak. The alternative is to use ebony or rosewood; however, I chose teak not only for its abundance, but also because it allows pearl-inlays to stick. The oily property of the other two does not hold the glue required to make the pearl inlays stick.

If you want, I can make plain scabbards out of ebony or rosewood.

Pearl-inlay is an attractive feature. Namphi villagers are very good at it. The labor extensive artworks cost only $150 for two grips and one scabbard, and $250 for two grips and two scabbards. (See pictures of Namphi BJDs and pearl-inlay scabbards in the Bat Jum Dao Price and Picture section.)

Whatever you order for your Bat Jum Dao, rest assure that you will get the best and most unique Bat Jum Daos available in the market.

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

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