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Introduction To The Miao Dao

During ancient times, before China became an empire under the rule of the First Emperor Qin Shihuangdi, Chinese warriors only used swords, not sabres. It was only until the early Han Dynasty (206 AD – 220 BC), when frequent clashes occurred in the Northern borders of the empire, that the sabre was introduced. Due to their battles with the nomadic tribes from the Northern wastelands, such as the Xiongnu (Huns), the Chinese learned that sabres were much more efficient against cavalry. In the following centuries, the sabre became the most widely used weapon within the Chinese military, and the skills in wielding such blades reached it pinnacle during the glorious Tang Dynasty (618 – 907). The Tang Dynasty was the golden age of Chinese civilization, and many smaller kingdoms sent emissaries to pay tribute to the Tang court. The Chinese emperor would bestow many gifts to the vassal kings in return for their homage. It was during this period of cultural exchange that the Chinese long sabers (chang dao) found their way to the island kingdom of Nippon. After the fall of the Tang Dynasty, Chinese society gradually became less and less martial, while the Japanese people preserved the ways of the warrior. Thus, while the usage of the long sabre slowly disappeared in China, the weapon was fully accepted and absorbed within Japanese culture and eventually led to the creation of the Nodachi.
The long saber vanished from the Chinese mainland for many centuries, but in the mid-16th century this fearsome weapon reappeared. This time, the weapon returned to its homeland in the hands of Japanese pirates. Japan at that time suffered from a series of small-scale civil wars fought between regional warlords. Many defeated samurai as well as impoverished workers and farmers turned to piracy. They often occupied offshore islands near the coast of China and raided Chinese coastal cities. The Chinese general Qi Jiguang mentioned in his memoirs: “The long saber was unknown prior to the arrival of the wako pirates. The weapons used by our troops prove to be useless against such blades, and our soldiers were often cut in two by the enemy.” From his various battles with the pirates, General Qi observed and studied their ways of swordsmanship. His analysis, coupled with the blades taken from the slain enemy, allowed the Chinese military to forge their own chang dao and device their own fighting methods. After rigorous training and having obtained their new equipment, the Qi army drove off the Japanese and later scored many victories against other enemy forces threatening the Ming Empire. The troops of General Qi became known as “the invincible Qi army” and those warriors who learned the art of the chang dao cherished it dearly and did not easily pass it on to others. Nevertheless, the unique fighting method of the long sabre was preserved in later centuries, although it remained virtually unknown to outsiders.
In 1928, the Central Guoshu Academy was established in Nanjing, with Guo Changsheng as its chief weapons instructor. Guo Changsheng (also known as Guo the Swallow, famous for his light body techniques) was the disciple of Pigua Tongbei master Liu Yuchun and has mastered the styles Pigua, Tongbei and the rare art of chang dao. It was during this period that the chang dao was officially renamed Miao Dao, in order to hide its (partly) Japanese origins. There are two explanations for the name Miao Dao:

  1. “Miao” literally means “Grain Leave”, and refers to the form of the blade (which resembles an actual grain leave). Miao Dao therefore means Grain Leave Sabre.

  2. The Miao are an ethnic minority in South-Western China who use a farming tool similar to the long sabre, thus the weapon was named Miao Sabre.

The form of Miao Dao as taught to Guo by Master Liu was the classic Ming Dynasty form handed down by Cheng Zongyou. Due to the specific teaching situations at the Guoshu Academy, Guo Changsheng developed another Miao Dao form by combining the classic techniques with Tongbei zigzag footwork and the waist movements of Pigua. The Second Road of Miao Dao was thus created to teach students more efficiently. The classic form became known as First Road of Miao Dao from then on. Among those who learned the Miao Dao system from Guo Changsheng at the Academy was Long Fist master Han Qingtang. Master Han later brought the system to Taiwan, where it is preserved until today. 
The Miao Dao may vary in size and weight, but a standard version would be approximately 128 cm long (blade 98 cm, handle 30 cm). When it comes to fierceness, the Miao Dao has no equal. Wielded with one hand or both, combining the characteristics of both saber and spear into one, it is not hard to see why this versatile weapon was unrivalled on the battlefield. The movements of the Miao Dao are fluent yet compact, with the body supplying power to the weapon, while the waist steers the blade in its motions. An attack is always wrapped inside a defensive technique, while a defensive movement immediately transforms into an attack. Its interlinking movements and rapid evading footwork makes the Miao Dao wielder an unpredictable foe. The Miao Dao is truly a great treasure within the Chinese martial arts world and also an invaluable part of Chinese history and culture