Chang Dao (長刀)

"This (weapon) only became known (to the Chinese) since the incursion of Japanese into China."
— General Qi Ji Guang

Ming Dynasty two-handed sabre Dandao
Cheng Zong You's Dan Dao (left) and Qi Ji Guang's Chang Dao (right). While generally considered identical, Qi Ji Guang's Chang Dao has a one chi long bronze collar at the forte, which is not found on Chen Zong You's Dan Dao. Images taken from 'Dan Dao Fa Xuan (《單刀法選》)' and 'Muyedobotongji (《무예도보통지》 or 《武藝圖譜通志》)'.
Chang Dao (長刀, long sabre), also known as Dan Dao (單刀, lit. 'Single sabre') and later came to be known as Miao Dao (苗刀, lit. 'Sprout sabre') during Republican period, is the Chinese adoption of Japanese ōdachi (大太刀). Although Chang Dao follows the basic design of a Japanese sword, its blade geometry, forging technique and hilt design are different.

Chang Dao was adopted by general Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光) during his campaign against the Wokou (倭寇). He also acquired a Japanese sword treatise of the Kage-ryū (陰流 or 影流) school through unknown means, and derived his own system called Xin You Dao Fa (辛酉刀法) based on Kage-ryū techniques. Xin You Dao Fa was thought to be lost forever (only some drawings survived) until its recent rediscovery in Korea, preserved intact in the Korean martial arts manual Muyejebo (《무예제보》 or 《武藝諸譜》) with its name changed into Ssangsudo (쌍수도 or 雙手刀, two-handed sabre).

Qi Ji Guang was not the only person to develop a swordsmanship system for Chang Dao. Other systems such as Dan Dao Fa Xuan (單刀法選) by Cheng Zong You (程宗猷) and early Qing Dynasty Dan Dao Fa Shi Ba Shi (單刀法十八勢) by Wu Shu (吳殳), had direct influence on later Miao Dao swordsmanship.

Chinese Miao Dao
Extant Ming Dynasty Dan Dao still in pristine condition.
Contrary to popular belief, Chang Dao has no connection with any older form of Chinese two-handed swords from earlier dynasties. Late Ming period encyclopedia Tian Gong Kai Wu (《天工開物》) also explicitly states that Japanese forging techniques were unknown to the Chinese. This is only natural, as Chinese and Japanese developed their ironworking technologies almost completely independent from each other — Chinese transitioned to blast furnace since Warring States period, while Japanese stuck to their tatara-buki (たたら吹き) method for much longer.


  1. I've often read that General Qi Ji Guang set the length of this weapon at 1.95m. Is that accurate? Regardless of the exact length, these were big swords. How did soldiers wear and draw them? Or did they just carry them, as European troops equipped with large two-handed swords appear to have done.

  2. @Incanur

    Written records read 6 chi 5 cun, or about 208cm, so it is truly massive. However it weighs only two catties eight maces, or about 1.5kg. Such dimension obviously presents a problem, because:

    1. It is way larger than even Japanese ōdachi (most ōdachi intended for field combat are only ~150cm in length)
    2. Way too light for a sword that is supposedly longer than a Zweihänder.
    3. Way too long to be comfortably worn by arquebusiers.
    4. Late Ming Dan Dao Fa Xuan use shorter swords than Qi Ji Guang's Changdao.
    5. Surviving Ming and Qing changdao are shorter yet heavier than the recorded dimensions.

    So someone (I think is Lancelot Chan, which is quite famous in Chinese-speaking HEMA circles) from Hong Kong proposed using Zhou Chi (1 chi = ~22cm) for measuring the sword, which gives a reading of about 150cm, a much more sensible dimension.

    Chinese troops worn these large swords on their waists blade-up (like katana), and used scabbard normally. They would draw the sword normally when speed wasn't an issue. In an emergency, they draw from their comrade's waist.

  3. Interesting! The 1.5kg weight seems too low in any case. 150cm seems correct based on the linked image, assuming the figure on the right is approximately 165cm tall. If so it has a roughly 110cm blade and 40cm handle. That's an awfully big sword to carry at the waist, but it seems doable and not too difficult to draw.

    Are those small crossbows on the figures' backs?

  4. @Incanur

    The picture, which is taken from Dan Dao Fa Xuan (a late Ming manual on Changdao/Dandao swordsmanship, see my martial art page) presents two different version of Dandao:

    (A) The normal version has 3 chi 8 cun blade, 1 chi 2 cun hilt, total 5 chi or 160cm.
    (B) A "crossbowman" version with 2 chi 8 cun blade and 9 cun hilt, total 3 chi 7 cun, or 119cm.

    Since the figures in that picture have crossbows, they probably use the shorter version.

    Yes, those are crossbows. Despite the size, those are fairly powerful crossbows. Check my crossbow post for the "Jue Zhang Nu" or 300+ draw weight crossbow.

  5. Huh. The 119cm version seems completely reasonable (very similar to many European longswords) and not a problem to draw.

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