The Jian

Discussion in 'Chinese Swords and Sword Arts' started by Xue Sheng, Mar 13, 2009.

  1. Tensei85

    Tensei85 Master Black Belt

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    Interesting topic! I'll post some links in a few.

     
  2. Tensei85

    Tensei85 Master Black Belt

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  3. jonpalombi

    jonpalombi Yellow Belt

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    Hi guys,

    I've always been the type of person to take the "time-honored wisdom" of our ancestral fathers (in terms of our personal martial lineage) at face value. If, during the unfolding of my practice, I find this "wisdom" somehow inaccurate or exaggerated... just what am I supposed to think? I can't really describe it adequately in words but it seems almost like some kind of a sacrilege? Even so, it happens if you train often enough and study your art deeply. In this regard, I have found this old adage less significant than it has been so implied, over the centuries. That it is 100 times more difficult to master the curriculum of jianfa that daofa, is utter nonsense. Certainly, in has some validity in truth, in terms of sword forms. Dao forms take like 1/3 the time and/or effort to learn the nuances of, than a jian form. Yet, to me it is more a case of intentional design, than the basic nature and function of the particular weapon. Remember, the dao was the primary sword of the military and needed to be simplified, in a more concise manner for the convenience of training of troops and eventually... actual battlefield fighting.

    As for myself, I have studied the art & science of jianfa for the last 6 years. I have also had some regular experience with the dao, for the last three years. In the light of authentic Chinese swordsmanship, skill is skill. Whether jian or dao, the essence of using a sword as a real weapon... is exactly the same. The primary elements are: proper form/posture, good timing, proper stepping (footwork), appropriate sense of distance (if not an instinctual sense), an adequate repertoire of offensive and defensive techniques at one's disposal, realistic strategies and a reasonable degree of nerve/courage. The idea that daoshu is crude and that is merely the domain any common soldier or drafted farmer, is mind-numbingly incorrect! While the diversity of the jian is more complex and requires considerably more of an investment of time to fully master, the single-edged Chinese sword is in no way 1 percent as sophisticated than the double-edged Chinese sword. Period. This much is certainly true. Even so, I have seen extremely talented jian fighters lose in matches they would ordinarily win with a jian, using the dao in their match, instead. It wasn't because the dao is so simplistic in nature and so limited in its function as a fighting weapon or that it was somehow inferior. this is simply not the case. Rather, it was the absence of their own personal mastery of saber-fighting, that settled the contest and the end results of the bout. Take away any weapon and the fighter still needs to excel in the above criteria of: proper form/posture, good timing, proper stepping, etc...

    Long story short... it is these fundamental elements that make for a winning fighter, regardless of which sword employed. It is this warrior, alone, that shall reign victorious. That being said, I do prefer the jian for it's adaptability and almost inexhaustible arsenal of defensive and offensive techniques. Even so, a more skilled practitioner of daofa would render these advantages null and void. Regardless of the weapon, the warriors innate abilities render these specifics characteristics empty and therefore, grossly exaggerated. Whether the fierce attack of the Tiger (dao) or the sublime agility of the Crane (Jian), it is the warrior-Spirit and the skill of the individual artist that prevails triumphant. Just my 2 cents worth on the subject. Later folks...

    Be well and practice often, Jon Palombi
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2009
  4. mrchan

    mrchan White Belt

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    back to the topic of the tassle on the jian. the tassle was not meant to be used in actual combat. the battlefield jian would not have such a tassle. it does however have two functions. one is simply for decoration. the other is a specific function of jian training. the object of training technique and form with the tassle is to not let it wrap around your hand or wrist. its cumbersome by design. if you train a technique and the tassle keeps getting wrapped around you, you are probably performing the technique incorrectly.
    the jian requires very subtle wrist movements and the tassle acts as an aid in developing those. some systems will actually use an extra long tassle in their training to emphasize this even more.

    and, most systems in the cma will include the jian in their curriculum. strictly southern systems would be the exception in most cases. the basic techniques of the jian are universal and based on the structure of the weapon itself. these are then combined with the flavor of the system to create a new form.

    weapons are not always taught with the thinking that they will actually be used in combat. instead, each adds different elements to improve the overall ability of the fighter. in this case, the jian will teach fine motor skills, relaxed movements, and aid in extending the qi of the practicioner.
     
  5. AidanO

    AidanO Yellow Belt

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    If that is the case, then the weapon isn't being taught correctly.

    The Jian is taught to teach you the Jian. Honestly, I have listened to people saying that certain weapons are purely for 'developing/extending qi' for over a decade and it's honestly the biggest fallacy in modern styles. It's lazy teaching or poor transmission, your choice.

    If you want to learn fine motor skills, go grab a pair of chop sticks and practice picking up peas. It will teach you fine motor skills a lot faster. This also goes for empty hand. I have lost track of the times I've been told that an application is nothing like it is practiced in the form. If that's the case, then you're doing the form wrong. Sure there may be applications that you do differently, different footwork combined with the upper body depending on the momentum of your opponent. You may be back weighted rather than in a bow stance, that's not the point. HOWEVER, you should be able to have a working drill, in the exact manner you practice the form on a day to day basis, for every single posture and transition.

    EVERY move in a traditional Jian form has a purpose. Deflection, strike or voiding. Sometimes getting the realistic move back into your form is a matter of just twisting your wrist, other times it's removing an entire section, or putting something else in. (Usually not the latter in the sword and ironically usually the latter in empty hand). Even amongst traditional (as opposed to wushu) styles, there has been a steady move to what looks 'pretty' rather than what is eminently practical.

    I have the Classical T'ai Chi Sword by Petra and Toyo Kobayashi on my desk right now, for example on page 35 it claims that "Circling the Moon Three Times" has no technique associated with it. They don't even list "Immortal Points the Way" as a separate move. However I have been taught 2 applications with no modification in the slightest for Immortal Points the Way and 3 for Circling the Moon Three Times. The majority of them being pommel strikes following a deflection. Or a throat strike after deflecting with the blade.

    As to the tassel (in its current form), that's a Peking Opera affection that has absolutely no historical basis or use. Traditionally, they had tassels that were used in the exact same way as European swords, or on flashlights today. They were wrist straps if you dropped (or had knocked out of your hand) your sword. Honestly, people swinging jians around with stupidly oversized tassels just looks ridiculous.
     
  6. Xue Sheng

    Xue Sheng Sr. Grandmaster

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    Agreed

    However the first thing you have to take into account about the Jian is that it was never used by the Chinese Military as a weapon for war. That does not mean it was not used for fighting however. It has been called the weapon of the gentleman and even in the old days it was often carried more for decoration (like the modern Navy and its sword) than use but there were and are those that could use it rather effectively. However to use it effectively took at higher level of skill than to use the average Dao of the day. If for no other reason the size and strength of the blade as compared to the Dao.

    As to the tassel it was and is pretty much decoration but I can’t tell you when it actually appeared. Could be modern Wushu, could be before.

    I have trained the Jian with the tassel, without the tassel and currently I have it on again but I am considering removing it again. The thing about the tassel ( a reasonably sized one not a tassel the size of a small willow tree) is that it can teach the form and flow of energy if you use it for that purpose. Basically you don’t want the thing to wrap around your wrist and follow the direction and flow of the blade itself. But this does not necessarily teach application. It does make for a very pretty looking form that will impress many but I am not so sure of the actual function of it. Now remove the tassel and the center of gravity of the Jian will change and your form will not look as good and you will have to retrain it and likely it will not look as pretty but it will be more functional.

    And you are correct every move in the form has a function whether that is attack or defense but there are very few today that train it as a weapon.

    My personal feelings about the Jian were that it was not for me. I was much more comfortable with the Dao it is a slashing and bashing weapon :EG:. However of late I have begun to like it much better…could be I’m getting old… or… :uhohh: could it be…… more civilized with age :uhyeah:
     
  7. AidanO

    AidanO Yellow Belt

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    To the contrary. The Jian was used in the Ming Dynasty and earlier as a military regulation weapon. Up to the Qianlong emperor of the Qing dynasty (the last Emperor to take an active interest in warfare) the Jian was frequently used by the military. In fact, up until the Tang dynasty, there wasn't even a Dao to be used.

    General Li Chin-Lin as late as the 19-20th century used it for combat. My personal belief of why it slowly got phased out over the course of centuries was that it simply became a weapon that required a career soldier to be effective. You didn't bother teaching it to conscripts, since they weren't going to spend years mastering it.

    I'm sure the professional soldiers would have been taught it and learnt it on their own, the same way these days military types tend to have their own personal weapons collections which they train with. (And we do. I personally love swords and bladed weapons. One of my previous B4's loved sniper rifles and frequently had his at range days or practiced off the bridge wing. The Australian navy doesn't have sniper rifles, that's a purely army thing.)

    My personal feelings about the weapons are that the Dao, not for me, much more so that the Jian is. I love it with a passion, train at least an hour a day with it except on rest days (where I do the form at least once, unless it's raining, in which case I usually practice individually whatever moves didn't feel perfect enough for me the day before, indoors) and will spend hours thinking about exactly how an individual move could be used with it.

    As I listed in the Sword Tassel thread and my previous post, there was an original tassel that was entirely functional. Dao's had it as well. But it was no more than a wrist strap to keep you from dropping the sword in the heat of battle. I would be tempted to put one of those on my jian, it wouldn't affect the balance of the blade noticeably and your movements would have to be very precise to prevent it getting too tight around your wrist. But not necessarily 'prettier.' The recorded first cases of the tassel were in the Peking Opera and probably got quickly grabbed by Wushu since it's a demonstration art rather than combative.

    Of course, pretty forms are in the eye of the beholder. Most find the floppy wushu blades with their sound to make the best appearance, with the big, graceful moves that are utterly impractical the most desirable. I personally think they look disgusting.

    I was watching a YT clip of Chen Xiaowang performing the Chen Jian form last night. It is small, tight and you can see the instant practicality of the move. Each thrust and cut was filled with a sharp fajin, but the blade didn't wobble. He was clearly using a correct, rigid blade. That sort of body motion with a spring steel jian would have probably snapped the blade.
     
  8. AidanO

    AidanO Yellow Belt

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    The clip with Chen Xiaowang I was refering to.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 24, 2014
  9. AidanO

    AidanO Yellow Belt

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    Another thing about Ming dynasty. That was the time of Chen Wangting, who codified Chen style, contemporary to General Qi Jiguang, at a time when the Jian was still a highly used military weapon. He also set the Chen weapon forms down which it's highly likely aren't much changed, since at their height were the most effective.

    You can see the distinct similarities to Yang, but also the glaring differences. Chen is a style I keep returning too with affection.
     
  10. Xue Sheng

    Xue Sheng Sr. Grandmaster

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    Not wanting to argue but Jain was never a military weapon. There are military weapons in Chinese history that look similar to what we call a Jian today but they were not. And you will not find a Jian pre-Tang (618-907) either. They may look like a Jian but they are not.

    These are from warring states (475-221BC) which is pre-tang and even though they may look like a jian, they are not. These are also what you will find in Qin (221–206 BC) just after Warring states

    And you start seeing legendary references to the dao around the 3rd centurey with General Guan Yu (Guandao) but you are correct there is no actual historical proof until the 7th century easliest being Tang or possibly a little later in Song
     
  11. AidanO

    AidanO Yellow Belt

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    To the contrary, they are Jian, just not Qing Dynasty Jian.

    Found a reference by Scott Rodell on the matter concerning Ming Jian:

    Anything older than that is generally too far gone with corrosion or was re-hilted and has subsequently been reclassified. It doesn't help that the Red Guards of the Republican era went door to door to take anything steel for the industrial effort, destroying who knows how many antique swords in the process, which would have made our job of knowing so much easier.

    Since the change to steel, there logically wouldn't have been too many differences between the various blades. Even military regulation Dao weren't overly different. They were curved, but not too much so. The blades were certainly not excessively heavier. (This ignores the Niuweidao which is a purely civilian weapon and has too much drag on the cut.)

    This has to do with the physics of a steel blade. Most of the changes since the change to Steel from Bronze were to do with aesthetics. Bronze weaponry was thicker due to the nature of the metal. Subsequently they had round rather than lozenge shaped grips. I have no idea how long it took to change to the lozenge shape, but it is present in the surviving Ming dynasty examples. And it is present in the artwork of earlier blades.

    The importance of the lozenge shape (which sometimes get left out of cheaper models) is the easy motion in the wrist, compared to the earlier Dao like grips of bronze jian. Which force a tighter hold and don't have the socket motion. We can also find literature describing swordplay from earlier periods, where they describe it like Calligraphy, the loose grip allowing the blade to play. While not absolute proof, it is an idea that there were distinct similarities.
     
  12. Xue Sheng

    Xue Sheng Sr. Grandmaster

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    Like I said I don’t want to argue, you want to go with that go with that. But for the record I don’t agree with Rodell on a few things and this is one of them. So Rodell saying it is a Jian does not prove to me that in the Qin dynasty or any other military weapon was a jian.

    Thanks
     
  13. jonpalombi

    jonpalombi Yellow Belt

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    Nihao Gentlemen,

    This is a most intriguing thread. I do feel that much of it's content is bogged-down by semantics. We cannot seem to agree on the primordial definition of the word "jian". I firmly support the idea that Warring States period, Qin and Han Dynasty double-edged swords are, in fact, true jians. One cannot simply fixate on the latter stages of this old sword's evolution, without tossing the baby out with the bath water!!! Obviously, the fruit of the tree is born of the seed and the earliest bronze jians are, in essence, the seeds. No, I am not siding with Aidan or Sifu Rodell on this issue, as I have had my own ideas for some decades now. I really don't see two divergent camps in this debate, rather, two polarities with an unbroken line connecting them.

    As the centuries have unfolded, the "scholar's weapon" has become the symbolic status and rank of the Chinese double-edged sword, which our forefathers had continued to name, the "jian". The martial technologies which accompanied this evolution, have created distinct changes in the methodologies and fundamental mechanical design of the jian, however, every stage of their period incarnations are irrefutably linked to one another (as is the whole of Chinese civilization). I have used my bronze reproduction of a Qin Dynasty jian for sword form practice, as well as my Han and Tang dynastic examples. And yes, they are NOT as capable of executing the Ming/Qing era techniques, to the same degree of accuracy. While not as complex, developed or as sophisticated... they are most definitely jians.

    As a parabolic example, the earliest forms of harps and lutes are not guitars, especially electric guitars and the music they create is not even close in structure or effects. That being said, there would be no Fender Stratocaster if the earliest primitive bow-harps had not been crafted in ancient France, Sumeria and India. Now, these stringed instruments are far, far, far more divergent from one another than say, a Qin era jian versus a Ming and/or Qing era jian. Right?

    From my vantage point, the "jian" is a continual process of technological change and refinement, even as the art & science of jianfa is. To deny the roots of the jian we have come to respect as, "the gentleman's weapon", is utter lunacy. Sorry to coin such a phrase but the moon is full today and I am electrified by it's pull. No, I'm not trying to fan the flames of argumentalism or aggressively challenge any other's person's ideas. Just my 2 cents worth, really. I do see the entire line of evolutionary stages of the jian, as ONE, not many unconnected developments (who bear no familial ties).

    Thus, the jian has been a military weapon since it's inception. No one can deny that the military chose to emphasize the dao, in preference but the jian was not cast aside (only to become the provenance of intellectuals and high-ranking officials). I fully agree with Aidan, military officers were trained in the combat use of the jian and there is much evidence to corroborate this assessment. I know, this sounds like an extreme stance but I am one in favour of seeing The Big Picture, in regards to any sword's development. I do agree with Xue Sheng, that jianfa as we know it, has the need for the parallel stage of the jian's evolution, that is intentionally designed to emulate and express the technologies of the art and science of jianfa. So, yeah, I can see that perspective as well. You see, I am a romantic at heart and I do feel that the jian has come to the most sublime state of development, which any sword can evolve to. Now, this does not mean I support the fragmentation of it's growth, with an obsession for subcategorization and the denial of the source or root of the weapon.

    The more contemporary design of the jian is the fruit of the seed which sprouted 4000 years ago. Thus, the tree has grown to be more and more refined but it is still ONE with it's roots. Again, while it may be a case of cherished personal ideologies and semantics; this view of the unbroken line of jian evolution has an historic source and an undeniable legacy. Yes, there is an unbroken line and the military roots of the jian are not vacant in the Song, Ming and Qing Dynasties. As Aidan pointed out, aside from a symbol of rank, the combat science of jianfa was alive and kicking, during the lifetimes of Generals, Qi Jiguang and Chen Wanting. I resent the idealized notion that it was only used by largely martially-unschooled... sages, scholars and poets, alone. Just a delicate weapon for the literati and nobility? Nope.

    It's a lovely idea but having owned a remarkable collection of antique jians for some time now, I have come to see them as quite deadly. Albeit, a sophisticated weapon, it's still quite lethal. I have used my mujian to best fighters from Japanese, European and other systems from the Chinese sword arts, *other than taijiquan, that is). To me, whether the war is waged in a military scenario, as wilt a large-scale battlefield conflicts or in the crowded city streets of Ming Dynasty Peking, unarmored... it's all WAR and can easily result in deadly consequences. Be they soldier, officer, general, emperor, scholar, sage or poet... when push comes to shove, they use the jian for disabling or even killing their opponents. We can't sugar-coat this weapon into a product of fairy-tales, eh? Historically, it has always been used for cutting and thrusting into other living people (thank God for taijiquan and it's serene, flowing movements and internal energies). Today we use the jian for spiritual cultivation and the benefits this meditative approach yields. I understand why Xue Sheng feels the way he does. And I do admire him for his experience and opinions. I just draw the line about fragmenting the evolutionary stages, apart from one another. They are one, in my mind and heart. "To each their own."

    As with any set of ideologies of conceptual differentiations, the validity is based on the subjectivity of the human mind which asserts the conception. We can agree to disagree, right? Hey, that' cool and I respect anyone for holding true to their own beliefs. That being said, ultimately I adhere to my insights alone, as I prefer to see the line as unbroken and the very same jian, regardless of multiple variations in it's continued development. The seed and fruit are inseparably united and are merely temporary stages of the entire process of it's complete unfoldment.

    Yes, Ming/Qing/Republican period jian are not the same as Qin Dynasty jian and earlier prototypes. absolutely! They have come to be quite specialized. So too, it has become a distinctly specific, scientific tool/instrument, adapted for the complex sciences of jianfa (as shown in the myriad martial systems, within the Chinese sword arts).

    Still, "A rose by any other name... "



    Zai jian, Jon
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2010
  14. Xue Sheng

    Xue Sheng Sr. Grandmaster

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    By definition then all of these could be categorized as a jian...

    Jian 1

    Jian 2

    Jian 3

    and they are not

    And many westerners call this a Broadsword but it is not, it is a Dao which translates to knife not broadsword

    Jian translates to sword which then by western translation a Dao is a jian and it is not.

    Now could it be that the old bronze sword is a type of Jian, well to be honest I don't know. A Dao is this and Da Dao is this or this they are all a type of Dao but in China if you are looking for a Da Dao you don't ask for a Dao.

    Here is my stance on this and I am not trying to change anyone else’s view. When I get a chance, and I am honestly going to try and get this chance, to talk to a historian in China that knows Chinese weapons and he/she tells me they are all jian I will concede and call them all Jian. I always go with the person trained in China on the topic when it comes to things Chinese history. On the flip side if they tell me it is not I frankly do not care what anyone else says it is not a jian. If they tell me it is a "type" of jian then I will also go with that. But then this will add a prefix to jian like Da is added to Dao. But at this point the weapon known as a jian that is used today in taijiquan and wushu forms was never used in combat.
     
  15. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

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    I'll just jump in here and see what I can do to muddy the waters with my non-professional opinion from a guy who has always had a love of swords of all types...

    Seems to me that a Jian is a straight sword with a stabbing point and two edges. That's simple enough.

    Lots of cultures have developed similar weapons, straight blade, pointy stabbing end, two sharp edges, a grip to hold it and some kind of guard and pommel to protect the hand and balance the weight of the blade.

    are they all the same? I'd say both yes and no. They fall into the same theme, or category of weapon. But they differ in that culturally they developed different methodologies and techniques for their use. And the dimensions and specifics of the weaponry reflects this.

    A sword is not a sword is not a sword. They vary quite a bit in length, width and thickness of blade, weight, taper, type, shape, and weight of guard and pommel, size of grip (one-or two-handed), etc. But beyond the specifics, in a way they are all the same on a basic level.

    I customize and build hilts, and my designs, while not historically accurate, are meant to make for a functional jian. Acquiring quality blades can be a problem, especially when we are talking about what is typically imported from China, the stuff that would culturally be identified as a jian. So I've looked for sources elsewhere, and I've found some US makers of high quality swords, fine workmanship and high quality steel that is appropriate for a functional sword. I prefer these blades to just about anything that I've seen from China, because I know what type of steel is used (the stuff from China, even the stuff that seems "better" always remains a mystery as to just what type of steel it is made of, and if it's truly an appropriate sword steel), and the workmanship is typically vastly superior.

    But the US maker makes swords in a typically European style, being midieval cross-type guards, wheel pommels, stuff like that. The shape of these hilts makes it somewhat difficult to utilize Chinese technique, from the little I know of Chinese swordsmanship gleaned from the taiji sword that I've had opportunity to study. I claim no mastery of the weapon myself, only a reasonable familiarity with the technique.

    Anyway, I rebuild the hilts in a design that makes them functional with the Chinese techniques. The biggest issue is that the guard is not a wide, thin cross like the European counterparts. Rather its a shorter, blockier piece that allows for better grip when held with the blade inverted along the forearm. The guard is also shaped to allow the forefinger to press and brace underneath it, which allows for more control and precision when executing certain subtle techniques in the Chinese repertoire.

    The shape and size of the blade itself makes a big difference as well. My impression is that Chinese swordsmanship has a greater variety of subtle and controlled precision techniques, and the blade needs to allow that. When choosing a US made blade to customize, I try to keep this in mind. A blade that is too wide for chopping, or too heavy, or too long, makes these techniques difficult. A midieval Knight's weapon, with a wider blade used for slashing and chopping from horseback, can "work" for Chinese technique, but it's not the best match. A Chinese blade, in my opinion, needs to be narrower and perhaps lighter.

    As far as the jian used as a battlefield weapon, it's always been my understanding that there is the civilian version and the soldier's version of the weapon. I'm no historian on it, but I read this somewhere and it inherently makes sense to me. The civilian weapon is meant for personal defense and is not intended to be used against a potentially armored foe. It is a lighter weapon, relying more on quickness and precision to defend against bandits who are probably not wearing armor. A military weapon would need to stand up to the rigors of the battlefield, and would need to be able to defeat armor. It would be a more robust weapon, to stand up to those demands without breaking.

    I suspect that most jian training would fall into the category of civilian, with appropriate weaponry. I suspect that what is being handed down in Chinese martial arts today would not coincide with military techniques, and the specifics of the weapon itself would reflect this as well.

    Again, these are my thoughts, and not to be taken as authoritative.

    Xue, the photos you linked to are not jian, because they were developed by other cultures, which employed the weapon with different techniques. The specific details of the weapon itself reflects those cultural and technical differences. But on a broader level they share a commonality with the jian, and I'd say that to some extent at least, it would be possible (tho certainly not optimal) to practice jian technique with those weapons.

    hope this just adds fuel to the fire.
     
  16. Xue Sheng

    Xue Sheng Sr. Grandmaster

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    And before this goes any further I feel I need to make it perfectly clear that the Goliath Tiger fish does NOT have a mouth fill of Jians

    [​IMG]

    Sorry… things were getting to serious for a Friday afternoon :D

    have a nice weekend all
     
  17. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

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    holy hell, that's the scariest thing i've ever seen! How big is that fish?
     
  18. Xue Sheng

    Xue Sheng Sr. Grandmaster

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  19. Xue Sheng

    Xue Sheng Sr. Grandmaster

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    If you liked that take a look at this.... also the teeth are not a Jian :D

    The Payara

    [​IMG]

    Payara

    size
     
  20. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

    Joined:
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    Hey Xue,

    I realized after the fact that my earlier post came off sounding like I was schooling you or something. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and I know that you know that the photos you linked are not jian.

    I was merely expressing my own thoughts on the topic, particularly with regard to similar weapons from different cultures, and my own experiences with trying to match a European style blade to a hilt that could be a functional jian, stuff like that.
     

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