1860s Iconic American Knife of the American Civil War- the Bowie Cham Dao?!

geezer

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Convergent evolution is an amazing thing. Many observers have noted the marked similarities between 19th Century Western bare-knuckle boxing and Southern Chinese short-bridge boxing systems like Wing Chun.

Well here's another surprising parallel. The Civil War era D-guard Bowie knife especially favored by Confederate troops as a short range back-up weapon and the well known hudiedao and bart cham dao of Southern China. Check out the pictures below:


Confederate D-guard Bowie knife:

1659553244342.png


Chinese "Butterfly Knives" (Hudiedao or Bart Cham Dao)

1659553482283.png


Of course, these Chinese knives were a paired weapon, whereas the Bowie was used singly as a back-up by a soldier armed with a muzzle-loaded rifle and bayonet ...but even so, the similarity of shape and size is remarkable. Form follows function, ya know. Any thoughts?
 

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I have also seen a kukhri with a very similar D guard, blade about 12 inches. I admit, I dont know if it was historically accurate or a modern design that may have been directly influenced by a he Chinese knives. I saw it on the website of a Nepalese maker.
 
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geezer

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Would be interesting to know who similar they are in weight.
Well, the Chinese hudiedao (also transliterated as wu dip dao) used in Hung-gar and the usually somewhat smaller bart cham do of Wing Chun vary a lot in length, weight, and profile ....as do the American "Bowie".

The Civil War era D-guard handle Bowie, such as the one in the photo, is described as having a thick, heavy blade approaching 1/4 inch at the back of the blade at the handle.

That would make it a formidable chopper as well as a stabber, and very similar in function to the bart cham dao.
Here's another example of the Civil War period Bowie:
1659647305831.png
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And another Southeren Chinese knife of about the same period:

1659647881369.png
 
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A couple of kukhri.



And a Bowie model from the same maker:
 
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geezer

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A couple of kukhri.



And a Bowie model from the same maker:
The downward curve of the kukhri would give a different balance from the straight-backed or even slightly upward curve of the Bowie. The kukhri's downward curve makes it a very powerful chopper and slasher but perhaps less adapted to stabbing.

In Wing Chun, some lineages do favor bart cham dao that are heavier like cleavers and more adapted to chopping, something like these:

1659726512969.png


Note how wide and heavy the front portion of the blade is. This would allow chopping more like a kukhri...but would probably be less nimble.

My lineage favors lighter, quicker , straight-back "stabbers" that are used equally to cut and thrust like these:

1659727073570.png


Unfortunately, so few Wing Chun practitioners were taught and trained the traditional bart cham dao form and applications that most of what survives and is taught today is made up or borrowed from other blade arts. Accordingly, you can buy "Butterfly swords today that are the fantasy creations of the knife maker, being hybrids of traditional designs and elements of kukhris, bowies, Filipino blades and even Klingon swords. Some are beautifully made, but the traditional, functional techniques are going extinct ....if not lost already.
 
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geezer

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TBH, if anybody really wants to learn how to use the BCD freely as a functional, fighting weapon, they would probably have to go beyond the extant forms as preserved by the various WC/WT/VT branches and re-create a practical way of using them with a lot of sparring and testing ...like what the HEMA folks have done. ;)

Unfortunately, the clannish and secrecy around these weapons may prevent that from ever happening. :confused:
 

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The downward curve of the kukhri would give a different balance from the straight-backed or even slightly upward curve of the Bowie. The kukhri's downward curve makes it a very powerful chopper and slasher but perhaps less adapted to stabbing.

In Wing Chun, some lineages do favor bart cham dao that are heavier like cleavers and more adapted to chopping, something like these:

View attachment 28755

Note how wide and heavy the front portion of the blade is. This would allow chopping more like a kukhri...but would probably be less nimble.

My lineage favors lighter, quicker , straight-back "stabbers" that are used equally to cut and thrust like these:

View attachment 28758

Unfortunately, so few Wing Chun practitioners were taught and trained the traditional bart cham dao form and applications that most of what survives and is taught today is made up or borrowed from other blade arts. Accordingly, you can buy "Butterfly swords today that are the fantasy creations of the knife maker, being hybrids of traditional designs and elements of kukhris, bowies, Filipino blades and even Klingon swords. Some are beautifully made, but the traditional, functional techniques are going extinct ....if not lost already.
Yup, and I agree with everything you are saying. I personally prefer the lighter, more nimble design, and my material is from Choy Lay Fut. I have no idea if the lighter design is typical of CLF, but that is my personal preference.

As far as the kukhri being a stabbing weapon, the closer the point lines up with the center of the grip, the better it will be for stabbing, especially if some portion of the back of the blade, from the point backwards for even an inch or two, is sharpened. So individual kukhri will vary as there is no single consistent design or measurements in a kukhri. Just peruse the options on that fellows Etsy site and you will see the variety.

I had actually trimmed the tip down on my full-size dao to make it less point-heavy and to line up the tip with the grip and make it a better stabbing weapon. That is the one that I then stabbed myself in the leg with a few months ago.
 

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TBH, if anybody really wants to learn how to use the BCD freely as a functional, fighting weapon, they would probably have to go beyond the extant forms as preserved by the various WC/WT/VT branches and re-create a practical way of using them with a lot of sparring and testing ...like what the HEMA folks have done. ;)

Unfortunately, the clannish and secrecy around these weapons may prevent that from ever happening. :confused:
I feel this is true of any of the traditional weapon. The form itself is insufficient. With all of my weapons I have identified what I feel are a body of fundamentals that I train separate from the form. They are basic strikes done from a stance, done from moving and stepping, changing directions, done in combinations, all the while emphasizing the connection with the power source. With wooden swords I will also work the heavy bag to get the feel of hitting and cutting. There is a real difference that you can tell very quickly. This is something that was never taught to me. I was taught a limited body of basics, and then the form. I just put my head into the problem and came up with what seems to make sense to me and compiled my own series of basics and foundational work. You can go down the rabbit hole quite a distance if you want, and come up with a never-ending list of basics and combinations.

At any rate, the form should come later as an augment tool for practice. Way more time ought to be spent on the foundations than on the forms.
 

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lot of great insights in this thread. First a thanks to Geezer, I never knew about D Guard Bowie knife As Dirty Dog pointed out form follows function. Very cool when you see distant unrelated cultures evolve in the same direction

Geezer point about having to training weapon fighting in order to make the BJD weapon vs weapon effective is spot on. Many movements as done is forms would get you killed vs a sword or a spear.

The form is special not because it is a sword form but because it was designed to specifically adopt wing chun specific hands and concepts to aggressive weapon fighting and therefore wing chun aggressive unarmed fighting as well. If you can do it with a knife you can do it unarmed.
 

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IMO, the way in which the role of the baat jam do (and the luk dim boon gwan for that matter) is viewed depends on how much value is place on its contribution towards the training and development of all concepts and principles of the Wing Chun system as a whole. In reality, the BJD teaches much more than a weapons form.

It is an absolutely essential skill building tool. Remove the blades and you have the same core principles for the entire system at work.
 
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geezer

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It is an absolutely essential skill building tool. Remove the blades and you have the same core principles for the entire system at work.
IMO that's why we use the word system instead of style. The same WC "DNA" is found in everything we do.
 
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geezer

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BTW here's a typical modern hybrid of the classic clip-point Bowie blade and the Bart Cham Dao D-guard handle:

1659932247981.png
 

Callen

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BTW here's a typical modern hybrid of the classic clip-point Bowie blade and the Bart Cham Dao D-guard handle:

Those are pretty cool Bowie Jam Do. Looks like they have some heft.
 

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