Product added (x)
Cart (0 products) Cart (1 product)
Total products
Total shipping  To be determined
Total (tax incl.)
Continue shopping

Wushu Weapon manual by Oscar Reyes


Wushu (Pinyin: wu3 shu4; Chinese martial arts) adepts are always in search of an ideally inexpensive, source of the great diversity whushu weapons.

Low-price brackets naturally impose limitations on quality. The construction of a "ready-to-use" weapon, though easy, is work-intensive, which greatly raises the price tag, though not necessarily the quality of the weapon parts. The Chinese have solved this dilemma in an original way:

Low-priced Chinese wushu weapons are almost always delivered as packages containing just that minimal number of parts that require very specialized labor. Such a package contains a blade made from mass produced blanks, partially finished by an artisan blacksmith. The wooden parts, lathed or machine-carved by the hundreds, are summarily adjusted to the blade with partially finished mass-produced fittings, and made by casting or semi-artisan procedures.

In these parts, provisionally assembled to prefigure the finished weapon, there is no pretense of a complete product; indeed all precautions in the quality of the adhesives involved, and even in the weapon design have been taken in order to make this assembly provisory; the product is clearly intended for one or more additional steps requiring low skills, in an hypothetical production line.

Such a weapon package, as delivered, is usually worthless for training, though has the potential to be converted into an excellent practice weapon. In this regard, it appears to represents the Chinese conception of a weapon in kit form, and so it will be called hereafter.

For the Chinese wushu adept such form of weapon presentation provide, in addition to the ancient tradition in which they grew, all the instructions they need to re-assemble these parts into a good and serviceable weapon. All the extra parts eventually needed to finish the assembly of these Chinese weapon kits are assumed to be locally available –in China.

There is no Western equivalent of a Chinese wushu weapon kit. Wushu weapons made in Western countries are assembled from parts made by industrial techniques more elaborated than those used for Chinese weapons; thus these parts are better finished. Also the weapon designs are modified as to eliminate all need of conditioning to produce a serviceable exercise weapon; Western made wushu weapons are ready for practice as bought.

One disadvantage of the "ready to use" approach is a sacrifice in the diversity of weapons available, which is much reduced in the Western facture. Other sacrificed feature is the price, which is at least doubled comparatively to that of Chinese-made weapons kits including parts of equivalent or even better quality. Finally, the most important sacrifice is the disappearance of that appealing artisan aspect of the Chinese wushu weapon facture, which is absent from the Western production.

In this regard, always the blades of even quite cheap Chinese weapons are decorated with incised calligraphy and drawings; often these are even inlaid in copper and brass. The patterns for these drawings are transferred to a batch of blades, and then manually incised on each one. This is true for other decorations sometimes incised in the scabbards and handles. It result that is impossible to find two identical weapons in a batch dryly described by the supplier as by catalog designation, as if it were a standard mass produced object.

Considering the fast rate of China's industrialization, we may belong to the last generation that has access to such kind of affordable Chinese semi-artisan crafts. Exercise wushu weapons define on themselves a class objects whose interest, as decorative items, goes beyond their original utilitarian purpose. In this regard, many affordable wushu weapons of interesting facture, whose continued availability I took unfortunately for granted in the middle 1980's, now are almost impossible to find. Kits for rare exercise wushu weapons also are good investments for the weapon collectors.

However, this semi-artisan nature of the parts of Chinese wushu weapon kits often disconcerts the average Western buyer, who is accustomed to a better finishing. Also the Western wushu adept would appreciate a kit where other parts needed to complete the weapon are included, as pre-cut weights made of high-density metal to assist in the weapon balance, and materials difficult to find locally, as lengths of cord or leather strap adequate to wrap the handle, finishing products, traditional weapon decorative items, etc.

Above all, a wushu weapon in kit should provide that most essential component in a kit: a carefully written complete Instruction Manual intended to guide the buyer through the steps to complete her -or his- weapon.

A misunderstanding of the Chinese kit concept bears a large share of the responsibility in the Western misconceptions of wushu weapons. The most likely outcome of these frustrating, but charming and potentially excellent weapons in Western countries is a humiliating life as a misbalanced rattling weapon, often cobbled together with bits of twine and electrician's tape. Such weapons are seen even in hands of highly competent Western wushu adepts.

My intention here is to provide the serious Western wushu adept with a first draft of that so long needed "Practical Manual for the Assembly and Conditioning of wushu Weapons".

The most usual choices as first wushu weapons learned are double-edged straight swords and sabres; hence is for these that this first installment of the "Manual" is principally devoted. On a near future it will be extended to cover others examples of the rich fauna of wushu weapons.

I practice T'ai chi intensively since nearly 22 years; I become amateur repairman and restorer of exercise wushu weapons first by need, later by pleasure. The examples in this Manual are mostly illustrated with the rich diversity of weapons found in the ChinaTown-Shop (CTS) catalog; however the solutions proposed in the Manual are susceptible of being applied to similar generic exercise wushu weapons that can -at least in principle- be obtained elsewhere.

I'm connected to the CTS staff only as benevolent contributor. I took a personal interest in the CTS venture as being a valuable educational tool, which may at last shake off some received ideas from the Western wushu community.

CTS achieves this goal just by offering the richest and most affordable source of wushu weapons in today's WEB. A supplier worthy of continued attention. CBS staff realizes innovations may change forever the marketing of wushu weapons. For example, CTS offers a limited possibility of realizing affordable customized combinations of parts taken from diverse weapons from their catalog. I hope this interesting idea will further develop, and that will continue to be other hallmark of ChinaTown-Shop.

Other unique feature of CTS is that its staff's acknowledges the gap existing between the Chinese wushu weapon products, and the expectative of the Western wushu adepts. Thus CTS staff currently considers to further enrich their catalogue with accessories that facilitate wushu weapon conditioning, but are of difficult access in Western countries (for example, lengths of specialized woven cord or leather strap to wrap weapon handles, stone rings, to assist in ballasting sword tassels, etc.; these points will be further examined in this Manual. In this regard, feedback on these pages would be welcome, both by the ChinaTown-Shop staff and me.

My qualifications as first contributor and self-appointed editor of this Manual are:

First, a formation in Biology, Chemistry and Physics, which gives me a good understanding of the materials I use, and some experience in delicate manual work.

Second, more than 22 years of theoretical and practical study of T'ai chi.

Third, I'm an avid builder of high-end kits of historic Western keyboard instruments, which as a class present many similarities to the Chinese weapon kit concept.

Fourth, and most importantly, I'm blessed with a select group of Chinese and Sino file friends always willing to lend me their knowledge of Chinese traditional arts.

However, the historical and technical points of view raised here are exclusively my own responsibility. Please do blame for them neither the ChinaTown-Shop staff, or my friends.

From the point of view of a wushu weapon repairman doubled of a aging swashbuckler, often the experience acquired in the shop seems to contest some sources and commonplace notions about wushu weapons. This is not surprising, since most of the available information on extant historic weapons is of little relevance to wushu practice.

The description of the ideal weapon that our assembled kit emulates must be inferred from fragmentary evidence that includes actual shop experience, historical sources that often do not raise over the anecdotic level, and actual performance with arguable reconstructions of historic weapon. The approach just described has proven its value in other fields [Reference 6].

Lost in this maze, the wushu weapon repairman and performer must steer its own way. In these cases, since I must produce at a workable weapon as end result, I apply the principle that "a decision perhaps wrong is better than no decision at all".

If you don't agree with these 'techno-historic' considerations, or have better technical solutions than mine, by all means write to me, and correct my mistakes. If the situation requires so, I'll apologize in these pages, and present your solutions here under your byline.

Given to my limited time availability, I CANNOT keep these pages as one more weapon forum. However, if you have specific questions relative to your own weapon project, I'll put them in my "urgent" mail list, and I answer them as soon as I can.

Shop, Tools, materials and measures

What I pompously call "my shop" lives in five boxes stored in a small cupboard (64 x 31 x 70 [cm]). I use as a workbench a sturdy restored cable spool of 65 cm diameter lying on a side, which doubles as coffee table. The spool's central perforation is useful to keep vertical the weapon under work. I own an articulated lamp equipped with a large reading glass, a luxurious item that can be substituted by a hand-held reading glass and a good spotlight. In fact, except for small tools as the couple dozens metal files of different shapes, and a small hand-held powered drill with flexible transmission, my "shop" is simpler than that of the average French citizen.

The tools needed even in a major project are simple and inexpensive. Given the small sizes of the parts to be shaped, the tools used do not need to be of prime quality. Buy your tools as you need -and found- them. If some sculpting is needed, a common cutter with an adjustable blade that can be secured in place, and a provision of blades, might be all you will need.

Small pincers and clippers for electric work will be useful for building ballasts from lead/tin soldier adjuvant in wire form, as will be described in the corresponding section.

An indispensable special tool is a fine-toothed rib saw; the best, equipped with a cutting box, are made for hobbyists. An assortment of cheap metal files of different sections (round, flat, triangular), and an assortment of wet abrasive paper (between 360 - 1200 grit) will cover most of your needs for sanding weapon wood parts, and shaping and polishing metal surfaces, and sharpening your tools. Cheap oil stones with a coarse grit and a medium-coarse grit surface can be found in stores specialized in Chinese cooking utensils. These are destined to perform coarse shape adjustments in weapon parts before giving a finish with wet abrasive paper.

An excellent all purpose and inexpensive tool for eliminating paint, etc, and finishing slightly rounded or flat small wood surfaces (for example scabbards) is the scrapper, a rectangular plate of cutting steel that is kept sharp by grinding an edge perpendicular to the plate on a piece of wet fine (grit 600-1200) abrasive paper held on a flat hard surface, for example a sheet of glass.

Beside their intended use, a set of wood flat and rounded chisels will also be useful to cut off and shape ballast from sheets or bars of lead or lead/tin alloy.

A useful precaution to reduce the risk of hurting yourself when sculpting wood is to use very sharp tools, cut away from the body, and hold the work on a vice or against a support. Over all never work when your hands give signs of fatigue. Always proceed by removing wood shavings as thin as possible; if you cannot do this, the tool you're using needs either re-sharpening, or a fresh blade.

Some projects are made easier by using a powered drill. A flexible transmission and bit holder may be useful for holding and using specialized bits.

Glues are a very important part of weapon conditioning. Ancient swords parts not riveted or penned were adhered with hide glue, an excellent adhesive for surfaces involving heterogeneous materials; unfortunately hide glue requires a highly skilled workmanship to produce good results. The best substitute of hide glue is epoxy glue.

Quick setting epoxy glue is to be reserved for joints that are under low strain, and that are not exposed to the air; this glue produce reversible joints, cleavable along the joint line by a brisk rap. Any other kind of quick setting glue is adequate for joints exposed to the air; gel neoprene glue is a good choice in this case.

Slow setting epoxy glue produces highly resistant joints; also is ideal to fill interstices and cavities that are not exposed to the air. The long time available before hardening start (about 5-8 hours) allow this glue, with the consistence of honey, to flow by gravity and infiltrate between parts inaccessible to the worker.

Epoxy glues are expensive, and wood surfaces should be glued with plastic carpenter's glue. The best kind, called "orange glue" in America, is found only in specialized hardware stores. It has a creamy orange color, and its resistance to strain is only comparable to that of hide glue, or of slow setting epoxy glues. Orange glue is available in France only to professional cabinetmakers, which may accept to sell you small quantities; I do not know if orange glue can be obtained elsewhere in Europe. Joints obtained with slow-setting plastic white carpenter's glue (available everywhere) support much less strain than those made with orange glue. If orange glue is not available, wood joints that support strain should be glued with slow setting epoxy glue.

Two indispensable measuring tools are a cheap plastic vernier caliper, and a flexible measuring tape of two meters, in steel or fabric. A common kitchen scale is a welcome tool in wushu weapon conditioning.

Along these pages I'll use the Metric System for measurements:

1 meter (m) = 100 centimeters (cm) = 1,000 millimeters (mm)

1 inch = 25.4 mm

1 kilogram = 1,000 grams = 1, 000 cm3 of water

1 pound Av = 454 gr

You should keep a detailed journal of your projects, including pictures taken at critical steps of your work, weight and measures of components, materials used, etc. Include on it every piece of wushu folklore related to your project.


Decoding the Chinese exercise straight double-edged swords.

T'ai chi swords

For the knowledgeable wushu adept, stating "the ancient Chinese weapons were very subtle" seems a pleonasm. However a great majority of these dismiss the exercise wushu weapons as mere choreographic props, a visual aid uniquely destined to "help to learn the gesture" during the study of a weapon form.

The search of a choreographic prop has motivated the creation of one of the most common practice wushu swords, the "T'ai chi sword", a collective designation that includes swords of diverse shapes and forms, currently of weights in the 300-600 gr range. Despite its name, the T'ai chi sword usually does not correspond to a sword created purely for T'ai chi practice. This class, including also excessively light and flexible wushu weapons, do not represent any historically real weapon, and was uniquely intended to fill, in addition to their choreographic role, other needs of the modern general wushu adept that are unrelated with the theory of the weapon.

For example, in the China's Post-Republican period, public practice with realistic weapons was restricted; unfortunately this is also often the case today in some Western countries. The posession and public utilization of light and ultra-light flexible weapons was better tolerated; also they are inexpensive, and easier to transport. Given their low blade weight, comparatively to that of their hilts, "T'ai chi" swords require little or no ballast addition, and their conditioning for wushu practice is essentially limited to the consolidation of the weapon.

In this regard, the sword of old Lungquan facture shown in Figure 3A

is an example -albeit of better quality than the average- of this "utilitarian" exercise wushu sword concept. Its blade is fully flexible - soft rather than springy, thus easily deformable. Despite its relatively high thickness, its flexibility matches that of much thinner blades, which are dangerously sharp by reason of their very thinness. In this regard, this sword fills well the needs for a portable, very handsome, and fully harmless "weapon".

T'ai chi swords as this have identified themselves, for the wrong reasons, with many fantasies and misconceptions of some misinformed Western –and Chinese- wushu adepts. However, T'ai chi swords represent only a fraction of the types of exercise wushu sword exported by China; the CTS catalog gives a much more realistic example -albeit still incomplete- of the great variety of wushu swords.

The tradition of the Chinese double-edged straight sword or (Pinyin: ba3o-jia4n, or simply jia4n; hereafter sword) is nearly 2,500 years old; the oldest swords appear in the Spring and Autumn Period (722 B.C.-481 B.C.). These were broad bladed, made of bronze, measured 60 to 70 cm, and weighed between 600 to 1000 gr. Such swords survived up to the Warring States Era (475 B.C-403 B.C.)

The long swords (87 cm-110 cm) appear during the late Warring States period and become the dominant type during the Qin (221 BC-206 BC) and Han (206 BC-220 AD) dynasties. Undoubtedly the possibilities of these new swords stimulated further developments of the Chinese fencing art.

Poetry from these periods already describes 'sword dancing' forms, which might represent the equivalent of today's sword forms. Short sword forms attributed to the Spring and Autumn period [Reference 1] show few essential differences with the forms for the long sword compiled later within the Shaolin, Wudang and T'ai chi wushu systems.

Some time later these fencing forms split in two major wushu systems described in 1669 by Huang Zonyi, an scholar from the Ming and Qing era, who defined the characteristics of a Northern 'External' wushu or Shaolin school, and of a Southern 'Internal' wushu or Wudang school.

The Shaolin school, named for a Henan's Buddhist monastery established in 497 AD, systematized the methods of many wushu schools; its name has become generic to designate other Northern wushu forms not included in the Shaolin system. As a rule, Northern wushu styles, including Shaolin favor semi-rigid light swords, probably close to 900 gr in weight [Reference 2]. A careful inspection of the surviving Shaolin sword forms does not show essential differences with the surviving forms of internal sword as T'ai chi and Wudang.

The internal or 'Southern' wushu school's birth is historically obscure, and appeals to a mythical figure named Zhang Sanfeng, most likely a composite of wise men who would have lived between the Tang and Yuan dynasties (the "accepted" birth dates of 'Zhang Sanfeng' are 960, 1247, and 1279). The Zhang Sanfeng teaching somehow passed to the Wudang Taoist monasteries, and to the T'ai chi creators

The historical trace of T'ai chi reappears at the 16th century, when Chen Pu (first generation of the Chen clan), established in what today is known as Chenjiagou or Chen Family Village, in Henan. Chen Wangting (9th generation, 1600-1680) realized the first formal codification of the Chen family martial art practice that gave issue to all present day T'ai chi forms.

The basic similarities of the surviving sword forms of the internal and external wushu schools, otherwise different in philosophical principles, are evident. Indeed, all these schools claim as the common ancestor of their sword tradition the already elaborated ancestral sword forms that date at least from the Spring and Autumn period, which after adapting to the new heavy Qin swords, were transmitted essentially intact until today.

Searching for a wushu weapon "kit", or how to read a dealer's catalog

The generic heavy sword

Defining a more genuine exercise wushu sword

The best criteria to define a sword adequate for genuine wushu training is to describe the military specifications of the weapon for which the sword form was created.

This task requires for some guess work. If we accept that the sword forms surviving today are indeed representative of those existing 2500 years ago, the sword indicated for practice should show features of the long and heavy weapons of the late Warring States and Qin periods. These swords (Figures 1 & 5; Tables 1[a, b, c]) must have had the potential to penetrate the bronze scale armor of the period (Figures 2A & 2C). Even in the case of advanced steel swords, is unlikely that blades with a thickness of less than 4-5 mm could be up to that role.

The lighter swords favored by the Shaolin system (Figure 3) probably belong to a military tradition were the scale armor was not used (Figure 2B). Even in such a case, we must assume that the blade rigidity of such a sword was sufficient to pierce a light padded coat of leather or cloth. This task still requires a fairly stiff blade. Such sword blades can be bended -admittedly with some effort- to about 30 degrees off the weapon axis without breaking or loosing their shape [Reference 2]. I have conditioned a few swords equipped with fairly good blades having these characteristics; these weapons usually fall in the weight range of 900- 1000 gr, including small tassels.

Introduction to the concept of a "well balanced sword"

A common feature for all swords: the distance Grip - Center of Gravity.

The most important factor that determines the handling characteristics of a sword is the distance between the equilibrium point and the "gripping point" at the hilt (Figure 1A, 1B, 3A, 3B, and 4). In the Figures 1A, 1B, and 3A, 3B, the Center of Gravity is indicated by a rubber band.

A "well balanced" sword is a rather obscure concept even for the expert adept of the wushu sword. I know of at least different two definitions of this concept; I will present these in the order of my personal preferences.

Above all, a well-balanced sword is one that handles well, that is, one that adopts easily the attitudes required by the sword form performance. The above definition, which makes easier to describe the features that make a sword to be well balanced, present two variants: one for basic learning and other for advanced practice.

Physical parameters of a well-balanced sword

Center of gravity

The handling of a sword depends mainly on the interplay of at least three factors.

One of these is the "center of gravity", a concept borrowed from physics. For a sword, the center of gravity is essentially the place were a sword can rest when is in perfect balance -or equilibrium. In a sword suited for wushu practice usually the center of gravity is located near the first (or hilt's side) third of the weapon. Frequently an equilibrium -or balancing- point thus located is taken as the hallmark of a well-balanced sword, but this is only part of the story (Figure 4).

Gripping Point

The weapon gripping point is determined by the hilt's place where the thumb and index can get a sword's grasp closest to the hilt neck and handle during the most extreme weapon movements, and yet avoid the interference of the guard with the wrist and backhand.

The circle formed by the thumb and index in grasping position is designed in Chinese as "Tiger's eye" (Pinyin: hu3 ko3u), and is considered a critical reference point to encode the positions of the sword's hand in the diverse sword forms. Though all the hand grasps the sword, usually the index and thumb held most of its weight, and serve as the point around which the weapon pivots. The Tiger's eye has also a major part in communicating the body strength to the sword.

The quickness of the sword's response to a determined amount of force will depend of two other parameters: the distance between the gripping point (Figures 1 & 3), and the center of gravity, and the sword's angular momentum.

"Torque arm" and "angular momentum" of a sword

The handling characteristics of a sword are related to the time that the sword takes to turn around its center of gravity under the effect of a force F. For simplicity this force F is assumed to be perpendicular to the sword, and to be applied at the "gripping point".

The distance between the gripping point and the center of gravity is the sword's "torque arm". The product between the torque arm and the force F determines a rotator force named Torque that reorients the weapon around itself.

The "angular momentum" of a sword, is a physical concept related to the mass distribution along the weapon. A sword with a high angular momentum will opposes to sudden changes in orientation. For a same Torque, and sword weight, a weapon with a low angular momentum will react faster than one with a high angular momentum. As a rule, for swords of the same weight and length the angular momentum increases as the ratios 'root/tip' decreases (Table 2).

Before being balanced, most heavy sword kits have the center of gravity located near the middle of the assembled weapon; the task of conditioning the weapon for exercise reduces to shift the center of gravity closer to the part of the sword intended as grip, or gripping point, until a convenient Torque arm is achieved. Most sword adepts admit that a Torque arm of 11-13 cm is convenient for basic training and exhibition purposes; such a Torque arm coincides with a displacement of the center of gravity to nearly the "first" (next to the hilt) third of the sword length.

This is done by adding ballast to the hilt. The ballast needed for placing the center of gravity nearly the first third of the sword length is roughly evenly split (Table 1a) between ballast permanently included in the hilt, and removable ballast included in the tassel.


Table 1a. Distance Center of Gravity- Gripping Point" ("Sword's Torque arm")

Sword TypeLengthWeight complete with tasselCenter of gravity with tassel (%) length Torque arm
Center of gravity - gripping point
Distance center of gravity - handle's midpoint
Light "Lingual" (1)104 cm 620 g 28.8 % (1/3.5)13 cm19 cm
Light "Ming/Shaolin" (2)98 cm 990 g 28.7 % (1/3.5)11 cm17.5 cm
Heavy "Han"101cm1887 g30.0 % (<1/3)12 cm17 cm
Heavy CTS "Yue" 92cm1248 g32.6% (<1/3)13 cm18 cm


(1) A restored quasi-artisan sword belonging to a style frequent in the Longquan [Ref 3] production around 1980. The weapon is only consolidated, and conserving the original kit equilibrium point; it has a very flexible blade. Swords of these characteristics have disappeared from the exercise wushu weapon market.

(2) Sword hybrid composed from two different kits; the blade characteristics are close to the optimum desirable for the practice of Shaolin sword forms ([Ref 2, and see Figure 1 B)

Table 1a. (legend). Distance Center of Gravity- Gripping Point" ("Sword's Torque arm") in some light and heavy finished wushu swords.

The measures of in the Table 1a establish the gripping point assuming a symmetrical griping position with the palm rolled around the middle of the handle.


The purpose of Table 1a is to underline the similarities in the parameter "Sword's Torque arm" for finished wushu weapons of very different weights, lengths, and geometries. The differences between these weapons are underlined in Tables 1b and 1c. Thus the torque arm appears as the fundamental parameter in the description of the handling characteristics of both light and heavy Chinese swords.

In a weapon thus "well balanced", the removal the tassel will displace the weapon center of gravity appreciably forward the first third of the sword length (about 4 cm for heavy swords; see Table 2), making it distinctly tip-heavy; despite this, such sword will also have a longer torque arm, and under usual application of strength at the gripping point, it will react faster than the tasseled weapon to the imposed changes of direction. The above characteristics amount to a second definition of a "well balanced" sword.

A balancing point distinctly forward the first third of the sword was still conserved in antique lighter swords of the late Qing dynasty, when the sword fall completely out of military use. This suggests that the tip-heavy and longer torque arm features were intentionally conserved, perhaps for martial reasons, since it can be easily corrected in light-bladed weapons just by providing them with more dense hilts.

Thus I believe that a short torque arm of 11-13 cm, achieved with a tassel, was used to make the sword slow reacting. This is a necessary condition imposed by the needs of exhibit, teach and learn the sword intricate and fluid movements with a weapon balanced to move slowly.

Once the rudiments of the sword art are thus acquired, the student may progresses to a more advanced practice, which amounts to learn as to control a sword balanced to be faster-reacting; this is achieved simply by removing the tassel. The later characteristics result from the increased torque arm; a bonus is the tip-heavy balance, which made the weapon more adequate for fighting purposes.

As I'll discuss below, this optimal compromise between two types of "well balanced" swords arises almost naturally in weapons that's follows closely the pattern of old-style swords.



The harmonically well-balanced sword

Center of Percussion

A third definition of a well-balanced sword originates in the legend of the "sword's center of percussion", perhaps of some value in reference to Western swordsmanship.

The center of percussion of swords and other cutting weapons is the point on the blade that, during a blow, transmits the totality of the cutting energy to the target.

A sword vibrates when delivers a blow. The vibration waves distribute in places of the sword that vibrate strongly, and others that do not. These last are called "nodes".

On a hypothetical "harmonically" well-balanced sword meant for fighting, a major node should be located at a blade point consistent with the striking principles of wushu swordsmanship. For example, the relatively sharp and solid middle third of the blade is favored in the frequent cutting strategy "Chop/cleave" [Pinyin: pi1]. If a node or center of percussion situated in that part of the blade is used to strike, it would prevent that part of the chopping energy disperses by generating blade vibrations.

Western sword smiths searched for sword designs that put the other major vibration node under the gripping point, in order to avoid the transmission of the blow to the gripping hand. There is some evidence indicating that Chinese sword smiths consistently took the opposite tack, that of try to damp the blade vibrations.

A first piece of evidence is that the earliest Chinese swords (Spring and Autumn period) present the hilt and blade cast together in a single piece, which effectively converted the whole sword in a single vibrating body.

However that design had all but disappeared at the Qin and Han periods, and the short and solid tang, sometimes still tightly bound to the guard, was now articulated to the handle with a transversal rivet;

in this design, the top of the handle was presumably inserted and glued to the pommel Soon the tang become independent from the guard, handle, and pommel, which were strung together on the tang as beads, and secured both by a transversal rivet held in place by friction, or/and by riveting the tang's tail in the pommel.

In all these designs the common denominator is that the tang and the hilt pieces conserve some small degree of freedom of movement. The Chinese sword seems to evolve towards a tang tightly articulated to the different hilt pieces, a disposition that helps to disperse the tang vibrations. In this view, the tang is not a node in Chinese swords.

A second piece of evidence is the apparition of an advanced folded steel blade manufacture during the Han period. A folded steel blade can be viewed as a tightly packed wad of independent steel sheets, a disposition primarily destined to absorb shocks; a bonus of this array is the homogenization of the alloy composition, which was uneven in ancient steel.

A last piece of evidence seen in some types of Chinese and Middle East sabres are devices apparently intended to absorb the vibration of the weapon, as movable rings or steel beads somehow attached to the blade.

Most wushu adepts agree that a good wushu sword must respond with a perceptible vibrates to the "power discharges" characteristic of internal wushu schools (Pinyin: fa1 ji4n). I don't know if this affirmation comes from a genuine tradition, or if it is just some sort of wushu 'urban legend'. For one, we have seen that Chinese swords -and sabres- seem designed as to make these vibrations imperceptible to the user. Also, that dispersal of energy in sword vibrations contradicts the very definition of "power discharges", and the basic principle of energy conservation. On my very personal view, a well delivered " power discharge" should distributed its strength to all the body and weapons parts that have the potential to strike or parry, in a way stated by the form; vibrations are not the result searched for, rather an undesired by-product. The adepts that search to elicit sword vibrations during pretended power discharges almost always perform awkward gestures that impress as incorrect.

Whatever the definition of a well-delivered emissions of energy is accepted; the sword should allow the distinction. In this regard, the vibration frequency of a sword is influenced by the tang's elasticity. Since the tang, often of "rat tail" type

and the blade itself, are excessively thin in the vast majority of practice wushu swords, these necessarily vibrate at a frequency lower than that of a genuine fighting wushu sword. This feature may interest to purists that search for a weapon whose vibration modes during force emissions are more "genuine".

Some rare practice wushu weapons have these old-style tangs; this is the case of the "Ming/Shaolin" weapons shown in the Figure 3, and Tables 1 and 2; as expected these weapons present an agreeable and sustained low frequency vibration during the form performance. I have tried, with some success, to reproduce the same vibration feeling in weapons equipped with weaker tangs. The rigidity, and thus the vibration qualities of the weapon are much improved by filling the space existing between the handle and the handle, under the gripping point, with slow-setting epoxy glue poured by gravity from the pommel's end of the handle. This procedure was applied to two generic ("Han" and a "Yue") heavy swords with satisfactory results.

Being inalterable because determined by the weapon geometry and facture, the related "Center of percussion" and "harmonic balance" concept is of little interest in conditioning Chinese swords and sabres.

The position of the center(s) of percussion reached on a weapon well-balanced by the torque arm principle can be searched experimentally. If the weapon is held in the hand, when rapping the blade edge with a light stick, the sword should not evoke vibrations; incidentally, the natural frequencies of vibration of even heavy and rigid swords as the generic "Yue" and "Han" weapons mentioned in this Manual are too low to be audible; in both swords the a node for this vibration mode -or center of percussion- is located between the middle and last (point) third of the blade.

In the case of the rigid heavy double sabres, to be dealt with later in this Manual (see section "Conditioning of oxtail sabre kits for wushu training"), the high tapering in thickness of the blade produces at the broad point a diapason of sorts that can vibrates at high frequency (near the note f5), when the blade is struck. This high-pitched vibration mode is the hallmark of the modern machete, a chopping-slashing weapon that can be described as a straightened oxtail sabre; it is surprising to raise such a familiar and 'genuine' sound with an exercise Chinese weapon.

The apparent node -or center of percussion- for this vibration mode is nearly at 32,5 cm from the sabre point. Since this loud ringing is particularly distracting when training in double-sabre forms, is convenient to cross the sabres at this node when the form so it requires.

In the case of heavy sabres, the tangs are relatively more solid and realistic than usual in exercise weapons; the position of the experimentally found center of percussion should then be more representative of that of a true weapon.

Correcting the balance in old-style sword kits: How much weighs an old-style sword?

A length of 100 cm as average sword length, and a center of gravity located near the first third of the sword, is assumed in the following discussion. If we accept these assumptions, both the geometry of swords of these periods, and the nature of the materials then used in the construction automatically determine between narrow limits the weight and the balance characteristics of the completed weapon.

The Table 1 a, b, c) resumes the extent of my experience in the conditioning of heavy wushu kit swords (Figure 1). These weapons follow closely enough the general geometry of early swords, and have been equilibrated to achieve a center of gravity roughly located close to the first third of the sword, an optimal location for exercise.



Table 1b. Weight increase consecutive the conversion old style wushu sword kit in a "well-balanced" sword.

Sword TypeLengthWeight "catalog"CompletedDifferenceBallast share
Heavy "Han"101cm1480 g1887 g407 (27.5%) 192 g215 g
Heavy CTS "Yue" 92cm950 g1248 g 298 (32%) 150 g153 g


Table 1c. Effect of removing the tassel on shifting the center of gravity of a finished (well-balanced) wushu sword kit.

Sword TypeLengthWeight complete with tasselCenter of gravity with tassel (%) length Displacement of center of gravity forward, with the tassel excluded (cm) Tassel weight
Light "Longquan" (1)104 cm 620 g 28.8 % (1/3.5)2.2 cm50 g
Light "Ming/Shaolin" (2)98 cm 990 g 28.7 % (1/3.5)1.1 cm40 g
Heavy "Han"101cm1887 g30.0 % (<1/3)4 cm215 g
Heavy CTS "Yue" 92cm1248 g32.6% (<1/3)4 cm153 g


The final sword weights shown in Tables 1 (a, b, c) may surprise the wushu adepts used to light and flimsy weapons. However there is evidence that the weight of these reconstructions is not far from that of genuine weapons of the period. Reference 3 (article "On swords") indicate that the swords weights at the middle of the Ming dynasty (1368-1684) were respectively 1875 gr (3 jin, 12 liang [ancient weight units]) for the 100 cm (3 chi [ancient length units]) sword, 1438 gr for the 83 cm sword, and 1031 gr for the 67 cm sword. Also see Figure 7 for a 1816 gr replica Han sword (lien vers Figgure 7 agrandie et retour ici) Not surprisingly, the scaled military armor was still in use during this period (Figure 2A & C).

Were cavalry swords different than infantry swords ?

The evidence existing for such heavy swords raises some alarm among conservative wushu adepts, whom scramble to dismiss it. A commonly heard argument is that heavy Chinese weapons were intended for the cavalry soldier, and thus of no relevance to the forms of wushu practiced on foot. This may not be exactly true.

For the cavalry soldier in all cultures the practice of the sword and sabre proceeded to training on horse back only after a mastery of the weapon has been acquired on foot. Since a hand is needed to handle the mount, the cavalry weapons used on close quarters engagements must be handled with one hand. This approach to weapon training is desirable for the cavalry soldier, who always risks to be dismounted.

On the other hand, the sword and sabre were usually considered as secondary weapons for the horseman; their principal weapons were the bow and the spear. The larger Chinese two-handed short weapons belonging to the double-edged straight-sword and sabre family were not primarily intended to be used from horseback, but to provide the foot soldier with an anti-cavalry defensive and offensive potential.

Sword dimensions and the size of the swordsman

The evidence existing for such heavy swords also raises some questions and paradoxes.

Heavy swords were - and as I understand, they still are- the ones favored by the wushu styles that developed in Southern China, as T'ai chi; the average body size of the Southern Chinese was, and still is, lower than that of the Northern Chinese, whose emblematic wushu style -Shaolin- favor lighter swords.

In addition, the Chinese soldier of those earlier periods was presumably slighter in size and built than the average Chinese of today; this is also suggested by the Figure 24A.

A similar observation, well documented by the sizes of ancient armor suits, can be made for the contemporary Western soldiers. This also suggests that the sizes and weight of modern wushu weapons should be somehow up scaled to follow the recent population size increase, and allow a more realistic modern practice.

Most Chinese physicians I have interrogated agree that an average height of 150 cm is an adequate size estimation of the Chinese ethnic groups involved in the development of the internal wushu styles.

In conjunction, these arguments, and the internal wushu theory itself, are consistent with the notion that a 100 cm practice sword in the weight range of 1400 gr-1850 gr should be perfectly adequate for Western adepts 165 cm tall and a normal body built.

The very subsistence of a present days heavy wushu weapon manufacture suggest the survival of a tradition of internal wushu practice with the old style heavy weapons, which is in all comparable to the revival of historic musical instruments as the harpsichord and clavichord by Western performers of ancient music.



Choosing a wushu sword kit

If you practice a Northern sword style, the choice of a sword kit is easy; CTS and many other WEB and local suppliers have an ample choice of adequate kits (see the "Longshuan" and "Ming/Shaolin" sword descriptions in Tables 1a, 1b, and 2 for a description of such swords. Kits for such light weapons require little or no ballast, and the nominal catalog weights are more representative of the weight of the finished weapon.

The ideal practice weapon for internal sword wushu styles (Wudang, T'ai chi, etc.,) are heavy swords of the early pattern, which show thick and broad blades of diamond cross-section. Should you desire a still affordable kit for a very heavy sword of nearly 1850 gr, follow the link below toward "decorative swords". These "decorative" swords are equipped with forge steel blades, and are adequate for adaptation to wushu practice (I bought my own generic "Han" sword kit there).

Is dangerous to buy decorative swords for wushu practice, unless the dealer specifies that the compatibility exists, or if you are allowed to dismount the sword and check if the tang is solid, and forged on one piece with the blade. A blade just welded to the tang will yield a short-lived wushu weapon. On the other hand, if you choose as subject an adequate decorative sword you get a rewarding exercise weapon with top quality wooden parts, and carefully cast and finished metal fittings.

A group of excellent compromise 100 cm heavy swords less costly, and still challenging in weight, is represented by the CTS catalog swords "Yue" (1020 to 1300 gr), "Qin" (1090 to 1500 gr) & "Zhan Guo " (580 to 650 -700 gr) styles. The weight of the weapon as sold is indicated at the left of the arrow; at the right, my estimate of the weight of the completed weapon, tassel included. Is important to notice here that I have never actually conditioned sword kits responding exactly to these descriptions; these estimates are based in my previous experience, on the geometry of the sword considered, and on the conditioning of a 92 cm sword of the "Yue" pattern provided with a custom-made blade.

It will be difficult for me to refine my approximations without actual access to the weapon; the best I can do for the moment is to offer the interested reader my assistance by e-mail in this and other weapon projects.

Most "old-style" blades are less tapered toward the tip (low 'root/tip' ratios) than the Northern blades (Table 2), which produce blades of a very characteristic shape, and a graceful "broad" effect. In this regard, compare in Table 2 the "root/tip ratios" for narrow and broad swords (Figure 6).

More importantly, the slight taper produces a sword with a blade heavier at the tip, and with more "angular momentum" (see below) than a sword of equal weight equipped with a blade of narrower and lighter tip. As we have already discussed, swords with a large angular momentum are more challenging in handling than swords with a high blade taper. Though rigid, a well mounted heavy blade still will react to the fluid weapon movements imposed by a slow performance of the sword form, responding with a strong and sustained low-frequency vibration clearly perceptible to the attentive practitioner.

Table 2. Tapering in beam and thickness in light and heavy swords


 Root (mm) Ratio Root/Tip (1) Total weight (gr)
Sword Blade Stylebeam thickness beam thickness  
Light "Longquan"33.9 5.55 1.533.08570
Light "Ming/Shaolin"31.84.551.372.08990
Heavy CTS "Yue"35.258.791.151.781248
Heavy "Han"

1: measured at 60 cm from the root; all the blades in Table 2 presented an even taper in both thickness and beam (data not shown).

Lighter weapon kits

Handling an 1850 gr sword is certainly challenging for a beginner that, just learning the form, must hold every position for long periods. With a body weight of 80 kg, I learned my first sword form with the weapon of 990 gr that is described in Tables 1a, 1b, and 2.

Unless the adept is a natural choreographer (as most of high-level wushu masters are), it tends to develop bad handling habits using light swords longer than strictly necessary. I believe that as soon as possible the student should move to training with heavy weapons in order to obtain a good grasp of the internal wushu sword principles. A heavy sword won't displace correctly through the movements of a form unless is dragged or pushed by the movements of the practitioner's legs and hips. The arms and wrists become insufficient as unique sources of strength. Reciprocally, the arms and wrists are perfectly adequate to handle a light weapon by themselves, which often lead to a neglect of the movements of the lower part of the body.

Experimentally I found that the 990 gr sword was just good enough to discover the feeling just described; a sword of about 1,100 gr and 100 cm long gives distinctly this perception. Unfortunately, such swords are both rare and expensive, in the market of wushu exercise swords.

Conditioning a wushu sword kit

In the preceding sections I've described what considerations should be taken into account to transform a Chinese wushu sword kit into the sword most adequate to your practice. The sections that follow will show how to accomplish that goal.

The basic problem of equilibrating an old style sword:

In modern wushu weapon kits inspired in old-style heavy swords is that is essentially impossible to attain the optimal equilibrium point of the recommended for learning and practice in a naked weapon.

Hilt ballast

The main problem presented by these early styles is to obtain a well-balanced weapon consistent with a wushu training. In this rather early style of Chinese straight sword the blades are broad & thick, proportionally thicker at the sword tip than the modern version of the weapons. On the other hands the handles and pommels are comparatively slender, giving just enough space to introduce the ballast necessary to give a slightly tip-heavy sword.

Correcting the weight of the tang, pommel, and guard

In genuine fighting swords the tang (the blade part traversing the guard, handle and pommel) was usually thick, thus contributing to bring naturally the weapon equilibrium point to a more comfortable position, closer to the handle (Figure 9A & Figure 24B).

In addition, the pommel and guard were cast in a solid hard and dense metal or alloy, usually cooper, or bronze. Thus, once assembled, the weapon was, from its own design, close to the optimum point of equilibrium.

In the exercise version of the fighting weapon, the tang usually will be only as thick as needed to avoid the weapon to break during the solo practice of the form (Figure 9B); this design probably search to prevent the utilization of the weapon in actual fighting. The weight difference between a large tang and the slender tang of the exercise sword can be compensated adding ballast (bits of a highly dense metal carefully packed) in a clearance normally existing between the handle perforation and the tang itself. If needed, additional ballast can be added in a lodging produced by enlarging the handle's perforation at the top, next to the pommel; at this position the weakened handle do not interferes with a vigorous sword practice.

The guard of a sword kit usually is a hollow box cast in copper, bronze, brass, or an anodized metal alloy. In low prized sword kits the pommel, as the scabbard metal fittings, may be done in resistant plastic. These hollow cavities in the guard and pommel are to be filled with ballast, as to obtain a guard and pommel with the approximated weight expected from a piece of equal shape cast in a metal or alloy of intermediary density, as solid cooper or bronze.

Since some of the available space inside will remain unoccupied, even if dense ballast carefully shaped and packed is used, it will be difficult to achieve a pommel and guard weighing much more than if they were actually cast in bronze or copper. This is particularly true when the hollow pommel is made in plastic; plastic pommels have low density, and thick walls that reduce the space within. Such pommels must be filled with a very well packed and dense ballast to recover the weight expected of a solid copper pommel of equal shape.

If all these precautions are taken, you will get at the end a sword that will reproduce almost exactly the balance of the weapon which inspired the kit.

The tassel as ballast and learning aid

Probably the primary role of the sword tassel is the fine correction of the weapon balance. A long tassel, adjusted to the hilt is the traditional dress of the heavy swords associated to the T'ai chi styles. A tassel about of third of the weapon length is the one traditionally used in the Wudang sword forms. Northern swords forms are less fond of the tassel; but if they use one, it will be the short tassel.

The long T'ai chi tassel (Figure 20) is made of a couple of 2-3 cm wooden "bells" covered each with a well nourished silky mane of 50 cm long, each inserted in a 50 cm length of silky cord. Tassels are light enough as to have a negligible influence on the sword's balance, though may secret lots of ballast.

Each bell hang from a silk string were a few beads of more or less dense materials (stone, porcelain, metal) are threaded and stacked on the top of the bell, thus giving part of the ballast. Both bell strings are knotted together by a complex decorative knot and often woven around a heavy stone ring, before being tied somehow to the pommel tip. A puzzling feature of ancient tassels is the existence of lengths of iron or steel wire hidden behind the silk mane, which have been interpreted as secondary weapons. In fact, most likely they represent just another additional resource to ballast the tassel. Upon a little practice with the tassel ballast, you will probably find that its optimal ballast distribution is of equal weights evenly spaced along the tassel.

The tassel has also the important educational role of teaching aid, imposing a fluidity and timing of the sword, hand and feet movements that prevent the tassel of tangling around the wrist, or just of being stepped on. The improvement a tassel imposes on the practice of the sword form largely outweighs the price of soiling and ruining a relatively cheap good quality long tassel. A good tassel should be the constant companion of a practice weapon. During the more ambitious practice with the weapon devoid of tassel, and thus tip heavy, this pedagogic role of the tassel is conserved by the mean of a lighter lanyard, simply made by a length of cord or a ribbon, tied to the pommel (Figure 2B); in some period representations at the Paris's Musée Guimet both strands of the lanyard are seen tied in a more or less complex rose, similar to that found in tassels.

In a future edition of these pages I'll indicate how to make your own tassels, if a particular project requires so; however these will prove to be much more expensive than also satisfactory mass-produced tassels. As a rule the later are much better than the tassels included with low-priced wushu swords, of poor strength and aspect, and inadequate for serious practice.

Conditioning a Sword of the CTS "Yue" pattern

The CTS "Yue", "Qin", and "Zhan Guo" sword patterns are not intended as reproductions of historical weapons.

These are to be evaluated as members of a class of generic weapons fundamentally intended for exercise, hitherto not available in Western countries that search to underline in an attractive and, over all, functional way some features of diverse Chinese swords from bronze and ancient steel era.

These periods are principally the Warring States (403 BC-221 BC, Qin (221 BC-206 BC), and Han (206 BC-220 AD) periods. The CTS "Yue" style sword kit represents a pleasant and well-designed weapon comparatively easy to condition, and thus I'll take it as a basic example.

Other reason of my choice is that I have recently conditioned a pair of CTS sword kits of this pattern "custom-made" to measure 92 cm (now a similar kit has become a standard item on the CTS catalog).

Its blade is broad, wide at the guard and slightly and uniformly tapered toward the tip; is also equally tapered in thickness. Note the similarities with a high-priced sword, supposedly a replica of a Han dynasty weapon (Figure 7). The blade uniform section (Figures 5 & 6) is roughly hexagonal, a characteristic frequent, but not exclusive, of Qin bronze swords. A feature of the CTS "Yue" and "Zhan Guo" large blade surfaces (Figure 6) is their slightly cylindrical section (Figures 1C & 23), which both reduces the blade weight and improves their aspect. I ignore whether this feature has any historical base.

Bronze and steel weapons co-existed for a long time, and probably features characteristics of bronze weapon were introduced in the first steel weapons before the experience of the military that used then, and the blacksmith that made them, conferred them their own personality. Indeed, in some high prized replica weapons the elegant and complex blade profile of the Warring States short bronze swords, present there for functional reasons, reappears for decorative purposes in the longer steel swords that supplanted them.

Ancient bronze and steel swords were difficult to tell apart in the battlefield. Bronze swords (at least Qin bronze swords) were protected from corrosion with an auto-deposed chromium layer. After the previous auto-deposit of a copper layer, this procedure was extended to the steel blades, still more vulnerable to corrosion than bronze blades. Often a third layer of nickel was also auto-deposed. The presence of traces of auto-electroplating is considered a hallmark of antique Chinese swords, but in fact the chromium cooper-chromium coat (I ignore if auto-deposed or electro-deposed) has persisted until today in an important group of heavy low-priced steel wushu weapons of semi-artisan manufacture.

The "Yue" sword

These swords are excellent didactic examples to introduce to the reader to all the current resources used in weapon balance and conditioning. The difficulties presented by these swords styles are not extraordinary, and make of these kits amusing projects. The resources that we'll learn here will remain valid to swords of styles less challenging to condition.

Disassembling the weapon.

Wipe off the oil excess and blunt the edges

Upon receiving your sword, wrap the handle in a cotton cloth and hold the weapon with it; often unfinished fittings project cutting edges, wooden shards, etc.

Wipe carefully from all the parts the abundant layer of jelly-like protective oil. Be careful, since the edges often are wickedly sharp. The kind of steel you get, also called 'martial steel' in the trade, is not intended to conserve an edge; the ones observed here are only secondary consequences of the artisan shaping of the blade to the desired hexagonal section.

This edge, and the roughness left by the milling should be removed. This can be done in one step, by carefully polishing the surfaces that meet at the edges with fine abrasive wet paper (starting with grit 600 or higher) wrapped around a block of hardwood or metal. Take care of grinding these surfaces at the proper angle, so the original section is conserved. Along the process insure that the edge is blunted, giving a minimum of strokes with the abrasive, in a sense perpendicular to the blade plane.

Protecting the blades from rust

Handle the blade with the same cloth you had removed the protective oil. As soon as a session of blade grinding is over, dry the blade and clean it with alcohol (CH3-CH2OH), to remove the remaining dampness and the corrosive body oils left with your fingerprints. In some countries the sale of pure ethanol is forbidden, unless denatured with traces of methanol (a mild toxic) to make it non-drinkable (then called 'burning alcohol'). Work in a ventilated space, and let dry outdoors the rags or absorbing paper containing alcohol before disposal (alcohol is inflammable, but highly biodegradable, thus it can also be disposed in a sink).

I'm told that the traditional Far East way to preserve steel sword blades and weapons was to anoint them with a layer of some essential oil or other; magnolia and clover oil are often mentioned among these.

Despite my affection for exercise wushu weapons, I draw the line on using such expensive substances to clean and preserve mine. For long time I anointed the blade with a very light coat of anti-rust domestic machine oil, without much success; the oil end by flowing off the sword and drips on the inside of the scabbard, were it is absorbed sometimes staining its exterior. The now unprotected blade rust easily.

Recently I've found that magnolia oil and clove oil can be advantageously substituted by the same mixture used in the section "Oil rubbing" to finish wood parts. This mixture, made of a part of lowly boiled linseed oil and a part of turpentine, resembles magnolia oil and clove oil in being a complex mixture of many reactive oils and a volatile solvent.

The turpentine-linseed oil mixture oxidizes at the air, thickening first to a jelly consistency, then to complete hardness, which makes a stable protective layer on steel.

The repeated use of the turpentine-linseed oil mixture on blades also removes iron-rust; even some seconds of rubbing a neglected blade with this mixture make it significantly cleaner and brighter. This mixture reacts with the scabbard wood, thus if any excess of it reach the wood, it is just fixed chemically there.

Dismount the sword

Now that the danger of handling the blade is reduced, dismount the sword. For this the ideal tool is a small narrow fixed-size wrench, of the type found in bicycle tool-kits, which can be eventually carried in your wushu bag. Use the wrench to unscrew the dome shaped brass nut (to be carefully conserved), which is screwed at the end of the tang (the blade part that traverses the pommel, wood handle, and guard). The brass nut usually has got two oppositely placed perforations were lodge the ends of a curved piece of cooper wire; this part is the intended point of attachment of the tassel. The tassel that usually comes with the CTS "Yue" swords is too small for any useful role, but comes equipped with a pretty artisan ring carved in some soft colored stone. Such rings are commonly found in tassels decorating swords of the Southern style. Keep carefully the stone ring, which will be part of the ballast integrated within a better tassel).

Retire the hollow fluted wooden handle, after making a sketch of its position relative to the guard and pommel; though superficially symmetric, the part of the handle hidden in the fittings might have different lengths and a diameter, giving some indications on the way the sword is held together.

It might puzzle you to discover that the attractive pommels of the CTS "Yue", and probably also those of the CTS "Qin" sword, are actually cast in high-impact plastic. Though imprecise, the moldings of the Yue pommel imitates so well a cast in brass or bronze that the fakery becomes evident only after disassembling the weapon. The scabbard fittings are also molded in excellent plastic.

Disassemble the guard

The hollow guard of the Yue style sword is made of two pieces cast on a resistant alloy, probably dark bronze. The oval shaped mouthpiece, includes a diamond-shaped lodging were the blade root is nested. The above mouthpiece fits accurately like a lid inside the guard piece. The opposite side of the guard piece is shaped as a neck where the handle is inserted. In high priced replicas often the sword pommel and the tip of the scabbard disassemble in similar way.

After disassembling the guard, wipe off the remaining protective oil, and clean it carefully, by immersing it in alcohol. Also remove from the sword's wooden parts all traces of oil you can reach.

Heat up to reach the minimal temperature that makes steel malleable (dark cherry red). Using a piece of cheap wood as anvil, straighten the tang with some moderate blows of a standard carpenter's hammer. Cool by immersing in hot water, or in mineral oil, in order to conserve the steel temper. Avoid heating the tang at a too high temperature (light red), since you risk making it brittle. Normally just a single round of heating and hammering suffices to get a tolerable tang alignment.

File off the protuberances and edges along the tang, removing the least possible material as to reduce its average diameter without actually weakening it. Take in consideration that the basic section of tangs is usually square. This is intended to even the tang diameter, and to facilitate wrapping a close-fitting ballast coil (below) to slide along around it. Clean the tang with steel wool, and cover it, excepting its filleted tip, with a coat of metal varnish.

Finish the blade adjustments.

Shape the sword's point and polish the edges to smoothness.

The outline of the blade you get may be summarily milled to the shape of the traditional Chinese leaf tip point (Figure 8), but otherwise incomplete. The finished point should continue the diamond shaped blade section into an eye-shaped section as it approaches to the tip; an unfinished tip, instead, will have a rectangular section at the same places (Diapositive8c).

First using a coarse oil-stone, then wet abrasive paper, shape a slightly blunt edge around the tip, milling its composing surfaces to make a blunt edge that will met at the same angle observed in the rest of the blade. This edge will continue around the tip the blade's edge; thus the tip also will have a hexagonal section all over.

During this process carefully avoid changing the point outline, which will be most likely already perfect . Set the sword hilt down & tip up between your legs. Pick two folded pieces of wet abrasive paper, one on each hand, held between the thumb and index, and round both edges at the same time. Let your fingers meet at the flat of the tip, reshaping it to an eye-shaped section. Avoid grinding off the tip edges. Turn the sword every few strokes, since in general both hands won't deliver the same pressure.

Do not proceed through big steps. Stop when the point is not yet fully shaped, polish with progressively finer grained wet abrasive paper, and then judge your work. The examination of the light reflecting in the shaped point is the best way to appreciate the symmetry of its grinding. It may take you sometime to learn how to take the point grind to perfection. At first, get a tolerable shaped point that is harmless to other practitioners and yourself. On each session of point grinding, search for remaining live edges, and kill them with fine grain wet paper.

Aligning the blade and the tang

Just watching from one end, or using as a ruler a straight table or door edge, verify if the tang is in line with the central ridge of the blade. Most of the time it will be the case (Figure 9B); four out of four of my CTS blades were not an exception to the rule.

If not in alignment, examine carefully the tang to see whether if it doesn't insert off center in the blade. A perfectly straight tang inside a handle's perforation that is off-center may produce an assembled weapon that looks misaligned. If this is the case, the handle might be re-centered by filing at the proper place with a round, and elongated wooden rasp. Always confirm your alignment by reassembling the sword.

If the tang is misaligned, find at which point is bent off line. Heat the tang bent in the flame of a portable Bunsen burner, or on a gas range (Figure 9).

Shape the blade root.

Once reassembled, the blade root may not fit snuggly within the groove in the guard's lid. This most likely is due to lack of alignment of the blade root surfaces that should be in contact with the aforementioned groove. Use a metal file, a coarse grindstone, or wet abrasive paper, mill off the faulty sword root surface to obtain a proper adjustment.

For obtaining an even root blade the safer way is to grind off the material and avoid the use of hacksaws and abrasive cutting wheel, unless you have an exceptionally well-equipped shop. Figures 10, 11, 12, 13, 14)

Prepare the weapon parts for ballast, & equilibrating the weapon.

Choice of ballasting material

The choice of the material used for ballast is conditioned by density of the material, that is the weight for volume unit. Iron and steel (density=7.874) are poor ballast materials given their small density; these rarely were used for making guards and pommels. Ancient guards and pommels were usually made in solid bronze or copper, respectively 12 %, and 13,8 % heavier, volume by volume, than iron or steel.

The hollow parts of the hilt of an exercise wushu sword kit (guard, pommel, and cavity between the handle and tang) must be filled with a very dense metal or alloy, to compensate for their low weight. Lead, 43.5 % heavier than iron or steel, volume by volume, is the best ballast choice; being soft and malleable, it can be easily cut in ballast pieces of the desired shape with woodworking tools, and shaped by hammering.

Lead sales to the public are forbidden in many countries, since if misused is toxic. If you have access to a good chunk of lead, do not hesitate to use it; lead weighs made with protective gloves, covered by a coat of metal varnish or epoxy glue, and in addition protected by the hilt's fittings themselves, are inoffensive to the sword user. If you don't have access to lead, the second best option is the lead/tin soldier adjuvant used in welding.

The cheapest kind of come in bars of 1 cm thickness and contains 60 % lead. The remaining 40 % is accounted by tin. This alloy though less dense than lead (density = 9.786; 13, 4 % less heavy than lead, though 24.3 % heavier than iron or steel, volume by volume), is less toxic than pure lead, and. A little harder and less malleable, still can be shaped in the same way than lead.

If you have some previous experience casting bullets or fishing weights, you may decide to cast your own ballast at the desired final shape. The alloy melts at lower temperature than lead, which reduces the danger inherent to its utilization. In this project the more useful shapes are pierced metal disks, or sheets of metal from which the ballast pieces are cut.

The Figure 15 takes you through the steps needed to make a plaster ("plaster of Paris") mould for casting weighs.

Only use tin/lead soldiering adjuvant in bars, without incorporated cleaner. The wire form, usually with an incorporated cleaner, should be avoided be used for casting, since the cleaner vaporization at the fusion temperature may produce potentially dangerous molten metal projections. Use thick clothes, shoes and goggles. Melt the alloy in a small solid iron or steel ladle. Never overheat the molten metal. Everything is just right when some non-molten fragments still remain in the molten metal. If you do not have experience on this, you may try a small scale test run to get the feeling of the material, and loose your natural fear to it.

The main advantage of the lead/tin alloy in wire form is that can be used directly, by wrapping it around the parts one wants to ballast. In order to obtain the desired sword balance, this kind of ballast must be carefully packed, as to achieve the best possible utilization of the limited space available within the hilt's components. In extreme cases a project might need lead/tin alloy in a more compact form than wire. Though expensive, fishing weighs are a good alternative source for more compact ballast.

Provided that this precaution is taken, and given its density higher than that of bronze or copper, lead/tin wire ballast can be utilized to reproduce the weight of a genuine old-style sword hilt. Hence I'll stress in this Manual the utilization of the wire form of tin-lead soldier adjuvant, which can be obtained everywhere, and is safe and easier to use; this should be your ballast of choice if this is the first time you attempt to condition a wushu weapon.

Cutting the handle to length.

Examine how the wooden handle is articulated to the guard. In the CTS "Yue" sword pattern the handle just repose in the guard's neck, and the solidity of the sword arrangement is determined only by the close fit of the tang to the inside of the handle, and the accurate lodging of the blade root into the guard's lid; thus the tapered part of the handle -its last 5 mm- can be sawn off, using a fine-toothed ribbed saw, in order to liberate room for more ballast (Figure: disassembled "Yue" sword hilt).

This wasn't done in the handle shown in the Figures 11, 12, & 13, since lead, a more dense ballast, was used in this project; also note that for the same reason the ballast is not as tightly packed as it could be. In some designs the handle prolongs through the guard to rest in a secondary neck cast inside, and as part, of the lid; in these cases, the original disposition should be respected.

Filling with ballast the guard and pommel

Secure stably on a vice (wrapped in a cloth to avoid scratches and breaking the fragile bronze case), or on a chunk of modeling putty (Figure 16A). Wrap around itself a piece of lead/tin wire ballast, and compact by hammering on a piece of thick hard wood or metal. Pack to a close fit within the guard's case lateral projections. Avoid to fill the cylindrical part of the cavity determined by the end of the guard's neck, handle and lid, which will be filled later by a wire coils (Figure 16B); otherwise try to pack the ballast without leaving empty space.

A similar strategy should be extended to ballast the CTS "Qin" sword kit pommel, whose outline is similar to that of the "Yue"'s guard.

The Figures 12 & 13 show an alternative way to add the ballast to the open guard piece; in this case the ballast was cut from lead sheets, and is loosely unpacked; you must do a better job if you use lead/tin wire ballast. When you use this approach, check that the lid still can be put in place before and after consolidating the ballast.

Once satisfied, thoroughly mix a small quantity of quick setting epoxy filling paste, and distribute it over the packed ballast. Press as to force the paste to infiltrate among the ballast bits, and against the cavity walls. The purpose of this is to secure the ballast, to avoid it to rattle when using the weapon. Remove the epoxy putty stains from the guard, and from your fingers with a Q-tip, cloth or absorbing paper just dampened in alcohol. Do not use an excess of alcohol, which if mixed to the epoxy will prevent a good hardening. Once the putty is hardened, proceed similarly with the other guard lateral projection.

The cylindrical Yue pommel, and the cylindrical cavity left under the handle's insertion on the guard's neck, can be filled with ballast weighs made by piling up disk-shaped spirals made of coiled lead/tin wire; one of these is shown in the Figures 12 &13. Later (section " Making lead/tin ballast coils") I'll show a different way of make weighs that potentially allows a more close packing of the lead/tin wire. Construct these weighs.

At this stage is assumed that the sword's guard lateral projections are full to capacity with consolidated ballast. You also dispose of consolidated weighs that fit tightly to the cylindrical cavities in the guard a pommel

Consolidating the guard to the blade

At this stage you should have a guard whose lateral projections are with filled lead/tin wire stably set in place with epoxy putty, and a coil of lead/tin wire that fits in the cavity. The size of the coil should allow for the insertion of the guard's lid, were the blade root rests, and for the projection of the handle inside the whole guard's neck. If these conditions are fulfilled, set the coil in place with a small quantity of quick setting epoxy glue, using shims of lead/tin wire eventually hammered flat to center it on the weapon axis. Clean the eventual glue excess.

Once the glue is set, add -without gluing- additional shims as to fill most of the space still left inside the guard. Mix a small quantity of quick setting epoxy glue spread around the edges, glue the lid in place, wait for the glue to set, and clean the eventual glue excess.

Reassemble the sword in order to examine if the handle still enters correctly in the guard's neck, and if the weapon is still aligned.

Grind in the blade root top to expose a fresh metal surface. Verify once more that its adjustment of the blade lid is nearly perfect. Glue it to the lid, now with the more resistant slow-setting epoxy glue. Use a small quantity of glue, to avoid that it excess leaks through and reach handle, sticking it to the guard's neck. Usually I take the precaution of interposing some thin aluminum foil between the handle end and guards neck. Reassemble the weapon, securing it tip up. Remove glue stains from the blade, and let the epoxy dry at least overnight,

Disassemble the weapon; the handle might be partially glued to the guard by a join easy to tear off, thanks to the fragility of the interposed aluminum sheet.

The guard should be now glued to the blade. Sometimes the cooper and bronze guards of historical weapons were directly cast around the blade; this is the method we will try to reproduce to obtain a dense handle.

Insert as more lead/tin shims as possible in the clearance eventually left between the cylindrical ballast coil, and the tang and guard lateral ballast. Set the sword tip down, and mix thoroughly an abundant quantity of slow setting epoxy glue on some thick paper (for example a calling card), and use the same paper, rolled as a funnel, to pour the glue on the guard's neck. Left rest for 15-30 minutes to allow the glue to flow by gravity towers the lid.

Most likely all the glue added would infiltrate between the loose ballast bits, leaving intact the space inside the guard's neck were the handle lodge. You might use the tip of a bamboo skewer to help the glue infiltration in the ballast. Remove carefully the glue stains from the inside of the guard's neck. Verify form time to time that the glue does not leak from the joint between the blade root and guard's lid. In the unlikely case that this happens, clean the glue, and seal with chewing gum. Remove the chewing gun not before after 5 hours of setting and clean the possible stains of semi-solid glue; let the glue set for a total of 12-24 hours.



How much more weight for balancing your weapon?

Reassemble the weapon, including the weighs you just build.

Ballasting the tassel

Good quality tassels ordered as accessory are heavier than the rickety kind usually included with the weapon kit, since carry more cord on the mane. Weave on the tassel a stone ring, or one or more blackened iron rings, as indicated in the Figure 20. A simple Chinese stone ring is the traditional decoration of tassels affected to heavy swords designs. Convenient -and quite expensive- stone rings are ubiquitous in the Chinese quarter decoration shops (hopefully your city is blessed with one), or in Western New Age shops.

If you do no have stone rings, use iron rings instead. Big welded brass- or chrome-plated iron rings of all sizes are of common utilization in the confection of equestrian tackle, leather luggage, etc. These are cheap, and have many applications in wushu weapon conditioning; is convenient to keep in your shop a good reserve, including as many types as are available in your favorite hardware store.

Depending on the decorative context, these rings can be used as they are, or 'antiqued' by heating them to dark red at the kitchen range, or on a Bunsen burner. When the heat oxidizes the metal coat, drop them on a tin with enough cooking oil as to cover the ring. This creates a dark carbon coat that can be thickened by repeating the process, until the rich black color of a Chinese wok is achieved. Since is difficult to warm evenly a large iron ring in this way, patterns combining different dark tonalities is are the more likely outcome of this process; these patterns blend well with fibers, fabrics and different woods.

These blackened iron rings are more resistant to rust than their parents, and look well woven in the lanyards of a tassel, either in side-by-side or nested pairs, making excellent alternatives to the charming stone rings.

Usually the beads included with tassels are too light, so beads of denser material might replace them. A variety of such dense beads, flat or rounded, of colored glass, metal, porcelain, etc. can be found in hobby stores specialized in items to make jewelry. Untie the knots hidden under the bells, and remove these. Two to four beads per bell usually give a pleasant effect (Figure 20).

Do not yet include iron wire lengths hidden within the tassel's mane; these are to be used only as last resource to ballast tassels. Should you need them, the rigid iron wire of which the coat hangers provided by cleaners are made presents a perfectly adequate consistency. See how to arrange these in (Figure 20). Hang the tassel provisionally in the pommel loop provided with the kit.

Calculating the additional ballast needed

Here is assumed that the sword already has a pommel and guard fully ballasted, and that is equipped with its chosen tassel. For the Yue swords kit a long tassel from the CTS "accessories" section, and the stone ring included in the kit, will be essential.

If the torque arm [distance gravity center-gripping point] is more than 12-13 cm, calculate how much ballast is needed to bring the torque arm to 12-13 cm,

As a first approximation, this will happen when the center of gravity is close to the first third of the sword; indeed, is easier to find this point, and refine later for the desired torque arm. Hang a plastic sack from the top of the handle, and add some finely divided material (sand, rice, etc.) to it as to obtain the desired balance. Weigh the sack on a kitchen scale, and from this calculate the length of lead [60 %]/tin 2 mm diameter wire (2.0 gr/ 10 cm) needed to obtain the same weight.

Usually (it is actually the case in the "Yue" sword) the clearance left between the walls of the handle perforation and the top of the tang is sufficient to slip in this space some handle-lengths of lead/tin wire (eventually slightly flattened by hammering to permit a fit); usually filling this clearance to capacity with ballast may make the difference between a correct balance, and no balance at all.

Carving additional lodgings for ballast in the handle

My personal experience with CTS sword kits is based in a project of conditioning a double heavy "Yue" sword set of 92 cm in length for each sword. Each kit destined to the set was adjusted from its original weight of 950 gr to a final weight of 1396 gr; this includes a tassel of 153 gr (Table 1b). This meant an addition of 293 gr of lead ballast to each sword.

The lead or iron ballast distribution of each "well balanced" sword hilt element, and their equivalences in lead[60 %]/tin 2 mm diameter wire ballast are indicated in the Table 3:

Table 3. Balance of a "Yue" sword kit

< < < < <
 Ballast (g) metalvolume available solid lead/tin alloy capacity lead/tin alloy wire capacity
Pommel178 lead35.3 ml (1) 354.4 g (2) 128 g (3)
Handle57iron8.9 ml (3) 87.1 g (2)48 g (3,6)
Guard58lead18 ml (7) 176 g (2)65.3 g (8)
Total193  598 g235 g
lead/tin alloy wire ballast surplus : 235 g

Table 3. Balance of a "Yue" sword kit (legend).

1. Internal pommel volume calculated as that of a cylinder of 26.3 mm diameter and 65.8 length.

2. Weight of a hypothetical ballast cast in a single solid piece of dimensions identical to those of the internal cavity. Calculated as 'Cavity volume' x 'Density' (lead[60 %] / tin alloy = 9.786.

3. Cavity filled with closely packed lead[60 %] /tin alloy wire of 2 mm diameter. The pommel cavity (see Note 1) holds 32 tightly packed flat lead/tin wire spirals of 4 gr each.

4. Handle ballasted with five decorative iron rings of about 11.4 gr each, to a total of 57 gr; the clearance "Tang /Handle perforation" is non-ballasted.

5. Calculated as the difference between a cylinder of 11.6 mm diameter x 135 mm length (the dimensions of the perforation along the handle), and a cylinder of 7.3 mm diameter and 135 mm length (the average tang thickness). This value is referred to as "clearance Tang/Handle's perforation".

6. It holds a tight lead/tin wire (dimensions: 135 mm long and 11.5 mm diameter) coiled around a stick shaped as the tang. Thus the perforation should be widened to 13 mm diameter (tang irregularities). The coil weighs 42 gr (equivalent length of lead/tin wire: 114 cm).

7. The volume was measured by dismounting the guard, and closing its neck by tying to it a piece of plastic film. The piece was the filled with water (Density = 1 gr/ml) up to the level left free by the guard's lid; the water quantity was deduced from the weigh difference, and transformed in volume units (1 gr f water = 1 ml).

The internal volume of the cylindrical guard's neck, which is occupied by the handle's end, was then deduced.

8. Calculated as "Bulk Density" of packed lead/tin alloy wire (calculated from data in first row) multiplied by the density of the lead/tin alloy (9.674). Thus Bulk Density = 9.674 x [128/345,4] = 65. 34.

The Ratio 'weight/ length' for lead[60 % /tin alloy wire is 2.0 gr /10 cm).



In this particular project, intended as a double sword set, I substituted the internal handle ballast by external ballast, in the form of blackened iron rings whose internal diameter is very close to that of the handle. These rings give a larger, and more comfortable gripping point for my still weaker left hand. This approach made unnecessary the introduction of ballast within the handle (Figures 1C, 12, 13, &14)

This project uses custom-made blades most likely heavier than those of the similar "Yue" kit of 93 cm long, which was not yet available at the time I ordered mine.

I underline here that though these kits were not intended for their slightly heavier than normal blades, they naturally yield a well-balanced weapon when the lodgings available in the pommel, handle and guard are filled with a readily accessible ballast as the described lead/tin wire (see below, and Table 3). This was also the case for the "Han" pattern sword, not obtained from CTS. I have discussed before why a well-designed old-pattern sword do not need more ballast than that above indicated.

Two points of the Table 3 are to be stressed. First, ballasting with lead[60 %]/tin alloy wire of 2 mm diameter (the most commonly found form) is disadvantageous as compared with ballasting with larger pieces of the same alloy, which would allow a better packaging.

The use of lead/tin wire as ballast gives little room for error, and the availability of the same alloy in the form of bars or chunks would significantly facilitate the task of sword balancing. Unfortunately this form, destined to professional plumbers, is rarely available to the general public.

On the other hand, the data in Table 3 were obtained by retiring from one of the swords of my Yue" project its consolidated ballast. Then I rebalanced the same sword with new lead ballast chunks cut from 3 mm lead sheet, in order to illustrate how this approach let in the guard (a cavity difficult to ballast) abundant space free (see Figure "disassembled Yue sword"). This is would be also the case if lead/tin chunks were used to ballast the guard; the optimal case, presented in the fourth column, gives the weight of a hypothetical tin/lead weigh cast exactly to the guard's cavity shape. My estimates of the capacity of the pommel capacity for 2 mm diameter lead/tin wire are grossly underestimated, to account for the lack of skill of a beginner in sword conditioning. Since this capacity was used to evaluate the lead/tin wire capacity of the guard, this last value is also underestimated (see next paragraph and Table 3 [Note 9]).

Second, an attentive examination of Table 3 will show how to measure the volume available within the different hilt pieces, and thus their capacity to hold ballast. In this regard, a very useful concept is the "bulk density" of the particular ballast form you are using; thus, for the same filled volume and substance, "Bulk Density" = [Substance Density] x [Ratio of ballast solid weight / disperse ballast weight]. For example, in Table 3, the bulk density for lead[60 %]/tin alloy wire of 2 mm is : 9.786 x [128/345.4] =3.63. The bulk density increases with the care employed to pack the material; with it also increase your chances of easily obtain a well-balanced sword.

In the case in a particular sword design that these lodgings are not sufficient, the top of the handle perforation can be slightly enlarged as to accept a single-layer coil of 2 mm lead/tin wire.

Indeed, in the case of the "Yue" swords, the tang/handle clearance gives almost exactly the room for a layer of wire ballast (average external diameter 11.5 m, length 135 mm [handle], approximated weight 42-45 grams) tightly coiled around the tang). The weight of such coil is considered in the "Yue" sword balance shown in Table 3. The best approach is to tightly weave the coil around of the tang after the guard is consolidated to the blade root; the tang irregularities make impossible to slide the intact coil off the tang. I prefer to slightly enlarge the handle's perforation to fit the external shape of the coil, slightly tapered and irregular because reflects the form of the tang. This is best done by using long narrow files with rounded or flat sides, proceeding from either end of the handle as needed (Figures 11 & 14).

Alternatively, re-pierce, or widen the handle's perforation with a set of wood enlarging bits. If you decide for re-piercing, select a conical point bit, which will center by itself in the pre-existing perforation; its diameter must be sufficient to allow the handle slide snugly over the layer of ballast wire solidly coiled around the tang (see next section); bits of slightly different diameter might be used to improve the fit to the slightly tapered coil. Reassemble the sword, and check that its alignment has been conserved.

In the very unlikely case that not all the ballast needed could be inserted in the slightly sword lodgings above described, consider other ways to include the deficit, as "decorative" iron rings at the ends of the handle (Figures 1C, 12, 13, & 14) or stiff iron lengths 'hidden' in the tassel's mane (Figure 20).

Making lead/tin ballast coils

The easiest way for making perfect pommel ballast coils for "Yue" sword projects is just to buy lead/tin wire presented in adequate machine-made spools, which are then unwrapped layer by layer up to get the desired diameter; these might be even provided with a narrow perforation to insert the tang's end.

The Figure 16B describe how to wrap the lead/tin wire as to quickly construct cylindrical weights. Choice a cylindrical piece of wood slightly thicker than the tang, and insert it perpendicularly on a hole pierced in a slate. Wrap the wire tightly around the cylinder and cut to the length you desire. Secure the coil with drops of quick setting epoxy glue added to the beginning and end of the coil; use the excess glue, if any, to secure as many contiguous coils as possible, forcing it with the sharp tip of a bamboo skewer.

Insure that the coil is not irreversibly glued to the wood support. Once the glue set, varnish with a coat of the kind of metal varnish used to protect tools; this will help to held the wire coils in place, and will seal the wire tips, thus reducing the leaking of corrosive cleaner. You may decide to cover the cylindrical wood stick with a sheet(s) of kitchen aluminum foil before wrapping the wire ballast around. This will produce coiled ballast more resistant to handling during the sword assembly.

Once the varnish is dry, proceed to coil a new coat of wire around the first, nesting it in the groove left by two continuous wires from the preceding coat. Varnish, and proceed with a new coil until you reach a coil that will snugly fit inside the intended lodging. Prepare one of such coils for filling the cylindrical space left in the pommel, and other for filling the cylindrical space left within the guard.

A more tedious, but foolproof way to build cylindrical weights is to wrap many flat spirals of lead/tin wire, starting by shaping a loop that can pass around the corresponding part of the tang. Around this loop roll a flat spiral between your thumb and index, until reaching a diameter that allows the spiral to slide snugly within the pommel's ballast cavity. Finish the spiral cutting tangentially to the spiral. Fill the pommel's ballast cavity with spirals piled and glued (any fast setting glue) or as to make a cylinder. One of such spirals is shown in the picture representing the disassembled "Yue"'s hilt (Figure 12).

Consolidate the sword.

The role of "consolidation" is to structure the weapon in such a way that contiguous components will interact by spreading the pressures existing at their points of contact over a large area; this goal can be best achieved by interposing between the pieces a buffering layer of resistant glue. The glue layer will be more effective when the area of contact is large; thus is indispensable to obtain a good fitting of the pieces previously to gluing.


The ballast lead/tin coil consolidated and fitted to the lodging inside of the cylindrical "Yue" pommel. Shims of thin steel sheet cut from cans, or thick aluminum foil -according to the needs of the sword fine balance- can be shaped as cylinders, and glued around the ballast pack if the fitting is not exact. Some cylindrical metal sheet shims - might also be prepared to reduce the clearance (if any) left between the tang, and the inside of the coil.

After verifying the alignment by reassembling the sword, glue these liners to the coils with quick setting epoxy glue. Use small quantities of quick setting epoxy glue, taking care to avoid glue leaks during the 15 minutes of glue setting. Reorient the piece whenever gravity makes the glue flows to an undesired place.

The primary purpose here is to obtain an accurate and solid fit between the top of the pommel, the ballast and the top of the handle, so the tension of the screwed nut won't collapse the elastic plastic pommel. The ballast must be tightly packed and consolidated with glue so it will offer a good foundation for the top of the pommel. The ballast must be lined with a few layers of thin aluminum foil glued to it with neoprene glue; wait for the neoprene to dry before the ballast is slipped into the plastic pommel. You may consider the pommel now finished; also you may glue it permanently the pommel and the ballast, after repairing eventual weakness in the ballast assembly revealed during the sword exercise.


If needed, prepare shims (for example, metal sheet liners) to improve the fit of the tang to the handle perforation. This is not necessary when a tang ballasted with a lead/tin coil is used.

If the tang carries a ballast coil, verify the adjustment; since the section of the ballast -covered tang is usually asymmetric, mark the position at which the handle fits better and in correct alignment. If needed, adjust by enlarging the tang's perforation with a thin and long round file.

If you desire a sword that vibrates at high frequency (see section "Center of percussion"), you may desire to reinforce a part of the tang proximal to the blade root, by obtaining a closer fit between the handle and guard. For this, these parts must first be glued to glued together. The area of contact during the gluing should be small.

The intention is that the hardened epoxy will eventually break or loosen under the tensions imposed to the blade tang, guard, and handle joints during normal exercise. However a close fit between these parts will be conserved, increasing the tang's rigidity and yet still allowing the blade vibrations. (Section "The harmonically well-balanced sword").

In the case of coil-ballasted tangs, mix throughly a quantity of slow-setting epoxy glue sufficient to fully smear the coil under the handle. Insert the handle in place, reassemble and tighten the sword, and set it vertically, point down. The excess of epoxy glue will flow by gravity under the gripping point, filling the spaces left between the coils, tang, and pommel reducing at the same time the glue level within the handle cavity. Clean the epoxy stains with alcohol. If a glue leak develops at the guard/handle joint, seal it rolling a rubber band rolled tightly around the joint.

In the case of swords with non-ballasted handles, using slow-setting epoxy glue, first fix the handle to the guard's neck, to make a leak-proof joint. Reassemble and tighten the weapon. When the glue is cured, disassemble and remove the pommel, the only piece of the sword not yet fixed, and pour from the open end of the handle a quantity of slow-setting epoxy glue sufficient as to fill the Tang/Handle clearance 1/5 of its length.

Clean carefully with a rag humidified in alcohol the excess of glue from the pommel's end of the handle, to avoid it to stick to the pommel. Reassemble, tighten, and let the sword cure as it rest vertically, point down, thus permitting the resin to flow by gravity under the gripping point.

My CTS "Yue" swords presented tangs relatively thick compared to other exercise swords of similar weight; these swords vibrate nicely even if the preceding precaution is not taken.

I recall here that never the tang and the handle should be glued as to form a solid piece; the goal is to get a firm but articulated joint. Never use an excess of glue that would risk to fill completely the cavity existing between the tang and handle perforation.

* * *

You can now reassemble the weapon and confirm a last time its balance. Most likely this must have reached its final state, somehow as result of the large quantities of glue and shims added during the consolidation.

Finishing the handle and scabbard.

Dismount the scabbard by removing the brass nails that fix the plastic fittings to it. The mouth plastic fitting of the scabbard (were the blade enters), and the tip piece are usually just set in place by pressure, or with some sort of a very fragile glue.

Remove these, and verify how much of the scabbard length is occupied by the sword blade. Check the depth of the mouth and bottom pieces, since often the wooden part of the scabbard do not enter as deep as it should into these. Adjust the wooden part of the scabbard to obtain an adequate fit.

Clean carefully the dust and possible metal-scratching particles from the wooden scabbard part (open by both ends), with a strong vacuum cleaner or a long wire with a small piece of cloth attached to the end. Clean it now, and later, just before assembly. Since abrasive papers also release metal-scratching particles, never sand the inside of a scabbard.

A scabbard excessively long - sometimes in 25-33 % - is the hallmark of wushu kits. Indeed, the weapon such equipped look pretty, but often may not fit in 110 cm standard wushu sport bags.

A first consideration when deciding at which length you're trimming the scabbard is the center of gravity of the sheathed weapon. Usually it is naturally found at 38-40 % of the sheathed weapon, as measured from the hilt top. In any case, it must be located under the belt suspension fitting closest to the hilt. The functional purpose of such a location is to prevent the hilt-heavy sword to make the sheath to turn around its point of attachment to a belt -or to a wall hanger- and drop the sword.

Since in the "Yue" sword the scabbard fittings are molded in plastic, their difference in weight with more "realistic" metal fittings may need to be compensate with some ballast added between the end plastic fitting of the scabbard, and the scabbard itself.

The scabbard was also intended as a secondary weapon, probably held in the left hand as a theatre dagger, protecting the forearm and elbow [the form "Yin sword" in reference 2 might be interpreted as a double weapon form, with a scabbard in the primary hand, and a sword in the secondary hand].

In such role, the scabbard is more effective at a length over 67 cm that of an average short sword. For respect to this tradition, never cut a scabbard under 67 to 70 cm even in the case middle-sized swords.

Cut from the mouth end whenever the shapes of the scabbard's fittings allow it, to obtain slender and elegant scabbards. Save carefully the scabbard piece you have sawn off as source of wood for eventual reparations.

Stop the nail holes with toothpicks cut from the scabbard leftovers, immersed in quick setting carpenter's glue, and remove the excess with a rag dampened in water. Once dry, slice the tooth pick flush to the scabbard surface with a sharp knife. Alternatively, you may ignore them, and pretend they are wormholes. Indeed, this is the time to make the wood parts to look worn-off.

For example, once decided the position of the fittings, sand or file off some wood at half distance between contiguous fittings, as it would result from the natural tendency of holding the scabbard during weapon drawing.

To obtain a better result, is essential to eliminate the regular taper of this machine-made piece. File with a thick metal file, a few strokes at the time, just until it looks misaligned as you look along it; the effect should be almost imperceptible when looking from the side. The shape obtained must experiment a continuous variation. In scabbards of oblong or some other polyhedral section, some of the edges must be smoothed with sand paper, especially far from the positions planed for the fittings.

Replace the mouth fitting, and mark all the wood that shows through the diamond-shaped mouth opening. Remove the mouth fitting, and with a sharp knife carefully eliminate the wood excess around the sword's entering point.

If the chain is to be conserved, hammer and scratch it against the scabbard as to obtain link marks. Remove the chain, dislodging one of the non-welded links, and it blacken it as it was described for the iron rings.

Once the "antiquing" is finished, sand carefully the outer part of the scabbard with fine grit sand paper, dry abrasive "wet" paper, and finish with very fine steel wool.

Decide the new position for the fittings, considering the shortened scabbard, and the modifications you may desire to introduce (for example, you might decide to add a belt clip; as seen in the CTS "Qin" sword kit; see section " The CTS "Qin " heavy sword kit"). Glue the fittings to the scabbard with drops of quick setting plastic carpenter's glue.

Finish the exposed handle parts by sanding with dry abrasive paper, eliminating carefully the lathing marks. Finish by polishing with very fine steel wool.

Decoration: Fake patina and residual 'gold leaf'

Observe examples of fake patina -the light green spots- in the picture of the generic "Han" sword. These correspond to copper carbonate formed from long exposition of a copper or bronze fitting to air and sweat. A mix of Cadmium green and Titanium white on acrylic base can mimic this. Real patina is fragile, and only accumulates on surfaces protected from hand rubbing, as corners between decorative motives. Other types of copper, and iron oxide can be mimicked with mixes of Sienna and Burnt Sienna.

Acrylic paints are to be added in small touches, with the tip -eventually sharpened- of bamboo skewers. As the acrylic is still wet, remove the stains from flat and/or prominent details of the decoration. Extend this treatment to the plastic pommel, to make its details crisper, and low its shade to resemble more that of the metal guard. Acrylic is more resistant to wear than real patinas, but eventually protect it varnishing it with a mate varnish.

I'll expand this "decoration" section in future editions of the Manual. I suggest starting to build a stock of different shades of gold and silver paint, preferment in acrylic base. The idea material for gilding is gold or brass leaf; both are almost equally expensive, but affordable in the case of projects as this one. The" Ming/Shaolin" sword is an example; it was gilded in brass leaf about 15 years ago, and has not being retouched ever since, despite a heavy usage.

This interest on decorative aspects may seem excessive, but you will soon discover that even your half-failed decorative tentative will greatly increase the visual value of your weapon, and also the pleasure to exercise with it.

Oil rubbing

Obtain from a hardware store, or -much more expensively- from an art supply store, some boiled linseed oil and turpentine. Mix equal quantities of both, and store at room temperature in a glass bottle equipped with a tight cap.

With a wad of toilet paper give the scabbards and handle an abundant first coat of oil mixture, nevertheless avoiding excess that would infiltrate under the scabbard fittings, or extend in the handle parts that enter into the pommel and guard. After 15-30 minutes, fully remove the excess of oil left after most of the turpentine had evaporated, and repeat the application.

Flush on a toilet the oil-impregnated paper; the chemical reaction of this oil preparation with cellulose develops heat and may trigger a fire if disposed in a waste can.

After 30 minutes, remove the oil and polish with a clean cotton rag. The oil rubbing reacts chemically with the handle hardwood, consolidating its superficial layer to a harder surface less prone to release wood slivers, and which still will retain some permeability to sweat.

Polish off the slivers raised by the oil rubbing with fresh fine (Number 1) steel wool. Change it as soon as the oil that impregnates the wool suppresses its abrasive power. The ideal tool for doing this is a well-sharpened scraper, which will eliminate in one pass the oil excess and the slivers. Equalize with fine steel wool, and then polish with very fine (Number 00000) steel wool.

After 24 -48 hours, proceed now to a light oil rubbing, now adding the mixture with a wad of very fine steel wool; spread a slight oil layer on all the pieces, and renew it immediately. Remove the oil excess with a cloth, and polish with a clean cotton rag. A second light oil rubs might be necessary during the first year of use, unless the handle is to be wrapped (see section "Braided wrapping"). You may exercise with your weapon between successive oil rubs.

Hanging the tassel

Historic sword pommels were fixed to the handle at least in two different ways.

A first way was through a perforation along the pommel axis, traversed by the tang. The pommel was riveted to the tang's end: that is, hammering fixing permanently the sword fittings under the expanded metal expanded the tang's end. The tassels were simply tied somehow to these pommels, which usually lacked any provision to hang tassels. Less frequently, perforations were made in these pommels; threading a tassel through these is difficult given the interference of the tang C

Most modern wushu swords and broadswords employ a solution similar to that of the riveted tang. In these the riveting is substituted by a nut -usually domed- treaded in a filleted bolt welded at the end of the tang. A curved piece of copper or brass wire inserted in shallow holes drilled at opposite sided of the nut is the only, and fragile, provision for hanging the tassel (Figure 17A).

The second way was a lateral bolt that slides perpendicularly to the sword axis, through corresponding perforations, one across the handle, and the other across an ample flat tang. A thinner prolongation of the tang keep in place the pommel, that sometimes presented lattice work or rings that allowed to easily tie a tassel. The presence of an open ring at the end of the pommel difficult its fixation by riveting, and I assume that in these cases the pommel was just inserted and solidly welded or glued to the tang's end. The Chinese know lead/tin welding at least since the Qin dynasty; also disposed of different specialized kinds of hide glue, whose efficiency matched that of modern epoxy glues.

Creating solid tassel buttons

Albeit non-historical, tassel buttons are particularly adequate for swords with flat-topped pommels, and most sabres. These look good, and allow an easy switch of tassels and scarves between different weapons

When starting a wushu weapon project is a good idea to ask your friends to mail you their broken, unpaired, or outmoded cheap jewelry. A coffee tin half full of such jewels is an unending source of amusement and inspiration for the wushu weapon hobbyist.

The idea in this case is choosing a washer (preferably of brass) that can be adapted as to slip around the domed nut at the top of the tang (Figure 18).

Remove the wire ring from the nut, and shape the washer hole with a file until it can be forced around it with a tight fitting. Clean with fine abrasive paper, exposing the metal, and glue with a drop of quick setting epoxy glue. Let a uniform clearance (2-3 mm) between the washer and the pommel top, adequate to the cord of the tassel you plan to use.

The external diameter of the washer should be selected as to match -within a slight margin, that of the jewel available. Select a jewel with a radial symmetry, with a color and style consistent with your project, and carrying a central perforation were the nut can easily pass, or a pattern that allows to realize such a perforation. Since you can hang the tassel uniquely using the washer, do not rush to b search for an adequate jewel; is my experience that fate has a way of bringing happily within your reach the desired decoration.

The parts of the jewel interfering with our present purpose should be clipped off with a cutting pincer, and grinded off before gluing. I use a similar strategy to fix the scarves of wushu broadswords, to be described later.

Should you need to dismount the weapon, such a button can be easily removed by breaking the glue joint with a light rap given at the supporting washer; the button and jewel will remain intact, and can be glued again in place after reassembling the weapon.

The final preparation of a tassel requires passing the excessively long tassel loop through the part of the rose-like knot right at the loop base. Trough the loop part that transpierce the rose knot are passed both tassel manes and tassel bells, and the rest of the rose. When the this loop is tightened, the original loop is divided in two shorter loops converging at the rose top; alternatively, the original loop can be sewed firmly by its middle to the top of the rose, giving result to two smaller identical loops (Figure 19).

These loops are threaded over the ring as indicated (Figures 20).

Finally, "button holes" are made at the end of the loops, and buttoned to the pommel tip (Figure 21).

Adapting other types of swords to wushu training.

The CTS "Qin " heavy sword kit.

I don't have a direct experience on conditioning CTS "Qin" sword kits.

Instead I'll give an idea on how I extrapolate the features of projects I've already worked, to new kits I don't have any experience. This also illustrates the importance of keeping a careful journal describing your work.

From the CTS catalog I retain that among the "Qin" kit exists a weapon long of 98 cm, with a 75 cm blade, and weighing 1090 gr; the corresponding "Yue" sword kit in total length and blade length weighs 110 gr less. Though much more complete than those given by other dealers, the descriptions of the CTS catalog do not allow to guess easily the sources of the weight difference between these swords kits (Figure 22).

In such cases, an indispensable assumption is that the weapon's designer has produced a kit that can be conditioned to a serviceable weapon; this assumption is usually true for wushu weapons marketed by serious dealers with a guaranty of being designed and produced in good Chinese production centers. These assumptions facilitate to read "between lines" the catalogs when choosing a wushu weapon.

If assumed that the CTS catalog pictures correspond to weapons of the same length, the measures taken directly from the pictures indicate that the "Qin" sword has a blade broader than that that of the CTS "Yue" sword. The dimensions of the CTS "Qin" blade make it probably similar to the blade of the generic "Han" sword presented in Tables 1(a, b, c) and 2, which may account for the extra 110 gr in weight.

This disadvantageous effect of this extra weight in the sword balance is compensated by the existence of a "blood groove" that occupies half of the Qin's blade point, making it less heavy than a point without a blood's groove. This feature -very rare in genuine Chinese swords, more much so in low-priced wushu swords, should shift the original kit gravity center towards the hilt. As result of this feature, in order to obtain a proper balance, the "Qin" sword shouldn't require more ballast than the "Han" sword (407 gr, see Table 2), of a very similar outline.

We can assume that weight (407 gr) split between a tassel (for the "Yue" sword, 153 gr) and the ballast within the sword (407 gr - 153 gr = 254 gr). Thus, the "Qin" sword, once ready for slow exercise shouldn't weigh more than 1497 gr. The space available within the ample "Qin's sword guard and pommel should make possible the task of introduce 254 gr of ballast relatively easy even if lead [60 %]/tin wire is used instead of a more compact form of the same alloy.

The "Qin" sword presents in its scabbard a "belt clip, a characteristic feature of the period; a similar feature, also seen in an undetermined antique old pattern sword (see such a clip in Figure 9), is also rare in low-prized exercise wushu weapons.

The generic light sword

The CTS "Zhan Guo " sword kit

The pattern, though not the weight, of the long handled "Zhan Guo" (Pinyin for "Warring State") sword is reminiscent of that of the single edged straight-backed swords that lasted until the Han period.

Zhan Guo is the Pinyin for "Warring States", and the weapon thus designated is probably intended to resemble superficially some unspecified weapon of the Warring States period, probably a "two-handed" straight-back sabre.

This sword kit (Figure 23) weighs 580 gr, has an 80 cm blade, and a total length of 105 cm. Is similar in size to the much more heavy "Yue" sword kit of 1020 gr, also with a blade of 80 cm, and with a length of 103 cm. The comparison of the "Zhan Guo" and "Yue" sword kit underlines the differences in pommel length.

The natural gripping point of the "Zhan Guo" sword should be off center of the handle, in order to be as close to the guard as in the"Yue" sword, which carry a handle 2 cm shorter. Thus, assuming a similar torque arm for both weapons, their center of gravity should be searched at around 12-13 cm forward the gripping point, a reasonable choice, since in both swords the blade lengths are similar. Thus, in this especial case, as a first approximation, the center of gravity of both weapons should be located nearly at 68.6 cm from the tip (calculated as 2/3 of the 103 cm "Yue" sword length).

Without direct access to this weapon, my guess is that it is unlikely that this weapon will need -if any- more ballast than that supplied by a traditional tassel (eventually long and provided with a ring, thus of about 150 gr in total), which at most would take the weight to nearly 730 gr).

In swords of the "Zhan Guo" pattern usually the tassel passes through a hole in the handle under the pommel's neck; if the weight of the chosen tassel is excessive, it can be temporally tied firmly at the handle point needed to obtain the desired sword balance. In the present case, the scalloped pattern of the handle will prevent the tassel to slide out of place.

If the torque arm naturally obtained with a non-ballasted "Zhan Guo" sword is too small (less than 10-11 cm) and inconsistent both with adding a tassel, and adequate practice, select as gripping point the middle of the handle.

When the gripping point is thus corrected, the whole hand should be located at most at the middle of the handle, and never closer to the pommel than that. The additional possibility of modifying its handling characteristics just by a choice of the gripping point (which can be made during performance) make of the elegant "Zhan Guo" sword a good light weapon for learning the internal sword forms, which won't easily loose its interest for the adept as he advances to higher levels of learning.

For these reasons, despite its relatively higher price, this versatile kit, which should require a minimum of conditioning, represents a safe investment

In the unlikely case that some additional ballast is needed, besides the tassel itself, and you want to keep the weigh to a minimum, proceeds as was before indicated, in the following order:

(i) Hang the tassel at the tip of the pommel, (ii) use a longer tassel, and/or lest the tassel with rings, (iii) add ballast fill the pommel, then add around the top of the tang a few coils of lead/tin wire flattened by hammering, to fill the clearance between the handle and the tang; enlarge the clearance if needed by re-piercing the handle to the desired depth, and (iv) fill the guard with ballast.

The "Zhan Guo" sword will need for all conditioning to adjust and glue the blade root to its lodging in the lid that closes the guard. In this case do not glue the lid to the rest of the guard, to permit the eventual addition of ballast, a decision you may delay until you grow more familiarized with this sword.

Decoding the Chinese sabre

The Chinese sabre -dao, from the Chinese for "knife", is a category of single-edge "short" weapons intended for slashing and chopping.

The early Chinese sabres (zhibei dao, for straight-backed sabres; (Figures 5 & 24) were weapons provided with a straight -or sometimes slightly curved- blade presenting a slight tapering that decreased from the root towards the point, as in a sword. These appeared at the Shang or Ying Dynasty (1600 B.C.-1100 B.C.); originally of bronze, these would be made of steel by the time of the late Warring States.

A straight-backed single- edged sabre impress as the simplest conceivable edged short weapon; it is likely that the straight-backed sabre preceded the double-edged sword, more difficult to construct. Is possible that the first designs of the long Qin double-edged-swords were actually inspired as an improvement on the preexisting straight-backed sabres, and not by the short bronze swords.

The opinions diverge on when at the Steel Age appeared differential hardening. This procedure hardens selectively the edge conserving the softness and resiliency of the rest of the blade. A well-known by-product of the application of differential hardening to a single edged weapon is a slight blade curvature over its back, which might be at the origin of this feature in early sabres.

The main feature that differentiates straight-backed sabres and double edged swords is the capacity of using the body, arms or the secondary hands in applying force directly on the flat back of the sabre blade. This feature, in addition to the improvement in slashing capacity resulting from the curved sabre blade, surely stimulated the development of new fencing forms exclusively tailored for this new weapon.

Originally uncommon, the sturdy straight-backed sabres were adopted by the Han dynasty cavalry; soon after, sabres start to be issued to infantry, a process that would culminate in the 17th century by the complete exclusion of the sword by the sabre as a military-issue weapon.

By the Han dynasty, Chinese sword smiths and the military started a millennium-long quest to improve the basic sabre characteristics; at the difference of the straight double-edged sword, that suffered few fundamental changes along the same periods, the Chinese intensively experimented with sabres of wildly different blade shapes and curvatures; this tendency never stopped during all the long history of the sabre as military weapon.

Some sabres even present subtle arrangements, as deep fullers ("blood grooves") entrapping steel balls that still can roll freely along the cavity ("running pearls" sabres). A similar disposition is obtained by introducing steel rings on perforations made along the sabre back (ringed sabres).

One consequence of these dispositions is that the weapon center of equilibrium displaces back or forward weapon moves and changes its position. In addition, the pearls and rings protect both the blade and the sword man, absorbing part of the shock after a strike; a similar solution is employed in modern tennis's rackets to reduce strain in the arm joints. I take this as evidence suggesting that ancient Chinese warriors were indeed fuzzy about the weight distribution of their sabre blades.

This experimentation is marked by two main opposite tendencies in sabre shape: one of these is the swept-back point sabre blade, which present to the target a slanted edge more effective during a thrusting or slashing cut. This shape necessarily bents the blade point out of the sabre axis; since the handle position do not gives the sword man any clue on where the point is, making a spontaneous stab becomes much more difficult.

In most cultures that used sabres (includin among these the European and Middle-East cultures), this defect of curved and swept-back point sabres was partially corrected by the introduction of "canted" handles, that is, bent handles that have two axis, one near the guard oriented as the root and middle section of the blade, and other axis near the pommel oriented as the blade point (Figure 24D).

After a long excursion through innumerable avatars, the Chinese sabre evolution decidedly took an alternative tack. The handle of the Chinese sabre is always well in the general axis of the weapon, and very rarely presents a decided canter. The curved part of the blade sometimes turn in an "S" shape near the blade root, and continues the "S" shape in a strong curvature at the "palm's side" of the handle, which thus acquires a reference point on the position of the edge. Conversely, the "finger's side" of the handle, which presents little or no curvature, is in line with the sabre's point, thus giving the hand an excellent reference point for an spontaneous stab. The most popular types of exercise wushu sabres follow closely this principle, and generally based in the historically most recent Chinese sabre design; the late Qing dynasty (1644-1912) "oxtail" sabre (niuweidao).

The modern wushu exercise oxtail sabre (Figure 25) superficially resembles the Medieval European falchion and modern machete; its blade body flares toward the tip, and is limited by two curved sides. An almost straight, short side and the longest curved side, which is sharpened, limit the sharp point.

This short side is currently in the weapon axis, or parallel to it; this characteristic is more perceptible in the handle, whose "fingers -side" is co-linear with the point straight side, giving the practitioner's gripping hand an excellent feeling of the place and orientation of where the point is located, making the oxtail sabre a weapon also ideal for thrusting.

I have mentioned that the "straight" short side of the point sometimes present a very slight curve; also the "secondary" point, formed were the short curved back and the short side meet (the case of the sabre in Figure 25) might be as smooth as to be almost imperceptible. This may explain why sometimes the oxtail sabre is designated as "willow-leaf" sabre; that sabre is defined as having a non-flared blade limited by curved sides [Reference 5]. The "Qung Dao [ridged sabre]" in the low part of Figure 25 is an antique weapon of this type.

A criterion often used to distinguish among different sabre types [Reference 5] is whether they have or not an edge in the back of the blade point.

Indeed, in this view, the presence of this feature is considered a hallmark of sabres that require a more skilled handling technique. In this regard the position of the oxtail sabre is ambiguous, since the section of its point is narrowly triangular, resulting in a flat back. The sabre types believed to require skilled handling, as the willow-leaf and the goose quill sabres, have a conspicuous edge in the back of the point.

However I have examined an exercise wushu oxtail sabre where the point back as well as part of the curved edge, are made of hard or differentially hardened steel. This kind of construction suggests that the point flat back of these sabres imitates a real weapon that has a potential to be sharpened in the back of the point. I'll extend on this type of exercise wushu weapon construction in a later edition of this Manual.

Ironically is the ingenious oxtail design that closes the history of the Chinese sabre; with it the sabre fully recovers that essential and for long neglected feature of its straight-backed ancestor, its full potential as thrusting weapon.

The slashing potential of the intermediary swept-back sabres is obtained in the oxtail pattern with a equally resistant thinner blade that flares well forward the knuckles axis on the blade major edge side, as a continuous convex curve ending at the point. Thus the swept-back effect is restricted to the edge, but do not extend to the whole weapon axis. Representing a perfect compromise between both slashing and thrusting, the oxtail sabre pattern deservedly is the most popular design among wushu sabres.

All short weapons containing the dao pictogram are called broadswords in English, though only some varieties have wide blades. In these pages I will retain hereafter the less confusing collective denomination of sabre.

Conditioning of oxtail sabre kits for wushu training.

Choosing a kit

My martial experience with sabres is reduced to forms that are usually practiced with sabres of oxtail pattern, as defined in the preceding section. However my criteria of sabre classification -albeit perhaps too personal- gives a clear distinction of the oxtail sabre with sabres belonging to other wushu schools (Figures 26). It also provides the basis of classification criteria to organize the abundant sabre trends and their transitional models

My experience as sabre repairman is limited to the conditioning of a dozen of individual sabres and double sabre sets 'cut" on the popular oxtail pattern. The more realistic of these is a moderately heavy set of double oxtail sabres (average finished weight for each: 1175 gr, original kit weight 1090 gr; see Figure 25 [top]).

The average center of gravity of the finished sabres is situated at 39,7 % of the length, on the hilt side, much more forward than that of a straight sword of similar weight and length, located at (30-33 %) of the weapon length. This is very close to the 2/5 (40 %) of the weapon length, representing 6.4 cm forward the first third of the weapon. The Torque arm of these sabres is 23.5 cm, almost twice that of the heavy "Yue" and "Han" swords presented in the Table 1. The equilibrium point includes two light silk square scarves (50 cm in diagonal), whose influence in the balancing is negligible. In this regard, observe that in a well-balanced sword, the removal of the tassel do not increase the average torque arm to more than 16 cm.

Such a Torque arm makes the sabres to feel quite tip-heavy; this characteristic strikes as genuine in a weapon designed for cleaving. In this regard I note that sabre wushu forms favor guards and positions where the weapon is kept vertical (tip up) or hanging (tip down) from the hand. This reduces the strain on the wrist. Often the weapon's back rest directly against the body, arms or shoulders, which also participate directly in applying energy to the sabre, and controlling its movements.

The first sabre I ever conditioned was a typical oxtail semi-rigid sabre (not made from a CTS kit) that once finished weights 871 g, measures 87,9 cm, and has the center of gravity at 30.5 cm from the pommel's end (34.7 %), that is 5,4 cm forward the first third of the sabre. This results in a Torque arm of 21.5 cm; again we observe a constancy of the Torque arm value (23,5 cm for the heavy sabres) that seems to define the "well-balance sabre"

In this regard, this piece had an ugly flaw on the blade that was grinded off, altering the original equilibrium point; most sabres of this semi rigid pattern usually have a larger displacement of the equilibrium point forward the first third of the weapon length. This feature makes of semi rigid sabres a group of light satisfactory tip-heavy sabres that handle distinctly different from a straight sword of equivalent weight.

Flexible wushu sabres have much lighter blades than the semi-rigid sabres just described, but will carry essentially identical hilt fittings. Hence these sabres have natural equilibrium points located too close to the hilt (closer to the hilt than 33,3 % of the weapon's length). Such sabers are useless to give a student an idea of the actual weapon for which the form was created.

In this regard, the dangerous edges of weapons equipped with blades too light and flexible cannot be totally eliminated, since the very thinness of these make the task impossible. For this reason wushu beginner students should avoid thin-bladed weapon practice, especially in crowded sport halls.

Conditioning of sabres: Overview

I'll describe here the conditioning of a set of twin heavy oxtail sabres (average final weight for each 1,175 Gr) obtained from CTS.

The blades of this set are identical to those of in the individual CTS sabres of 95 cm (catalog length) and 1,100 gr (catalog weight); the fitting (pommel, guards and scabbards) from the Lungshuan flexible twin sabre set, including sabres of nearly 550-600 gr each.

Sabres make easy and amusing projects, since carry little or no ballast. Essentially the blade shape already determines their final equilibrium point.

Most of the work needed is reduced to the adjustment of the weapon parts to prepare their consolidation.

Adjustment of the blade and the hilt fittings

The weapon must be dismounted, and the parts and their relative positions carefully labeled using stickers, the blade's edges -including those in the back- must be eliminated, as it was described before in the case of swords. The edges curves may present irregularities that must be smoothed during this process.

Adapting the hilt metal fittings

The fittings of each sabre (Figures 29 & 30) are (i) the ovoid flat guard, stamped in brass or steel, (ii) a ring whose section -almost circular- flares toward the handle, and (iii) a pommel usually roughly shaped as a hoof. The mouth of the pommel -its narrowest part- lodges the handle, and a plate shaped as a teardrop closes the pommel top -is widest part-.

A washer and a nut threaded on the tang bolt fix the sabre tang to the handle. This nut is covered by the pommel, which is traversed by the end of the tang. A second washer and nut secure the pommel in place. The blade weight is distributed between both nuts; however the external nut must be kept less tight than the internal nut, since in wushu sabers the pommel id of light structure and risk of deformation under the pressure of a tight external nut.

In this project the flared rings and the walls of the pommel are by artisan welding or shaping (respectively) strips or pieces of brass tubing, and will not be identical. Measure the flared rings carefully with your caliper, comparing the length of corresponding sides; if different, grind them off on wet abrasive paper held in a hard surface as a glass plate. Keep the piece axis nearly perpendicular to the abrasive, and stop when both pieces are matched to within 1-1.5 mm. Proceed in a similar way with the pommel, grinding from the mouth of the piece. Grind off the guard borders, which are bent toward the sabre tip by stamping, thus producing a dangerous serrated edge. Reduce as much as possible the serrated edge by grinding the guard plate against wet abrasive paper. Most likely you will observe that total removal of the serrated edge will reduce excessively the guard borders; be satisfied with making the serrations shallow enough as to reduce the risk of tearing your clothes or the sabre's scarves during practice. Smooth the remaining serrations by hand, with progressively finer wet abrasive paper, and finish with fine abrasive paper used dry (which reduces its abrasive power). Polish with fine steel wool.

Adapting the handle

Reassemble the sabres. You will notice that the exposed handle ends are carved to be larger in 2-3 mm than the outline of the flaring in the ring, and pommel mouth.

Examine if the guard's positions match each other when the blades are held side by side (use gloves to held the blades, to avoid sweat stains). Most frequently the guards positions are mismatched because the underlying blade root is uneven. Disassemble the weapon again.

If this unevenness is small, grind it off with a coarse grinding stone; if the unevenness is too deep, compensate it with a shim, for example a copper penny, or an adequate washer. If needed, obtain a fine adjustment with pieces cut from a tinned steel can. Glue temporally the shims in the corresponding part of the guard with a piece of adhesive tape, and hide them by covering the inner guards both with a sheet of leather cut to fit the cavity. This leather cover is an interesting place to introduce personalized decoration in your weapons (Figure 30).

Reassemble the weapon, and verify that when the blades are matched side by side, the guards are in the same plane, and in complete contact with the narrow end of the hilt ring fitting. Ideally, the hilts should also be exactly matched and oriented.

Examine in both assembled sabres the alignment between the "finger's side" of the sabres's handles, and the straight side of the back of the blade, next to the point (use for this the straight side of a table).

This straight line should prolong along the finger's side of the handle, usually straight; since the handle is not yet finished, use as landmarks the finger's side of the fittings (flared part of the ring and pommel's mouth) as landmarks. In most cases no obvious misalignment between the blades and tangs is perceptible, and a satisfactory alignment of the sabres can be obtained by adjusting the handles, done by enlarging with a file the handle perforation.

You may consider as last resource heating the tang at high temperature (cherry red) before forcing it inside the handle's perforation. This will burn the wood inside the handle's perforation facilitating a close tang fit. This is the usual artisan technique used by the makers of exercise wushu weapons in the preliminary adjustments, which explain the traces of burning often observed in weapon kits.

Alternatively, the long threaded bolt welded to the tang, made in soft iron, may be slightly twisted in alignment by soft hammering, taking precautions to protect the bolt threading. Examine at this stage if a good approximation to the desired alignment of blade and handle can be obtained just by sculpting the handle.

If a set of blades shows a visible unevenness of their tangs, examine first if at least one blade of the set can be correctly aligned. Most likely this will be the case; using this blade as a model, heat the tang of the other -as it was indicated previously for aligning sword tangs- and bring it to the correct shape. Reassemble the sword and verify that the alignment obtained is correct.

In middleweight and heavy exercise wushu sabres the adjustment between the fittings and the blade must be flawless, in order to distribute the efforts resulting from the mobile blade in a large contact area. This rule is especially important in this particular project, which involves the adaptation of a heavy blade to fittings intended for a much lighter blade.

First a consolidation of the sabre pommel should be obtained, by fixing epoxy putty inside the teardrop plate of the pommel, some layers of lead/tin ballast folded in spiral, as to let a clearance for the underlying nut. Add more epoxy putty as to build a ring of this material stuck to the guard's walls, up to reach the top of the wood handle. This arrangement is destined to transfer the pressure of the outermost nut over the top of the handle, to the top of the underlying handle, and to the inner nut tightened on the handle. The ballast is included to simulate a more realistic pommel, expectedly thicker and heavier in a fighting sabre. The addition of epoxy putty also can be used to modify the orientation of the hilt in the top of the pommel. Neither ballast nor reinforcements are needed in the pommels of sabres with lighter blades. The addition of epoxy putty is limited strictly to that required to adjust in place loose fittings.

Adjust the handle to the hilt

Verify that the handle fits exactly to the flared ring, without letting any empty space. A close fit between these parts will allow a homogeneous transmission of the pressure of the flared ring, and handle to the subjacent guard's plate. If needed, add epoxy putty to the handle end, and once set, re-carve and file it to obtain this ideal fit.

Shaping the sabre's handle

On the weapon reassembled, first shape roughly the straight finger's side in both handles with a coarse metal file, to a straight line connecting the inner surface of the guards rings flare, and pommel's mouth. Equally shape the palm side of the handle, to a smooth curve connecting the inner side of the fittings. Make the handle's profile more bulbous at the pommel's side. Sculpt first one handle, and when you get a satisfactory shape, cut its profile in a hard piece of cardboard, which will serve as pattern to sculpt the other handle (Figure 31 to Figure 33).

With the cutter, and eliminating small and thin shavings, complete the contour of the handle around the fittings, cutting exactly at the level of the inner surface of the fittings on the rounded handle sides. The handles, seen from top, will show a smooth contour in the middle part that suddenly breaks toward the pommels and guard. In one of the handles smooth this broken curve to get a uniform one. When satisfied, copy the curve on cardboard, and use it as pattern to carve the other handle.

In the flat part of the handle, carve with the cutter slightly deeper, at 1 mm under the level of the inner surface of the flat side of the fittings. Then proceed to file off the excess of wood, as to let a flat surface receded 1 mm from the plane determined by the guard flared ring and the pommel.

This larger recess in the flat part of the handle, nearly 1-1.5 mm for each, is intended to lodge the loose ends of a thick "cord wrapping" (next section). This wrapping, if realized on fully woven 2 mm cord -that will pack to about 1.5 mm under tension- include in parts two cord layers. The flat part of the handles and fittings will be back-to-back, and thus the added volume of the wrapping shouldn't interfere with the storage of both sabres in a single scabbard, or with single-handed drawing of these. Also the back-to-back disposition is adopted at the initial movements of some twin-sabre forms, with the sabre handles held in one hand.

The handles, correctly shaped in their lateral and top projections, presently should be smoothed to a regular curved section. Shape first with the file, and continue with abrasive paper coarse, then fine. Finish with a fine abrasive paper, as 600 grit "wet" abrasive paper, used dry. Polish with very fine steel wool. If the handle wood is hard, more or less regular and with few flaws, give it some oil rubs (as seen before for finishing sword handles) before wrapping it in cord. Wait a week after the last oil rubbing before realizing the wrapping.

The handles of some semi-rigid sabres, and the handles of almost all flexible sabres are made in a soft wood that resembles poplar. This wood is too soft as to allow an oil rubbing finish, and must be wrapped not for reinforcement purposes -unnecessary for light sabres- but to protect the hands of the user from slivers and abrasions. For these weapons, the handle might be simply spiral-wrapped with thin leather or fabric ribbon (see top sabre in Figure 26). A braided wrapping might be desired for esthetic reasons; in that case before proceeding stain (optional) and varnish the handle. A first coat of varnish will raise the slivers not eliminated by sanding; sand and polish them off, them off, and add a second coat of varnish.

Reinforcing of the handle. Braided Wrapping

The heavy blades carried by the weapon to be assembled in this particular project call for a reinforcement of the handles, despite that those provided with the kit are made in good hard wood (Figures 7B, 36, 37, 38, 39, & 40).

This reinforcement is made by wrapping high quality fishing cord of 2 mm diameter, ideally made in fully woven Nylon (the case of the double sabre set) or Kevlar (the case of the black-handled sabre). The Figures 7B, 36, 37, 38, 39, & 40 show how to perform a generic braided wrapping, that is adequate for handles of varieties of shapes, including those of some swords.

The handle wrapping also insures a stable grip, facilitating the draining of sweat to the underlying handle material (wood, leather or cloth).

This material, used as fishing-line for diving harpoon guns, is ideal for wrapping jobs, but unfortunately has become scarce in France. A substitute that gives less satisfactory results is fully woven polyester cord, used for wrapping trekking, and rock or ice climbing equipment.

Some qualities of cord made for this purpose have similar aspect to full woven cord, but are inadequate for wushu weapon handles. This quality of polyester cord is made by a sheath of woven fine threads built around a core made of crude fiber. This core makes the wrapped handle unyielding, too hard and abrasive to be handled without gloves; full woven cord without such a core gives instead a padded handle.

Alternative and more accessible materials are nine-strands cord (twisted as rope), and woven hollow strap (used for shoelaces), both are available in diverse fibers). Leather in ribbons (about 0.9 x 9 mm) or in cylindrical straps (2 mm) are also excellent alternatives for fully woven cord, though are expensive and difficult to find.

The best result is obtained with uniformly colored cord; patterns woven in the cord make confuse the wrapping pattern, and should be avoided. In order of quality, the best fibers I have used are Kevlar and Nylon; Micro fiber (a variety of Polyester fiber) is almost as good. I never have made wrappings on silk and flax fiber cord, though both seem good choices for wrapping wushu weapon handles.

Leather thin and flat strap is ideal for realizing thin braided wrappings that must respect a crisp handle outline, or spiral wrapping. Such kind of leather strap would be an adequate alternative as a substitute for the cord wrapping of the CTS "Qin" sword handle.

The braid-wrapping schemas described the initiation of a cord braided- wrapping before tightening the cords; in Figures 37 and 38 the work has been cut and unfolded to show the finishing desired.

Two forms of this wrapping are shown: the first, is the "two strands crossing" form (Figure 37) intended for round cord in woven yarn, or made on leather; the "single strands crossing" form (Figure 38) is intended for flat straps woven on yarn, or cut from leather. Additional pictures showing the result of finished braided wrapping of the types "double strands crossing" (Figure 39B and 39C, my CTS double heavy sabres project) and "single strands crossing" in leather (Figures 7B, & 40, respectively, a sword and a sabre replica) are also shown.

To proceed with a braiding wrapping, first calculate the length of cord needed, by performing a tight "simple wrapping" (Figure 36), thus eliminating this time the "red"-coded strands. Add 40 cm to this length, and cut; often this simpler wrapping is satisfactory for most purposes involving light weapons (see Figure 39A: Semi rigid sabre with black handle).

Then cut the additional length of cord or strap needed for the braided wrapping, and proceed from pommel to guard, on the assembled sword, to realize the braiding.

A large needle of the type used to sew sacks and an unsharpened point will be needed to weave the leading strand on the others. When finished, tie the end of the wrapping solidly with some turns of sewing thread around the handle, and dismount the hilt. File or sculpt tight lodgings for all the strands in the part of the handle covered by the guard fitting, and glue the ends in place. Cut the excess of material and reassemble the weapon.

Attaching scarves

As it was indicated in Figure 18 for swords, the nut in the saber pommel can be dissimulated, after the weapon assembly is definitive, with a button or a piece of jewelry glued on top (Figure 34).

The scarves are attached to these buttons as indicated in the Figure 35.


1. Gai Dianxun, and Li Shixin, in "Thirtheen Emei Shortsword Tecniques", translated by Zhuo Yougao (bilingual Chinese-English edition, 1989). Published by Hai Feng Publishing Co. Ltd. Room 1503 Wing On House, 71 Des Voeux Rd. Central, Hong Kong (ISBN 962-238-120-0).

2. Yang Jwing Ming, Ph.D. & Jeffrey Bolt, in "Northern Shaolin Sword", Edited by Yang's Martial Arts Academy Book Series (1985). 295, Huntington Avenue, Room 201, Boston, Massachusetts 02115.


Notes on Lonquan swords:A sword similar to the one shown on Fiure 3A was seen on the hands of Tajomaru (played by Toshiro Mifune) in the A. Kurosawa's 1950's film "Rashomon".

Longquan (population around 270,000) is a small town located in the Zhejiang Province of China, near the town of Lishui. Longquan is famous locally for its swords and porcelain, both of which are often regarded as the finest in China. Although most owners of Chinese swords and porcelain do not know it, there is a good chance that these were produced in Longquan. Its name stands for the Chinese for "Dragon Fountain".(Wikipedia).

A leaflet included with each Lonquan sword remainds us, these were first made during the Spring and Autumn period (720 B.C.-478 B.C.). The document cryptically states that "the talented metallurgist Ou-ya Tse visualized" that the pure waters of the lake under Longquan county Chinki mountain, later named "Sword Lake" were the best to refining the mountain iron ore. " It was said that there existed seven wells by Chinky mountain"… cellestially arranged as [the] seven stars of the Big Dipper (Ursa Major). Hence Longquan swords are often called "Seven Stars Swords". An incised and inlaid Big Dipper has become the "logo" of Lonquan blades.

As for metallurgy, most likely Ou-ya Tse was considering the chemical reactions below:

carbon + water = carbon monoxide+ hydrogen

hydrogen + oxygen = water + Energy

carbon + oxygen = carbon monoxide + Energy

carbon monoxide + iron oxide (hematite) → iron + carbon dioxide

these reactions allow to "burn water" and thus get cheaper iron. However running mountain water is usually rich on calcium carbonate, a common contaminant that decrease iron quality, and is energetically expensive to remove. Hence the interest of highly pure well water, poor on calcium carbonate.

4. Lo Wai Keung and Yan Sang in "The Intelligent Swordplay of the Lamaist School" ; Article "On Swords" (Chinese-English edition, 1985). Publisher: Yih Mei Book Co., Edited by Yih Mei Book Co.,, Item Code: 49SSSC209 .

5. Yang Jwing Ming, Ph.D., "Introduction to Ancient Chinese Weapons" (1985). Unique Publications, 4201 Vanowen Plaza, Burbank, California 91505 (ISBN: 0-86568-052-3)

General Reading

6. Frank Hubbard in "Three centuries of harpsichord making" . Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusets, and London, England, 1965. Seventh Printing, 1978. ISBN 0-674-88845-6

Highly educative WEB sites on ancient Chinese cutting weapons:


Long Weapons (Halberd family)

The single and double short rod.

The short rod as a weapon

The two ancestral weapons of the short rod:

- The jia3n or "mace" (not to mistake with jia4n, or double-edged straight sword

- The bia1n or "hard whip"

Other types of exercise sword guards and pommels

Guard fitting types not yet considered

a. Solid cast-alloy guards

- Solid cast bronze guard (half-moon sword)

- Solid cast aluminum guard (Monkey-Hawk lady's sword)

- Jia4n's with tunkou:

b. Stamped fittings: basic types, problems and assembly

c. Assembled & welded fittings: Quasi-artisan Longquan swords: example of a restoration project

d. Combining kits from diverse swords. The "Ming/Shaolin" Sword

e. Examples of other weapons I have assembled or restored

f. Making scabbards for swords and sabres. Modifying and improving preexistig scabbards (Includes: Scabbard devices to hang and carry the sword ["Belt" Clips].

g. Exercise weapons with blades containing two types of steel: What they teach us