Ming dandao
Overall length

126.5 cm / 49.8 inch

Blade length

85.5 cm / 33.7 inch

Blade thickness

forte 5 mm
middle 5 mm

Blade width

widest part 33 mm

Weight

1180 grams

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Introduction

In the late Ming, general Qi Jiguang was leading an army on a budget against well-equipped Japanese pirates. Some of them were Japanese ronin, trained samurai whom had no-one to serve that fell into banditry. They raided the Chinese coastline in great numbers and became a severe problem for the Ming. It is here that the Chinese troops faced the mighty Japanese nodachi, a very large saber.

Qi Jiguang decided to fight fire with fire and ordered his workshops to also produce these weapons. Most of them were of the ridged and facetted cross-section commonly found on Japanese katana.

The Ming produced various writings about the long saber, including Cheng Zongyou's 單刀法選 Dan Dao Fa Xuan. Jack Chen wrote an excellent translation Ancient Art of Chinese Long Saber. Antique dandao are extremely hard to find on today's antique market. Ming examples are even more rare.

This Example

A two handed saber of the late Ming, well over 300 years old, with a very rare blade type. With its upswept tip, its curvature reminds of Japanese naginata. The raised backedge, on the other hand, is reminiscent of the early nomad sabers introduced into China under Mongol rule. From a functional perspective, the raised backedge puts more steel (=weight) behind the tip section without making that part thicker: increasing the force of the cut without adding to friction. Combined with the accelerated curvature in this blade, it makes for an exceptionally fierce cutter. These raised backedges gradually disappeared from Chinese sabers in the early Qing, but other elements of central Asian and middle eastern sabers such as segmented or U-turn grooves kept influencing Chinese saber designs until the early 19th century.

This example has a solid tang with good aging, confirming the Ming origin the blade profile suggests. Unfortunately, the blade / handle ratio was changed in later times, moving the guard up some 12cm. It is hard to determine exactly when this happened: There is some difference in patination between the blade and secondary tang part. I’m sure it wasn’t done in the late Ming or even early Qing so my best guess is it was done anywhere from a 100 years ago until -worst case scenario- by its last “restorer” about a decade ago. The latter filed the sides of the tang to fit a guard, making it impossible to determine how long this part has had this particular shape.

Fortunately, despite this condition, the blade has plenty of things going for it. The blade is pitted and with traces of field sharpening but with no nicks, edge cracks, and in healthy condition. Fitted with a new hilt made by myself. The fittings are hand forged iron fangshi and are exact copies of an antique set I have in my collection. Of utilitarian finish, this was a soldier’s blade, possibly used by the troops fighting off the Japanese pirates under Qi Jiguang in the 1540's to 1560's.

It could benefit from a polish to bring out some of the details in the steel, in that case, I would advise to go only for a polish of the edge section to prevent the removal of too much material.

Conclusion

Despite the problems with the tang, I have done my best to return it to its former glory, to be enjoyed by the collector of rare early blade types or the martial artist who practices a two-handed Chinese saber style. Long sabers of this age are extremely rare, and this is the only example I have seen in over a decade of collecting that also has a raised backedge. Short sabers with this feature are already very rare. All in all, a very interesting and impressively large saber that is over three centuries old.

 


 


Tang before assembly, showing the two stages caused by the blade / handle alteration.


Tang before assembly, showing the thick, stone-like patina you can expect to find on a 16th century piece.


The dandao compared to a regular size Qing military saber from my own collection. (Not for sale.)

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