Sabre, sword and spear all have been handed down from Chinese antiquity when they were used as weapons of war. Modern day archaeologists in China have discovered sabres, swords and spears and other sharp metal weapons among the objects they have unearthed. The oldest objects found date back to the Shang dynasty (1766-1402 BC).
More than 2,600 years ago during the Spring and Autumn period, the State of Lu had a precious sabre called "Meng Lu", (孟勞) sharp-pointed beyond compare. It is recorded in the Spring and Autumn Annals "In the first year of Xi (659 BC), the Meng Lu is the precious sabre of the Lu state," Later ages in succession used this name to identify any precious sabre.
At the end of the Han dynasty, the king of the state of Wei, Zao Zhi (曹植) ( 192- 232 AD ) and a great poet, wrote the "Precious Sabre Rhapsody". In the preface to it he states, "In the period of Chiu On, my father, the King of Wei, Zao Cao, (曹操) decreed that five precious sabres be created. They took three years to make and each was engraved with a symbol of dragon, tiger, bear, horse or sparrow."
Towards the end of the Ching dynasty, in the Guang Xu period (1875-1908 AD), in the North there was a martial hero named Wang Wu (王五) whose fame as an expert in wielding the sabre still endures today.
Stories related about the double-edged sword are even more abundant and fascinating. During the Spring and Autumn period (771-481 BC), the most famous swordsmith was Ou Ye Zi. (歐治子) He was commissioned by the King of Yue to cast five swords called respectively, Zhan Lu, (湛盧) Je Que, (巨闕) Sheng Xie, (勝邪) Yu Yang (魚腸) and Chun Gou. (純鈎) Subsequently, another famous swordsmith, Gan Chiang, (干將) forged three swords for the King of Chu. These were Lung Yuan, (龍淵 ) Tai A (泰阿) and Gung Bu.(工布) (Reference: Dictionary Word Source under `Ou Ye Zi')
These eight swords all enjoyed a great reputation in Chinese history. The Beijing Museum now exhibits the King of Yue's sword, which is inscribed "Gou Jian's (勾踐) personal sword". The sword edge and point are still sharp and the blade is still silver white and shows no sign of rust or other flaw, despite having been buried in the earth for more than three thousand years. It is believed that this may be one of Ou Ye Zi's masterpieces.
Liu Pang (劉邦)(256-195 BC) was the first emperor of the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). During the civil war that preceded the founding of his dynasty, he was a village 'headman. One night, accompanied by some villagers on his rounds, he encountered a large snake on the road. His companions stood frozen to the spot in terror, but Liu Pang ran forward drawing the sword that he was wearing at his waist and cut the snake in two. The villagers thereupon hailed his bravery and pledged their loyalty to him. Liu Pang used this support to start a revolt to overthrow the oppressive Qin dynasty. He then went on to defeat Xiang Yu the overlord of Western Chu. In memory of the great Han dynasty, right up to the present day, the Chinese refer to themselves as the Han race.
In 'Biography of an Assassin', Chapter 86 of the Records of the historian, the Grand Historian, Si-ma Qian (司馬遷) (145-86? BC), relates the story of the master swordsman, Jing Ke (荆軻) (?-227 BC). Jing Ke was a calm and resolute person who owed his allegiance to Prince Tan (丹) of the state of Yen. He was asked by the Prince to present to the Qin Emperor the head of the Qin renegade General Fan and a map of the fertile lands of the state of Yen as proof of defection to Qin and, having won the Emperor's trust, to assassinate him.
After Jing Ke reached Qin, he bribed a favourite retainer of the Emperor to assist him in obtaining an audience. When he received the audience with the Emperor, Jing Ke presented the map. As he unrolled it the short sword he'd concealed inside it was revealed. Jing Ke pressed forward, his left hand grasping the Emperor's sleeve, while with his right hand he held the dagger and attempted to plunge it into the Emperor's breast. The Emperor was terrified and, in desperately breaking free, his sleeve was torn. Thereupon the Emperor holding the scabbard in his left hand attempted to draw his own sword to meet Jing Ke's attack. However, the sword was so long and Jing Ke pursued his attack so closely that in his terror and haste the Emperor could not pull it out easily. and was forced to retreat behind a pillar.
The courtiers and guards attending the Emperor were rooted to the spot, shocked at the suddenness of Jing Ke's onslaught. Furthermore the law forbade courtiers to bear weapons in the royal presence and the imperial bodyguards were forbidden to set foot inside the hall of audience without the Emperor's expressed command. Fortunately for the Emperor, one of his courtiers shouted, "Your Majesty, push your scabbard back! Push your scabbard back!" The Emperor heard him and immediately took his advice, enabling him to draw the sword and sever Jing Ke's left leg.
Jing Ke was unable to stand, he raised his sword and threw it at the Emperor in a last attempt to complete his mission. It hit a bronze pillar instead. The Emperor then moved in and delivered eight sword cuts to the wounded assassin. Squatting on the ground, Jing Ke cursed "The mission has failed; I wanted to capture him alive and force him to return their territories to the feudal princes, in order to repay the Prince (of Yen)." The Emperor then commanded his men to execute Jing Ke.
There were two great poets of the Tang dynasty (618-906 AD); the `Poet Immortal', Li Bai, (李白) (701-762 AD) and the 'Poet Sage', Tu Fu (杜甫) (712-770 AD). They shared an interest in swordsmanship, and Li Bai in particular was renowned for his ability with the sword.
Li Bai, in his "Book of Han He Province", says:-
"At fifteen loving swordsmanship and the art is known to the feudal princes. At thirty compose essays and meet nobles and high ministers."
Indeed the sword and its use are recurring themes in the poetry of Li Bai. For example in the "Lines on Youthful friendship", he says:-
"When young learning swordsmanship To shame the white gibbon"
(This refers to a story about a swordsman whose daily sword practice was observed and mimicked by a white gibbon)
In "Lines on the North Wind" he says:-
"At the time of parting, he took up his sword and left to relieve the frontier".
In the "Ode of General Si-ma", he says:-
"In the hand the lightning sword presses against the heavens and cuts open the great whale and the vast ocean"
Again in the "Balled of the Frontier", he says:-
"Wishing to use the sword at my waist and slay the Lou Lan"
In the "Jade Pot Chant", he says:-
"Three cups of wine, I dust off the sword and dance under the autumn moon."
in poem 54 of the Ancient Winds series, he says:-
"Leaning on the sword, I go up the high tower Quiet and composed, I appreciate the Spring."
In "Lines on the Man of Chivalry", he says:-
"At my leisure in Xin Ling drinking I take the sword from my knee" Everywhere he shows himself to have a detailed knowledge of the style and attitudes of the swordsman. As for Tu Fu, he wrote a poem entitled, "
Lines on Seeing the Swordplay of the Pupils of Lord Sun's elder sister." The poem displays his fine appreciation of swordplay:-
"Long ago there lived a great beauty of Lord Sun's family her swordplay was full of vitality and movement. A vast throng of spectators was overwhelmed with melancholy at the sight. Heaven and Earth heaved sighs in contemplation of it. With glittering brilliance, like Yi the Archer who shot nine suns down from the skies; Potent as dragon steeds bearing aloft a company of gods. Approaching like rolling thunder, shaking with rage; and fatigued, like rivers and seas bathed in moonlight."
During the Jin dynasty, Zu Ti (祖逖) (266-321 AD) and Liu Kun (劉混) (270-318 AD) were good friends. They often shared the same bedclothes and bedchamber. On one occasion, in the middle of the night they heard a wild cock crowing. Liu Kun said," This is not an evil omen." They then picked up their swords and began to practice their swordplay. Later generations from this incident had the saying, "On hearing the cock crow, get up to practice swordplay", meaning that a warrior must always strive to be diligent.
Many famous generals in successive dynasties have been famous for their spear technique. Historical records mostly deal in generalities and give little detail of their manifold exploits or the precise type of weapon they employed. For example, during the Five Dynasties, Wang Yen-Zhang( )was renowned for his superb skills with the spear. Following his liege, Chu Wen, (朱溫) he fought in one location after another. Because of his extraordinary bravery and martial virtues, he was known in the army as "King of the Iron Spear".
During the period of the Southern Song, the famous general Yue Fei (岳飛) (1103-1143 AD) with patriotic fervour fought the invasion of the Jin nomads. In 1130 AD the northern state of Jin mounted a large scale invasion of the Central Plains (in the vicinity of the Yellow River). Their commander in chief, Crown Prince Wu Shu (金兀朮)(1075-1148 AD), led his men south. They stormed the Song capital of Kaifeng and captured the Song emperor, Zheng Zong and his heir, Chin Zong. The rest of the Song household fled south to avoid the savagery of the invaders. In the following years, the Jin troops continued to raid the South, scattering their enemies and seizing large tracts of land.
The main strategy employed by the Jin nomads was known as 'Linking Horsemen'. Three war horses were attached to one another, side by side, with cast iron links. Both the horses and their riders were clad in armour. Linked in this way, in time of battle the horses had to go forward together and were unable to retreat. On the flat plains, as soon as the Linking Horsemen heard the command to attack, immediately, a huge horde of horses would gallop forward like thunder, shaking mountains and moving the earth. It was an intimidating sight, like a blitzkrieg by tanks. The Song army relied mainly on their infantry and were unable to withstand the charges of the Linking Horsemen. Frequent battles brought frequent defeats.
Yue Fei was brave and wise, a man of unusual ability. He suddenly thought of an ingenious way to destroy the Linking Horsemen formations of the Jin. He ordered his infantry to affix metal hooks to their spears and trained them in the use of the hooks. In addition, on the field of battle he had them dig battle trenches. Soldiers would hide in the trenches. Once the Linking Horsemen started their charge, the Song infantry would retreat behind the trenches. The spear carrying infantry in the trenches would concentrate on wounding the unprotected legs of the horses. As soon as one horse had a leg severed, the whole team would be unable to move and the infantry could move in to cut them down.
In 1140 at Yan City, in Henan Province, battle took place. The Jin commander in chief, Price Wu Shu, led an invasion force of more than two thousand Linking Horsemen intent on annihilating Yue Fei's army. Yue Fei employed his strategy, inflicting enormous losses on the Linking Horsemen. Wu Shu was humiliated and fled, scarcely managing to escape with his life. In anguish, he said, "Since I started raising troops in my homeland, always we won victories in this way. Now in one day all my hopes have been crushed. What am I to do ? "
A few years later, once peace terms had been concluded, traitorous ministers in the Song court caused Yue Fei and his subordinate officers to be executed to the great regret of later generations who honour his memory.
Chang San-feng, (張三丰) the founder of the Tai Chi school, according to tradition was born in 1247 AD, the 2nd year of the Ding Zong period of the Yuan dynasty and the 7th year of the Chun You period of the Southern Song. He gave up his position as an official in his prime to live the life of a hermit. He roamed over famous mountains and visited ancient temples. Crossing passes and passing monasteries, he chanted poetry as he walked. His steps could be traced everywhere. He went all over Yan (燕) Zhao (趙) (Hebei Province), Qi, (齊) Lu (魯) (Shandong Province), Wei (魏) (between Shanxi and Hebei) and other places. In the West to Long, in what was the state of Qin; he breathed the air around Mt. Tai Wa and gazed at the wonders of Mt. Tai Bai. He traveled along an ancient route to Chen Cang.
He saw the green hills and clear waters of Bao Ji, (褒斜) a place of deep tranquility. He settled down in a house at the top of the hill and made friends with the taoist priests of the Jin Tai (金台) temple with whom he exchanged ideas on Taoist theory and philosophy. He pursued his studies of the arts of boxing, sword and internal strength. Noticing three sharp green peaks which stood out among the hills in front of the temple, he styled himself 'San Feng Ju Shi', which means 'Hermit of the Three Peaks'.
In the Spring of 1324, in the first year of the Tai Ding reign period, he traveled south to Wu t an Mountain, where he spent nine years harmonising his spirit and attaining the Tao. In the nineteenth year of Zhi Zheng (AD 1359), he returned to the Jin Tai Temple at Bao Ji to Direct the Taoist priests in training boxing and sword skills.
After San Feng, the martial art of the Tai Chi School was passed down through successive generations of priests in the temple. Wang Zong-yue(王宗岳) from Xian was taught the art and he taught it to Chiang Fa, (蔣發) Chen Chang-xing, (陳長興) Yang Lu-chan (楊靈蟬) and Manchu princes of the Ching dynasty all learned the art in an unbroken line coming down from Wang. The martial art of Tai Chi has continued to flourish and gain in popularity in the years since then.
The historical stories of sabre, sword and spear all are written in accordance with fact and serve to increase our interest in and understanding of the art.