Militia style sabres
Where have all the kung fu shops gone?
The search for a suitable sabre is never an easy one. When I first started my martial journey there were a number of kung fu shops on the street and online. Now they're are very few shops that supply the martial arts community. The quality of goods do vary. When it comes to wooden swords, they are not easy to come by. The quality of the wood used in the construction of the sword matter. Over the years, I've seen many swords break (none of which are my own), often in a spectacular manner. Sometimes it's because the poor quality of the wood, but also the lack of maintenance. However, poor technique can also lead to breakage.
The militia style sabre
The sabre is made by Graham Cave of Tigersden. Graham has been making wooden swords for many years and which are used by many schools training in Chinese martial arts. I've written about Graham in previous articles, so please so check the links. Graham has been interested in Chinese swords for many years and is very interested in promoting traditions and accuracy. Graham's is more well known for sparring swords, so this new model is a slight change in direction.
The origin of this design goes back to the bamboo sabres I see people use in Hong Kong. Back then, I wondered why they used these and not wood. They look cheap, but I purchased a few and actually I come to like them. If you're not practising sparring, then these are fine. They can take the abuse, but they wouldn't be conformable to hold. However, they will last longer most wooden equivalents.
A bamboo sabre was sent to Graham some years ago and he came back with a version made of white oak. This was sturdy and handled well. Over time, Graham refined the design, taking inspiration from various historical sources.
So why this design?
You're probably curious as to where is the guard? Historically, not all swords had guards. The basic design is such that it is easy to make in large numbers. Originally, this type of sabre would be made with one piece of metal to keep it simple and the cost down. Sabres (and straight swords) of this nature were commonly used by local militia or by clans protecting their land.
A one piece construction is not unusual, but swords featuring a tang is more well known. A one piece construction does not make a sword stronger or better. What makes a sword better is the design and the materials used.
There are two versions, one with the standard grip and the short grip. Despite how it looks, the length of the blade is the same for both versions (61.1cm). Due to the nature of wood, the weight can vary slightly from approximately 485g to 550g. Standard grip: Total length 83.4cm X Thickness 2.4cm
Short grip: Total length 82cm X Thickness 2.4cm
Whilst the design of this wooden sabre is very simple, it actually took a lot of tweaking to get the weight and the balance right. So a lot of thought has gone into this design. The militia style sabre falls within the oxtail design. These were quite popular outside the military. The general design is commonly recognised as the standard kung fu sabre. This sabre comes in two versions. One with a regular grip and another with a shorter grip. Whilst most sabres have a longer grip, shorter grips are not unknown.
What is it like to use?
I have practise my sabre form a number of times with both versions of this sabre. My thoughts are that they're nice to use and the weighting is nicely balanced. The sabre form I do is quite athletic. Yet, the sabre feels sturdy and handles really well, with no strain on the wrist. There are some minor differences in how the two versions of this sabre handles. With the shorter grip, the sabre swivels slightly more smoothly when doing moves that require flexible wrist movements. However, both versions feel the same when chopping and thrusting. There isn't a particular advantage with either versions and it is really down to personal preferences. Handling might not be something people generally think about, but comfort and ergonomics are important. Purchasing a wooden sword for martial arts should be seen as an investment. Therefore, one should choose well. My conclusions are that the militia style sabre is perfect for both forms and light sparing. It'll be in my sword bag whenever I go out training.
Whilst Taiji is generally quite safe, weapon forms do require practitioners to be more careful. Please ensure you have valid martial arts insurance.
Where can I get one?
I hold a supply for my students. However, if you would like to purchase one or order a batch for your school, please contact Graham Cave direct.
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