Similar to ancient Japanese Samurai swords like the katana, ancient Chinese swords like the Sanmei are works of art. Unlike their Japanese counterparts which are created purely for sword fighting, the Sanmei is supposed to be used in tandem with martial arts training. Wushu is the perfect example to this. Sword wielding is done in conjunction with movements of basic martial arts kicking, punching and for blocking.
Let’s go into a little bit more detail about these Ancient Chinese weapons.
The Sanmei is composed of a hardened central layer with two softer steel layers on the outside. The softer steel provides the sword’s resilience while the harder core carries the wicked sharp edge. Looking more closely at the blade, one sees the unique lines and fold marks left by the forging.
The Chinese sword fall into two categories, the Jian and Dao. The Jian is a single hand double edged straight sword. Grips for Jian swords were made of fluted hardwood. They were sometimes wrapped in ray skin or in cotton cord.
The Dao is a single edged curved sword longer and heavier than the Jian. It is often referred to as a Chinese broadsword or saber. Dao blades curve moderately and have a canted hilt, curving in the opposite direction to the blade. There is also a disc-shaped or S-shaped guard.
Chinese Sanmei metamorphosed for 2,500 years beginning with bronze then moving on to iron and then steel. At first, during the Han Dynasty, the weapon of choice for mounted cavalry was the Dao. Later on, the lighter Jian became the most commonly used infantry and cavalry sword because of its lightweight.
Like the history of Chinese swords, ancient Chinese armor also went through a metamorphosis. Early Shang Dynasty armor was light plated turtle shells tied together with cord. Later on, these were replaced with one-piece leather or bronze breastplates. In the 2nd Century B.C., plated wrought iron armor began to appear. These were laced together with leather and sometimes had overlapping leather plates as well.
During the period of the Ming Dynasty, light plated armor woven into leather and cloth fabrics became the norm since this did not hinder martial arts movements. It only covered the most important body parts vulnerable to injury. Trading with Arab and Persian neighbors introduced the Chinese to the European chainmail which was widely copied by many rich nobles, officials and military officers.