One of the major differences between Wuxia and Kung Fu movies is the array of weapons the heroes wield. Today, we’re looking at one of the four most common weapons used in Wuxia movies, the elegantly lethal dao, or single-edged sword.
This is the same type of sword used by Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005), by Mulan in the recent live-action remake last year, and by Jackie Chan's Huo An in Dragon Blade (2015). Though these individual swords all have unique shapes, they all share the key characteristics of the dao.
Called the “General of Weapons,” this sword has a single edge (as opposed to the double-edged jian), and a curved blade. Unlike Japanese katanas, this sword may have a few inches of edge on the opposite side of the blade, at the tip or point of the sword. The hilt often bends in the opposite direction from the blade. Like jian, dao swords may also have lanyards, tassels, or scarves attached to the hilt.
Though the origins of this weapon go back thousands of years, the dao as we know it today originated in the seventh or eighth century during the Tang dynasty, and dao were standard issue for soldiers from the 1300s to the end of imperial rule in 1912. They were also mass produced and issued to Chinese soldiers during World War II.
Here's an episode from Man At Arms as they undertake a challenge to recreate a dao longsword with 19th century tools. Check out their video:
If you're more interested in the sword's results, here's an episode from Forged in Fire testing the effectiveness of two beautifully crafted dao swords: