Guest Author - Caroline Chen-Whatley
One of the more distinct knives in Martial Arts is the Butterfly Swords, also sometimes called “Butterfly Knives? Seen mainly in Chinese Martial Arts styles such as Kung Fu and particularly Wing Chun and Hung Gar, it originated from Southern China.
The name, Butterfly Swords, is something derived in the Western world and thus is relatively new for this weapon. The other name commonly used for this sword is Bat Jum Dao, or “eight-cutting sword? The origin of the swords is believed to have derived from Shaolin monks, who primarily used the weapon for defense.
The knives are single edged, short blades normally the length of the forearm for ease of concealment. The hilt is aligned with the blade in order to allow the swords to lie together, thus giving the illusion of a single blade. In fact, many forms using this weapon start with the knives pressed between the forearm and the body, hidden from view and often together. Some forms incorporate the “single?blade appearance in the first few moves, having the Artist maintain alignment with the edges to continue the illusion. The shorter length of the sword allows the wielder to maneuver the weapon in close-range fighting and rotate it close to the body. The width of the blade is three-inches across, meant to represent the width of a grown man’s wrist.
The swords are primarily used for defense rather than dramatic slices or cuts. The only part of the blade which is sharp is mainly towards the pointed tip. With some versions of the swords, the tip is aligned with the handle, thus lending itself to more powerful thrusting attacks. One can follow thru the movement with a twist or sweeping motion to create more damage, but that is primarily not the intent of the weapon.
Instead, the weapon provides many defensive features. The edges of the blade beyond the end is often left dull, since those zones of the sword will not be used for slicing and sharpening would be a wasted effort. For those familiar with Wing Chun blocking techniques, the movements translate easily into that of the sword. While the guard of the hilt provides minimal protection, the structure is hooked to serve as a means to trap an opponent’s weapon and disarm him. Even the broad face of the sword can be applied to striking an opponent with the intent to disable but not maim.
Training in the weapon is often a sign of accomplishment for a student and reserved for higher level students. The weapons are seen in many movies and often used in Wing Chun or Hung Gar school emblems.