The mentioning of the Miao Dao (苗刀) brings to mind General Qi Jiguang (戚继光) and his efforts in warding of pirates, or Wokou, from China’s east coast during the mid 1500s period. The pirates were not easily defeated. Qi Jiguang analysed their tactics, weapons and fighting methods and took several years to create winning strategies, one of which is the use of a double-handed long blade to counter the pirate’s samurai swords. Qi Jiguang later updated the documented strategies《纪效新书》 – initially published in 1560 – to include《辛酉刀法》, adding two chapters to the original eighteen. Probably the first manual in the history of China on fighting with a double-handed long blade, many practitioners of modern Miao Dao (苗刀) regard Qi Jiquang’s 《辛酉刀法》 as the origin and source of their art. Below is a documentary (with english subtitles) providing more details about Qi Jiguang and the double-handed long blade:
The Miao Dao (苗刀) is characterised by its long blade and long handle, often exceeding 1.2m in total. With its length, the Miao Dao is a versatile weapon with good effective range, which can be achieved through a series of single and double hand movement and techniques.
Due to the double handed movements, the forms related to the Miao Dao are often mistaken to present techniques related to Japanese swordsmanship. In fact the resemblance between the Miao Dao and the Japanese sword (Nodachi/Tachi/Katana) techniques is the result of cultural exchanges spanning almost a thousand years. In the Tang period (618 to 907) large quantities of Chinese long swords made its way to Japan, and during the Ming period (1368 to 1644) similar amounts of Japanese swords were imported to China.
The picture below shows a typical Miao Dao available in the market today. The total length is 1.4m, with a handle and blade length of 0.4m and 1m respectively. The blade is made of high carbon steel and the handle and scabbard are made from quality redwood. When held without the scabbard, it weighs about 1.2 kg.
Along with the different periods of Chinese History, the Miao Dao took on slightly different forms and name, but its function and length remains largely the same. In the Han (206BC to 220AD) and Ming periods, it is called Chang Dao (长刀) and the term Miao Dao (苗刀) only came about in the early republican period. The reason for this emergence cannot be confirmed but we know of several speculations including those associating Miao Dao to the Miao ethnic (苗族) minority in China, or to the Miao mountain (苗山) , or to the shape of the grain leaf, or to certain martial arts novel in the pre-republican period where this term was first written.
Shown below are pictures of the Chang Dao (长刀) from the Ming period.