It is said that the Baat Cham Dao (8 Slash Knives) or Butterfly Swords, originated in the Shaolin temple and were designed as a self defence weapon for the monasteries monks.
These knives are not exclusive to Wing Chun, and can also be found in systems such as Hung Kuen, Choy Li Fut and White Crane. However, the forms and applications vary with each style. With Buddhist beliefs dictating the original use and structure of theseweapons, the Butterfly knives were designed with a single edge that was sharpened only on the front 1/3 of the blade.
This design allowed the practitioner to deliver non-fatal strikes with surgical precision, to maim rather than kill the opponent. This also allowed the weapon to be used to parry and deflect other edged weapons and prevent the blades’ sharpened edges from getting caught together. With this style of edge, the weapon employs the same concepts and principles of wing chun’s emptyhand forms, such as not fighting force with force, simultaneous attack and defence and using the contact reflexes honed during chi sao practice to control and redirect the opponents oncoming attack.
The Red Boat period in southern China saw a rise in rebellious activities, and the Baat Cham Dao was a weapon that was easily secreted on a person and could beutilised quickly and efficiently.
With these rebellious activists, the maim rather than kill mentality likely disappeared, and individuals made knives to suit their own purposes, bringing about styles that favoured stabbing as well as slashing as well as full length sharpened edges.
The Baat Cham Dao are said to be extensions of the hands, and while I feel this is true, you can see how they could also lead a practitioner into trouble if they do not fully understand the principles and concepts of empty hand Wing Chun.
If you make a mistake with empty hands it can have serious consequences. Make that same mistake in a weapons altercation and the result could be fatal. All the training that has preceded to you picking up the swords for the first time should have perfected your hand techniques, footwork and timing.
It should also have strengthened your limbs, and more importantly, perfected your mind set. If you doubt yourself and don’t engage with a strong mind, you are setting yourself up for disaster.
Look at a person learning to walk a tightrope. If they slip and fall, they will die. So, do they start training 100ft in the air? No, they start a few inches off the ground and repeat the steps & sequences. They will encounter all types of variables (crosswinds etc) and will increase the height gradually to overcome their minds’ innate fear and self-preservation tendencies, until height is no longer an issue.
The fear is always there, but they have conditioned the mind to control that fear and stay calm under pressure. This is what keeps them alive.
We too, start a few inches off the ground by training first with empty hands. We then hone these skills while introducing multiple variables and we learn to control our fears and strengthen our mindset. When we can control this fear of being struck and keep a calm mind under extreme pressure, we can then raise the “height” by introducing the knives.
So which sword is right for you?
Buying generic blades can be fraught with danger and I strongly recommend you DO NOT get a live pair. It may seem cool to have a pair of sharp swords and brag to your mates about how you can disembowel someone or efficiently cut tendons, but the truth of the matter is, it’ll most likely be your own hands and arms that get cut.
Get a blunt training pair and see how much it hurts first. Then move on to a live pair, if you feel you can’t live without them.
When choosing your Baat Cham Dao, the blade length should be the equivalent of your forearm, measured from the knuckles of your clenched fist to the inside crook of your elbow. This will allow for free rotation on the inside gate and prevent you from slicing the aforementioned tendons and muscles.
Modern laws prevent us from carrying around large knives, and today’s legal system should keep us safe from bandits, right? Why do we even need to train weapons at all? Because training with the knives will quickly point out what part of your empty hand game you need to work on (most likely it’ll be your footwork!).
It will also provide a means to further build up the tendon and muscle strength that is inherent to good Wing Chun application and, like I said before, will give you a stronger mental game.
It will also allow you to apply these same concepts to short sticks, knives or other improvised weapons you may happen to get your hands on. With a large percentage of practitioners training weekly for a fight that will most likely never happen, it can be said that the weapons forms are now primarily ceremonial in nature, rather than practical.
However, they must be learned to preserve the art for future generations and to help you become a stronger more complete martial artist.
Wing Chun has undoubtedly become one of the most widely practiced styles of southern Chinese martial arts. And, as we know, this can be attributed to GGM Ip Man having taught publicly in Hong Kong to students that spread this knowledge across the globe.
Wing Chun’s history would be very different I think, had he stayed in Fatshan and not moved to Hong Kong. But fate saw him flee Fatshan, and necessity forced him to teach publicly to survive.
We must be thankful that Wing Chun has been passed on to us, and not lost to the sands of time like so many other styles. Fate has also led you to pursue your interest in this beautiful art, just as it has led me along my Wing Chun journey so far.
It has given me the strength of mind and character to overcome many of life’s challenges and become a much better person.
I look forward to what I am yet to encounter on my life’s path, confident in the fact that Wing Chun will be there to guide me.
Practice well and practice often, be kind to yourself and to others, and uphold the martial spirit. Ω