The Etiquette of Jian (Reply to Email from Andrew M. Humphries)


The question of sword etiquette has also been bothering me. I have tried to find information about sword etiquette which includes how the jian is to be carried and to be drawn. At this present moment, I can only say that there is no etiquette for jian This may be explained in four aspects.

Historical background

In the past, the civilians are not allowed to carry or even possess any weapons. If anyone had weapon, he would often be charged as rebellion. So any civilian who wanted to carry weapon would covered it up carefully. For people who had to travel around and wanted to have a jian for self-defense, he would roll his jian (usually short one) in a big piece of cloth which was then carried on his back.

For government officials who could carry swords openly, they would just hang their swords from their waistbands with strings. No special steps were to be followed when drawing their swords.

Jian Fight in China

Although martial art is so commonly practiced in China, there is no practice of duel. Through the long history in China, it is extremely unusual to have duel which was openly accepted. Wu shu contests were often on friendly basis. Of course there were killing and fighting among martial art schools or clans. What I am saying is there was no openly or officially accepted duel in which the duelist was entitled to kill his opponent. There was the practice of duel in Europe, America and Japan, but not in China. This may also be a reason why there is no etiquette for sword in China.

In a duel, the faster you draw your weapon, the better chance you can kill your opponent. Yet in a friendly wu shu contest, the main objective is find out which one is more effective in attack and defense. In a duel, the target is the life; in a wu shu contest, the target is the martial art itself.

The Class of Knight (Samural)

In Chinese culture, knowledge has long been regarded as more important than sports and martial arts. If we take a look at the social classes in China in the past thousand years, there was no such class as knight or samural. In the Western countries and Japan, a knight or a samural had special political and social status. He could carry his weapon anywhere.

There was no knight in China, instead there was a scholar class. In Tang and Song Dynasties (before 1200 A.D.), a scholar could carry a jian as most scholars at that time also practice wu shu. In Yuan and Qing Dynasties, a scholar did not carry weapon in normal case.

For those wu shu masters and practitioners, they were allowed (unofficially) to possess some weapons as wu shu teaching and practicing (not in Yuan Dynasty). Yet these weapons were supposed not to be carried around. In many wu shu training schools, the jians and daos used for practicing were not sharpened and sometimes even a substitute made of some other materials.

The Culture of Jian

In China, there is the Art of Jian and the Culture of Jian rather than that likes Kando of Japan. Chinese have never think of "upgrading" the art of jian into a discipline (a dao D). The art of jian has merged into the Chinese culture in general life. In China, jian has been mentioned in poems and famous novels. Jian is also a symbol with significant meanings. It has multiple roles including decoration, a sign of honour, a sign of power and rank, a religious symbol of ritual purpose, ...etc.

Since there are at least 18 feats (wu yi, Z) in Chinese wu shu, jian, as the other feats, does not have special etiquette. In Chinese wu shu contest, a contester often draws his weapon before he salutes to his opponent. The most common salute is just holding one fist with the other hand in front of the chest (ꮱ).

(Your opinion and suggestion are greatly welcomed!)