The various Wing Chun lineages have specific types of butterfly swords (Baat Jam Do, or Bart Jarm Do) they require you to buy. There is no right or wrong type or style of sword. Most of the forms and swords types evolved over time with Wing Chun. The swords started off as non-lethal weapons, moved to very lethal, and exist as a hybrid today. What your teacher requests you to buy can tell you a lot about the era of the sword’s evolution he/she is teaching.
Characteristics of the swords will be displayed in a table similar to this one:
|Style:||Chopper / Stabber / Ancient Monk|
|Flipping:||Flippable / Non-Flippable|
|Measures To:||Inside Forearm / Outside Forearm|
|Handles:||2-in-1 / Full Handles / Hybrid|
“Style” refers to the main use of the sword – to stab someone or hack them apart. Generally speaking the Wing Chun swords evolved from non-lethal defensive weapons to stabbing weapons to hacking over time. The modern versions are almost always the chopping/hacking versions. (All versions slice, which is the other common type of attack). The choppers have a flared blade that is larger near the tip than at the base, or just a wide blade. The stabbers have a slightly more narrow blade that is straight or triangle shaped with a sharp tip. Stabbers should have the handle aligned with the tip of the blade to provide a straight line for thrusts. Choppers usually have slightly curved handles to accommodate the hacking motions. There are also hybrid versions and designs from Shaolin that are not made for Wing Chun. The ancient style of swords are what the original Shaolin monks used. It is not a Wing Chun style, which was born from war. The monks liked thicker, straight, and dull blades that were used for parrying and defending rather than swords used for war and killing. However, many of the chopping motions and parrying motions come from this ancient tradition, where as the stabbing and killing motions were a feature of the red boat era where fighting and killing was more common. Today’s chopping swords also reflect the more peaceful nature where training is emphasized more than actual fighting, and thus provide for a safe training environment. Most modern lineage use the chopper, but some still prefer the stabber. Yip Man taught both deadly styles.
“Flipping” refers to the quillon of the sword. That is the curved part that sticks out of the back used to trap an opponent’s weapon or flip the sword blade to the inside or outside of the forearm. Forgoing the debates on if the motion is practical in a fight, many lineages do flip the blade, and a sword with a small or narrow quillion makes this impossible. So we’ve notated if this sword appears to be flippable in case your lineage requires this use. Generally speaking the monk and the modern era training flips more, and the red boat stabbing traditions don’t flip as much or at all. Yip Man taught both methods to students over time.
“Measures To” refers to the length of the blade. Depending on the lineage and how they flip the sword they will either flip it to the inside of their arms (such as in the Guan Sao or Quan Sao motions) or the outside of the forearm. If they flip to the inside the blade cannot be too long or it will cut the inside of the opposite arm. So the blade of the sword for these lineages is measured from inside wrist to inside elbow. If your lineage flips to the outside they will measure the blade from the outside of the wrist to the tip of the elbow generally. This is so the blade covers the entire forearm for blocks. Traditionally, the blades are all custom made for the practitioner. Unless you have several thousand dollars for a custom sword, though, getting a sword that is close to being correct for your size is your best bet. For inside flippers look for blades 11 – 12.5 inches. For outside flippers look for blades 13.5 – 14 inches or so. Typically Wing Chun practitioners flip to the inside or do not flip at all, where as other Southern Shaolin Kung-Fu styles flip to the outside. Some Yip Man students flip both to the inside and outside in the same form, in which case they use the measurements for the inside of the arm.
“Handles” refers to the style of handles on the blades. Originally, the swords all had full handles and were two separate swords, which gives you the best grips for training and fighting, and the strongest blades for parrying. Later on, when the art was pushed more underground and concealing the weapons became more important the swords were combined. Essentially, they took one thickly bladed sword and cut it in half to make two swords that could be carried around as one and broken apart for a fight. The inside of the handles were flat and the blade’s edges only curved on one side (which made them nasty weapons for chopping since they would dig into the flesh, hit bone and the slide down the bone scraping the flesh off). In the modern age the swords have mostly reverted back to the full handled versions or a hybrid version. The hybrids typically do not fit together perfectly, but have full blades and a little bit of handle on the inside of the sword. This allows them to still fit together in one case, but gives the practitioner a better grip and allows for a fuller handle guard and quillion. There is no right or wrong configuration of the handles, both exist in the art’s history and it is a personal choice.
You will notice that the swords were originally more dull and thickly bladed because they were used by monks to defend themselves without killing. Then in the war/fighting era the swords got more deadly. The tips were sharpened, they were made concealable, and made to thrust and slice more to facilitate easier killing. Afterward, in the modern era, the swords reverted back closer to their roots, with the exception that the blades were thinner and sharpened along the whole length. This made them safer for training but kept fresh the idea that the swords are used for killing rather than pure non-lethal defense…
Hopefully this information helps you determine which type of sword is right for your lineage. However, it really depends on your personal tastes. After all, you will be the one wielding the weapon.