Here is another weapon that may look familiar to many kung fu practitioners today. My style “Northern Shaolin” has a double dagger training routine that is generally practiced with a similar knife. I have seen other systems use just one as well. I think it is quite logical to assume that the style of antique dagger presented here is the historic model from which our modern Chinese martial art practice tool is based on.
When comparing the old and new daggers in the photo below you can see they both share the ring at the base of the grip area. On antique examples it is quite common for the blade, metal handle core, and the ring pommel to be the same piece that was just blacksmith shaped from top to bottom with the ring at the end. It’s definitely a convenient and solid construction method. The shape of the hand guard in the older piece is also known by collectors as a “rams horn” design. This is two separate pieces of metal sandwiched over the core near the base of the blade and hammer forged together into the shape that gives the “rams horns” its name. In the modern dagger all that is left is the silhouette of the original form.
Like I have said in other posts, when studying these fascinating objects I like to ask myself the classic questions of who, what, why, when, and where. In addressing these ideas I may bounce around a little but I do my best to use them as a rough guide to my investigations. Often the answers are tied together like a web so one answer will merge right into another.
I have owned and handled quite a few of these old knives. The ones that I actually have some provenance for come from Hebei, Shanxi, and Shandong provinces. This could speak to it being a Northern regional style of construction. I plan to keep collecting them in hopes of seeing more of a pattern.
From my experience they seem to come in a variety of sizes from somewhat small such as 8 inches/20.3 cm to twice that size at 16 inches/40.6 cm. The example presented here feels pretty big to me in hand. It is hard to look at this knife and not feel as though it was made as a combat weapon. That is just my opinion though. The smaller ones speak to me more as a tool that could be used during the work day. It’s quite possible that they are just multi-functional relative to your needs, be it field work, personal or village defense, or even thuggery. In any case it seems to me a poorer working person’s tool which addresses the question of “who” may have owned this dagger in the past.
“When?” I look at this item and
think it came from roughly the middle to late 19th century. The first
half of twentieth century is quite possible too as you can see by the dagger in
the final picture below with the Kuomintang/Nationalist Party of China emblem. The ring pommel treatment is
different but it is still a great example to put the item in a time line that
is relative to this conversation. I think it is worth mentioning too that this dagger
in particular could have been an older one used over a long period of time,
which I think many of these old weapons were.
Unfortunately I do not have any old photos or written accounts to back up and relatively date the first example, but the style of construction is quite similar to other weapons from this period such as ring pommel dao/sabers etc. It is not hard to imagine that this style of knife could have been used for a much longer period of time in the past, and the ring treatment at the end of blades goes far back into Chinese antiquity. I think this example is more recent though.
One of my big interests is to learn about these antique weapons and put them in some context with the Chinese martial arts I practice today. Like I mentioned before, I train a double ring dagger practice routine (meaning dagger in both hand) in my kung fu system. I have also seen them practiced like this in other Northern systems like Northern Praying Mantis as well as some southern styles. It is interesting though that I really do not see this type of dagger show up in pairs on the collector’s antique market very often. Truth be told I have only seen one “ring pommel” pair versus the dozens of the singles. That certainly does not mean they did not exist. I can see how hard it would be to keep a matched pair together for over a century or more. It does lead me to believe though that a matching pair is quite a rare thing, not to mention pretty dangerous to wield. My inclinations and the material record that I have seen suggests is it would be more common to see a 19th or early 20th century person carry a single dagger for their particular purpose. I did collect a photo of the matching pair I mentioned though. I will definitely make a special post on it and share a few related thoughts
Attempting to explore and put these old objects into some sensible cultural context of the past, or even my personal present is what is so interesting to me about this collecting hobby. As a modern Chinese martial artist I am excited when I can connect what I am doing today with a real period item.
Make sure to check out the photo gallery too for additional antique “ring pommel dagger” examples to compare and contrast.