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The Blades of the South

Note: In this article i mainly used the Jyutping transcription for cantonese. This might be a bit confusing by reading the article but you can find a list with the commonly used transcription for these terms.

Copyright: The historic pictures in this article are linked to the original source, as i am not the copyright owner. The non-historic pictures in this article belong to me.

When you ask a modern Wushu athlete about weapons of the southern Wushu styles, he will answer you: Nandao and Nangun. That’s not even half of the truth. While Nangun has indeed some references to southern staff techniques, Nandao is newly created weapon for modern Wushu which has some resemblance to a true southern blade, the Butterfly Swords or in cantonese Wu Dip Dou.This is just one of many names these blades have. Other names are Zi Mou Soeng Dou, Wu Saau Soeng Dou or Baat Zaam Dou. The Wu Dip Dou usually come as a pair and are shorter than usual swords or sabres with a length of about 50 cm. While other short weapons like Daan Dou or Daan Gim (Dan Dao or Dan Jian) are seen in whole China, the Wu Dip Soeng Dou are a typically southern weapon, nowadays only seen in southern traditional Gong Fu styles.

Early recordings about the Wu Dip Soeng Dou can be traced back to the early 19th Century. Although not known under todays common names, this double weapon was mentioned also in western magazines in England and the United States. A Captain Bingham who was involved in the first Opium War mentioned in an article from 1842 that a part of Lins troops (Lin Zexu, Governor and General in Guangdong) were trained in double swords:

“March the 21st, Lin was busy drilling 3,000 troops, a third portion of which was to consist of double-sworded men. These twin swords, when in scabbard, appear as one thick clumsy weapon, about two feet in length; the guard for the hand continuing straight, rather beyond the “fort” of the sword turns toward the point, forming a hook about two inches long.»

Some chinese weapons used during the First Opium War, including a Wu Dip Dou, were also illustrated in the «London News» of 6th January 1844.

London News Article, 1844

Records in the US show that the Wu Dip Soeng Dou were used by gang members in San Francisco and other Chinatowns throughout the country. There are pictures of confiscated weapons oft he Tong Wars in the 30ies as well as a picture of Gong Boss Eddie Gong with Wu Dip Soeng Dou in his hands.

Confiscated weapons during the Tong Wars
Triad boss Eddie Gong with Wu Dip Soeng Dou

Although mentioned by Captain Bingham that the Wu Dip Soeng Dou were used by Lin Zexus troops, they were never an official military weapon. It must have been in the 2nd half of the 19th Century that they found their way into southern Chinese Martial Arts Systems like Hung Kyun, Wing Ceon and Coi Li Fat.

Unlike regular swords and sabres the Wu Dip Soeng Dou were easy to hide under the long robes the people were wearing during the Qing Dynasty. This was quite an important fact as it was usually forbidden for common people to have acompanying weapons in the streets. Therefore it was a perfect weapon for secret societies like Hongmen/Tiandihui. And this may have been also the reason why the Wu Dip Soeng Dou were used by the Gangs in the Chinatowns of San Francisco, New York and other cities.

Chinatown San Francisco

Little is known how the Wu Dip Soeng Dou found the way into the Martial Arts Styles, but they can be found in systems from Fujian like Fujian White Crane and from Guangdong mainly in Hung Kyun, Wing Ceon and Coi Li Fat. In some styles there also combinations of one blade with a rattan shield as a variation to the common double blades.

Troops with Rattan Shields and one long Wu Dip Dou

In the southern Chinese Martial Arts there are several theories/legends about the origins of the Wu Dip Soeng Dou. As usual there is the Shaolin Temple in some of the stories. According to this legend, the monks of the temple (in this case obviously the legendary Southern Shaolin Temple) wore them in their boots when they were outside the temple as a tool for self defense.

Another theory is connecting the origins with some styles in Fujian like Yongchun White Crane. Some see Yongchun White Crane as the mother style of Wing Ceon. The Fujian theory makes sense as the roots of most southern styles incl. the legendary southern Shaolin Temple are in Fujian. The rise of the secret societies and the fall of the legendary southern Shaolin Monastery are also connected with the Qing resistance and so is the origin of almost all southern Chinese Martial Arts like Yongchun White Crane, Hung Kyun and the other four family styles (Mok, Lau, Lei, Choy), Wing Chun and Coi Li Fat. Therefore, it seems logical that the spreading of the Wu Dip Soeng Dou started in Fujian and went south to Guangdong with the secret societies as well as with the styles Hung Kyun, Wing Ceon and Coi Li Fat.

Different types of Wu Dip Soeng Dou for training

Hung Kyun

In Hung Kyun it is known that the Wu Dip Soeng Dou were a prefered weapon of the chinese folk hero Wong Fei Hung. But unlike the four pillars of Hung Kyun or his prefered long Weapon Ng Long Baat Gwaa Gwan (Fifth Brother Eight Diagram Pole) the routine differs sometimes more sometimes less from lineage to lineage. There are also less known sets in so called village Hung Kyun branches and in such Hung Kyun branches like Haa Sei Fu. Within the Lam Family exists also a set called Daai Hang Yuet Soeng Dou from Lam Sai Wing which was originally compiled with machete like knives.

Wing Ceon (or should i say *ing *un?)

Baat Zaam Dou is the most spreaded routine within Wing Ceon as most lineages worldwide can be traced back to Ip Man. Baat Zaam Dou means «Eight Cutting Techniques» and that’s what it is about in this routine. Other lineages from the mainland like Chen Guoji (Chan Wah Shuns great grandson) and Pan Nam have different routines.

Coi Li Fat

There are different routines within the Coi Li Fat lineages. Interesting is the footage of a late San Francisco Chinatown master, Lau Bun who was the first master of well known Coi Li Fat master Doc Fai Wong. This is probably one of the first recorded Wu Dip Soeng Dou routines ever.

Lau Bun with some if his students


The Wu Dip Soeng Dou are the main short weapons of the south. The blades can be found in almost every southern Martial Arts Style in China. Beside that the Wu Dip Soeng Dou is also regarded as the basic double weapon. With mastering the Wu Dip Soeng Dou the practitioner should also be able to practice other double weapons as well. Thanks to Bruce Lee and later through the Yip Man movie series they are often related to Wing Ceon but actually, they are a part of the curriculum in most southern Chinese Martial Arts. The roots may have been in Fujian but with the styles wandering south into Guangdong province the Wu Dip Soeng Dou were also spreaded throughout southern China. Through the southern Chinese Martial Arts styles they found their way to America, Europe and many other parts of the world.


The video links shall give you a first impression of the Wu Dip Soeng Dou in Southern Chinese Martial Arts. There are more and maybe better examples as linked below.

Hung Kyun (practiced in Lam Zou’s lineage according to Charris Vantslot basing originally on a Jow Gaa set) (Geui Chung Dou, Lam Sai Wing lineage) (Mok Gwai Lan lineage) (Dang Fong lineage) (Haa Sei Fu Hung Kyun)

Coi Li Fat (Lau Bun, Hung Sing lineage) (Hung Sing lineage) (Hung Sing lineage) (Xin Hui lineage)

Wing Ceon (Ip Man lineage) (from 4:45, Chen Guoji lineage)  (Pan Nam lineage)

Other styles

Yongchun Bai He (White Crane) :

Yongchun Bai He (White Crane) :

Chow Gar :

Chow Gar :

Cantonese transcription

Commonly used transcriptionJyutping
Wu Dip Seung DoWu Dip Soeng Dou
Ji Mo Seung DoZi Mou Soeng Dou
Bart Cham DoBaat Zaam Dou
Wu Sau Seung DoWu Saau Soeng Dou
Hung KuenHung Kyun
Choy Lee FutCoi Li Fat
Wing ChunWing Ceon


The Fall of the Southern Shaolin Temple and the Rise of Ten Tigers of Canton – Paul Burkinshaw (eBook)

Corrections after input from Charris Vantslot and Michael Goodwin on the Hung Kyun part.

Related article:

© Urs Krebs

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