Check our Sword Shop

Our content features commercial links to our products, committed to transparent, unbiased, and informed editorial recommendations. Learn More

Wodao: A Guide to Japanese-Style Chinese Saber

Written By: Abigail Cambal
Published On: June 16, 2022
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

NO AI USED This Article has been written and edited by our team with no help of the AI

The Chinese and Japanese swordsmiths have long influenced each other. Even though it was developed in China, the wodao featured several Japanese influences. Many sword enthusiasts regard the wodao as a Qing-dynasty take on a Japanese katana, while others compare it to the large, two-handed miao dao saber.

This article delves intot its Japanese-inspired design and how it remains relevant to the miao dao techniques of Chinese martial arts.

Characteristics of the Wodao Sword

The Chinese wodao sword has several Japanese features, including the blade shape and sword guard. Here are the notable characteristics of the sword:

Metal and Construction

The Japanese sword generally features a high carbon steel surface, but it has a softer core that functions as a shock absorber. On the other hand, Chinese swords tend to have high-carbon steel at the center, with lower carbon sides. Therefore, the Chinese wodao had a hard cutting edge and tough supporting steel.

Blade Design

wodao blade
( Source)

The wodao had a single-edged blade with curvature, reminding us of the Japanese katana or tachi. Unlike Japanese swords, the wodao did not feature a hamon or temperline patterns, though it had a blade with a ridged cross-section.

Size and Length

Qing-dynasty wodao often had an overall length of about 120 centimeters, with a blade length of around 85 centimeters long. Often described as short and heavy, it was still longer than the traditional waist saber peidao, which the military had worn suspended from the waist as part of their official attire.

Sword Mounting

A Qing dynasty long saber with some Japanese design elements.
A Qing dynasty long saber with some Japanese design elements. ( Source)

Traditional Chinese swords generally have crossguards, but the wodao had a tsuba-style handguard of a Japanese sword. Some of them featured a small hole resembling the hitsu-ana, which accommodates the handle of an auxiliary knife or pin-like accessory kogai on a samurai sword. Unlike the Japanese katana, the Chinese wodao functioned as a fighting sword without decorative elements.

Usually made of wood, the hilt can be around 26 centimeters long, making wo dao a two-handed saber. Although the handle is often wrapped with rattan or leather strips, modern replicas use different materials. The Chinese saber was purely utilitarian, often with simple iron fittings and a wooden scabbard.

Facts About the Wo Dao Sword

The term wodao literally means Japanese saber, but it refers mainly to swords developed in China with Japanese influence. Here are the things you need to know about the Chinese sword:

The two types of Chinese swords are the jian and the dao.

Jian swords have a straight, double-edged blade, while the dao is single-edged and slightly curved. Hence, the latter is often called a Chinese saber. The wodao is a specific type of two-handed saber. The earliest dao was likely a bronze sword, but steel swords became the more efficient weapons throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties. 

Several Chinese sword names describe Japanese-style swords.

The term fang wodao means imitation Japanese swords, while woyaodao translates as Japanese waist saber. On the other hand, the term woshi yaodao describes a Japanese style waist saber. There were also wōgǔndāo, in which the term gǔn means rolling, hence the Japanese rolling sabers.

Japanese swordsmanship led to innovations in the Ming army military training.

Chinese general Qi Jiguang revolutionized military training upon learning the sword fighting techniques of the Japanese in battle. His military training manual Jixiao Xinshu, or the New Book of Regulations and Training, discusses swordsmanship with the different types of dao, including the Japanese-style saber.

The name wodao reminds us of the derogatory term wokou for Japanese pirates.

During the Ming dynasty, the Chinese called the Japanese pirates wōkòu, in which wō means Japanese while kòu means bandit. Wō also translates as a lair, so the wodao sword is sometimes called the lair saber.

The wodao was one of the long sabers of the Green Standard Army.

By the mid-Qing dynasty, distinct types of long sabers evolved, though some were already in use during the clashes with the Japanese pirates. Apart from the wodao, the Green Standard army used the famous horse cutter zhanmadao, the double hand-carried saber shuang shou daidao, changren dadao, and back saber bei dao.

The term miao dao is a more recent name for the wodao.

The term wodao served as a mockery of the Japanese, referring to dwarfs and bandits, so the Chinese likely sought to disassociate their saber with them. The term miaodao describes the gently curved shape of the blade, resembling a rice sprout. The term miaodao did not appear in the historical records of the Ming and Qing dynasty. Still, a Republican-era training manual described the wodao as a large miao dao for two-handed use.

Practitioners of modern miao dao regard Qi Jiguang’s manual as the origin of their art.

The Ming general created winning strategies based on the swordsmanship of the Japanese. So, the martial arts of wielding the wodao or the miaodao is likely a combination of the traditional Chinese techniques of two-handed weapon and the Japanese sword fighting styles.

History of the Wo dao Sword

Like any Chinese sword, the wodao has a rich history. It played a significant role during the early era of Wokou piracy until the Republican period in China.

In Ming Dynasty

Between the 13th and 16th centuries, the Japanese pirates known as wokou raided the Chinese and the Korean coasts. Most of them were under various Japanese feudal leaders, though later consisted of Chinese and others. The Japanese had large trading expeditions to China. Eventually, they were denied privileges and resorted to violence.

The wokou also included the ronin, or masterless Japanese samurai, who used their extremely long sword odachi. As a result, Chinese general Qi Jiguang adopted long sabers to fight them. The Ming army used large two-handed sabers described as dandao or changdao, though the wodao also remained in usage.

In Qing Dynasty

Even after the long clashes with the wokou, the Japanese-styled long saber remained one of the weapons of the Qing military. The Green Standard Army, consisting of mostly Han Chinese soldiers, used several types of long sabers. However, by the Guangxu period, from 1875 to 1908, the wodao was the only long saber that remained in use.

In the Republican Period

The collapse of the Qing dynasty gave way to the Warlord period, from 1916 to 1929. The Chinese warlord Cao Cun had an army specialized in using the two-handed saber called miaodao.

Eventually, as the idea developed that Chinese martial arts became a means to build a strong nation, many training manuals were published. In 1932, the Dān jiè dāo described the wodao as a double-handed long miaodao, though there is also a single-handed miaodao.

However, the most popular Chinese weapon during the time was the Republican dadao, a large, cleaver-shaped sword. The 29th Route Army used the dadao and their firearms fighting the Imperial Japanese Army at the Marco Polo Bridge.


Influenced by Japanese sword design, the Chinese wodao was one of the long sabers of the Ming and Qing armies. With the renewed interest in their own fighting arts, the Chinese eventually disassociated the wodao with the Japanese, hence, the name change into miaodao. Today, the large, two-handed saber remains relevant in Chinese martial arts.

Get Weekly Insights on Everything Swords