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By: Jin Enzhong

Saber Manual

By Jin Enzhong

(Originally published 1933. Brennan Translations, June 2016. 40 pages.)

Review by Christopher Dow

A peculiar little volume, Jin Enzhong’s Saber Manual is as much anti-Japanese propaganda as it is a martial arts manual. It was written during the Defense of the Great Wall, a campaign between the Chinese and Japanese that occurred in the early months of 1933, four years prior the official declaration of war that launched the Second Sino-Japanese War, which resulted in the Japanese capturing portions of Inner Mongolia. The subsequent state occupied by the Japanese extended south to the Great Wall of China.


The manual—you can hardly call it a book—contains three parts: two introductory essays, instruction in large saber techniques, and three concluding essays. That the book was written in the midst of the conflict is made abundantly clear right at the outset. I quote the first paragraph of Jin’s preface:


Recently, the large saber units of our armies have repeatedly been triumphant, letting us know that the strength of “human bullets” surpasses that of artillery shells. Our Chinese nation is a vast territory with abundant resources. We have four hundred seventy million bodies of compatriots to mingle amongst the trifling number of those Japanese goblins. If everyone were to embrace the notion that death is inevitable and be resolved to die like a martyr, victory will not be difficult.


In the paragraphs that follow, Jin definitively states that the saber techniques he depicts in the instruction section are not traditional martial arts forms.


Even though our modern army trains in large saber techniques, they do not resemble the whirling of the spring and autumn halberd, or the numerous routines of the dragging saber, decorative displays of rushing back and forth in set after set that students find difficult to remember, with techniques so lacking in practicality that despite being deemed unusually agile, they are hardly ever suitable to the critical moments in which they would actually be needed.


Instead, the dozen movement Jin describes and depicts are not forms, per se, but specific techniques strictly intended for lethal combat, particularly against bayonets. “If war is declared and we are not skillful at matching his [Japanese] bayonet techniques, it will be very difficult to resist cruel Japan’s bushido, national spirit, and human bullet mentality.”


Following Jin’s preface is a second preface, written by Wang Yizhe, that was added when the manual was serialized in Martial Arts Weekly during 1935. Adding to the Jin’s message about the need for preparedness, Wang begins: “The situation has worsened and now those shameful invading Japanese are an urgent issue.” Wang goes on to say, “These [saber] techniques are already commonly drilled by the army, so his [Jin’s] brief book is meant to share the training with like-minded people [in the civilian militias].”


As history shows, the Japanese incursion into China led to the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, which in turn morphed into World War II when China joined the Allies and Japan the Axis. And despite the Jin and Wang’s belief that reliance on the large saber was a practical necessity, by the end of those conflicts in 1945, it was clear that swords were nearly useless on the modern battlefield.


Even so, Jin’s instruction section contains very practical and straightforward techniques for dealing with and dispatching an enemy armed with a rifle tipped with a bayonet. Each of the dozen techniques contains a written description of the movement accompanied by a drawing of a soldier in uniform performing the movement, with lines and arrows to indicate directions of movement. Posture also is described as is the function—in other words, a description of how the saber-wielder defends against a specific bayonet attack then counters with deadly intent to the attacker’s body.


This is the sum total of the original manual, but for this particular edition, translator Paul Brennan includes the three concluding essays, none of which are by Jin or Wang. All three were published in different issues of Martial Arts Weekly from 1932. The first, by Li Qinmin, is titled “Discussing the Large Saber Units” (September 1932).  In this essay, Li describes several types of saber units, how they dressed, the array of firearms they carried, and how they fought—usually with firearms at a distance and sabers in close-quarter combat.


The second essay, by Zhang Zhijiang, is “Large Saber Units Performing Great Feats in Shanghai” (October 1932). In this essay, Zhang relates the bravery and effectiveness of saber units in engagements at the Song River. The third essay, by Xian Xiushan, is "The Amazing Bravery of the Large Sabre Units" (September 1932). It carries on in the same vein by describing in glowing terms the effectiveness of saber units during the Defense of the Great Wall and in the action at Xifengkou. Xian concludes with a hopeful air: “We will eliminate these Japanese pirates who want to extend their land of the setting sun to where we keep ours at Mt. Yanzi, reducing cruel Japan to a spent force, and we will surely be able to obtain final victory and hold the power in East Asia."


Alas, it would be well more than a decade before the wars were over and China was once again free to pursue its own course. And all too soon afterward, the Communist People’s Republic of China did its best to enslave the nation from within and, for a long time, virtually forbade the practice of marital arts among its people.


All-in-all, Jin Enzhong’s Saber Manual is just as valuable for its insights into this turbulent era in Chinese history and the details of the Chinese army's accouterments and tactics as it is for the sword techniques it imparts. But for those interested in the long saber, it provides a down-and-dirty series of techniques honed in actual deadly combat.

See also Practice Methods for Cleaving Saber Techniques by Yin Yuzhang, also originally published in 1933, for a saber manual with similar emphasis but a different method.

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