Why do Chinese martial arts often move the sword tight across/around the shoulder/neck?

This is done a lot in many styles, but I do not know why. Its faster to just make an arc over the head to get the sword back to the side of the body where the sword-hand is.

Hope you know what I mean.

PS. I am not talking about moving the sword behind the back with the tip down to get it to the other side.

  • 4
    Are you referring to Chinese broadsword or straight sword? And do you have a video showing exactly what you're referring to? Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 13:24
  • Chinese Dao, so broadsword. I will see if I can find a video.
    – Invariant
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 14:23
  • Anything in this video look like what you're talking about? youtube.com/watch?v=Qzat58K9LcY Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 17:04
  • Yes sorta. At 4:13 he does it clockwise, I am talking about the same just counterclockwise, but sword following same path.
    – Invariant
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 18:39

4 Answers 4


One reason it's done in that specific way is that dao were an infantry weapon and pulling in tight around you like that reduces the chance of you cutting the guys beside you in a formation or a melee. Verbally from my teacher Dan Docherty, chief instructor PTCCI. If you think about it, it's common sense. Bringing the blade around behind you you can't see what or who is behind you that your blade might injure or get caught in.

  • Verbally from my teacher Dan Docherty, chief instructor PTCCI. I'll check my books when I have a chance.
    – Wudang
    Commented Jun 15, 2017 at 16:07

Sword play and weapons in general are focused on control. A weapon that is closer to the body is typically under more control than one further away. You can see this in chain fighting or roped weapon combat specifically as well as nunchaku. The quick motions that create the force while wrap close to the body to keep control over the strike as well as catch it.

In sword the difficulty with swinging around the head is you can easily hit yourself, lose control, or your opponent can knock the sword movement off and then you hit yourself. Unlike some other weapons it's sharp and a small accident can be detrimental, specifically in a spin or slashing motion. Eliminating the distance from the body allows movement of the weapon into a different position to then strike from, while at the same time stabilizes control of the sword by closeness to the body and also prevents interception of the movement of the sword by an opponent.

The reason for specific placements is to position for various defensive and offensive movements. So closeness to body for control and specific motions to best stay in fighting position with the particular weapon/style.


The movement serves several purposes:

A blocking motion

This is used with single edge blades as you keep the back of the blade against the body, usually contacting around the shoulder blades. Any attacks in are deflected by the blade, but the two bracing points (hand + shoulder blade) provide stability and can cause the attacker's blade to bounce back - leaving an opening for a cut through.

Filipino blade arts will often use a similar motion with their "umbrella block" using the free arm's forearm as the second brace point.

Feint and reposition

It's an excellent way to shift your attack direction from one angle to the other at close ranges. When you watch the form, or from a distance, it doesn't seem like much, but close range, it works very well for losing people's sight tracking if they're not familiar with it.

Pivot attack off the body

You can increase the force of an attack by effectively whipping the weapon around a pivot, which can be your shoulder blades against someone nearly behind you, or, off your opposite shoulder at an angle to the front. (Many short blade arts also use the forearm as a pivot as well, except in those cases it makes as much sense to push the forearm forward at the same time as well.)


Naturally, though, this movement is all for close range fighting, almost at arm length or closer. It's a useless movement if you try to use it against a long weapon or someone whose tactics are in-and-out with thrusting.

Movies & TV like it because it looks cool and often allows the "I blocked your attack from behind" trope, but you never really see the practical application, which often is "I grab one of your arms and hack it off" or "I reverse the slash and turn it into a stab right away" which doesn't look really good for the camera.


To redirect an incomming low thrust attack, you would need to push it away with a sword pointing downward, to the direction of your free arm. If you connect this redirection to that circular motion around the neck, it flows freely to a downward slash from your head, or a forehand slash.

Another thing, with heavier weapons (mace, broadsword, heavy axe), it is easier to get into stance for a full downward swing by using this motion, instead of lifting them from your front to above/behind your head.

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