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Historical one-handed versions have blades varying from 0.45 to 0.8 meter in length. The weight of an average sword of 0.7 meter blade-length would be in a range of approximately 700 to 900 g.
The jian is very often the weapon of the hero in Chinese wuxia or martial arts movies. For example, the possession and use of a specific fictional jian, the Green Destiny, played a major role in the popular movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Additional meanings: Wei qi master, General, and occasionally, "Creator." (eg. The man who dedicates his life to creating a meditation garden is termed the Jian of that garden, a title which later came to be passed on to the garden's inheritants or purchasers.)
Also, Jian is the title of a large novel authored by Eric van Lustbader concerning three men at the center of an international conflict.
Parts of the Jian
A guard or hilt protected the hand from an opposing blade. The shape of the guard could be described as short wings pointing either forward or backward depending on the era and region of manufacture. A handle behind the guard would accommodate the grip of both hands or one hand plus two or three fingers of the other hand. Two-handed jian were not as common as the one-handed version. The handle could be used as a lever to lock the opponent's arm if necessary.
The end of the handle was finished with a pommel for balance, to prevent the handle from sliding though the hand if the hand's grip should be loosened, and for striking the opponent as opportunity required—such as in "withdrawing" techniques. The pommel was historically peened onto the tang of the blade; thereby holding together as one solid unit the blade, guard, handle, and pommel. Most jian of the last century or so are assembled with a threaded tang onto which the pommel or pommel-nut are screwed.
Sometimes a tassel hangs from the pommel. There are some sword forms which utilize the tassel as an integral part of their swordsmanship style (sometimes offensively), while other schools dispense with sword tassels entirely. The movement of the tassel sometimes served to distract opponents. The tassel's use now is primarily decorative.
The blade itself is divided into three roughly equal parts for leverage in different offensive and defensive techniques. A third of the way from the guard to the tip being one section, from that 1/3 point another distance to 1/3 of the way from the tip, and then from that point to the tip, or point. On many jian these three sections of the blade were different thicknesses and sharpened differently, thicker towards the guard, and thinner (sometimes much thinner) and much sharper towards the point.
The sword smiths of China are often credited with the forging technologies that traveled to Japan to allow sword smiths there to create the legendary Katana. These technologies include folding, inserted alloys, and differential hardening of the edge. Some early Chinese dāo (single-edged swords of various forms) closely resemble Katana.
In martial art schools wooden swords are used for training, so most martial arts students' first experience with a jian in modern times is with one of those weapons. In some religious Taoist sects, those wooden practice swords have come to have an esoteric ritual purpose, claimed by some to metaphorically represent the discipline of an accomplished student.
Effective use of the jian required considerable skill based on good training and long practice. Even in early centuries, jian were largely supplanted by dao on the battlefield. The dao were easier and deadlier to use for the average soldier or civilian. The straight-bladed jian became known as a weapon of the aristocracy, monks, high-ranking military officers, professional martial artists and the wealthy for personal defense, training, ceremony, and prestigious decoration.
Most Chinese martial arts, such as Taijiquan for one well-known example, still train extensively with jian, and expertise in its technique (kung fu) is said by many of them to be the highest physical expression of their martial skills.
Contemporary jian versions are often forged (shaped with heat and hammer) and assembled by mostly traditional methods for training of practitioners of Chinese martial arts around the world. These jian vary greatly in quality and historical accuracy.
A very badly made sword is often referred to as a "Sword Like Object" (SLO) by collectors and fans of swords. SLO's are examples of extremely poor sword design . Such an item is often too heavy, usually fails to be properly balanced for its intended use, and is often made of stainless steel. There is consensus among sword experts that stainless steel is a poor option for sword construction as it bends or breaks too easily given the stresses involved.
Contemporary jian are also sometimes forged (artificially aged and misrepresented as original antiques) for sale to tourists and collectors who cannot distinguish them from true antiques.
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