It is nevertheless important that these stabbing weapons emerged in the same period, though over centuries, as halberds, with their stabbing spear head. The short, elevento eighteen-inch-long blades, of the Eastern Zhou period lengthened to about twenty-two inches by the late Spring and Autumn period. One of the most famous swords was made for Jiu Qian, the king of Yue, also known as Goujian. Most warriors would have fought with much plainer swords. These were personal weapons for close combat and of little use from a chariot. At least for some warriors, swords replaced short-hafted dagger-axes for close combat by the late Spring and Autumn period.
Their use increased across the Warring States period, as production responded to demand for the new weapon. The other great advantage. Before the sword, one could only carry a dagger for personal protection. Steel swords also appeared toward the end of the Spring and Autumn period. Steel, an alloy of iron and carbon, was produced in China by the sixth century bce steel is harder than wrought iron and less brittle than cast iron.
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It was not until the middle and late Warring States period, however, that iron and steel implements, including armor and weapons, were produced in useful amounts. Bronze weapons still predominated, vastly outnumbering the iron weapons found in tombs, but the advantages of iron were apparent. Iron swords were longer than bronze swords, averaging 80— cm, with the shortest equal in length to the longest bronze swords.
The spread of iron furthered the development of the sword and probably changed the way it was used as well.
Weapons were manufactured from a wide variety of materials in the Warring States period, with tombs yielding arrowheads of bronze, iron, and bone mixed together, and swords of bronze and iron, but the use of iron was critical for the sword. Unlike spears, dagger-axes, or bows, the reach of a sword depended upon the material it was made of. Wu and Yue in the south were renowned for their bronze swords, and this has largely been borne out by archaeology.
High-quality iron swords were initially thought to come from the states of Chu, Han, and Yan. Lower-quality swords were available in other places, but the highest-quality arms were made in very particular places. Swordsmanship presumably followed the same course as swords, with the art developing alongside the weapon, and then spreading.
At this early stage we hear of places famed for their swords, but no famous swordsmen. Most famous martial artists in the Warring States period were archers. Not only was it a practical skill for hunting and war but it also carried ceremonial and spiritual power.
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As a consequence of this, many thinkers used archery analogies to explain their larger points about morality. The audience for these thinkers was other members of the elite who were intimately familiar with archery. The archer as martial artist projected the practice of a means of violence into a number of realms that we would recognize today. Archery was a practical skill of war, it was a performance skill, it demonstrated proper attitude and deportment, and at its highest level it developed an improved mental state.
Aristocrats shot from chariots just as they had during the entire Zhou dynasty, using thumb rings for a Mongolian release. Given the limited stamina of the chariot horses, this was probably just as well. Most of the aristocratic archery would have been directed at other aristocrats — that is to say, carefully aimed shots more in the form of a personal duel. Chariots diminished in effectiveness across the Warring States period even before true cavalry appeared.
From the perspective of archery, chariot archery would have had little effect against disciplined, massed, armored infantry with shields. Added to this was a new archery. But infantry archers did not require the addition of the crossbow to outshoot the chariot archers.
Disciplined, massed infantry could have rendered the chariot ineffective regardless of changes in archery. This changing military environment was profoundly disturbing to the political and social order. His martial mastery disappeared, or was rendered moot, by new forms of combat.
And while the crossbow trigger mechanism would become its own metaphor for timing and holding force in abeyance for a devastating strike, the elites turned to the memory of archery as an aristocratic pursuit for reassurance. The aristocrats of the Zhou dynasty practiced extremely formal archery ceremonies.
From the descriptions in the Record of Ritual, the major test for the participants was their deportment, not their accuracy. Interestingly, like other major rituals, music played an important part, in some sense connecting this ceremony to martial dances. The participants were paired according to seniority and ability. Although charioteering and wrestling contests were also regular parts of the Zhou performance events, archery was used to rank the participants for court posts. The goal in this formal setting was not military effectiveness.
Here Confucius is detaching the function of archery in battle or hunting from its performance as simply a performance. Once the Zhou declined and ritual fell into disuse, however, the various states turned again to military strife, and the practice of shooting to pierce the target was revived. This is an odd construction of events, to say the least. While King Wu probably never rejected war, he may well have ceremonially indicated that his war against the Shang was over by putting away the implements of war and changing out of battle dress.
He could not do away with archery contests entirely, however, and the only way to somewhat diminish the lethal aspects of archery was to assert that the practical effect of a given shot was no longer the main point. The skill of hitting the target, also part of the lethal requirement of archery, presumably remained. As we have already discussed, this skill with archery and the competition were a central part of elite interaction.
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Zhu Xi, for his part, inferred a considerable amount from the passage. Confucius says nothing about accuracy, only the divorcing of archery contests from the question of strength. I will discuss the issue of strength in martial arts later, but here it is important to note that Zhu Xi inserts the notion of accuracy as equated with virtue, something that is not indicated by Confucius.
Before mounting the stairs to the archery hall, gentlemen bow and defer to one another, and after descending from the hall they mutually offer up toasts. The gentleman Confucius referred to was not in a struggle with other gentlemen to win the contest; at most this was secondary. Two areas important to the gentleman were demonstrated in his performance in the archery contest: ritual capability, and internal cultivation. Ritual puissance was critical, of course, but the physical display a gentleman made during the contest was indicative of his internal mental state.
That state, and the centrality of archery within the lives of Warring States period elites, connected archery metaphorically to the pursuit of virtue. He simply seeks the cause within himself. Here Mencius assumes that the archery being practiced is in a contest, not in battle or a hunt. Success in archery is entirely within the archer and does not depend upon outside events or people.
Archery for the Confucian scholar became a measure of personal development. It is also something that has no connection to his competitor, also just like correct behavior. The archery contest thus became a competition with oneself. Martial arts has always been a highly individual and personal practice, as I noted Stanley Henning observing in the introduction, and which Confucians like Mencius also clearly recognized.
Wisdom, for Mencius, was something that could be developed, just like martial arts: To begin in an orderly fashion is the concern of the wise while to end in an orderly fashion is the concern of a sage. Wisdom is like skill, shall I say, while sageness is like strength. It is like shooting from beyond a hundred paces. It is due to your strength that the arrow reaches the target, but it is not due to your strength that it hits the mark. The skill of archery, like any skill, martial or otherwise, can be developed if one puts effort into it.
The emphasis on skill and deportment over skill, deportment, and strength,. Minus the question of strength, a much broader sector of elite society could effectively participate in archery contests, including those who now specialized in civil skills. Confucian stress on correct form over effect or function proceeded from an acceptance of the continued importance of archery contests in elite circles, and the desire to downplay the value of strength alone.
How many cultivated men were forced to participate in archery contests where they were beaten by uncouth, sloppy archers with poor form but great power and accuracy? The objective, external demonstration of archery skill, which included the ability to penetrate the target, made these uncultivated men seem better than the Confucian gentlemen.
Getting the form correct showed internal cultivation, rather than the mere external strength of the warlike archer. As the premier martial art, archery was the symbol, metaphor, and site of the struggle for the meaning of martial skills.
This is different from the focus and discipline the Confucians stressed. The idea that the practice of archery to the level of true mastery would lead to a superior, or even superhuman, mental state emerged in the Daoist writings of Zhuangzi and Liezi. He drew his bow and placed a cup of water on his left forearm. When he saw that all three arrows hit the center of the target, Liezi was quite pleased with himself.
So steady was his hand and so focused was his concentration that the water in the cup did not spill. His friend, however, was not impressed. If you can shoot accurately under those conditions, then I shall be convinced of your mastery in archery. Standing with his back to the drop and with half of his foot over the edge, he invited Liezi to join him. Liezi was already trembling when he saw his friend walk toward the edge of the cliff. Now, at the thought of standing with his back to an abyss, he fell on his face and broke into a cold sweat.
Whether he sees the clear sky or faces the yawning abyss, he can still shoot with the same state of mind. He is not affected by conditions of life and death, for nothing can move the stillness of his mind. Look at yourself now. How can you even begin to demonstrate the art of archery? It is noteworthy that this idea appears in China many centuries before the invention of Chan Buddhism, before Buddhism even reached China.