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Old 23rd August 2008, 12:14 PM   #1
Queequeg
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Default Fighting Irons

I just finished reading Tai Pan, by James Clavell, and in it he describes several characters as using a weapon known as "fighting irons".

Unfortunately, he doesn't describe them very well, and a google search isn't revealing much.

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&...my&start=0&sa=N

I had to filter out the words "shirt", "tshirt", "dodger", "fork", and "Jeremy", which gave me only 200 hits, including 2 websites about weapons laws in Hong Kong which say that "fighting irons" are illegal.

Does anyone know what these weapons are?

I don't think they're either the 7 or 9 section whip chains, by the way. What little description Clavell does give suggests that they're heavier and have less sections. Also, he has European characters using them, and I doubt any 19th century Englishmen studied wushu.
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Old 23rd August 2008, 01:51 PM   #2
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Interesting search. Here's the only reference I've found so far. It's a list of prohibited weapons in Hong Kong:

Travellers are liable to prosecution if they bring into/out of Hong Kong any "weapon" which includes Chinese-style throwing dart, gravity knife, gravity-operated steel baton, knuckleduster, Chinese-style fighting iron, spring-loaded steel baton, any knife the blade of which is exposed by a spring or other mechanical/electric device, and any bladed/pointed weapon. Source

I wonder if this is a term a bureaucrat came up with? If so, I wonder if it has a proper name in the martial arts community? At a guess, Clavell came up with the name after reading the customs form on his way to Hong Kong for research, or something similar.

Search continues for a picture.

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Old 23rd August 2008, 02:31 PM   #3
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I suspect the reference is to the short iron "maces" ubiquitous in late Qin China as a personal defense weapon.


Photo from www.oriental-arms.com
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Old 23rd August 2008, 02:36 PM   #4
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I saw the film version of this book starring Bryan Browne (FX) (sp?)

In the final duel between Brock and Struan during the typhoon; IIRC they are using (what the prop master at least thought) were fighting Irons .

They looked about the size (a bit longer) and shape of a crowbar with a hooked end and a smallish blade welded parallel to the shaft about 6 inches below the hooked end .

Could the image below (top left) be one ?
Anyone read Chinese ?

For what it's worth anyway ..
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Old 23rd August 2008, 03:37 PM   #5
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Andrew, I agree with you, although I'm still trying to remember the proper Chinese name.

Rick, you're possibly right, but that picture looks like a baby hook sword, and those are traditional Chinese weapons.

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Old 23rd August 2008, 04:12 PM   #6
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Oh well ......
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Old 23rd August 2008, 04:32 PM   #7
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Queequeg, I just wanted to say I really enjoy your approach to the study of weaponry, which really puts some mystique, artistic license and romanticism back into it. While I admit I am not a fantasy buff or particularly avid reader, it is most interesting to discover what weapons or actual inspirations seem to have influenced the imaginations or perceptions of these authors. I have always admired this ability and it is fascinating exercise into seeing how these actual items are likely perceived by the public at large, as being described in narrative often is key in studying historic ethnographic weapons.
A good example of this in one instance is the description of Magellan killed by a kampilan. Would that have been the form that is well known today? or perhaps even an entirely different kind of sword, or even variation of the weapon?

Another aspect of artistic license pertaining to weapons is in classical art itself. It is known that the masters often used contemporary weaponry in illustrating historic events, often even Biblical ones. Rembrandt is known to have a virtual armoury among his collections of items used as studies in his work, with wide ranges of weapons, including even the keris, no doubt obtained from merchants goods returning from the East Indies. With this in mind I have on occasion viewed the weapons in 'Dungeons and Dragons' with interest, the most memorable the two opposite bladed weapon which of course recalls the 'haladie', best known in the Mahdist Sudan. The weaponry in 'Lord of the Rings' and even 'Harry Potter' most likely carry the influence of actual historical weapons as well.
Another instance I can think of was the popular Frank Frazzetta illustration titled "The Death Dealer" with a formidable warrior wielding a huge battle axe and mounted on a huge charger. At his side was a long, guardless sabre which rather reminded me of what might be described as an ancient shashka. My curiosity eventually led to the Sassanian swords of this type among the holdings at the Met in New York. It is still hard to imagine exactly what group of ancient warriors this image portrayed, but the point is the composite grouping of accoutrements and weapons he carrys.

Just wanted to note that while much weapon study is based on examining actual examples and reviewing as much as possible in scholarly research, it is really a lot of fun to travel into the romantic and entertaining world of literature and art once in a while. Our curiosity, as discussed, may often lead to the discovery of many key facts or discoveries that can sometimes be surprisingly relevant to other research in progess.

Glad you're here and very much enjoyed this query, especially learning more on these Chinese weapons.
Thanks very much gentlemen!

All best regards,
Jim
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Old 23rd August 2008, 10:52 PM   #8
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Jim,

Thank you. Comic books (as a child), fantasy novels (teen through adult), and then films (ditto) were the way I got interested in weaponry. I now make knives and a few longer blades for sale, and I'm always interested in unusual and rare designs- the best selling knife I make is inspired by the ginunting, for example.

I have a few more weapons from films I'll be asking about, I'm sure.

As for the fighting irons, I can't speak for the film because I didn't see it, but I don't think Clavell wrote about the mace which resembles a butcher's steel. Clavell specifically mentioned that they had multiple sections joined by links of chain.

Perhaps something like the mace with a couple of smaller bars attached to the end?
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Old 24th August 2008, 02:40 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Queequeg
As for the fighting irons, I can't speak for the film because I didn't see it, but I don't think Clavell wrote about the mace which resembles a butcher's steel. Clavell specifically mentioned that they had multiple sections joined by links of chain.

Perhaps something like the mace with a couple of smaller bars attached to the end?


Ah. Kau sin ke, according to this:

Photo from www.oriental-arms.com
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Old 24th August 2008, 10:45 AM   #10
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Andrew,

I was just looking at this again, and what would you think about something like a two-sectioned staff, but with a bit shorter handle though still longer than the "flail" end? Does something like that exist (popularly)?

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Old 24th August 2008, 02:43 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrew
Ah. Kau sin ke, according to this:

Photo from www.oriental-arms.com


That looks pretty scary Andrew! reminds me of nimchuks and all the Bruce Lee movies I ever saw. Those type weapons have always amazed me, and seem like in the hands of anyone not tenaciously trained with them, would be even more dangerous to the user than the opponent.
I know I have trouble wrapping up an extension cord so the dynamics of these completely escape me!
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Old 24th August 2008, 03:59 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
That looks pretty scary Andrew! reminds me of nimchuks and all the Bruce Lee movies I ever saw. Those type weapons have always amazed me, and seem like in the hands of anyone not tenaciously trained with them, would be even more dangerous to the user than the opponent.
I know I have trouble wrapping up an extension cord so the dynamics of these completely escape me!


Jim,

Watch Gordon Liu in this clip of "Fist of the White Lotus". He's using a 5 section whip chain, beginning at 07:49.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPFd9jLLDis

Most whip chains are 9 sections. I would imagine that the kau sin ke, while not as flashy or flexible, would resemble the 5 section whip chain in many of its basic applications and movements.
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Old 24th April 2010, 03:47 AM   #13
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THIS ITEM LOOKS MORE LIKE WHAT I IMAGINED A FIGHTING IRON TO LOOK LIKE. IT WAS JUST CALLED A CHOPPER IN THE LISTING SO NO HELP THERE. UNFORTUNATELY IT IS IN ARTEFACT CONDITION SO MUCH INFORMATION THRU OBSERVATION IS LOST.
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Old 13th July 2010, 08:12 AM   #14
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Queequeg, I thoroughly enjoyed the book TaiPan, and I too was wondering about the fighting iron. While I knew about the 9-section chains and Kau sin ke, I wasn't sure what this fighting iron was either. The fact that the European characters used them as well was confusing.


Vandoo, I might be wrong...
but that looks to me like a South Indian aruval without its handle!
See how the wide bottom part is like a billhook blade, and the top has a hand guard?
here's an example of one... looks like it could be, eh?

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Old 14th July 2010, 12:44 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Queequeg
I was just looking at this again, and what would you think about something like a two-sectioned staff, but with a bit shorter handle though still longer than the "flail" end? Does something like that exist (popularly)?



Queequeg,
the item shown is commonly refered to as a rice flail....but I believe a 'millitarised' version was used from the Han Dynasty. It seems that the 'sections' could be wood or iron ( likely just the shorter section, as many of these had the longer 'section' up to lengths of 8 foot ) The shorter 'business' end could be adorned with studs or spikes and were used by both infantry and cavalry.

Regards David
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Old 20th December 2010, 07:49 AM   #16
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Vandoo - your tool looks like an Italian roncole or billhook or possibly a serpe from Provence (Var region) in France - the Alpine region of Europe is the only region that regularly provides a hand guard of this type... then I saw the Aruval from southern India....

However, all the aruval I have seen appear to be curved, but French and Italian billhooks are made with squarer blades....

One by Ughetti (Aixe en Provence, France) and one from the Piemont of Italy showing the hand guard, often forged into the handle stem when rivetted scales are used, or part of the end washer when leather rings are placed on a through tang..
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Old 20th December 2010, 03:16 PM   #17
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To my mind, the kau sin ke posted by Andrew is the most pertinent example of a fighting iron. if I remember correctly, they go to the place where they're supposed to fight holding the fighting Irons, then let them fall out of their hands while holding the handle; this to me implies a jointed weapon. In China, jointed, chained, and roped weapons are well known. The three section staff is the one with the least sections, then there are 5 section, nine section, chained whips, all the way to the meteor hammer which uses a weight attached to a rope.
There is a Chinese farmer's tool that resembles a billhook; the protruding point is so that when splitting wood, the blade does not strike the ground and get dull. A typical example of this is the French one by Ughetti. the very tip is squarish, and made so that you can split wood right on the ground. Very often farm tools can be used as weapons, and a prime example is a staff with a short section attached by a chain, which started off as a flail for threshing grain; this is the one illustrated by Katana. The fighting iron to which Clavell refers is, I believe, the one that Andrew has shown.
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Old 20th December 2010, 09:59 PM   #18
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You mean this one, from China at Work by Hommel, also one from the Anglo Scandinavian (Viking??) era found in the UK....
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Old 21st December 2010, 12:21 AM   #19
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I have to saw, thus far this thread has brought to light a lot of cool weapons/tools so thanks for everyone involved in the discussion! The nine-section chain or fighting iron must've been one frightening weapon!
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Old 29th October 2015, 03:23 AM   #20
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Default Description of Struan's "Fighting Iron"

The posters appear to have settled on a tentative consensus that the fighting iron in Clavell's novel, "Tai-Pan" was probably similar to the kau-sin-kee depicted in Andrew's post.

I wanted to add to the conversation. James Clavell spent several years in Hong Kong in the 1950s. Contrary to one of the speculations posted, it is clear from the extensive descriptions that he was describing a weapon he was familiar with. Presumably he either saw one himself or it was described to him by someone familiar with it.

While the kau-sin-kee conforms to many of the passages in the book, it appears to be slightly different in some respects. Most saliently, Clavell's fighting iron is attached to the wrist with a leather thong. It also had a barbed iron ball at the end.

In his first mention of the fighting iron, Clavell describes it as follows:

"Struan picked up the fighting iron and swung it aimlessly. It was a linked iron whip, a deadly weapon at close range -- three foot-long iron shafts linked together, and at the very end, a barbed iron ball. The short iron haft fitted neatly into the hand, and a protective leather thong slipped over the wrist."

The thong is mentioned throughout the book. "The fighting iron was thonged to his wrist" ..."Since the bullion came aboard the ship, he had worn the fighting iron day and night". ... "He unthonged the fighting iron".

While the kau-sin-kee shown in the picture does have three foot-long iron shafts linked together, the haft does not appear as if it were designed to be thonged, and there is no barbed ball at the end. Since your community is so knowledgeable about historical weapons, I thought it would be interesting to see if anyone could find any other examples that more closely fit the description of the weapon described in the book.
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Old 29th October 2015, 05:20 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
That looks pretty scary Andrew! reminds me of nimchuks and all the Bruce Lee movies I ever saw. Those type weapons have always amazed me, and seem like in the hands of anyone not tenaciously trained with them, would be even more dangerous to the user than the opponent.
I know I have trouble wrapping up an extension cord so the dynamics of these completely escape me!

Jim:

You are very much on target with your comment about how difficult a hinged weapon like this would be to use effectively (and without doing serious damage to yourself.

A scientific model for this is the complex pendulum. The double pendulum, the simplest version of these, shows chaotic behavior when subjected to simple to-and-fro movement. As always, there is a Wikipedia entry (here: double pendulum) that describes this in some detail, and provides several animated giffs to illustrate the predicted motion of a double pendulum when the two arms are of equal length and mass. This is probably more than you want to know about the mechanics of these weapons. Suffice to say that their already chaotic behavior is made more complicated when the length and mass of each arm differ, when the number of arms increases, and when the arms can move in more than one plane.

The weapon that Andrew shows would be extremely difficult to master--it has three hinges, the arms are of unequal length, and the weight distribution is not uniform. Its behavior when swung would be very challenging to reproduce and therefore not especially useful as a weapon. There is a good chance that the one wielding it would be impaled with his own weapon. I doubt that these were ever widely used or very popular.

Ian
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Old 29th October 2015, 10:08 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian

The weapon that Andrew shows would be extremely difficult to master--it has three hinges, the arms are of unequal length, and the weight distribution is not uniform. Its behavior when swung would be very challenging to reproduce and therefore not especially useful as a weapon. There is a good chance that the one wielding it would be impaled with his own weapon. I doubt that these were ever widely used or very popular.

Ian
Ian, there is something to be said for a weapon that you could use but would be practically useless when an untrained person tried to use it.
Here is an interesting video of a chain whip in action.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whuBjeGxQig

Three section staff.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNE3WuNfgQI
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Old 30th October 2015, 01:09 PM   #23
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Eric,

Thanks for the links to the videos. I think they highlight the point I was making that these are difficult weapons to use. The technique of simply winging these in a wide continuous arc may be the only practical way to use these hinged weapons. The user does this to maintain some control over a system that would otherwise behave in a chaotic manner. To use the weapon as shown in the video requires considerable open space, free from obstacles that would catch the lengthy weapon. Definitely not a close quarters weapon.

I'm not sure that this "weapon" could really be used very effectively by either a skilled or unskilled combatant. As shown in the video, its use requires a special set of circumstances and the intended victim could see it coming and take evasive action relatively easily--find the nearest tree to get behind, use a spear or staff to catch the flail, etc. Also, once the attacker has struck with the weapon, it may become entangled on some other object rendering it useless and the attacker vulnerable.

If I recall correctly, there was a chain and spiked ball weapon used in the movie "Kill Bill 1" (during the particularly bloody Japanese night club scenes)--Uma Thuman's character managed to counter that threat effectively.

Ian

Quote:
Originally Posted by estcrh
Ian, there is something to be said for a weapon that you could use but would be practically useless when an untrained person tried to use it.
Here is an interesting video of a chain whip in action.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whuBjeGxQig

Three section staff.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNE3WuNfgQI
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Old 31st October 2015, 06:19 AM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by estcrh
Ian, there is something to be said for a weapon that you could use but would be practically useless when an untrained person tried to use it.
Here is an interesting video of a chain whip in action.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whuBjeGxQig

Three section staff.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNE3WuNfgQI


I prefer Jet Li's version :-) He shows just how close and effective the weapon is in Hollywood and no doubt real life too

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMw37Dbx1os

Gavin
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Old 1st November 2015, 07:47 AM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian
The double pendulum, the simplest version of these, shows chaotic behavior when subjected to simple to-and-fro movement.


Coincidentally, I recently did a lecture on the double pendulum. However, for very low energies (i.e., just hanging a swinging a little bit) or very high energies (i.e., round and round in a big circle), it isn't that chaotic.

The benefits of these weapons are (sometimes) reach, and they wrap around blocks/parries with shields and weapons. Also, the opponent might not be familiar, so one might have the "secret weapon advantage". I don't like them. My tactic against one would be to close in quickly, and get past the dangerous ranges. Unpleasant if you don't do it right.

The classic Japanese flexible weapon, the manrikigusari, has a name that's hard to match: literally, 10,000 power chain. A loose English translation would be "mega-powerful chain". Imagine 3 Japanese police, confronted by a violent samurai. One says to another "I've only got a jutte; you've got the mega-powerful chain, you fight him".

While swinging it hard at somebody isn't that chaotic, they can still surprise you and bite you badly. It's the classic "double-edged sword" in the way that real double-edged swords aren't.
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Old 1st November 2015, 01:00 PM   #26
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Gavin: Thanks for the link to Jet Li. Impressive choreography! The ball on a chain (or fire hose with brass end) is a standard simple pendulum, and I imagine not all that difficult to use in a predictable manner. Some of the uses shown in the video were obviously contrived for effect, but I can see how a ball and chain could be effective, even at relatively close quarters.

Timo: Thanks for your observations on the double pendulum and its behavior at low and high energies. I imagine that the high energy behavior of multiple pendular would be similar if swung in a continuous arc. But for close quarter work, I think one would have to shorten the length, and perhaps revert from a multiple link version to a simple one-link version. I could then see the weapon Andrew posted as being quite effective in close.

Does anyone know the origin of these multi-jointed lever weapons or ball and chain weapons in Asia? I have always thought that they were derived from the agricultural flail that is used to thresh grain. At least that seemed like a logical origin, and there are several references to this origin in Europe. But what about elsewhere?

Ian.
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Old 1st November 2015, 09:21 PM   #27
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I think that there are 3 distinct families of these jointed weapons.

1. Flails derived from agricultural threshing flails. Chinese and Korean military flails are examples. There's a section in the Muye Dobo Tongji, a Korean military manual from the 18th century, on the two-handed flail as a cavalry weapon. Pretty similar to European two-handed flails.

2. Weights or blades on the end of a rope or chain. The chain versions are, I guess, cut-resistant versions of the rope weapons. Compact, easily-hidden, long reach. Probably originated as pure weapons. Possibly for police work or capture, rather than as deadly weapons.

3. Jointed iron whips. These have the weight distributed along their length, and therefore differ from 2 above. They don't look like their modified from agricultural flails, either. Maybe they derive from leather whips? Whips were being used by the Chinese military quite early. By chariot drivers, for whipping the horses. Which would suggest the idea of the whip-chain, at least.

There are various hybrid weapons which don't easily fit any of these categories. A long staff with a long chain with a weight on the end, 3 section staff, possibly nunchuks (are such short-handled flails used by farmers anywhere?). Legend says that the first 3 section staff was made from a two-handed flail with a broken handle.
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