Know your knives (swords): The Dha

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The Dha (the word simply means “knife” or “blade” in Burmese) is the ancient sword style from SE Asia. (Photo by Jamie MacDonald)

One of the things I enjoy most about my work with TTAK is that I have been exposed to an astonishing array of new subjects. I never know what I am going to stumble upon and what rabbit hole I am going to end up diving down. Sometimes it is something that I come across while actively trolling for content. Other times it is something that someone passes along. I follow up on everything anyone sends me, though not all of it makes it onto the site. Other times it leads me to an hour of research into a topic on which I knew next to nothing before I get to actually writing.

Reader Sam is a frequent TTAK tipster and he sent me a link to a post by Canadian Photo-journalist Jaime MacDonald. His piece, “The Last Days of an Ancient Sword“, has been my introduction to the Dha, the indigenous Southeast Asian sword style which is ancestral to the Chinese and Japanese swordmaking traditions.


Jaime’s post is all about the photography. There really are only 2 small sections of text, with just enough information to explain the blade and highlight the master Thai swordsmith Ajarn Kor Neeow who is trying to keep the tradition alive. However, while he is regarded as the best swordsmith in Thailand, and has even made swords for the Thai royal family, he uses imported Japanese steel. So I am kind of unclear on how he is keeping a tradition alive. But that doesn’t change the fact that the photography is absolutely beautiful. You want to check it out. If you missed it above, you can click here.

Given the dearth of information from the above piece, I sought out some more sites dealing with the Dha. One, The Dha Research Archive, has a very good introduction to the anatomy and history of the style which I hyperlinked . There is also “links” page, where more detailed sites relating to metallurgy, history, and culture surrounding SE Asia and the Dha can be found. other than the intro page, the site seems most useful as an index. But the links are good. The site hasn’t been updated since 2007, but then again, neither has the sword.

I also checked the Wikipedia page for both Dha and Dao– the Chinese sword which is essentially a later regional refinement of the Dha.

As I said, I knew nothing about the Dha before Sam sent me the link. In a nutshell, the Dha is a slashing sword, single edged, slightly curved, and usually lacking a guard. It may flare towards the tip, though not dramatically so. Many countries and peoples claim to have invented the Dha. It may have come from the Naga people from India, the Tai people of  Yunan province of China who migrated to the Burmese region, or it may have been invented by the native Khmer people before the arrival of either of the above groups.

The handle of the Dha is round, and while it is relatively long in relation to the overall length of the blade, the Dha is meant to be a one-handed weapon. Scabbards are usually bamboo or rattan, bound with metal bands.

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An archetypal example of a Dha. Round handle, no guard, flared blade, single edge, slight curve. (Photo from Dha Research Archive)

 

I hope everyone enjoys the photography in Jaime’s photo-essay. I have enjoyed learning a bit about a style of blade with which I was unfamiliar.  If any of our readers are knowledgeable on Asian swords and feel like correcting something I have said or adding something of their own, please comment below.

 

comments

  1. Sam L. says:

    Very cool!

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Know your knives (swords): The Dha

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