The most well recognized name in English would be Deerhorn Knives but they are also known by a whole host of other names as well. In Chinese they are Zi Wu Yuan Yang Yue or Ba Gua Yuan Yang Yue, as is written in Chinese characters at the top of this page. This is hard to translate correctly, that is to convey the meaning while trying to translate the characters into English words. The third and fourth characters, Yuan Yang, means a pair of Mandarin Ducks. Yuan is the male duck and Yang is the female. They mate for life so are always found together, or inseparable. This describes the dual nature of the knives, always two, always a pair, working together. The final character, Yue, is used to describe a battle axe. The first two characters when used together mean midnight and noon. However, to translate the weapon's name as Midnight-Noon Mandarin Duck Axes would not be exactly correct as it falls short of conveying the subtleties inherent in its Chinese name. In Chinese cosmology there is a duality, Yin and Yang. Both existing only as a result of the other. A cosmic balance between good and evil, black and white, male and female. This is the duality referred to in midnight-noon, or male duck-female duck. A duality in which neither single part can exist alone, but only as a counterpart to its opposite. This is lost in the translation, and to call your weapons Midnight-Noon Mandarin Duck Axes would sound silly in English even though it is a literal translation from the Chinese. Another Chinese name for them is Ri Yue Qian Kun Jian (). Ri here is sun and yue, the moon. Qian and Kun are the trigrams relating to Heaven and Earth. Jian is sword. So this would be the Sun-Moon Heaven and Earth Swords. Kind of impressive but not quite right. Also it could be confused with another weapon, Qian Kun Ri Yue Dao, the Heaven and Earth Sun-Moon Saber. Usually, in Chinese, the Jian is a rather thin, double-edged straight sword. So this does not really apply to the deerhorn knives. A Dao in Chinese is any other sort of blade. It roughly means knife and is often used to refer to a saber or other wide single-edged blades, including kitchen knives. Dao would seem to fit better than Jian, but again it tends to infer a saber or other wide blade. There is another Chinese term, Lu Jiao Dao , in which Lu Jiao translates to deer antler, hence Deerhorn Knives. It has also been translated Deer Antler Sabers, but this is more cumbersome to say. So while the most widely recognized Chinese name is Zi Wu Yuan Yang Yue and conveys much to the Chinese speaker, the favored English term is Deerhorn Knives. Other English names include crescent moon knives and Mandarin Duck Blades.
The Deerhorn Knives are a very unique weapon originating from the Baguazhang (or perhaps more correctly Baguaquan) school of Chinese martial arts. Dong Hai Chuan the founder himself practiced this weapon. There are numerous stories of him killing large groups of armed men who had attacked him. Most of these are apocryphal and probably stem from the story on his original grave marker. It says there that once while travelling outside the city, Master Dong was attacked by many men with weapons. He defeated them all "moving like a hurricane". As he did travel through rough country, it is likely that he would have defended himself from bandits using his Deerhorn Knives. They are designed for use against multiple attackers, or any type of weapon. There are techniques for use against the spear, staff, saber and especially the sword. It has been said the Deerhorn Knives are especially good at defeating the sword with their hooking and trapping techniques. Master Su Yu-Chang says they are the number one weapon because they can break the energy of any other weapon, long or short. He also said they were for killing. That unlike other bagua weapons which may be better at locking and controlling, once the Deerhorn Knives came out, heads rolled. Ordinary citizens would not have been able to get away with that, but as instructor to the Imperial Guards, Master Dong was immune. The guards themselves were rumored to have carried small Deerhorn Knives concealed in their sleeves. There weren't any weapons allowed in the palace, but the guards may have used bagua's hidden weapons to their advantage. Deerhorn Knives come in various sizes. Large ones can be used to scale walls while small ones are used like throwing stars. There are also various configurations like recurve points and knives with either three or four points each. Initially the knives had only three points one of which was slightly curved like a duck's head. It is said the duck's eye, a small indentation on one blade, could be laced with poison for extra killing power.
Knives shaped like Mandarin Ducks
Most Deerhorn Knives seen in modern times have four points. This adds to the ability to trap the opponents weapon and disarm them. The fourth point was made recurve in recent history by our Grandmaster, Liu Yun Qiao. This allows for greater movement while avoiding cutting one's own arm. Grandmaster Liu in describing bagua weapons said that they are curved like bagua itself. Two deer-horn knives form the symbol of the Wu Tang organization. The eight points represent the Ba ji style, inside the circle are yin and yang representing Tai Chi, and together they symbolize Ba gua.
In action, the Deerhorn Knives have many techniques. As their shape is suggestive of the Yin Yang ball, so is their usage. While one is blocking, the other is attacking. While one traps, the other cuts. With blades in all directions, they are like the "claws of a dragon". There is a sixteen keyword formula for the various techniques of the Deerhorn Knives. These include hooking, locking, cutting, pulling and chopping to name just a few. The full sixteen character formula can be seen at the bottom of this page.
More Pictures of Bagua practitioners with Deerhorn Knives
Selected References for Deerhorn Knives