LK Chen really put in the work, studying and handling actual artifacts from the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) and considers the Flying Phoenix to be his "masterpiece." I wholeheartedly agree on this one, the sword is marvelous, the grip, the balance, the cutting edge all beautifully crafted and engineered. I think what truly makes the difference between LK Chen's swords and other big knife and sword companies making recreations is that LK was able to personally handle historical artifacts, on top of that he's an accomplished martial artist so he knows how the sword functions in motion. It seems to me that most other "historical recreations" are just the sword maker's impression after looking at some old pictures, often turning out awkwardly weighted, redesigned and over engineered to be historically inaccurate after all. The only substantial modification LK Chen did was in using modern materials and forging, but in that we have the ability to grasp a piece of history and know that the quality of each blade will be consistent.
Sword Stats (from the LK Chen website)
Flying Phoenix has a 20 cm (7.8") handle and is primarily a single handed sword with the option of using 2 hands in certain techniques.The hilt has an oval cross section profile for accurate edge alignment.
Blade only weight: 610 g (1 lb. 6.5 oz)
Sword only weight: approx. 795 g (1 lb. 12 oz)
Blade length: 86 cm (34"),
Handle length: 20 cm (7.8"),
Total length: 106 cm (41.8"),
Slightly pronounced tapering
Width at hand guard: 32 mm, Width at tip: 15 mm
Thickness: 7.2 mm - 2.5 mm at the tip
POB: approx.13 cm (5.1") from hand guard
Blade Profile: diamond 4 surfaces
Superior heat treatment:
Hardness 54-55 HRC.
Blade rebounds to true after bending,
Youxia (knight-errants) Grade
Folded pattern steel: 1065 carbon steel + T8 tungsten-cobalt-vanadium high-speed tool steel. Sleek jet black scabbard.
The Celebrity Grade
Folded pattern steel: 1065 carbon steel + T9 tungsten-cobalt-vanadium high-speed tool steel. Han dynasty swirling clouds motif scabbard.
Industrial grade precision case brass fittings. The hand guard is in the shape of spreading wing of a swift flying bird.
Fit and finish
We perfected the fit and finish of our swords and the final assembly is meticulously performed by our senior craft masters. It takes a skill craftsman one whole working day to assemble our sword to a precision fit.
My thoughts: Before and After
If you have seen any of my recent videos or posts on social media you probably already know my feelings about this sword... I love it. It's functional, maneuverable, agile, and beautiful. It sings with each cut and the point of balance helps the sword practically drive itself. The subtle curves of the blade profile, the geometrical angles of the guard, the curves and flaring of the grip, and the beautifully engraved pommel are just gorgeous to look at. I have the Youxia (knight errant) model and I actually prefer the sleek glossy black scabbard, to me it's beauty is in it's simplicity.
However, I didn't always feel this way about it....
Before we get into my initial reactions, it's important to note that Choy Li Fut, Yang Tai Chi Chuan, and the Wudang Sword style that I have learned have all originated out of the Qing dynasty (1644 - 1912 AD) which puts my training and the sword about 1600 years apart, so there was bound to be some differences.
It's too long... there's no guard... the handle is too long... the pommel is too wide... is it a one or two handed sword?? Where do I put my index finger??? How is it heavy and light at the same time???
It was a bit of a challenge at first, but in all honesty I realized that my limitations could be easily remedied with small adjustments: The longer blade just took time with regular practice to get comfortable with spacial awareness, and now I actually prefer it, my other sword is feeling a bit too short now. The handle is long enough to allow a second hand to grab comfortably for the serious cuts, but proper grip fixed the awkward feeling. The disc pommel as well, in the beginning it would bump up against my forearm, but that was when I was forcing the sword to move like my Qing dynasty sword, putting emphasis and power in the wrong parts of the movements. Proper grip also helped fix the pommel problem. On top of that, understanding the weight correctly and using the length of the sword and it's greater momentum helped with the weird light/heavy issue I was feeling.
The main barrier for me to overcome was the guard. With Qing style swords, you typically extend the index finger upward along, or in some schools wrapped over the guard (like a finger gripping a trigger). This was not only impossible because the guard is much smaller, but dangerous as the finger would rest along the sharp edge of the blade. What I found was that if I make the slight adjustment of moving my grip a little lower on the handle, I can comfortably hold the sword the same way as the Qing style grip, while keeping the index finger below the guard itself. After a few hours of work with the sword, it became less of an adjustment and more of a natural grip for holding the sword.
In the end those adjustments were very small, yet made my experience handling the sword much more enjoyable. So much so, that at this point of time, the Flying Phoenix is my preferred sword for practice, and I feel like I am learning much more about swordplay in each session.
Is it sharp?
Yes, LK Chen swords are made shard, but you can request that they dull the edge if your goal is safety in practice. I cast no judgement here, most of my sword collection is filled with dull blades and I feel that unless you want to pursue cutting training, there is no need for sharp blades for typical practice.
With that said, I found the blade to be so smooth when cutting. LK has videos of the Flying Phoenix ripping through thick bamboo and Aikidoka made easy work of tatami rolls, but I had a bunch of water bottles on hand so that's where I went for my cutting. I can best describe it as a smooth swing that snaps through the bottle upon impact, even with an up close cut (0:45 sec). Stabbing was also very smooth as you can see in the video, though I found (without much surprise) the overhand stab is difficult to be accurate, but I'm sure it comes down to practice to fix that problem as well.
In working with the Flying Phoenix, I tested a number of forms from Tai Chi, Choy Li Fut and Wudang until I found what seemed to be the most comfortable fit with the Wudang Zenzhu Gun Pan Jian form or Wudang Pearls Rolling on The Tray Sword form, which gets it's name from the stirring blade technique while walking in a circle, in the full form there is more to this section changing the direction of sword stirring and footwork which makes it the signature section. I do edit sections out of forms videos that I post publicly out of respecting the request of my Sifu and Sigung, but I do try to involve the interesting and unique techniques and combinations that give the forms their flavor. You can see how the sword thrusting and circling is very easy and natural to do, and with such prevalence in the Wudang set you can understand why I found it to be the natural fit. Tai Chi sword, heavily influenced by Wudang, prefers to favor tapping and sweeping techniques and movements that really emphasize the extended finger on the guard. Choy Li Fut utilizes many curt chopping techniques between sweeping, tapping, and thrusting which make it more ideal for a shorter blade. Not to say it wouldn't work at all, but it wasn't the best fit in my eyes.
I am a little sad that between the traffic noises, and my wife's footsteps while following me with the camera, I had to tinker the sound quite a bit. Plus, with the music and the ambient sounds of the morning birdsongs, it would've been difficult to hear anyway. Though you can still hear my stepping, and even some breathing, you just can't hear the blade sing. It's something I find remarkable about the sword and especially during forms training. I'll just let the sounds of the Flying Phoenix be a treasure for you when you get your own.
Is that all?
Nope! I still have plenty to talk about, and will probably be bringing this sword up again from time to time. However, if you want more of my thoughts on the sword, or didn't want to read my thoughts from above, all is covered in this video review!
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