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Weapons in The Legend of Snow Wolf

Suthachai’s Saber

Mongolian saber used in the time of Genghis Khan.

I’ve always known Mongolian sabers were no heavier or more barbaric looking than any saber at the time. In reality, Mongols were smaller, their horses shorter, and their weapons, when compared with the Chinese, were simpler. But this is fiction, and I envisioned the big, muscular Suthachai to carry a mammoth blade that’s too heavy to be a bashing weapon, but which he could wield with the agility of a small knife.

 

Mongolian saber used in the time of Genghis Khan.
Mongolian saber used in the time of Genghis Khan.

Flute Demon’s weapon

A far as I know, this weapon is completely fictional. Not to claim any knowledge of wind instruments, but hiding a blade inside a flute would certainly interfere with the musical quality of the instrument. I originally wanted the all-powerful Flute Demon to wield a two-handed war sword, or any weapon with a long handle that carries weight and appears menacing. Somehow, the image just didn’t fit. In the end, I went with a leaner, more agile weapon, and turned the handle into a flute for additional texture. She uses it like a regular double edge sword, where precision and footwork is more prominent than speed and strength.

Here’s what the weapon looks like. (Yes, those are my Photoshop skills.)
Here’s what the weapon looks like. (Yes, those are my Photoshop skills.)

Red Headband’s Cudgels

I will be the first to admit, I know very little about bashing weapons. (A baseball bat on the streets of New York does not qualify.) I guess I’ve never grown enough strength to use a bashing weapon, and I was deemed by my teachers, long ago, that my body type was meant for the double edged sword. But my fascination with bashing weapons, like every other teenager at the time, came about in a Dungeons & Dragons videogame. It was interesting how a spiked cudgel always did more damage than a sword thrust. I was inclined to believe that it was true. (D&D game makers can’t be wrong.) Much later, when studying the double edged sword in earnest, I realized how the clumsy bashing weapon left the wrist and elbows wide open for cutting. But it was still fun to include the bashing weapon in my story.

The Spear: used by Chaos Spearmen

I’ve seen the Chinese spear in action, though I cannot claim to be knowledgeable of it, and I must say, I wish I were taught this incredible weapon. I did work with the Shaolin staff before, but the Chinese spear is a complete different animal. It could be used like a staff, but the existence of the warhead indicated a stabbing art, and not a striking art. The spear techniques that I’ve witnessed involved a lot of ‘gliding’, where you make soft contact with the enemy weapon and glide against his weapon (controlling or yielding to it with your spear) to make the stab. I’m hoping to learn how to use the Chinese spear and feature it as a primary weapon in my next book.

Butcher’s double swords

Personally, I’ve never used a double sword. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. My Chinese sword skills involved one side of my body facing the enemy, rendering the other arm in a supporting role. Carrying a weapon with the supporting hand, and making it useful, was too much for me. (I’ve worked with the double saber, but it’s very different). I’ve been curious enough about the double swords to research on it, and include it in one of my more powerful characters. I wrote extensive fight scenes with the Butcher using the double sword, but ultimately deemed the combat sequences too technical, and edited them out. The Butcher did get to retain his two swords.

Empty Hand Combat

Empty hand combat remains my favorite, mainly because I’m too old to be walking around town with my metal nunchucks, but also because, for many years, I’ve been fascinated by palm strikes. I’ve had limited success with my palm technique this past decade, (can’t blame my age on this one), but I’m still trying. The idea that the force generated by simultaneously planting both feet into the ground, aligned with a sharp twist of the hip, a whip-like burst of the arm so that all the force is gathered against a single, penetrating snap of the wrist, into a palm strike, kept me intrigued for over a decade.

Yet, any mention of empty hand martial arts would involve long descriptions and clarifications. I tried to avoid it as much as possible in the Legend of Snow Wolf, and always included bare steel in the battle sequences. After all, anyone who’s watched Conan the Barbarian, or Star Wars, could appreciate a good sword fight.

Common use of fire in ancient warfare – Li Kung’s weapon

Ancient China introduced some of the most intriguing weapons in warfare, from two stage cruise missiles for naval battles, high-speed crossbows (machine guns with arrows!), to continuous pump flamethrowers. Of course, nothing is as crazy as the fact that Genghis Khan and his sons were the first to use biological weapons. (They catapulted thousands of dead bodies into a city to cause disease.) Since these were weapons of the imperial army and not of the Martial Society, I avoided mentioning them. But the use of fire is universal. The greatest strategists and the smallest arsonists would choose fire because it is cheap, deadly, and panic inducing.

The problem of using fire in ancient times, unless you’re carrying some of Li Kung’s flammable powder, is that you must prepare ahead of time. It’s not like drawing your sword and charging into the enemy at the first beat of the drum. Using fire as a weapon normally requires some sort of preparation and ambush, and in many cases, require a different elevation between the attacker and the victim. Fire has been extensively used in siege warfare, where flaming balls were catapulted into a city, or flammable oil was dumped from the top of the city, onto enemy siege equipment, and set on fire.

When an army is stationed on a higher elevation, they have the advantage of gravity and momentum, and taking a higher position is normally preferred. It’s much easier to crush an enemy from above. Yet, if an army is stationed on some sort of hill that can be surrounded from below, the enemy can destroy them with fire. Trying to burn or smoke an enemy positioned at a higher elevation is a common tactic in classical Chinese strategy.

Alternatively, an army trapped in a valley can also be disposed of with fire. In general, if you’re surrounded by an enemy sitting pretty on a higher elevation, you’re in big trouble, especially if their arrows can reach you but yours can’t reach them. But a quick way to annihilate an army trapped in a valley would be to roll flaming material, usually wooden material shaped into a ball, into the valley. The flaming material would continue to burn when they reach the bottom, and the entire valley can turn into a flaming bowl.

Poison users in the Martial Arts Epic genre

Almost every popular wuxia epic has at least one poison user, a specialist in contaminating people with toxins in the air, or food and drink, or direct entry into enemy bloodstream via poisoned needles or minor cuts and scrapes. Poison, though low and dishonorable, is yet another tool requiring deceit and preparation, the basic strategy deployed in The Legend of Snow Wolf. Very few poison users confront their enemy to fling poisonous powder into their eyes, since poison thrown by hand can be defended against the same way as against a cluster of throwing weapons. If the enemy notices toxins in powdered form, he can hold his breath and close his eyes long enough to escape the affected area, and he would be safe. So poison must be used against the unaware.

Fiction writers in the wuxia genre have innovated so many different ways to poison someone that I can never claim to know what’s already been written. In the Legend of Snow Wolf, the air is the primary conduit of poison, given the immense talent of the poison user. Cheap shots with poisoned wine or food, or poisoned cutting weapons, are left for another book.