In China, the dao is known as one of the four major weapons, along with the spear, staff, and the sword, and referred to as "The Courage of All Soldiers". The Chinese broadsword, one of the most common and popular weapons developed in China, makes numerous appearances in the country’s history and legends. TSANG HER is the God directly associated with the broadsword. The name TSANG HER means 'arrives and kills whatever it touches.' This nickname gives a good indication of the great military power associated with the sabre.

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While dao have varied greatly over the centuries, most single-handed dao of the Ming period and later, and the modern swords that are based (sometimes loosely) on them share a number of characteristics. Dao blades are moderately curved and single-edged, though often with few inches of the back edge sharpened as well; the moderate curve allows them to be reasonably effective in the thrust. The blood groove, an indentation on either side of the blade, was used to break the suction so that the broadsword could easily be withdrawn from the enemy’s body. Hilts are canted, curving in the opposite direction as the blade which improves handling in some forms of cuts and thrusts. Cord is usually wrapped over the wood of the handle. Hilts may also be pierced like those of jian (straight-bladed Chinese sword) for the addition of lanyards, though modern swords for performances will often have tassels or scarves instead. Guards are typically disc-shaped often with a cupped shape to prevent rainwater from getting into the sheath, and to prevent blood from dripping down to the handle, making it more difficult to grip.

Most Chinese martial arts schools still train extensively with the dao, seeing it as a powerful conditioning tool and a versatile weapon, with self defense techniques transferable to similarly sized objects more commonly found in the modern world, such as baseball or cricket bats, for example.

One measure of the proper length of the sword should be from the hilt in your hand and the tip of the blade at the brow and in some schools, the height of shoulder. Alternatively, the length of the sword should be from the middle of the throat along the length of the outstretched arm. There are also significantly larger versions of dao used for training in some Baguazhang and Taijiquan schools.