Saber is a popular weapon in Chinese martial arts, either performances or competitions.
Quite often, practitioners tie a red cloth to the end of the handle.
Not only that, some even use a red and green bi-color cloth.
Recently, even tri-color cloths of blue, white and red have appeared. Perhaps they want to symbolize "Blue Sky, White Sun and Red Earth?" (Editor's note: These are the colors of the Republic of China's national flag.)
But we may ask: Why attach a piece of cloth at all, whether blue-white-red, or red-green or the most commonly used red?
"Just to look nice?"
Can we ask: Is this red cloth just called "red cloth?" Does it have a name?
"Probably... possibly, ....uh, red cloth perhaps?"
What? "Probably." "Possibly?" "Perhaps?" What kind of answer is that!
If you would like to know, let me tell you from the beginning.
This piece of red cloth has a special name: "Blood Duster!"
Ok, from the name, its function should be obvious.
Isn't the saber a killing weapon? After killing, wouldn't it be stained with blood?
Then the red cloth is used to wipe and mop the saber. Hence it is called Blood Duster.
Here's an analogy. At the bottom of the stock of an M1 rifle used by infantry, there is a small compartment for accessories (oil, cleaning rag, small brush, etc.) used to clean and care for the gun, just for convenience.
Same reason. Blood Duster is the saber's cleaning accessory.
Therefore, Blood Duster is usually tied at the tail of the handle. Its formal function is wiping blood off the saber!
Consequently, the installation of the Blood Duster has to be flexible. It should be easily be removed for use. Otherwise, it would be just a decorative ornament.
So far, we've learned that this thing is called Blood Duster.
We know its installation has to be convenient, so it can be removed or tied up easily.
We know it's for dusting blood. (Otherwise, why is it red?) It is not just for decoration or a fashion statement.
But, but, but: "I still don't understand. During a performance, should it be there?"
The so-called performance merely simulates real combat so others can see the practitioner's technique.
Then, let's talk about combat before turning back to performance.
During combat, the Blood Duster HAS to be dismantled.
Or it could be tucked in a pocket or somewhere handy to wipe the enemy's blood later.
Or it could be thrown away and simply get lost!
"Why can't I still keep it on the saber and just fight like that?"
'Cause it might be distracting; remember fighting is a life and death business!
Now, need I say more about whether to attach a Blood Duster for a performance?
By the way, since we are on this subject . . .
Don't you also see that a spear often has a red tassel at the tip? Some people just call it "Red Tassel Spear."
Does it have a formal name? What in the world does it do?
This is called "Blood Shield." Its purpose is to block the flow of blood down onto the wooden spear shaft. That's why it is red.
Some prefer the color to be black or white; perhaps they have some big reasons that I'd like to ask about!
As long as it prevents the opponent's blood from dripping down the wood shaft of the spear . . . Otherwise, the spear would become too sticky and slippery to grip! How can one continue to kill enemy this way?
During training, the spear does not need a Blood Shield. Some don't even have a metal spear tip.
But in a battle, it must have a Blood Shield. First, for shielding the spear. Second, to distract the enemy!
So this is different from the Blood Duster on a saber, quite the opposite.
The saber's Blood Duster is used after killing; the Blood Shield is used during killing.
The Blood Shield is at the spear tip. When the spear shakes, it could distract the enemy's attention; while the Blood Duster is on the back of the saber's handle so when it is being used, it would only distract oneself!
Such is the story of "white blade and red cloth!"