The English martial arts internet is awash in people reciting
Everyone seems to get the basic idea that mastering the Chinese longsword (剑) was hard, but everything else in the "quote" moves around and absolutely no one ever gives a Chinese form of the quote or a source for their "traditional proverb".* The only Chinese source I found with some form of the English quote is
from an article by the guys who took over the Shanghai Daily quoting an American taiji master studying at Fudan. It's unclear if he picked it up from his teachers in the US or from someone in Shanghai.
These all look like they could come from a Chinese original, so I searched Baidu for 百、千、万 and 天 and 剑. The only common phrase I could find was
One hundred days of practice [to master] the dao, one thousand days of practice [to master] the spear/gun, ten thousand days of practice [to master] the longsword.
or closer to the intended meaning (since almost everyone reading the translations in English seems to take the numbers literally)
It takes a short while to master the dao, much longer to master the spear, and forever to master the sword.
which my friend with better Chinese says probably came from The Legend of the Condor Heroes (《射雕英雄传》) by Jin Yong (Louis Cha), who wasn't an ancient Chinese master of anything but a tubby 20th-century journalist and wuxia novelist from Hong Kong.
So the questions are:
- Is there any Chinese version of this expression older than 1957?
- If not, could you describe the context of the quote in his book?
- Especially, what did Jin Yong mean by 刀 here?
since it's usually translated as 'knife' these days but actually covers most large single-bladed weapons, including Chinese sabres, machetes, and halberds. (枪 today usually means 'gun' but, as pointed out in the comments, can also mean 'spear', which is presumably what was intended here.)
*The only exception I found was here, quoting e2, loosely quoting a line in Musashi Miyamoto's Book of Five Rings: "To know how to win with the sword... a thousands days of training to develop, ten thousand days of training to polish."