One truth that will remain the same for generations is that samurai swords carry an undeniable attraction and appeal to everyone. These swords are sleek in design and have a rich history surrounding them, which makes for some incredible stories. People from all over the world will look at swords in cases, learn about how they were used in combat, and purchase ones for themselves. Many people will even purchase film swords, which are always used a decoration or for cosplay. This article is going to look into the history of the samurai sword, how to use one, showing the sword proper respect, as well as how we use these in modern times. This blog will also explore the importance of purchasing a functional sword and the different types available.
History of Samurai Swords
Samurai swords span the pages of history and are divided up into different eras of production. These are:
- Jokoto or ancient swords dating around 900 A.D.
- Koto or old swords dating around 900 – 1500 A.D.
- Shinto or new swords dating from 1596 – 1780 A.D.
- Shinshinto or “new new” swords dating from 1781 – 1876 A.D.
- Gendaito or modern swords dating from 1876 – 1945 A.D.
- Shinsakuto or newly made dating from 1953 – present.
Early samurai swords were predominately straight, but as sword craft began to grow in Japan, the sword shape began to change. The koto, or old sword, is considered to be the pinnacle of the samurai sword with regularly uneven curves in each sword. As the years progressed, the curve went closer towards the top of the blade, becoming more even and consistent. The samurai sword saw many changes and different sword types throughout the years, but these changes were always for the betterment of the samurai. Many samurai long swords were also accompanied with different short swords that were easier to use in close combat, helping the samurai in tighter locales.
As the years went by, the weapons started to change slowly from being used in the military or wars, and moved more to an art form that became regularly appreciated by those in the West, including General Douglas MacArthur during World War II. The swords began to be called gendaito and shinsakuto, which, as stated, means modern swords and newly made respectively. The shinsakuto weapons are oftentimes the ones people see in films or are hanging in someone’s home or apartment. These are predominately only for show as the blade is brittle and cannot withstand what previous samurai swords could handle. It is quite possible for people to purchase wonderfully crafted swords that are not brittle – you should always ask before making a purchase.
Most weapons are now only used as decoration in many countries and are in films or television shows like Kill Bill and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films and shows. The predominance of samurai swords in film has made many Westerners desire one to place on their walls for decoration. These are also used in many different cosplays for comic conventions, though those particular swords have to be made to the code set forth by the different Comic Con locations. San Diego Comic Con has very strict regulations on “weapons” and any cosplayer using a samurai sword should make sure their replica meets all rules. In Japan, people can either purchase blunt or edged swords, which are all considered to be art and not weapons. These are all made by hand and have to have a certificate of authentication for the Japanese to own it legally.
Types Of Samurai Swords
One major misconception many Westerners have about samurai swords is that there is just one form of sword without realizing that there are multiple swords that are considered samurai. While there are several different types of edged weapons, this blog is going to focus on four specifically. These are:
- Katana: This is a term for the traditional samurai sword. This sword has a curve to the blade that is no shorter than 60 cm. While there is not a limit on how long the blade has to be, most are under 80 cm. This sword’s production originates in the Edo period between the 1600s and late 1800s.
- Wakizashi: This is a shorter blade that ranges from 30 to 60 cm and is a companion sword to the katana with wearers wearing the two at the same time. It is also worn separately as an individual blade when a samurai enters a palace or castle.
- Tanto: This means “big sword,” which is what many see in films. This sword is curved more in the middle and is longer and more curved than the traditional katana. These swords were worn with the edge facing down and suspended from the armor.
- Iaito: This is a modern sword that many students use for practice. It is blunt and used when someone is training in the martial art of iaido.
How To Use A Samurai Sword
When using any sword, you will need to know which art form you will participate in. This is important because different forms require a different use of the sword. The art forms are:
- Kenjutsu: This is training that revolves around the katana and others for combat usage.
- Iaiijutsu or Battojutsu: This is another form that many people use in combat, but is used when a samurai draws their sword immediately in battle. It can also incapacitate the enemy quickly, allowing for shorter fighting time.
- Kendo: This is the art surrounding Japanese fencing and usually involves armor like other forms of fencing along with the blade.
- Iaido or Battodo: This is the art that teaches you how to draw the sword correctly for best results.
Once you choose an art form, then it is time to know which sword you will use. In many practice scenarios, individuals will start with wooden practice swords, or bokken, which will not be as dangerous to the pupil. When training, you will learn the different types used in the art; these types are:
- Shinai: This is a bamboo stick used for training. Because it is a stick, it is the least dangerous option for beginners.
- Bokken: This is a practice sword made from wood; each will resemble either a katana or wakizashi. Those who use these practice swords will need to have prior training with a shinai before picking up a bokken as a bokken can be dangerous to those without training.
Respecting The Sword And Tradition
An important element in owning and using a samurai sword is respecting it and the tradition surrounding the sword. Many samurai sword enthusiasts cringe when they see the sword being used for anything other than its intended purpose. This can be something such as a letter opener or something else that disrespects the history and purpose. If you are looking to become a collector or wish to practice the art of samurai fighting, you will need to make sure you follow the proper customs.
Before purchasing a sword, you can find numerous books that discuss the respect that should be shown to these works of art, and you can also seek guidance from a sensei about proper etiquette. Some great ways to ensure one shows the weapon respect are:
- Regularly clean the weapon with approved cleaners. If an individual wants a more traditional approach, he or she can learn numerous ways to respectfully clean to sword in a traditional manner.
- Keep up regular maintenance on swords whether the swords are being used or are just displays. Swords that you use on a regular basis will face many different forms of damage, as has happened for centuries. You should always make sure you repair the weapon when necessary when you use it frequently. If you use a sharpened sword for competitions or lessons, you may run the risk of an improperly maintained weapon causing injury to you or your opponent.
- Never handle the samurai sword without the permission of the sword’s owner. Once given permission, it should be handled with the utmost care to avoid damage done to the blade or person.
- Many students of the sword also prefer to lift the sword with both hands, as this shows respect for the art and weapon together.
- Seeking a sensei will help you learn other forms of respect for the sword and what it is capable of. A sensei will also be able to teach you deeper histories surrounding the particular swords.
While not used in battle, a samurai sword is still a tool that everyone must be careful with and show respect. When you invest in a sword or become a student of the Japanese sword art form, you must always know that this blade deserves your respect. Samurai swords are gorgeous and have an amazing art form that has spanned the years. There are a number of swords to choose from, and it is a wise step for purchasers to learn what type they want in order to find the perfect one for them.