|Senpai Patrick Scofield (1st dan) trains with naginata against Sensei Bill Borea (2nd dan)|
|Katana showing guard (tsuba), handle (tsuka), charm |
(menuki) and the ‘handyman’s secret weapon (duct
tape) (photo by Kenrick Davis).
A general length classification scheme used for nihontō:
tantō (knife or dagger) = 1 shaku or less;
- wakizashi or kodachi (short swords known as shōtō) = 1 to 2 shaku;
- katana or tachi (long swords known as daitō) = more than 2 shaku;
- ōdachi (long swords) = more than 3 shaku.
The most common sword known to Westerners is katana (刀). The katana is a single edged sword, with a curve blade whose possession was restricted to the samurai lineage during Feudal Japan. It was thought that katana were the soul of samurai and was so important that the samurai actually gave names to their swords, as they were considered to be part of the living.
|Dr. Teule trains with
bokken at a Seiyo No Shorin-Ryu|
Clinic taught by Soke Hausel in Gillette, Wyoming.
The nodachi is often confused with ōdachi. However, nodachi refers to any type of long battlefield or field sword (daitō) as well as a tachi and is often misapplied to any over sized Japanese sword. It has the same appearance and design as a tachi, but was significantly longer. The sword is believed to have been used primarily for dueling.
(3) Katana (刀).
The katana (pronounced kah-ta-nah in Japanese and popularized as ka-tan-a in the West), was one of the traditional swords worn by samurai. It had a blade larger than 2 shaku with a more moderate curve than a similar blade known as tachi (see #4 below). The katana was worn on the left side of the samurai with the cutting edge (yaiba or ha) up. The blade included a circular to square guard (tsuba) separating it from a long grip handle or pommel (tuska) made for two hands. The blade of the katana along with the portion of the blade known as the nakago that extends into the handle was all one continuous piece known as the tang. Those katana made for combat (shinken) and training (iaitō) have full tang. This simply means that the nakago and ken (blade) are made of one, uninterrupted, piece of steel. Many cheap practice (iaitō) unfortunately have two separate pieces - a blade and handle. This results in loosening of the blade with prolong use until the handle starts to separate from the blade. Thus, when searching for an iaitō it is best to pay a few extra bucks and purchase one with a full tang. If you decide to purchase one to train in any of our dojo, it must be an iaitō with dull edge. Shinken are way too dangerous for dojo use and in Arizona should be reserved for trimming cactus.
|Sensei Borea demonstrates naginata at
Seiyo Kai Hombu in
Arizona. Sensei is of |
true Japanese samurai lineage and is the Staff Samurai at our dojo in Mesa, Arizona.
(4) Tachi (太刀). The katana and tachi look very similar but can be distinguished by locating the mei (signature) on the sword’s nakago under the handle. When worn, the mei would be carved on that side of the tang that would face outward when placed in one’s obi. Because the tachi is worn with the cutting edge down opposite of the katana, the mei will be on the opposite side of the tang for this sword. The tachi was often considered as a spare blade used in battle.
There were tachi with variations from the classical weapon that included a larger tachi (see #1 above) known as ōtachi (ōdachi) and a shorter sword known as kōtachi (kōdachi). The kōdachi was similar in length to wakizashi (see #5 below).
The wakizashi, also referred to as wakizashi no kataka, translates as ‘sword inserted at one’s side’. The wakizashi typically had a blade of 1 to 2 shaku. Those closer to the length of a katana, were referred to as ō-wakazashi, while a shorter blade wakizashi was closer to the length of a tanto and known as ko-wakizashi. The wakizashi was worn with a katana only by samurai. Together, the pair were referred to as daisho which translates as ‘dai’ (big) and ‘sho’ (little), terms some of us are already familiar with because some of our advanced karate kata use these terms, such as Passai Dai and Passai Sho.
|Rich and Ryan perform a traditional kata using |
katana & naginata at the Mesa Dojo
The wakizashi was a back-up sword, also used for close quarters fighting and for seppuku (ritual suicide). The size of wakizashi was not regulated until the Edo Period when in 1638 AD, only samurai were allowed to wear katana of a regulated length. At this time wakizashi were also regulated. Samurai were allowed to wear both swords while those of the chonin class (merchants) were only allowed to wear a shorter ko-wakizashi to protect themselves from bandits. It was customary for samurai to leave katana at a door of a castle, but they always carried wakizashi. The wakizashi was the samurai’s honor blade and would never leave his/hers side, so much so, that it is reported samurai even slept with them under their pillows.
(8) Kusanagi no Tsurugi
This was a double-edged sword used in the 5th century in Japan and similar to the ken tanto (double-edged knife).
(9) Shirasaya (白鞘)
Shirasaya translates as ‘white scabbard’. This was a sword that had a plain wooded blade mount consisting of a saya (scabbard) with a tsuka (hilt) and traditionally used for storage when a sword blade was not needed for some time. In this form, it was not used on a battlefield.
Kenjutsu (sword techniques) is the martial art combat sword training. Similar to kenjutsu is kendo (way of the sword). Both tend focus on techniques of the sword after it has been drawn from the saya (scabbard). Kendo-ka practice with bamboo swords known as shinai, while wearing padded clothing known as bōgu and head gear known as men. Most kenjutsu use sword.
Iaijutsu (iaidō 居合道) and Battōjutsu (抜刀術)
|Modern tameshigiri (sword testing) during Halloween |
(photo by Sharon Hausel).
Sword testing, known as tameshigiri was designed to test the blade’s sharpness and the practitioner’s abilities to cut a variety of materials. Today, we often see cuts on matting or straw on a vertical pole. In the past, it was not uncommon for some Japanese to test on cadavers of executed criminals. Few iaidō schools practice tameshigiri.
Samurai arts are also part of Seiyo Shorin-Ryu Karate and Kobudo. In addition to iaido, our members train in jujutsu, hojojutsu, hanbojutsu, naginatajutsu and yarijutsu.
Some Books On Nihonto
Yumoto, J, M., 1958, The Samurai Sword – A Handbook: Charles E. Tuttle Co, Tokyo, Japan, 191 p
Warner, G. and Draeger, D.F., 1982, Japanese Swordsmanship – Technique and Practice: Weatherhill, Boston, 296 p