Katana

Katana of the 16th or 17th Century, with its saya. Handle (tsuka) of a katana of the 19th century given to an ambassador.

The katana (刀) is the Japanese backsword or longsword (大刀 daitō) of the type specifically in use after the 1400s (following the use of the tachi), although many Japanese use this word generically as a catch-all word for sword. Katana (pronounced [ka-ta-na]) is the kun'yomi (Japanese reading) of the kanji 刀 ; the on'yomi (Chinese reading) is tō. In Mandarin, it is pronounced dāo (this does not specifically refer to the katana. It is literally translated as 'knife,' and pronounced 'dao'). While the word has no separate plural form in Japanese, it has been adopted as a loan word by the English language, where it is commonly pluralised as katanas.

It refers to a specific type of curved, single-edged sword traditionally used by the Japanese samurai. The weapon was typically paired with the wakizashi, a similarly made but shorter sword both worn by the members of the buke (bushi) warrior class, it could also be worn with the tanto, an even smaller similarly shaped blade. The two weapons together were called the daisho, and represented the social power and personal honor of the samurai (buke retainers to the daimyo). The long blade was used for open combat, while the shorter blade was considered a side arm, and also more suited for stabbing, close combat (such as indoors), and seppuku, a form of ritual suicide. (In fact, seppuku was a right reserved for samurai in order to preserve their honor by taking their own life should the need arise.) The scabbard for a katana is referred to as a saya, and the handguard piece, often intricately designed as individual works of art especially in later years of the Edo period, was called the tsuba. Other aspects of the koshirae (mountings), such as the menuki (decorative grip swells), habaki (blade collar and scabbard wedge), fuchi and kashira (handle collar and cap), kozuka (small utility knife handle), kogai (decorative skewer-like implement), saya lacquer, and tsukamaki (professional handle wrap), received similar levels of artistry.

It is primarily used for cutting, although its curvature is generally gentle enough to allow for effective thrusting as well. Though it is intended for and was predominantly used with a two-handed grip, many extant historical Japanese sword arts include at least one or two single-handed techniques. It is traditionally worn edge up. While the practical arts for using the sword for its original purpose are now somewhat obsolete, kenjutsu and iaijutsu have turned into gendai budo — modern martial arts for a modern time. The art of drawing the katana and attacking one's enemies is iaido (also known as battōjutsu/battodo), and kendo is an art of fencing with a shinai (bamboo sword) protected by helmet and armour. Old koryu sword schools do still exist (for example, Kashima Shinto-ryu, Kashima Shin-ryu, and Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu, among others). Perhaps one of the more famous types of Japanese fencing was "Nitto Ryu" or the use of both the katana and wakizashi in tandem; a technique most famously used by Miyamoto Musashi, though the extensive popularization of this technique in anime, literature, and pop culture has strongly skewed modern perspective on its importance and prevalence.

The sword in Japanese society

The sword was considered the soul of the samurai. Although other weapons waxed and waned in popularity throughout history, the sword remained a constant. Although spears have survived since as far back as the 8th century AD, it was not until the large scale wars of the Onin period towards the end of the fifteenth century that the straight bladed spear, the yari, vied with the sword for the most popular weapon. The Japanese pinned an extraordinary amount of value on the sword. For much of Japan's history, only samurai were even allowed to carry swords, and a peasant carrying a sword was enough reason to kill the peasant and take the sword after a prohibition was issued in early Edo period. Ronin, needing money, would sometimes be forced to sell their swords, further adding to their highly dishonorable, sometimes vagabond status in Japanese society. They would be "soulless" in the eyes of a samurai.

Much of early Japanese culture revolved around swords. Elaborate methods for carrying, cleaning, storing, sharpening (or not sharpening), and wielding the sword evolved from era to era.

For example, a samurai entering someone's house might consider how to place his sheathed sword as he knelt. Positioning his sword for an easy draw implied suspicion or aggression; thus, whether he placed it on his right or left side, and whether the blade was placed curving away or towards him, was an important point of etiquette. As for the host, his long-sword was generally stored above the wakizashi on a rack called a katana-kake, curving upwards; in the manner it was worn, with the omote side showing (tsuka or handle ponting left). The Tachi on the other hand, had a stand, the tsuka was set in a groove at the base and the saya pointed upwards set in a notch at the top with the cutting edge down, again in the manner it was worn.

However, most samurai did not use their sword as a primary weapon; bow first, a spear next, and only then the sword. Drawing the sword was like letting one's soul blaze free and usually meant that the samurai was down to the last straw. To have fought till nothing but a surrender is possible, is defined as Ken ore, ya mo tsuki, (lit. "with swords broken and without an arrow") used as a proverb.


There is also another interesting fact about the Japanese sword. The back is thick and front end is razor sharp. The front end is made up of almost 3000 layers of metal forged precisely to give shape to blade. This gives the sword its cutting edge and the strength. The back end is soft, and so the sword is not brittle but flexible, while the front end is sharp and hard.

History of the Japanese sword

A display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London showing the katana and its various furniture.

Swords are critical in most feudal societies, and Japan was no exception. In the 6th century BCE the legendary Emperor Jimmu conquered much of Japan. At the same time, the Japanese learned the art of swordmaking from Chinese smiths. Early swords were in the style of Chinese swords, straight and single or double-edged.

One of the oldest known forms of kenjutsu dates the Kofun era (3rd and 4th centuries). The style, called Kashima no Tachi (鹿島の太刀), was created at the Kashima Shrine (in Ibaraki Prefecture). In the Heian Period (8th to 11th centuries) we see the development of sword-making, through techniques brought from the Russia and North part of Japan Hokkaido in those days Ainu's territory. The Ainu people used Warabite-tou(蕨手刀) Warabite sword and this sword influenced the Katana. According to legend, the Japanese sword was invented by a smith named 'Amakuni' in AD 700, along with the folded steel process. Among other modifications, the katana becomes single-edged, and better suited for slashing. This is also reflected in the styles of kenjutsu created during this period. From the Kashima shrine's Kashima no Tachi sprang the Kantō-nanaryū (関東七流 - also known as the Kashima-nanaryū 鹿島七流). In the same period, the Kyō-hachiryū (京八流) was created in the Kurama mountain (in Kyoto).

By the twelfth century, civil war erupted after a long period of decadence. For five centuries, Japan had its own dark ages, marked by continuous, brutal wars. The War of Onin (1467-1477) revolutionized Japanese armour.

During the Muromachi period, bloody wars were the norm, but the indolent shogunates also put a high value on art and culture, so the islands did not descend into barbarism. While many good swords were made during this period, the vast need for swords caused smiths to switch to production line methods. Furthermore, the ferocity of the fighting caused the highly artistic techniques of the Kamakura period (known as the Golden Age of Swordmaking) to be abandoned in favor of more utilitarian and disposable weapons. The export of katana reached its height during Muromachi period with the total of at least 200,000 katana being shipped to the Ming dynasty in official trades. The (ultimately failed) rationale behind this was to attempt to soak up the production of Japanese weapons and make it harder for pirates in the area to arm. As time progressed, the craft decayed under the needs listed above, and the introduction of guns, as a decisive force on the battlefield.

The famous failed invasion of Japan by the Mongols marked another point of evolution for the Japanese sword. Kokan Nagayama, in the book "The Connoiseur's Book of Japanese Swords", Kodansha International 1997, states on page 21 that the "Japanese warriors had never before encountered such an enemy (the Mongols), who was protected by leather armor and wielded a very stout sword -- clearly superior to theirs -- in a unique style of fighting." He added that certain Japanese swordsmiths started to adopt thinner and simpler temper lines due to their belief that " blades with wide temper lines reaching near to the ridge line look gorgeous, but tend to break." Unfortunately, Mr Nagayama did not quote the Japanese historical references that he derived his comments on the superiority of the Mongol (ie continental Chinese, Korean and other makes) sword over the Japanese sword. Other Japanese scholars had also highlighted that certain Japanese swordsmiths of this period, began to make blades with thicker backs and bigger points, as a counter-response to the Mongol threat.

In times of peace, swordsmiths had time and the inclination to return to the making of refined and artistic blades, and the beginning of the Momoyama period saw the return of high quality creations. As the techniques of the ancient smiths had been lost during the previous period of war, these swords were called shinto, literally 'new swords.' This gave the obvious name to the older blades as koto, 'old swords.' The blades that predated the curved blades introduced around 987AD were referred to as 'jokoto' or ancient swords. As the Edo period progressed, there came a decline in quality once again, for a variety of reasons, including the evolution of the samurai class into bureaucrats and policemen; other related arts did move forward from time to time, leading to beautiful engravings and decorations for weapons. The addition of these engravings known as 'horimono' were originally for religious reasons, and were simple and tasteful. It is often considered that the more complex work found on many shinto swords then is a corruption, where form no longer strictly follows function and thereby no longer achieves a pure form of beauty.

Under the isolationist Tokugawa Shogunate, guns and gunpowder were increasingly restricted and removed from circulation. By the middle of the eighteenth century, most young Japanese had never seen a gun, let alone actually seen one fired.

Towards the end of this period, swordmaking had fallen to another low, and due to the efforts of the master swordsmith Munetsugu at the turn of the 19th century, artistic merit once again returned to the craft. Munetsugu published opinions that the arts and techniques of the shinto swords were inferior to the koto blades, and that research should be made by all swordsmiths in the land to rediscover the lost techniques. Munetsugu travelled the land teaching what he knew to all who would listen, and swordsmiths rallied to his cause and ushered in a second renaissance in Japanese sword smithing. With the discarding of the Shinto style, and the re-introduction of old and rediscovered techniques, the swords of this time were now called 'shinshinto' meaning 'new-new swords.'

Japan remained in stasis until Matthew Perry's arrival in 1853 and the subsequent Convention of Kanagawa forcibly reintroduced Japan to the outside world; the rapid modernization of the Meiji Restoration soon followed.

The Haitorei edict in 1876 all but banned carrying swords and guns on streets, making samurai less distinguishable from commoners. Possession itself was not prohibited, so many katana were simply stashed away. Overnight, the market for swords died, and many swordsmiths were left without a trade to pursue, and valuable skills were lost. In time, the need to arm soldiers with swords was perceived again and over the decades at the beginning of the 20th century swordsmiths again found work. These swords, known as 'gunto', are often very low in quality with many being oil tempered or simply stamped out of steel and given a serial number rather than a chiselled signature.

Katana remained in use in some occupations, police sometimes using katana not only to catch criminals but to defend themselves from criminals who could be armed with katana as well. At the same time, Kendo was incorporated into police training so that police officers would have at least the minimal training necessary to properly use one.

"Type 95" Non Commissioned Officer's sword of the Second World War; made to resemble a Commissioned Officer's shin gunto, they were made of standard machine steel, with a metal, embossed and painted handle designed to look like a traditional tsuka.

Though this was a dark time for the katana, the craft was kept alive through the efforts of a few individuals, and notably the Gassan line of smiths who were employed as Imperial Artisans. These smiths, Gassan Sadakazu and Gassan Sadakatsu were kept busy producing fine works that stand with the best of the older blades for the Emperor and other high ranking officials. The students of Gassan Sadakatsu went on to be designated Intangible Cultural Assets, or more commonly known as Living National Treasures, as they embodied knowledge that was considered to be fundamentally important to the Japanese identity. In 1934 the Japanese government issued a military specification for the shin gunto "new army sword" the first version of which was referred to as a "Type 94 katana", and many machine- and handcrafted swords used in World War II conformed to this and later shin gunto specifications.

Under the United States occupation at the end of World War II all armed forces were disbanded and, except under several permits issued by police and municipal government, production of katana with edges was banned. This ban would be later overturned through the personal appeal of Dr. Homma Junji to General Douglas MacArthur. During their meeting, Dr. Homma produced blades from the various periods of Japanese history and General MacArthur was a quick student, being able to identify very quickly what blades held artistic merit and which could be considered purely weapons. As a result of this meeting, the general ban was amended so that the weapon grade gunto would be destroyed and swords of artistic merit could be owned and preserved. Even so, many katana were sold to American soldiers who had money to spend at a bargain price. Some were simply stolen. Others remained stashed away.

Due to this disarmament, as of 1958 there were more Japanese swords in America than in Japan: American soldiers would return from the Orient with piles of swords, often as many as they could carry. The vast majority of these 1,000,000 or more swords were gunto, but there were still a sizable number of koto, shinto and shin-shinto.

Swordsmiths had been increasingly turning to producing civilian goods after the Edo period but this disarmament and subsequent regulations almost put an end to the production of katana. A few smiths did continue their trade, and Dr. Homma went on to be a founding figure of the Nihon Bijitsu Hozon Token Kai, the 'Society for the Preservation of Art Swords', who made it their mission to preserve the old techniques and blades. With the efforts of other like minded individuals, the katana has arisen from its darkest day and many swordsmiths have continued the work begun by Munetsugu, re-discovering the old techniques and making the art swords produced by today's best smiths as good as many of the blades of old.

Some katana have been used in modern-day armed robberies. [1] However it is likely that most of these katana are sword like objects, as a basic, properly constructed katana is comparative in price to an inexpensive handgun.

Classification of Japanese swords

Several katana and wakizashi blades, illustrating the variations in length and curvature. The nakago are well visible.

Classification by length

All Japanese swords are manufactured according to this method and are somewhat similar in appearance. What generally differentiates the different swords is their length. Japanese swords are measured in units of shaku (1 shaku = approximately 30.3 centimeters or 11.93 inches; from 1891 the shaku has been defined as exactly 10/33 metres, but older data may vary slightly from this value). For more precise measurement, "sun", "bu", and "rin" (one-tenth, one-hundredth, and one-thousandth of a shaku respectively) may be used.

  • A blade shorter than 1 shaku (30 cm) is considered a tanto (knife).
  • A blade longer than 1 shaku but less than 2 (30–61 cm) is considered a shoto (short sword) and included the wakizashi and kodachi.
  • A blade longer than 2 shaku (61 cm) is considered a daito, or long sword. This is the category 'katana' fall into. However, the term 'katana' is often misapplied: a sword is only a katana if it is worn blade-up through a belt-sash called an obi (these 'katana' averaged 65 cm in blade length). If it is suspended by cords from a belt, it is called 'tachi' (average blade length of 75 cm) the tachi is worn cutting edge down.
  • Abnormally long blades (longer than 3 shaku or 90cm), usually carried across the back, are called ōdachi or nodachi. 'ōdachi' is also sometimes used as a synonym for katana.

A chisa-katana is simply a shorter katana. A katana was longer than two shaku in length (one shaku= about 11.93 inches). However, a chisa-katana is longer than the wakizashi, which was between one and two shaku in length. Chisa-katana were not common weapons since usually a katana was made for a shorter person or a wakizashi for a larger person. The most common reference to a chisakatana is a shorter katana that does not have a companion blade. They were most commonly made in the Buke-Zukuri mounting.

Classification by schools and provinces

Japanese swords can be traced back to one of several provinces, each of which had its own school, traditions and 'trademarks' - e.g., the swords from Mino province were "from the start famous for their sharpness". (Source: The connoisseur's guide to Japanese swords, by Kokan Nagayama, p. 217.) These traditions and provinces are as follows:

Classification by date of manufacture

Classification by mode of wear

Notes

  • Swords designed specifically to be tachi are generally koto rather than shinto, so they are generally better manufactured and more elaborately decorated. However, these are still katana if worn in modern 'buke-zukuri' style. The signature almost always appears on the side facing away from the body when the blade is worn, so it is possible to discern the smith's intention for the blade in this manner.
  • There are many varieties of wooden practice blades, including those made out of wood (bokken) and those made out of bamboo (often used for kendo practice, usually referred to as shinai).
  • Most of the various kinds of spears could come with blades made in the same style as the Japanese sword. The two main types are 'naginata', similar to a halberd in use, and a 'yari' which is more traditionally spear like. Although largely overlooked in Western literature, spears were the first resort of any samurai and most peasants, and the blades on the samurai spears were often of extremely high quality. However, despite this, the sword was still considered the soul of the samurai, not the spear.
  • The 'soul of the samurai' concept has its roots in the early Tokugawa Shogunate. While there has always been reverence for the sword, the official line of it being the 'soul' comes from a need of the Shogunate to provide high value gifts to retainers and noblemen. In older days, these gifts would be of land, but at the time of the Shogunate land was a scarce commodity. It is considered that this angle of the sword was played up by those in power in order to replace land in the role of a gift of great honor. It became traditional that Daimyo and the Shogun, and the members of their families, would exchange gifts of swords when meeting together or for special occasions such as weddings and births. As such, the art of 'kantei' (the ability to judge a sword for period, maker, and quality) became important, as this allowed specialists to appraise a blade and so place its value. Older swords by honored makers would then be reserved for very special gifts, in particular to the Shogun and his family or from the Shogun to show very special merit.

Manufacturing

Japanese swords and other edged weapons are manufactured by the Chinese method of repeatedly heating, folding and hammering the metal. This practice became popular from use of highly impure metals, stemming from the low temperature yielded in the smelting at that time and place. In order to counter this, and to homogenize the carbon content of the blades (giving some blades characteristic folding patterns), the folding was developed (for comparison see pattern welding), and found to be quite effective, though labour intensive.

The distinctive curvature of the katana is partly due to a process of differential quenching. The back of the sword is coated with clay, insulating it and so causing it to cool slower than the edge when the blade is quenched. This produces a blade with a hard edge and soft back, allowing it to be resilient and yet retain a good cutting edge.

This process also makes the edge of the blade contract less than the back when cooling down, something that aids the smith in establishing the curvature of the blade.

While some people believe that katana and wakizashi were constructed alike, this was not always the case. They were often forged with different profiles, different blade thicknesses, and varying amounts of niku. Wakizashi were also not simply a 'scaled down' katana, they were often forged in hira-zukuri or other such forms, which were very rare on katana.

On a related note, the daisho (pair of swords) was not always forged together. If a samurai was able to afford a daisho, it was often composed of whichever two swords could be conveniently acquired, sometimes by different smiths and in different styles. Even when a daisho contained a pair of blades by the same smith, they were not always forged as a pair or mounted as one. "True" daisho, containing a pair of blades that were made as a pair, mounted as a pair, and owned/worn as a pair, are therefore uncommon and considered highly valuable - especially if they still retain their original mountings (as opposed to later mountings, even if the later mounts are made as a pair).

Japanese swords are fairly uncommon today, but not so rare that genuine antiques cannot be acquired - from reliable sources at significant expense, of course. Modern katana and wakizashi are only made by the few licenced practitioners that still practice making these crafted weapons today. Most of the "type 98 katana's" from World War II do not exist today, as well as the older versions.

Manufacturing processes are described in greater detail in following subsections.

Composition

Traditional Japanese steel is popularly considered to be one of the best for creating swords, but the true reasons for this are artistic and not functional - contemporary western steels were and most modern steels are actually superior in strength and purity. The total composition varied from smith to smith and lode to lode of ore.

One more modern formula (from World War II):

The high percentage of carbon gave the blade strength while the silicon increased the flexibility of the blade as well as its ability to withstand stress.

Construction

Blacksmith Munechika (end of the 10th century), helped by a fox spirit, forging the blade ko-kitsune-maru ("Little fox"). The kami is represented by a woman surrounded by foxes. Engraving by Ogata Gekko (1859-1920), 1873. Engraving of the Edo era depicting forge scenes.


The forging of a Japanese blade typically took hours or days, and was considered a sacred art. As with many complex endeavors, rather than a single craftsman, several artists were involved. There was a smith to forge the rough shape, often a second smith (apprentice) to fold the metal, a specialist polisher, and even a specialist for the edge itself. Often, there were sheath, hilt, and tsuba (handguard) specialists as well.

The most famous part of the manufacturing process was the folding of the steel. Steel was repeatedly 'folded', bent over itself and hammered flat. This did several things:

  • It eliminated any bubbles in the metal.
  • It homogenized the metal, spreading the elements (such as carbon) evenly throughout - increasing the effective strength by decreasing the number of potential weak points.
  • It created layers, by continuously decarburizing the surface and bringing the surface into the blade's interior, which gives the swords their unique and beautiful grain. Despite widespread popular belief that the layered structure provides enhanced mechanical properties of the steel, this is completely false. Layers act as weld points which can only serve to weaken the integrity of the blade. (Bulat steel layering is an entirely different chemical effect, and does not apply to blades made in the Japanese fashion.)
  • It burned off many impurities, again helping to overcome the Japanese steel's poor quality and purify/strengthen the sword.

Contrary to popular belief, continued folding will not create a "super-strong" blade; once impurities are burnt off and the carbon content homogenized, further folding offers little benefit and will gradually burn out the carbon, leading eventually to a softer steel less able to hold an edge. The number of folds varied from sword to sword, but those with more than about a dozen folds are uncommon, and authentic swords with more than two dozen folds are completely unknown. It should be noted that a blade folded 12 times will have more than 4,000 'layers' underneath the initial blade to begin with, and that 20 folds would produce a blade with over a million layers. Beyond this number, the molecular structure of the blade is such that further folding would most likely serve no further purpose. Even before this point, more layers does not equal a better sword; though folding does burn off impurities and homogenize the blade, a very even and clean composition is obtained early in the process, and control of carbon content has a much greater effect on the blade's functionality. Thus, the best results were usually obtained at 8-10 folds.

Generally, swords were created with the grain of the blade (called 'hada') running down the blade like the grain on a plank of wood. Straight grains were called 'masame-hada', wood-like grain "itame," wood-burl grain "mokume," and concentric wavy grain (an uncommon feature seen almost esclusively in the Gassan school) 'ayasugi-hada'. The difference between the three normal grain types (masame-, itame-, and mokume-hada) is one of cutting a tree perpendicular to its direction of growth (mokume) at an angle (itame) or along the grain (masame), the angle causing the "stretched" pattern. The blades that were considered the most robust, reliable, and of highest quality were those made in the Mino tradition, esepically those of Magoroku Kanemoto. Bizen tradition, which specialized in mokume, and some schools of Yamato tradition were also considered strong warrior's weapons.

One of the core philosophies of the Japanese sword is that it has a single edge. This means that the rear of the sword can be used to reinforce the edge, and the Japanese took full advantage of this fact. When finished, the steel is not quenched or tempered in the conventional European fashion. Steel’s exact flex and strength vary dramatically with heat variation, and depending on how hot it gets and how fast it cools, the steel has vastly different properties. If steel cools quickly, from a hot temperature, it becomes martensite, which is very hard but brittle. Slower, from a lower temperature, and it becomes pearlite, which has significantly more flex but doesn’t hold an edge. To control the cooling, the sword is heated and painted with layers of sticky clay. A thin layer on the edge of the sword ensures quick cooling, but not so fast as to crack the sword steel (this makes the actual edge of the sword extremely hard martensite). A thicker layer of mud on the rest of the blade causes slower cooling, and softer steel, giving the blade the flex it needs (this makes the rear and inside of the sword into pearlite). When the application is finished, the sword is quenched and hardens correctly.

Eventually the Japanese began to experiment with using different types of steel in different parts of the sword. Examples are shown below:

The vast majority of 'good' katana and wakazashi are of 'wariba-gitae' type, but the more complex models allow for parrying without fear of damaging the side of the blade. The last generally accepted model, the 'shiho-zume-gitae', is quite rare, but added a rear support.

The 'makuri-gitae' is made using two steels, one folded more times than the other, or of a lesser carbon content. When both sections have been folded adequately, they are bent into a 'U' shape and the softer piece is inserted into the harder piece, at which point they are hammered out into a long blade shape. By the end of the process, the two pieces of steel are fused together, but retain their differences in hardness. To make han-sanmai-awase-gitae or shiho-zume-gitae, pieces of hard steel are then added to the outside of the blade in a similar fashion.

Anatomy of the katana

Nakago of a wakisashi blade Kissagi of a tachi blade, Bizen school, signed Kuni Osafune Yoshigake; Nambokusho era (14th century). The tanka which locks the blade is visible just under the tsuba (guard).

Each blade has a unique profile, depending on the smith, the construction method, and a bit of luck. The most prominent is the middle ridge, or 'shinogi'. In the earlier picture, the examples were flat to the shinogi, then tapering to the blade. However, swords could narrow down to the shinogi, then narrow further to the blade, or even expand outward towards the shinogi then shrink to the blade (producing a trapezoidal shape). A flat or narrowing shinogi is called 'shinogi-hikushi', whereas a 'fat' blade is called a 'shinogi-takushi'.

The shinogi can be placed near the back of the blade for a longer, sharper, more fragile tip or a more moderate shinogi near the center of the blade.

The sword also has an exact tip shape, which is considered an extremely important characteristic: the tip can be long (ô-kissaki), medium (chû-kissaki), short (ko-kissaki), or even hooked backwards (ikuri-ô-kissaki). In addition, whether the front edge of the tip is more curved (fukura-tsuku) or (relatively) straight (fukura-kareru) is also important.

It is important to point out that the kissaki (point) is not a "chisel-like" point, nor is the Western knife interpretation of a "tanto point" at all correct or Japanese. Such western knife blades feature a straight, linearly-sloped point whose sole advantage is being easy to grind and which only bears a superficial similarity to traditional Japanese kissaki. Kissaki are have a curved profile, and smooth three-dimensional curvature across their surface towards the edge - though they are bounded by a straight line called the yokote and have crisp definition at all their edges.

A hole is drilled into the tang (nagako), called a mekugi-ana. It is used to anchor the blade using a mekugi, a small bamboo pin that is inserted into another cavity in the Tsuka and through the mekugi-ana. Thus restricting the blade from slipping out. To remove the Tsuka you must remove the mekugi. Also, The swordsmith signature (mei) is placed on the nagako.

Decoration

Almost all blades are decorated, although not all blades are decorated on the visible part of the blade. Once the blade is cool, and the mud is scraped off, the blade has designs and grooves cut into it. One of the most important markings on the sword is performed here: the file markings. These are cut into the tang, or the hilt-section of the blade, where they will be covered by a hilt later. The tang is never supposed to be cleaned: doing this can cut the value of the sword in half or more. The purpose is to show how well the blade steel ages. A number of different types of file markings are used, including horizontal, slanted, and checked, known as ichi-monji, kosuji-chigai, suji-chigai, o-suji-chigai, katte-agari, shinogi-kiri-suji-chigai, taka-no-ha, and gyaku-taka-no-ha. A grid of marks, from raking the file diagonally both ways across the tang, is called higaki, whereas specialized 'full dress' file marks are called kesho-yasuri. Lastly, if the blade is very old, it may have been shaved instead of filed. This is called sensuki. While ornamental, these file marks also serve the purpose of providing an uneven surface which bites well into the 'tsuka', or the hilt which fits over it and is made from wood. It is this pressure fit for the most part that holds the tsuka in place during the strike, while the mekugi pin serves as a secondary method and a safety.

Some other marks on the blade are aesthetic: signatures and dedications written in kanji and engravings depicting gods, dragons, or other 'acceptable' beings, called horimono. Some are more practical, grooves for lightening and extra flex (as well as an intimidating sound, called tachikaze, when swung with force). Grooves come in wide (bo-hi), twin narrow (futasuji-hi), twin wide and narrow (bo-hi ni tsure-hi), short (koshi-hi), twin short (gomabushi), twin long with joined tips (shobu-hi), twin long with irregular breaks (kuichigai-hi), and halberd-style (naginata-hi). Contrary to popular belief, these grooves have nothing to do with improving the flow of enemy blood.

Polishing

katana kissagi before polishing

When the rough blade was completed, the swordsmith would turn the blade over to a polisher called a togishi, whose job it was to polish the steel of the blade to a glittering shine and sharpen the edge for battle. This takes hours for every inch of blade, and is painstaking work with different kinds of very fine stone. Early polishers used three types of stone, whereas a modern polisher generally uses seven. It almost always takes longer than actually crafting the blade does, and a good polishing makes a blade look better, while a bad polishing makes the best of blades look like gunto. More importantly, an unschooled polish can permanently ruin the blade geometry or wear the steel down to its core steel, both of which effectively destroy the sword's monetary, historic, artistic, and functional value.

One of the ways which blades can be judged is by what this polishing reveals: the crystal-like qualities of the blade become quite visible, and the hamon (incorrectly known in English as the temper line, where the sharp edge fades into the normal steel of the blade) shows the unique nature of the sword. Each blade is distinct in its hamon and the grain (hada) of its steel. The hamon, which is determined primarily by how the clay is applied, is often used as a kind of signature of the smith, above and beyond his own signature, and each tradition of swordsmiths often has a particular style of hamon it prefers over all others. Hamon vary from straight to wavy to shaped like crabs or zigzags, and in their wandering they reveal important facts about the blade itself. A good polishing reveals what speed the edge was cooled at, from what temperature, and what the carbon content of the steel is. This is because it displays either nioi, which is a mix of extremely fine martensite with troostite (another type of tempered steel), or the more crystalline and obvious nie, which contains a lot of less fine martensite.

Furnishings

An Edo era wakizashi. The tsukamaki (handle lacing) is off, showing the shark skin. Note the decoration of the saya. Elaborated tsuba of the Edo era wooden scabbard used to protect the blade when not worn for some time

From here, the blade is passed on to a hilt-maker. Hilts vary in their exact nature depending on the era, but generally consist of the same general idea, with the variation being in the components used and in the wrapping style. The obvious part of the hilt consists of a metal or wooden grip called a tsuka, which can also be used to refer to the entire hilt. The cross guard, or tsuba, on Japanese swords (except for certain twentieth century sabers which emulate Western navies') is small and round, made of metal, and often very ornate. (see related article on Koshirae)

There is a pommel at the base known as a kashira, and there is often a decoration under the criss-crossed wrappings called a menuki. A bamboo peg called a mekugi is slipped through the tsuka and through the tang of the blade, using the hole called a mekugiana drilled in it. This anchors the blade securely into the hilt. To anchor the blade securely into the sheath it will soon have, the blade acquires a collar, or habaki, which extends an inch or so past the cross guard and keeps the blade from rattling.

The sheaths themselves are not an easy task. There are two types of sheaths, both of which require the same exacting work. One is the shira-saya, which is generally made of wood and considered the 'resting' sheath, used as a storage sheath. The other sheath is the more decorative or battle-worthy sheath which is usually called either a jindachi-zukuri or a buke-zukuri, depending on whether it was supposed to be suspended from the obi(belt) by straps when the sword is mounted in Tachi-Koshirae or thrust through the obi if mounted as katana-koshirae, respectively. Other types of mounting include the kyu-gunto, shin-gunto, and kai-gunto types for the twentieth-century military, but these swords were generally mass-produced and highly inferior, and few true Japanese swords are mounted in these styles.

Technique

The katana is primarily a cutting weapon, rather than a stabbing one. The hilt of the katana is held two-handed with a small gap between the hands, generally as large as the grip permits, allowing for more leverage to be applied when cutting and more maneuverability when parrying another weapon. However, it is often used single-handed as well. Testing of swords, called tameshigiri, was practiced on a variety of materials (including people) to test the sword's sharpness and also practice cutting technique. Considering the broader case of Japanese swords, rather than the specific case of the shinto katana, technique varies over time depending on the style of fighting prevalent in military operations of the time.

In certain eras, the sword becomes longer and is intended for use from horseback. At the same time, footmen may accompany a horseman and be armed with shorter katate-uchi at their side. This is a katana with a shortened length and handle, intended for one-handed fighting only.

As armor and enemies changed over time, the shapes of blades changed from heavier profiles to lighter profiles, with different intentions for use in fighting.

The sword was mostly considered as the weapon of last resort on the battlefield though, being used only after the bow, or spear was no longer feasible. However, during the Edo period Samurai went about unarmored and armed with daisho, in which case it would be the first weapon to be used

In popular culture

Myths

Many myths surround Japanese swords, the most frequent being that the blades are folded an immense number of times, gaining magical properties in the meantime.

While blades folded hundreds, thousands, or even millions of times are encountered in fiction, there is no record of real blades being folded more than around 20 times. With each fold made by the maker, every internal layer is also folded, and so the total number of layers in a sword blade is doubled at each fold; since the thickness of a katana blade is less than 230 iron atoms, going beyond 20 folds no longer adds meaningfully to the number of layers in the blade.

Furthermore, while heating and folding serves to even out the distribution of carbon throughout the blade, a small amount of carbon is also 'burnt out' of the steel in this process; repeated folding will eventually remove most of the carbon, turning the material into softer iron and reducing its ability to hold a sharp edge.

Some swords were reputed to reflect their creators' personalities. Those made by Muramasa had a reputation for violence and bloodshed, while those made by Masamune were considered weapons of peace. A popular legend tells of what happens when two swords made by Muramasa and Masamune were held in a stream carrying fallen leaves: while those leaves touching the Muramasa blade were cut in two, those coming towards the Masamune suddenly changed course and went around the blade without touching it.

Kusanagi (probably a tsurugi, a type of bronze Age sword which precedes the katana by centuries) is the most famous legendary sword in Japanese mythology, involved in several folk stories. Along with the Jewel and the Mirror, it was one of the three godly treasures of Japan.

A common misconception is that Katanas magically sprung into existence in Japan, utterly isolated from the mainland. The technique of folding steel came from China, and contact with the mainland would affect how the katana evolved through the centuries.

In fiction

The katana appears in various works of fiction, including film, anime, manga, other forms of literature, and computer games. It is frequently used not only in Japanese settings, but also in other settings, often by non-Japanese creators; this popularity can be attributed partly to its status as an easily recognisable icon of Japan and partly to its high reputation as a formidable weapon in skilled hands. Three well-known appearances in Western culture are the Bride's signature weapon in Kill Bill (which was strongly influenced by Japanese samurai movies) and the katana used by the main character Connor MacLeod in The Highlander and the 1975 Tom Laughlin action/cult Western film Master Gunfighter.

It is the prime weapon of choice for Japanese heroes in historical fiction set before the Meiji period. Carrying a non-sealed katana is illegal in present-day Japan, but in fiction this law is often ignored or circumvented to allow characters to carry katana as a matter of artistic licence. For instance, some stories state that carrying weapons has been permitted due to a serious increase in crimes or an invasion of monsters from other dimensions. With this law in mind, katana are sometimes used for comic relief in anime and manga set in the present, although this is sometimes replaced by the use of a bokken having surprisingly comparable capabilities.

In many works, especially when magical or supernatural powers are significant story elements, katana are more than a match for any other weapons. In some cases, writers make a new weapon based on ideas from katana, as a signature weapon of heroes and villains. The lightsaber is an example of such a weapon. Leonardo of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is also referred to as the Master of the Twin Katanas, though his swords are straight-edged and not true katana.

In Robert Jordan's fantasy series, The Wheel of Time, the lead character, Rand al'Thor, weilds a sword called "Callandor" which fits the description of a katana, albeit a magical one.

Comparisons with European swords

It is a commonly-encountered article of faith that katanas are intrinsically superior to European swords. This belief is frequently bolstered by roleplaying games that assign superior statistics to katanas, and also by many movies. However, these claims are largely based on misunderstandings about the manufacture and role of European swords, and comparing the schools on their worst examples instead of their best.

Because Japan was an iron-poor society, making a sword was an inherently expensive undertaking; the supply of swords was limited, and so it was in the smiths' interest to make the most of the materials they could afford. Europe also had superlative swordsmiths; Toledo steel swords from Spain are one example of legendary quality swords from outside Japan. However, the greater availability of iron made it practical to produce cheap, low-quality weapons in large quantities. Where Europeans had the choice between expensive good swords and cheap bad swords, Japanese had the choice between expensive swords, somewhat less expensive swords, or none at all.

Some European swords were also designed for different modes of combat. The katana's sharpness makes it an excellent cutting weapon. Katana are capable of damaging armor to a degree and even today Shinkendo masters perform the ancient helmet cutting ceremony. In this light, the different characteristics of certain European swords are due less to the limitations of their makers than to the requirements of their use. Attempting to establish the superiority of the one weapon over the other is ultimately meaningless without first defining the circumstances in which they are to be compared.

At the same time, many European sword types from the very beginning of the history of the sword, through the medieval period and the renaissance to the 20th century were designed for the same combat modes as Japanese ones, fighting against lightly-armored or unarmored infantry. Styles that relied on a single longsword for both offense and defense were well known - see e.g. Joachim Meyer's fechtbuch[2] - and disparities in weight have been greatly exaggerated; both longswords and katanas typically weighed between 1.0 and 1.5 kilograms (2-3 pounds).

Some famous katana smiths

  • Amakuni
  • Munechika
  • Rai Kunitoshi
  • Rai Kunimitsu
  • Soshu Masamune
  • Soshu Sadamune
  • Sengo Muramasa
  • Inoue Shinkai
  • Nagasone Kotetsu
  • Gassan Sadakazu
  • Yosozaemon Sukesada
  • Yamato Kaneuji
  • Bizen Saburo Kunimune
  • Etchu Norishige
  • Go Yoshihiro
  • Magoroku Kanemoto

Famous historic katana users

  • Ashikaga Yoshiteru
  • Tsukahara Bokuden
  • Iizasa Ienao
  • Miyamoto Musashi
  • Sasaki Kojiro
  • Okita Soji
  • Saito Hajime
  • Saigo Takamori

Fictional katana users

  • Ulrich Stern
  • Leonardo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Ran "Aya" Fujimiya from Weiß Kreuz

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Joachim Meyer's fechtbuch[2] - and disparities in weight have been greatly exaggerated; both longswords and katanas typically weighed between 1.0 and 1.5 kilograms (2-3 pounds). It's all in perfect working order", "The future of bonnie Scotland" or, "Shoes and socks". Styles that relied on a single longsword for both offense and defense were well known - see e.g. Good standard replies if asked are, "Nothing is worn under the kilt. At the same time, many European sword types from the very beginning of the history of the sword, through the medieval period and the renaissance to the 20th century were designed for the same combat modes as Japanese ones, fighting against lightly-armored or unarmored infantry. Thus, the reply to a question on the topic may hint at the answer, but rarely states it outright. Attempting to establish the superiority of the one weapon over the other is ultimately meaningless without first defining the circumstances in which they are to be compared. Whatever decision is made, what a gentleman wears under his kilt is traditionally his own business, and as a rule, polite men will be at pains to keep it so and to preserve the mystique.

In this light, the different characteristics of certain European swords are due less to the limitations of their makers than to the requirements of their use. In the end, whether or not underwear is worn on any particular occasion is up to the individual wearer. Katana are capable of damaging armor to a degree and even today Shinkendo masters perform the ancient helmet cutting ceremony. Both one of the oldest kilt makers and the oldest mail order company for Highland attire in Scotland provide underwear designed for the kilt, although most wearers who regularly go with underwear choose ordinary briefs or boxer shorts. The katana's sharpness makes it an excellent cutting weapon. In certain instances, underwear may be useful; it is often difficult for someone new and unused to wearing the kilt to remain decent while regimental, especially in a heavy breeze or while dancing. Some European swords were also designed for different modes of combat. In 1994, a Black Watch soldier received wide press exposure, because of windy conditions during a military ceremony in Hong Kong.

Where Europeans had the choice between expensive good swords and cheap bad swords, Japanese had the choice between expensive swords, somewhat less expensive swords, or none at all. (This is similar to the American military expression of going "commando".) In the 1950s, kilted soldiers on parade would be checked by the sergeant major using a mirror on the end of a stick. However, the greater availability of iron made it practical to produce cheap, low-quality weapons in large quantities. As a result, to go without underwear is often referred to as "going regimental" or "military practice". Europe also had superlative swordsmiths; Toledo steel swords from Spain are one example of legendary quality swords from outside Japan. The uniforms worn by members of several military regiments mandate "no underwear" with the kilt except at specified occasions, such as playing in the pipe band, where marking time can involve raising the knees, taking part in organised sports like Highland games, or attending functions where ladies are present. Because Japan was an iron-poor society, making a sword was an inherently expensive undertaking; the supply of swords was limited, and so it was in the smiths' interest to make the most of the materials they could afford. The majority of wearers have their own preference, and usually have no qualms with whatever anyone else wears (or doesn't wear) beneath their kilt.

However, these claims are largely based on misunderstandings about the manufacture and role of European swords, and comparing the schools on their worst examples instead of their best. Thompson1 claims that he never knew of a man who gave it a fair trial that ever went back to wearing underpants with the kilt, and suggests wearing a long-tailed shirt or undershirt to sit on. This belief is frequently bolstered by roleplaying games that assign superior statistics to katanas, and also by many movies. Then there are those who say that underwear should never be worn, and to do so goes against tradition. It is a commonly-encountered article of faith that katanas are intrinsically superior to European swords. Some believe that underwear should be worn at all times, and going without it is a form of self-indulgence or even exhibitionism. In Robert Jordan's fantasy series, The Wheel of Time, the lead character, Rand al'Thor, weilds a sword called "Callandor" which fits the description of a katana, albeit a magical one. The wearing of undergarments with the kilt is a matter of debate.

Leonardo of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is also referred to as the Master of the Twin Katanas, though his swords are straight-edged and not true katana. With some ensembles, a fly plaid is added in the form of a pleated cloth in the same tartan as the kilt, cast over the shoulder and fastened below the shoulder with a plaid brooch. The lightsaber is an example of such a weapon. When the kilt is worn as formal wear, a black "Prince Charlie" jacket is usually prescribed. In some cases, writers make a new weapon based on ideas from katana, as a signature weapon of heroes and villains. This is often in tweed. In many works, especially when magical or supernatural powers are significant story elements, katana are more than a match for any other weapons. The Argyll jacket, often in tweed, is sometimes worn with the kilt, for those occasions that would usually require a sports jacket or lounge suit.

With this law in mind, katana are sometimes used for comic relief in anime and manga set in the present, although this is sometimes replaced by the use of a bokken having surprisingly comparable capabilities. Shoes are usually leather brogues, sometimes with open lacing. For instance, some stories state that carrying weapons has been permitted due to a serious increase in crimes or an invasion of monsters from other dimensions. A small knife called a Sgian Dubh may be worn in the the top of one of the kilt hose as part of the standard clothing worn with a kilt. Carrying a non-sealed katana is illegal in present-day Japan, but in fiction this law is often ignored or circumvented to allow characters to carry katana as a matter of artistic licence. A decorative silver kilt pin adds weight to the loose bottom corner of the kilt. It is the prime weapon of choice for Japanese heroes in historical fiction set before the Meiji period. Originally this was a soft deer skin pouch, but with the development of military uniforms elaborate hard leather sporrans came into use, often with decorative silver tops and white hair facings with large tassels.

Three well-known appearances in Western culture are the Bride's signature weapon in Kill Bill (which was strongly influenced by Japanese samurai movies) and the katana used by the main character Connor MacLeod in The Highlander and the 1975 Tom Laughlin action/cult Western film Master Gunfighter. As a kilt has no pockets, it is worn with a pouch called a sporran. It is frequently used not only in Japanese settings, but also in other settings, often by non-Japanese creators; this popularity can be attributed partly to its status as an easily recognisable icon of Japan and partly to its high reputation as a formidable weapon in skilled hands. One of the major selling points of these garments is that one does not have to be of Scottish descent to enjoy the "freedom" and ventilation of wearing a kilt, or to offer comfort of an unbifurcated garment to men who are not aware of such a garment in their individual lineage's culture, which can include sarongs in the Pacific Islands, kimono in Japan, the thobe in Arabia, the lungi in southern Asia, and more recently, the männerrock (men's skirt) in Germany. The katana appears in various works of fiction, including film, anime, manga, other forms of literature, and computer games. Their products often include revisions of the traditional kilt design, often with pockets, symmetrical pleats, lower waistlines mirroring modern trouser waistlines, and a variety of fabrics and patterns. The technique of folding steel came from China, and contact with the mainland would affect how the katana evolved through the centuries. Around the turn of the last century, several companies—including Utilikilts, Twenty-First Century Kilts, and Pittsburgh Kilts—began producing garments that are often not tartan, and referring to their products as kilts.

A common misconception is that Katanas magically sprung into existence in Japan, utterly isolated from the mainland. The English county of Northumberland also possesses a tartan, and some Northumbrians, most notably Northumbrian pipers, wear kilts. Along with the Jewel and the Mirror, it was one of the three godly treasures of Japan. In these two Celtic regions the kilt is closely linked to the Celtic revival movements of the 19th and 20th century. Kusanagi (probably a tsurugi, a type of bronze Age sword which precedes the katana by centuries) is the most famous legendary sword in Japanese mythology, involved in several folk stories. Kilts have also made an appearance in Wales and Cornwall for special occasions. A popular legend tells of what happens when two swords made by Muramasa and Masamune were held in a stream carrying fallen leaves: while those leaves touching the Muramasa blade were cut in two, those coming towards the Masamune suddenly changed course and went around the blade without touching it. While these garments may be disliked by traditionalists, they provide evidence that the kilt still has a place in the modern fashion world and continues to evolve.

Those made by Muramasa had a reputation for violence and bloodshed, while those made by Masamune were considered weapons of peace. Solid colours have also been used in place of tartan (solid kilts were historically common in Ireland, especially saffron-coloured), as well as camoflage patterns. Some swords were reputed to reflect their creators' personalities. Since the 1980s, kilts have appeared in such materials as leather, denim, blends of polyester and viscose, and acrylic. Furthermore, while heating and folding serves to even out the distribution of carbon throughout the blade, a small amount of carbon is also 'burnt out' of the steel in this process; repeated folding will eventually remove most of the carbon, turning the material into softer iron and reducing its ability to hold a sharp edge. As with any other form of attire, the kilt is subject to the vagaries of fashion. With each fold made by the maker, every internal layer is also folded, and so the total number of layers in a sword blade is doubled at each fold; since the thickness of a katana blade is less than 230 iron atoms, going beyond 20 folds no longer adds meaningfully to the number of layers in the blade. Kilten skirts for girls are also worn.

While blades folded hundreds, thousands, or even millions of times are encountered in fiction, there is no record of real blades being folded more than around 20 times. The kilt is traditionally for men only, although in the modern era, women have also taken up the kilt as well as dresses patterned after kilts, and women pipers frequently wear kilts. Many myths surround Japanese swords, the most frequent being that the blades are folded an immense number of times, gaining magical properties in the meantime. Nowadays a lighter weight of cloth tends to be used. However, during the Edo period Samurai went about unarmored and armed with daisho, in which case it would be the first weapon to be used. The modern tailored kilt is box-pleated or knife-pleated, with the pleats sewn in and the lower edges reaching not lower than the centre of the knee-cap. The sword was mostly considered as the weapon of last resort on the battlefield though, being used only after the bow, or spear was no longer feasible. The small ornamental Sgian Dubh dagger may be omitted.

As armor and enemies changed over time, the shapes of blades changed from heavier profiles to lighter profiles, with different intentions for use in fighting. Or it can be a little more dressed up with woolen kilt hose, a button up shirt, sweater, and perhaps even a sport jacket. This is a katana with a shortened length and handle, intended for one-handed fighting only. Casual use of the kilt can be dressed down with black boots, white socks rolled down to the top of the boot, perhaps with a black tee shirt. At the same time, footmen may accompany a horseman and be armed with shorter katate-uchi at their side. It's not uncommon at all to see kilts making an appearance at Irish pubs, and it is becoming somewhat less rare to see them in the workplace. In certain eras, the sword becomes longer and is intended for use from horseback. Kilts have increasingly become more common around the world for casual wear.

Considering the broader case of Japanese swords, rather than the specific case of the shinto katana, technique varies over time depending on the style of fighting prevalent in military operations of the time. Although a white tie style exists, the more common style of formal Highland regalia is seen in Black tie. Testing of swords, called tameshigiri, was practiced on a variety of materials (including people) to test the sword's sharpness and also practice cutting technique. Kilts have become normal wear for formal occasions, for example being hired for weddings in much the same way as top hat and tails are in England or tuxedos in America, and the kilt is being worn by anyone regardless of nationality or descent. However, it is often used single-handed as well. In particular, the ferocious tactics of the Royal Highland Regiment led to their acquiring the nickname "Ladies from Hell" from the German troops that faced them in the trenches. The hilt of the katana is held two-handed with a small gap between the hands, generally as large as the grip permits, allowing for more leverage to be applied when cutting and more maneuverability when parrying another weapon. Scottish troops last wore kilts in combat during WWI.

The katana is primarily a cutting weapon, rather than a stabbing one. The ban remained in effect for 35 years, as part of King George II's campaign to destroy the traditional way of life throughout the Highlands. Other types of mounting include the kyu-gunto, shin-gunto, and kai-gunto types for the twentieth-century military, but these swords were generally mass-produced and highly inferior, and few true Japanese swords are mounted in these styles. In 1746, after the last Jacobite campaign the "Dress Act" outlawed all items of Highland dress including the new kilts (with an exception for army uniforms). The other sheath is the more decorative or battle-worthy sheath which is usually called either a jindachi-zukuri or a buke-zukuri, depending on whether it was supposed to be suspended from the obi(belt) by straps when the sword is mounted in Tachi-Koshirae or thrust through the obi if mounted as katana-koshirae, respectively. These regiments opted for the modern kilts for dress uniforms, and while the great kilt remained as undress uniform this was phased out by the early 19th century. One is the shira-saya, which is generally made of wood and considered the 'resting' sheath, used as a storage sheath. As a means of identification the regiments were given different tartans.

There are two types of sheaths, both of which require the same exacting work. In doing so they formed effective new army regiments to send to fight in India, North America, and other locations while lowering the possibility of rebellion at home. The sheaths themselves are not an easy task. After 1745 the Government decided to form more Highland regiments for the army in order to direct the energies of Gaels, that "hardy and intrepid race of men". To anchor the blade securely into the sheath it will soon have, the blade acquires a collar, or habaki, which extends an inch or so past the cross guard and keeps the blade from rattling. From 1624 the Independent Companies of Highlanders had worn kilts as government troops, and with their formation into the Black Watch regiment in 1740 their great kilt uniform was standardised with a new dark tartan. This anchors the blade securely into the hilt. The small kilt developed into the modern tartan kilt when the pleats were sewn in to speed the donning of the kilt.

A bamboo peg called a mekugi is slipped through the tsuka and through the tang of the blade, using the hole called a mekugiana drilled in it. "The Early History of the Kilt" and "Reconstructing History" quote modern scholarship disputing this story with reference to earlier illustrations of the small kilt. There is a pommel at the base known as a kashira, and there is often a decoration under the criss-crossed wrappings called a menuki. This is the first garment that can truly be called a kilt as we know it today. (see related article on Koshirae). This kilt is in the possession of the Scottish Tartans Society. The cross guard, or tsuba, on Japanese swords (except for certain twentieth century sabers which emulate Western navies') is small and round, made of metal, and often very ornate. The first instance we have of the pleats being sewn in to the phillabeg, creating a true tailored kilt, comes in 1692, before the time of Rawlinson.

The obvious part of the hilt consists of a metal or wooden grip called a tsuka, which can also be used to refer to the entire hilt. It most likely came about as a natural evolution of the belted plaid and Rawlinson probably observed it and quickly deduced its usefulness in his situation and insisted on introducing it among his workers. Hilts vary in their exact nature depending on the era, but generally consist of the same general idea, with the variation being in the components used and in the wrapping style. There is some suggestion of its use in the early 17th century, and it was definitely being worn by the 18th century. From here, the blade is passed on to a hilt-maker. The word is often spelled phillabeg in English. This is because it displays either nioi, which is a mix of extremely fine martensite with troostite (another type of tempered steel), or the more crystalline and obvious nie, which contains a lot of less fine martensite. If the widths are not stitched together and only the bottom 4 yards are worn pleated and belted around the waist, the resulting garment is called the feilidh-beag (little wrap).

A good polishing reveals what speed the edge was cooled at, from what temperature, and what the carbon content of the steel is. The belted plaid consisted of two widths of material stitched together. Hamon vary from straight to wavy to shaped like crabs or zigzags, and in their wandering they reveal important facts about the blade itself. The problem with this potential source is that there are numerous illustrations of Highlanders wearing only the bottom part of the belted plaid that date long before Rawlinson ever set foot in Scotland. The hamon, which is determined primarily by how the clay is applied, is often used as a kind of signature of the smith, above and beyond his own signature, and each tradition of swordsmiths often has a particular style of hamon it prefers over all others. Rawlinson required his workers to wear only the bottom part of the plaid, which for some is sufficient proof that an Englishman invented the modern Scottish kilt. Each blade is distinct in its hamon and the grain (hada) of its steel. His workers all dressed in not a cloak, but the belted plaid.

One of the ways which blades can be judged is by what this polishing reveals: the crystal-like qualities of the blade become quite visible, and the hamon (incorrectly known in English as the temper line, where the sharp edge fades into the normal steel of the blade) shows the unique nature of the sword. Indeed, An Englishman named Thomas Rawlinson opened an iron smelting factory in the Highlands around the year 1730. More importantly, an unschooled polish can permanently ruin the blade geometry or wear the steel down to its core steel, both of which effectively destroy the sword's monetary, historic, artistic, and functional value. Rawlinson liked the new creation so much that he began to wear it as well and was soon imitated by his Scottish colleagues, the Clan MacDonnell of Glengarry. It almost always takes longer than actually crafting the blade does, and a good polishing makes a blade look better, while a bad polishing makes the best of blades look like gunto. Rawlinson took this back and then introduced the new kilt. Early polishers used three types of stone, whereas a modern polisher generally uses seven. The tailor responded by cutting it in two.

This takes hours for every inch of blade, and is painstaking work with different kinds of very fine stone. He supposedly brought the Highland garment to a tailor, intent on making it more practical. When the rough blade was completed, the swordsmith would turn the blade over to a polisher called a togishi, whose job it was to polish the steel of the blade to a glittering shine and sharpen the edge for battle. It was thought that the traditional Highland kilt, the "belted plaid" which consisted of a large cloak, was inconvenient for tree cutters. Contrary to popular belief, these grooves have nothing to do with improving the flow of enemy blood. After the Jacobite campaign of 1715 the government was "opening" the Highlands to outside exploitation and Rawlinson was one of the businessmen who took advantage of the situation. Grooves come in wide (bo-hi), twin narrow (futasuji-hi), twin wide and narrow (bo-hi ni tsure-hi), short (koshi-hi), twin short (gomabushi), twin long with joined tips (shobu-hi), twin long with irregular breaks (kuichigai-hi), and halberd-style (naginata-hi). Rawlinson was claimed to have designed it for the Highlanders who worked in his new charcoal production facility in the woods of northern Scotland.

Some are more practical, grooves for lightening and extra flex (as well as an intimidating sound, called tachikaze, when swung with force). A letter published in the Edinburgh Magazine in March 1785 by one Ivan Baillie argued that the garment people would today recognize as a kilt was invented around the 1720s by Thomas Rawlinson, a Quaker from Lancashire. Some other marks on the blade are aesthetic: signatures and dedications written in kanji and engravings depicting gods, dragons, or other 'acceptable' beings, called horimono. Sometime early in the 18th century the fèileadh beag or philabeg using a single width of cloth hanging down below the belt came into use and became quite popular throughout the Highlands and northern Lowlands by 1746, though the great kilt also continued in use. It is this pressure fit for the most part that holds the tsuka in place during the strike, while the mekugi pin serves as a secondary method and a safety. The kilt became part of the Scottish national identity. While ornamental, these file marks also serve the purpose of providing an uneven surface which bites well into the 'tsuka', or the hilt which fits over it and is made from wood. King George IV had appeared in a spectacular kilt, and his successor Queen Victoria dressed her boys in the kilt, widening its appeal.

This is called sensuki. After that point the kilt gathered momentum as an emblem of Scottish culture as identified by antiquarians, romantics, and others, who spent much effort praising the "ancient" and natural qualities of the kilt. Lastly, if the blade is very old, it may have been shaved instead of filed. At this time many other traditions such as clan identification by tartan were developed. A grid of marks, from raking the file diagonally both ways across the tang, is called higaki, whereas specialized 'full dress' file marks are called kesho-yasuri. Scott and the Highland societies organised a "gathering of the Gael" and established entirely new Scottish traditions, including Lowlanders wearing the supposed "traditional" garment of the Highlanders. A number of different types of file markings are used, including horizontal, slanted, and checked, known as ichi-monji, kosuji-chigai, suji-chigai, o-suji-chigai, katte-agari, shinogi-kiri-suji-chigai, taka-no-ha, and gyaku-taka-no-ha. The kilt became identified with the whole of Scotland with the pageantry of the visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822, even though 9 out of 10 Scots lived in the Lowlands.

The purpose is to show how well the blade steel ages. The Celtic Society of Edinburgh, chaired by Walter Scott, encouraged lowlanders to join this antiquarian enthusiasm. The tang is never supposed to be cleaned: doing this can cut the value of the sword in half or more. Once the ban was lifted in 1782, Highland landowners set up Highland Societies with aims including "Improvements" (which others would call the Highland clearances) and promoting "the general use of the ancient Highland dress". These are cut into the tang, or the hilt-section of the blade, where they will be covered by a hilt later. The kilt, along with other features of Gaelic culture, had become identified with Jacobitism, and now that this had ceased to be a real danger it was viewed with romantic nostalgia. One of the most important markings on the sword is performed here: the file markings. Most Lowlanders had viewed Highlanders with fear before 1745, but many identified with them after their power was broken.

Once the blade is cool, and the mud is scraped off, the blade has designs and grooves cut into it. This was an age that romanticized "primitive" peoples, which is what Highlanders were viewed as. Almost all blades are decorated, although not all blades are decorated on the visible part of the blade. Although the kilt was largely forgotten in the Scottish Highlands, during those years it became fashionable for Scottish romantics to wear kilts as a form of protest against the ban. Also, The swordsmith signature (mei) is placed on the nagako. The heavy pleats of the Great Kilt also made for good protection from spear thrusts and sword cuts. To remove the Tsuka you must remove the mekugi. Use of this type of kilt continued into the 19th century.

Thus restricting the blade from slipping out. The great kilt is mostly associated with the Scottish highlands, but was also used in poor lowland rural areas. It is used to anchor the blade using a mekugi, a small bamboo pin that is inserted into another cavity in the Tsuka and through the mekugi-ana. Earlier carvings or illustrations appearing to show the kilt may show the Leine Croich, a knee-length shirt of leather, linen or canvas, heavily pleated and sometimes quilted as protection. A hole is drilled into the tang (nagako), called a mekugi-ana. The age of the great kilt is hotly debated but it certainly existed at the beginning of the 17th century. Kissaki are have a curved profile, and smooth three-dimensional curvature across their surface towards the edge - though they are bounded by a straight line called the yokote and have crisp definition at all their edges. For battle it was customary to take off the kilt beforehand and set it aside, the Highland charge being made wearing only the léine.

Such western knife blades feature a straight, linearly-sloped point whose sole advantage is being easy to grind and which only bears a superficial similarity to traditional Japanese kissaki. The solid color kilts of the Irish were also usually soaked in goose grease to make them waterproof. It is important to point out that the kissaki (point) is not a "chisel-like" point, nor is the Western knife interpretation of a "tanto point" at all correct or Japanese. A description from 1746 states:. In addition, whether the front edge of the tip is more curved (fukura-tsuku) or (relatively) straight (fukura-kareru) is also important. It was worn over a léine (a full sleeved garment gathered along the arm length and stopping below the waist) and could also serve as a camping blanket. The sword also has an exact tip shape, which is considered an extremely important characteristic: the tip can be long (ô-kissaki), medium (chû-kissaki), short (ko-kissaki), or even hooked backwards (ikuri-ô-kissaki). The upper half could be worn as a cloak draped over the left shoulder, hung down over the belt and gathered up at the front, or brought up over the shoulders or head for protection against weather.

The shinogi can be placed near the back of the blade for a longer, sharper, more fragile tip or a more moderate shinogi near the center of the blade. The great kilt, also known as the belted plaid, was an untailored draped garment made of the cloth gathered up into pleats by hand and secured by a wide belt. A flat or narrowing shinogi is called 'shinogi-hikushi', whereas a 'fat' blade is called a 'shinogi-takushi'. The Breacan an Fhéilidh or Féileadh Mòr was originally a length of thick woollen cloth made up from two loom widths sewn together to give a total width of 1.5 m, up to 5 m in length. However, swords could narrow down to the shinogi, then narrow further to the blade, or even expand outward towards the shinogi then shrink to the blade (producing a trapezoidal shape). The Scots word derives from the Old Norse kjilt, which means "pleated", from Viking settlers who wore a similar, non-tartan pleated garment. In the earlier picture, the examples were flat to the shinogi, then tapering to the blade. The word kilt comes from the Scots word kilt meaning to tuck up the clothes around the body.

The most prominent is the middle ridge, or 'shinogi'. It had long been abandoned by related cultures such as Gauls, and Scandinavians. Each blade has a unique profile, depending on the smith, the construction method, and a bit of luck. It was only with the Romantic Revival of the 19th century that the kilt became irreversibly associated with Highlanders, and in the 20th century among Lowlanders and the Scottish Diaspora. To make han-sanmai-awase-gitae or shiho-zume-gitae, pieces of hard steel are then added to the outside of the blade in a similar fashion. Although the kilt is a item of traditional Scottish highland dress, the nationalization of that tradition is relatively recent. By the end of the process, the two pieces of steel are fused together, but retain their differences in hardness. .

When both sections have been folded adequately, they are bent into a 'U' shape and the softer piece is inserted into the harder piece, at which point they are hammered out into a long blade shape. The British Army and armies of other Commonwealth nations still continue to have kilts as dress uniform, they have not been used in combat since World War I. The 'makuri-gitae' is made using two steels, one folded more times than the other, or of a lesser carbon content. Kilts are also used for parades by groups like the Scouts, and in many places kilts are seen in force at highland games and pipe band championships as well as being used for Scottish country dances and ceilidhs. The last generally accepted model, the 'shiho-zume-gitae', is quite rare, but added a rear support. They are often worn at weddings or other formal occasions, while there are still a few people who wear them daily. The vast majority of 'good' katana and wakazashi are of 'wariba-gitae' type, but the more complex models allow for parrying without fear of damaging the side of the blade. Today most Scotsmen see kilts as formal dress or ceremonial dress.

Examples are shown below:. (Traditionally, women do not wear kilts, but often wear full length tartan skirts.). Eventually the Japanese began to experiment with using different types of steel in different parts of the sword. The kilt is associated with traditional Scottish Highland dress and, as such, is almost always made of wool with a woven pattern called tartan (sometimes called plaid). When the application is finished, the sword is quenched and hardens correctly. The historical great kilt was long enough to drape up over the shoulder but is rarely seen in modern times. A thicker layer of mud on the rest of the blade causes slower cooling, and softer steel, giving the blade the flex it needs (this makes the rear and inside of the sword into pearlite). A kilt is a man's garment that consists primarily of a length of cloth wrapped around the waist and belted; it is usually accessorized with a pouch for money (and other items) called a sporran.

A thin layer on the edge of the sword ensures quick cooling, but not so fast as to crack the sword steel (this makes the actual edge of the sword extremely hard martensite). To control the cooling, the sword is heated and painted with layers of sticky clay. Slower, from a lower temperature, and it becomes pearlite, which has significantly more flex but doesn’t hold an edge. If steel cools quickly, from a hot temperature, it becomes martensite, which is very hard but brittle.

Steel’s exact flex and strength vary dramatically with heat variation, and depending on how hot it gets and how fast it cools, the steel has vastly different properties. When finished, the steel is not quenched or tempered in the conventional European fashion. This means that the rear of the sword can be used to reinforce the edge, and the Japanese took full advantage of this fact. One of the core philosophies of the Japanese sword is that it has a single edge.

Bizen tradition, which specialized in mokume, and some schools of Yamato tradition were also considered strong warrior's weapons. The blades that were considered the most robust, reliable, and of highest quality were those made in the Mino tradition, esepically those of Magoroku Kanemoto. The difference between the three normal grain types (masame-, itame-, and mokume-hada) is one of cutting a tree perpendicular to its direction of growth (mokume) at an angle (itame) or along the grain (masame), the angle causing the "stretched" pattern. Straight grains were called 'masame-hada', wood-like grain "itame," wood-burl grain "mokume," and concentric wavy grain (an uncommon feature seen almost esclusively in the Gassan school) 'ayasugi-hada'.

Generally, swords were created with the grain of the blade (called 'hada') running down the blade like the grain on a plank of wood. Thus, the best results were usually obtained at 8-10 folds. Even before this point, more layers does not equal a better sword; though folding does burn off impurities and homogenize the blade, a very even and clean composition is obtained early in the process, and control of carbon content has a much greater effect on the blade's functionality. Beyond this number, the molecular structure of the blade is such that further folding would most likely serve no further purpose.

It should be noted that a blade folded 12 times will have more than 4,000 'layers' underneath the initial blade to begin with, and that 20 folds would produce a blade with over a million layers. The number of folds varied from sword to sword, but those with more than about a dozen folds are uncommon, and authentic swords with more than two dozen folds are completely unknown. Contrary to popular belief, continued folding will not create a "super-strong" blade; once impurities are burnt off and the carbon content homogenized, further folding offers little benefit and will gradually burn out the carbon, leading eventually to a softer steel less able to hold an edge. This did several things:.

Steel was repeatedly 'folded', bent over itself and hammered flat. The most famous part of the manufacturing process was the folding of the steel. Often, there were sheath, hilt, and tsuba (handguard) specialists as well. There was a smith to forge the rough shape, often a second smith (apprentice) to fold the metal, a specialist polisher, and even a specialist for the edge itself.

As with many complex endeavors, rather than a single craftsman, several artists were involved.
The forging of a Japanese blade typically took hours or days, and was considered a sacred art. The high percentage of carbon gave the blade strength while the silicon increased the flexibility of the blade as well as its ability to withstand stress. One more modern formula (from World War II):.

The total composition varied from smith to smith and lode to lode of ore. Traditional Japanese steel is popularly considered to be one of the best for creating swords, but the true reasons for this are artistic and not functional - contemporary western steels were and most modern steels are actually superior in strength and purity. Manufacturing processes are described in greater detail in following subsections. Most of the "type 98 katana's" from World War II do not exist today, as well as the older versions.

Modern katana and wakizashi are only made by the few licenced practitioners that still practice making these crafted weapons today. Japanese swords are fairly uncommon today, but not so rare that genuine antiques cannot be acquired - from reliable sources at significant expense, of course. "True" daisho, containing a pair of blades that were made as a pair, mounted as a pair, and owned/worn as a pair, are therefore uncommon and considered highly valuable - especially if they still retain their original mountings (as opposed to later mountings, even if the later mounts are made as a pair). Even when a daisho contained a pair of blades by the same smith, they were not always forged as a pair or mounted as one.

If a samurai was able to afford a daisho, it was often composed of whichever two swords could be conveniently acquired, sometimes by different smiths and in different styles. On a related note, the daisho (pair of swords) was not always forged together. Wakizashi were also not simply a 'scaled down' katana, they were often forged in hira-zukuri or other such forms, which were very rare on katana. They were often forged with different profiles, different blade thicknesses, and varying amounts of niku.

While some people believe that katana and wakizashi were constructed alike, this was not always the case. This process also makes the edge of the blade contract less than the back when cooling down, something that aids the smith in establishing the curvature of the blade. This produces a blade with a hard edge and soft back, allowing it to be resilient and yet retain a good cutting edge. The back of the sword is coated with clay, insulating it and so causing it to cool slower than the edge when the blade is quenched.

The distinctive curvature of the katana is partly due to a process of differential quenching. In order to counter this, and to homogenize the carbon content of the blades (giving some blades characteristic folding patterns), the folding was developed (for comparison see pattern welding), and found to be quite effective, though labour intensive. This practice became popular from use of highly impure metals, stemming from the low temperature yielded in the smelting at that time and place. Japanese swords and other edged weapons are manufactured by the Chinese method of repeatedly heating, folding and hammering the metal.

217.) These traditions and provinces are as follows:. (Source: The connoisseur's guide to Japanese swords, by Kokan Nagayama, p. Japanese swords can be traced back to one of several provinces, each of which had its own school, traditions and 'trademarks' - e.g., the swords from Mino province were "from the start famous for their sharpness". They were most commonly made in the Buke-Zukuri mounting.

The most common reference to a chisakatana is a shorter katana that does not have a companion blade. Chisa-katana were not common weapons since usually a katana was made for a shorter person or a wakizashi for a larger person. However, a chisa-katana is longer than the wakizashi, which was between one and two shaku in length. A katana was longer than two shaku in length (one shaku= about 11.93 inches).

A chisa-katana is simply a shorter katana. For more precise measurement, "sun", "bu", and "rin" (one-tenth, one-hundredth, and one-thousandth of a shaku respectively) may be used. Japanese swords are measured in units of shaku (1 shaku = approximately 30.3 centimeters or 11.93 inches; from 1891 the shaku has been defined as exactly 10/33 metres, but older data may vary slightly from this value). What generally differentiates the different swords is their length.

All Japanese swords are manufactured according to this method and are somewhat similar in appearance. [1] However it is likely that most of these katana are sword like objects, as a basic, properly constructed katana is comparative in price to an inexpensive handgun. Some katana have been used in modern-day armed robberies. With the efforts of other like minded individuals, the katana has arisen from its darkest day and many swordsmiths have continued the work begun by Munetsugu, re-discovering the old techniques and making the art swords produced by today's best smiths as good as many of the blades of old.

Homma went on to be a founding figure of the Nihon Bijitsu Hozon Token Kai, the 'Society for the Preservation of Art Swords', who made it their mission to preserve the old techniques and blades. A few smiths did continue their trade, and Dr. Swordsmiths had been increasingly turning to producing civilian goods after the Edo period but this disarmament and subsequent regulations almost put an end to the production of katana. The vast majority of these 1,000,000 or more swords were gunto, but there were still a sizable number of koto, shinto and shin-shinto.

Due to this disarmament, as of 1958 there were more Japanese swords in America than in Japan: American soldiers would return from the Orient with piles of swords, often as many as they could carry. Others remained stashed away. Some were simply stolen. Even so, many katana were sold to American soldiers who had money to spend at a bargain price.

As a result of this meeting, the general ban was amended so that the weapon grade gunto would be destroyed and swords of artistic merit could be owned and preserved. Homma produced blades from the various periods of Japanese history and General MacArthur was a quick student, being able to identify very quickly what blades held artistic merit and which could be considered purely weapons. During their meeting, Dr. Homma Junji to General Douglas MacArthur.

This ban would be later overturned through the personal appeal of Dr. Under the United States occupation at the end of World War II all armed forces were disbanded and, except under several permits issued by police and municipal government, production of katana with edges was banned. In 1934 the Japanese government issued a military specification for the shin gunto "new army sword" the first version of which was referred to as a "Type 94 katana", and many machine- and handcrafted swords used in World War II conformed to this and later shin gunto specifications. The students of Gassan Sadakatsu went on to be designated Intangible Cultural Assets, or more commonly known as Living National Treasures, as they embodied knowledge that was considered to be fundamentally important to the Japanese identity.

These smiths, Gassan Sadakazu and Gassan Sadakatsu were kept busy producing fine works that stand with the best of the older blades for the Emperor and other high ranking officials. Though this was a dark time for the katana, the craft was kept alive through the efforts of a few individuals, and notably the Gassan line of smiths who were employed as Imperial Artisans. At the same time, Kendo was incorporated into police training so that police officers would have at least the minimal training necessary to properly use one. Katana remained in use in some occupations, police sometimes using katana not only to catch criminals but to defend themselves from criminals who could be armed with katana as well.

These swords, known as 'gunto', are often very low in quality with many being oil tempered or simply stamped out of steel and given a serial number rather than a chiselled signature. In time, the need to arm soldiers with swords was perceived again and over the decades at the beginning of the 20th century swordsmiths again found work. Overnight, the market for swords died, and many swordsmiths were left without a trade to pursue, and valuable skills were lost. Possession itself was not prohibited, so many katana were simply stashed away.

The Haitorei edict in 1876 all but banned carrying swords and guns on streets, making samurai less distinguishable from commoners. Japan remained in stasis until Matthew Perry's arrival in 1853 and the subsequent Convention of Kanagawa forcibly reintroduced Japan to the outside world; the rapid modernization of the Meiji Restoration soon followed. With the discarding of the Shinto style, and the re-introduction of old and rediscovered techniques, the swords of this time were now called 'shinshinto' meaning 'new-new swords.'. Munetsugu travelled the land teaching what he knew to all who would listen, and swordsmiths rallied to his cause and ushered in a second renaissance in Japanese sword smithing.

Munetsugu published opinions that the arts and techniques of the shinto swords were inferior to the koto blades, and that research should be made by all swordsmiths in the land to rediscover the lost techniques. Towards the end of this period, swordmaking had fallen to another low, and due to the efforts of the master swordsmith Munetsugu at the turn of the 19th century, artistic merit once again returned to the craft. By the middle of the eighteenth century, most young Japanese had never seen a gun, let alone actually seen one fired. Under the isolationist Tokugawa Shogunate, guns and gunpowder were increasingly restricted and removed from circulation.

It is often considered that the more complex work found on many shinto swords then is a corruption, where form no longer strictly follows function and thereby no longer achieves a pure form of beauty. The addition of these engravings known as 'horimono' were originally for religious reasons, and were simple and tasteful. As the Edo period progressed, there came a decline in quality once again, for a variety of reasons, including the evolution of the samurai class into bureaucrats and policemen; other related arts did move forward from time to time, leading to beautiful engravings and decorations for weapons. As the techniques of the ancient smiths had been lost during the previous period of war, these swords were called shinto, literally 'new swords.' This gave the obvious name to the older blades as koto, 'old swords.' The blades that predated the curved blades introduced around 987AD were referred to as 'jokoto' or ancient swords.

In times of peace, swordsmiths had time and the inclination to return to the making of refined and artistic blades, and the beginning of the Momoyama period saw the return of high quality creations. Other Japanese scholars had also highlighted that certain Japanese swordsmiths of this period, began to make blades with thicker backs and bigger points, as a counter-response to the Mongol threat. Kokan Nagayama, in the book "The Connoiseur's Book of Japanese Swords", Kodansha International 1997, states on page 21 that the "Japanese warriors had never before encountered such an enemy (the Mongols), who was protected by leather armor and wielded a very stout sword -- clearly superior to theirs -- in a unique style of fighting." He added that certain Japanese swordsmiths started to adopt thinner and simpler temper lines due to their belief that " blades with wide temper lines reaching near to the ridge line look gorgeous, but tend to break." Unfortunately, Mr Nagayama did not quote the Japanese historical references that he derived his comments on the superiority of the Mongol (ie continental Chinese, Korean and other makes) sword over the Japanese sword. The famous failed invasion of Japan by the Mongols marked another point of evolution for the Japanese sword.

As time progressed, the craft decayed under the needs listed above, and the introduction of guns, as a decisive force on the battlefield. The (ultimately failed) rationale behind this was to attempt to soak up the production of Japanese weapons and make it harder for pirates in the area to arm. The export of katana reached its height during Muromachi period with the total of at least 200,000 katana being shipped to the Ming dynasty in official trades. Furthermore, the ferocity of the fighting caused the highly artistic techniques of the Kamakura period (known as the Golden Age of Swordmaking) to be abandoned in favor of more utilitarian and disposable weapons.

While many good swords were made during this period, the vast need for swords caused smiths to switch to production line methods. During the Muromachi period, bloody wars were the norm, but the indolent shogunates also put a high value on art and culture, so the islands did not descend into barbarism. The War of Onin (1467-1477) revolutionized Japanese armour. For five centuries, Japan had its own dark ages, marked by continuous, brutal wars.

By the twelfth century, civil war erupted after a long period of decadence. In the same period, the Kyō-hachiryū (京八流) was created in the Kurama mountain (in Kyoto). From the Kashima shrine's Kashima no Tachi sprang the Kantō-nanaryū (関東七流 - also known as the Kashima-nanaryū 鹿島七流). This is also reflected in the styles of kenjutsu created during this period.

Among other modifications, the katana becomes single-edged, and better suited for slashing. According to legend, the Japanese sword was invented by a smith named 'Amakuni' in AD 700, along with the folded steel process. The Ainu people used Warabite-tou(蕨手刀) Warabite sword and this sword influenced the Katana. In the Heian Period (8th to 11th centuries) we see the development of sword-making, through techniques brought from the Russia and North part of Japan Hokkaido in those days Ainu's territory.

The style, called Kashima no Tachi (鹿島の太刀), was created at the Kashima Shrine (in Ibaraki Prefecture). One of the oldest known forms of kenjutsu dates the Kofun era (3rd and 4th centuries). Early swords were in the style of Chinese swords, straight and single or double-edged. At the same time, the Japanese learned the art of swordmaking from Chinese smiths.

In the 6th century BCE the legendary Emperor Jimmu conquered much of Japan. Swords are critical in most feudal societies, and Japan was no exception. The back end is soft, and so the sword is not brittle but flexible, while the front end is sharp and hard. This gives the sword its cutting edge and the strength.

The front end is made up of almost 3000 layers of metal forged precisely to give shape to blade. The back is thick and front end is razor sharp.
There is also another interesting fact about the Japanese sword. "with swords broken and without an arrow") used as a proverb.

To have fought till nothing but a surrender is possible, is defined as Ken ore, ya mo tsuki, (lit. Drawing the sword was like letting one's soul blaze free and usually meant that the samurai was down to the last straw. However, most samurai did not use their sword as a primary weapon; bow first, a spear next, and only then the sword. The Tachi on the other hand, had a stand, the tsuka was set in a groove at the base and the saya pointed upwards set in a notch at the top with the cutting edge down, again in the manner it was worn.

As for the host, his long-sword was generally stored above the wakizashi on a rack called a katana-kake, curving upwards; in the manner it was worn, with the omote side showing (tsuka or handle ponting left). Positioning his sword for an easy draw implied suspicion or aggression; thus, whether he placed it on his right or left side, and whether the blade was placed curving away or towards him, was an important point of etiquette. For example, a samurai entering someone's house might consider how to place his sheathed sword as he knelt. Elaborate methods for carrying, cleaning, storing, sharpening (or not sharpening), and wielding the sword evolved from era to era.

Much of early Japanese culture revolved around swords. They would be "soulless" in the eyes of a samurai. Ronin, needing money, would sometimes be forced to sell their swords, further adding to their highly dishonorable, sometimes vagabond status in Japanese society. For much of Japan's history, only samurai were even allowed to carry swords, and a peasant carrying a sword was enough reason to kill the peasant and take the sword after a prohibition was issued in early Edo period.

The Japanese pinned an extraordinary amount of value on the sword. Although spears have survived since as far back as the 8th century AD, it was not until the large scale wars of the Onin period towards the end of the fifteenth century that the straight bladed spear, the yari, vied with the sword for the most popular weapon. Although other weapons waxed and waned in popularity throughout history, the sword remained a constant. The sword was considered the soul of the samurai.

. Perhaps one of the more famous types of Japanese fencing was "Nitto Ryu" or the use of both the katana and wakizashi in tandem; a technique most famously used by Miyamoto Musashi, though the extensive popularization of this technique in anime, literature, and pop culture has strongly skewed modern perspective on its importance and prevalence. Old koryu sword schools do still exist (for example, Kashima Shinto-ryu, Kashima Shin-ryu, and Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu, among others). The art of drawing the katana and attacking one's enemies is iaido (also known as battōjutsu/battodo), and kendo is an art of fencing with a shinai (bamboo sword) protected by helmet and armour.

While the practical arts for using the sword for its original purpose are now somewhat obsolete, kenjutsu and iaijutsu have turned into gendai budo — modern martial arts for a modern time. It is traditionally worn edge up. Though it is intended for and was predominantly used with a two-handed grip, many extant historical Japanese sword arts include at least one or two single-handed techniques. It is primarily used for cutting, although its curvature is generally gentle enough to allow for effective thrusting as well.

Other aspects of the koshirae (mountings), such as the menuki (decorative grip swells), habaki (blade collar and scabbard wedge), fuchi and kashira (handle collar and cap), kozuka (small utility knife handle), kogai (decorative skewer-like implement), saya lacquer, and tsukamaki (professional handle wrap), received similar levels of artistry. (In fact, seppuku was a right reserved for samurai in order to preserve their honor by taking their own life should the need arise.) The scabbard for a katana is referred to as a saya, and the handguard piece, often intricately designed as individual works of art especially in later years of the Edo period, was called the tsuba. The long blade was used for open combat, while the shorter blade was considered a side arm, and also more suited for stabbing, close combat (such as indoors), and seppuku, a form of ritual suicide. The two weapons together were called the daisho, and represented the social power and personal honor of the samurai (buke retainers to the daimyo).

The weapon was typically paired with the wakizashi, a similarly made but shorter sword both worn by the members of the buke (bushi) warrior class, it could also be worn with the tanto, an even smaller similarly shaped blade. It refers to a specific type of curved, single-edged sword traditionally used by the Japanese samurai. While the word has no separate plural form in Japanese, it has been adopted as a loan word by the English language, where it is commonly pluralised as katanas. It is literally translated as 'knife,' and pronounced 'dao').

In Mandarin, it is pronounced dāo (this does not specifically refer to the katana. Katana (pronounced [ka-ta-na]) is the kun'yomi (Japanese reading) of the kanji 刀 ; the on'yomi (Chinese reading) is tō. The katana (刀) is the Japanese backsword or longsword (大刀 daitō) of the type specifically in use after the 1400s (following the use of the tachi), although many Japanese use this word generically as a catch-all word for sword. Ran "Aya" Fujimiya from Weiß Kreuz.

Leonardo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Ulrich Stern. Saigo Takamori. Saito Hajime.

Okita Soji. Sasaki Kojiro. Miyamoto Musashi. Iizasa Ienao.

Tsukahara Bokuden. Ashikaga Yoshiteru. Magoroku Kanemoto. Go Yoshihiro.

Etchu Norishige. Bizen Saburo Kunimune. Yamato Kaneuji. Yosozaemon Sukesada.

Gassan Sadakazu. Nagasone Kotetsu. Inoue Shinkai. Sengo Muramasa.

Soshu Sadamune. Soshu Masamune. Rai Kunimitsu. Rai Kunitoshi.

Munechika. Amakuni. It burned off many impurities, again helping to overcome the Japanese steel's poor quality and purify/strengthen the sword. (Bulat steel layering is an entirely different chemical effect, and does not apply to blades made in the Japanese fashion.).

Layers act as weld points which can only serve to weaken the integrity of the blade. Despite widespread popular belief that the layered structure provides enhanced mechanical properties of the steel, this is completely false. It created layers, by continuously decarburizing the surface and bringing the surface into the blade's interior, which gives the swords their unique and beautiful grain. It homogenized the metal, spreading the elements (such as carbon) evenly throughout - increasing the effective strength by decreasing the number of potential weak points.

It eliminated any bubbles in the metal. Older swords by honored makers would then be reserved for very special gifts, in particular to the Shogun and his family or from the Shogun to show very special merit. As such, the art of 'kantei' (the ability to judge a sword for period, maker, and quality) became important, as this allowed specialists to appraise a blade and so place its value. It became traditional that Daimyo and the Shogun, and the members of their families, would exchange gifts of swords when meeting together or for special occasions such as weddings and births.

It is considered that this angle of the sword was played up by those in power in order to replace land in the role of a gift of great honor. In older days, these gifts would be of land, but at the time of the Shogunate land was a scarce commodity. While there has always been reverence for the sword, the official line of it being the 'soul' comes from a need of the Shogunate to provide high value gifts to retainers and noblemen. The 'soul of the samurai' concept has its roots in the early Tokugawa Shogunate.

However, despite this, the sword was still considered the soul of the samurai, not the spear. Although largely overlooked in Western literature, spears were the first resort of any samurai and most peasants, and the blades on the samurai spears were often of extremely high quality. The two main types are 'naginata', similar to a halberd in use, and a 'yari' which is more traditionally spear like. Most of the various kinds of spears could come with blades made in the same style as the Japanese sword.

There are many varieties of wooden practice blades, including those made out of wood (bokken) and those made out of bamboo (often used for kendo practice, usually referred to as shinai). The signature almost always appears on the side facing away from the body when the blade is worn, so it is possible to discern the smith's intention for the blade in this manner. However, these are still katana if worn in modern 'buke-zukuri' style. Swords designed specifically to be tachi are generally koto rather than shinto, so they are generally better manufactured and more elaborately decorated.

'ōdachi' is also sometimes used as a synonym for katana. Abnormally long blades (longer than 3 shaku or 90cm), usually carried across the back, are called ōdachi or nodachi. If it is suspended by cords from a belt, it is called 'tachi' (average blade length of 75 cm) the tachi is worn cutting edge down. However, the term 'katana' is often misapplied: a sword is only a katana if it is worn blade-up through a belt-sash called an obi (these 'katana' averaged 65 cm in blade length).

This is the category 'katana' fall into. A blade longer than 2 shaku (61 cm) is considered a daito, or long sword. A blade longer than 1 shaku but less than 2 (30–61 cm) is considered a shoto (short sword) and included the wakizashi and kodachi. A blade shorter than 1 shaku (30 cm) is considered a tanto (knife).

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