What Kind of Sword Did A Samurai Carry?
By Adelia Ladson
What’s A Samurai?The Samurai were an aristocratic warrior class in feudal Japan. They actually carried two swords as part of their dress. The katana, which was their primary weapon, and the wakizashi, which was a shorter sword used for close quarters combat, were called the Samurai’s “daisho.” Added to that was also a tanto knife, which was used as a utility tool and the very last resort as a weapon. Today, we’re focusing on what a katana is and the characteristics that it has that make it different from other historical swords.
What is a Katana?The katana has a curved, single-edged blade that is slender and extends from a square, circular or oval-shaped metal handguard. The hardwood handle is long and traditionally wrapped in rayskin and then an intricate “braid” of silk or cotton, along with small decorations. The blade is usually about 27 1/2” in length and is sheathed in a scabbard, which is traditionally made of lacquered wood. I believe you can find almost any color of scabbard and handle wrapping and the handguard is also crafted in a variety of designs. This weapon was used for slashing and stabbing motions in combat not necessarily for blocking or clashing. The art of using a katana is still practiced today in martial arts schools. Now, let’s really break it down.
Parts of A Katana
So, starting from the outside, your katana is housed in a Saya (scabbard) and below are its parts:
- End Cap (Kojiri)
- Cord (Sageo)
- Knob (Kurikata)
- Scabbard Mouth (Koiguchi)
You pull your katana from its saya by the Tsuka (handle) and it is crafted of several components:
- Pommel (Kashira)
- Braid (Ito)
- Rayskin (Same)
- Ornament (Menuki)
- Peg (Mekugi)
- Sleeve (Fuchi)
- Guard (Tsuba)
- Spacer (Seppa)
- Ferrule (Habaki)
When you look down the Nagasa (length of the blade), you’ll see that it, too, is crafted with several components and is not just a flat piece of metal. What you won’t see is the Nakago (tang), which is what the handle is attached to. Starting from the tip:
- Point (Kissaki)
- Point Dividing Line (Yokote)
- Temper Line (Hamon)
- Ridge Line (Shinogi)
- Back (Mune)
- Groove (Hi)
- Edge (Ha)
Buying A Katana
Buying a katana is an important decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. You are investing in either a beautifully crafted weapon or a stunning display piece. So, the first thing that you need to decide is display or function. Are you looking for a katana to use or just as a decorative item to display? Beware as just because a katana is beautiful on the outside, it doesn’t mean that it won’t cut you if you’re not careful. However, there are katanas that you can buy that have a blunt edge specifically for display.
Another important consideration is how much effort are you willing to put into maintaining a katana. People buy a good quality katana and then, let it languish. If you are buying a fully-functional, high carbon steel katana, you need to be prepared to take care of it. The blade will become dull if you keep using it without sharpening it. It will also rust if your slice watermelons and don’t clean the sticky juice from it afterwards. If you want your katana to take care of you, take care of it!
Top Five RecommendationsHere, you’ll find my recommendations from five of the top sword brands that put out remarkable katanas. They represent the variety of styles that you can find on today’s market.
Honshu Boshin KatanaThe Honshu Boshin Katana is a tactical weapon built for real-world use and the rigors of modern combat. It has a full-tang, 1060 high carbon steel blade that’s incredibly sharp and effectively retains its edge. The rugged TPR handle has a clean, functional design with a textured, no-slip grip and ergonomic contours to boost comfort and reduce fatigue when using the sword. The black stainless steel tsuba has an offset elliptical design and the angled pommel, also crafted of black stainless steel, features a lanyard hole. The impressive katana slides smoothly into a wooden scabbard, accented with leather-wrap.
Sokojikara Scorn KatanaUsing the age-old process of clay tempering, to forge swords that have the perfect balance of strength and flexibility, has been completely perfected by the swordsmiths at Sokojikara. The Scorn Katana is a painstakingly handcrafted sword, using only the finest materials for spectacular visual allure and tremendous capability that’s absolutely unbeatable! The katana has a keenly sharp, T10 high carbon steel blade, which extends from a polished brass blade collar. It has an exquisitely detailed cast iron tsuba, accented with intricate relief. The hardwood handle is traditionally wrapped in genuine rayskin and black cord with decorative brass menuki. The 41” overall katana slides smoothly into its black wooden scabbard, accented with black cord-wrap.
Shinwa HellFyre Damascus Royal Warrior KatanaLike a dark snowflake, no two Shinwa HellFyre Damascus Royal Warrior Katana blades are exactly alike, each with its own unique patterning. Fusing tradition and innovation, the distinctive steel combines the Damascus steel technique with an exclusive new process that gives the steel an onyx black tone that’s swirling with lines of amber, garnet and burgundy. The katana has a hardwood handle that’s traditionally wrapped in black, faux rayskin and cord. The HellFyre Damascus blade extends from a black, metal tsuba that has an open, circular winged design and it sits above a polished brass habaki. The 41 1/2” overall katana slides smoothly into a black, lacquered wooden scabbard with black cord-wrap accents.
Shikoto Black Kogane Dynasty KatanaBorn in the ancient sword-making village of Lonquan, each Shikoto katana was hand-forged by a master swordsmith, using the same time-tested techniques as their forbears. The Black Kogane Dynasty Katana is an inspired reproduction in dramatic detail. It has a Damascus steel blade, which has a laser-etching that translates as “United Strong Steel.” The hand-forged blade extends from a brass habaki and a highly decorative, polished brass tsuba. The hardwood handle is traditionally wrapped in genuine rayskin and black cord with brass menuki. The katana can be stored and displayed in its black, lacquered scabbard with coordinating accents.
Kojiro White Zombie Slayer KatanaKojiro offers unique fantasy-style katanas and the White Zombie Slayer Katana is one of my favorites. It has a high carbon steel blade that extends from a brass habaki and a black, wheel-style metal tsuba. Instead of the traditional cord-wrap, the hardwood handle is wrapped in bright, white faux leather over black faux rayskin. The brown, faux leather scabbard is accented with the same white, faux leather wrap to complement the handle. Attached to the scabbard is a removable, genuine leather shoulder strap.