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Friday, September 22, 2023

History of the Katana

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History and Origin

Katana, the word means “a curved sword with a one-sided blade”. The length of the blade is from 2 to 2.5 shaku (60.6-75.7 cm), the total length with the handle is about 85-105 cm (usually 90-100 cm). If the length of the blade is less than 2 shaku, then this is a short wakizashi sword, and if more than 2.5 shaku, then it is a rolled big katana or tati, but in addition to the size, the Tati traditionally has a greater bend.

Katana appeared in the 15th century as a consequence of the evolution of Tati and was used until the end of the 19th century as a traditional samurai weapon, primarily in combination with the short wakizashi. Katana is in many respects similar to the earlier Chinese sword of Miao Tao. In the narrow sense, the katana is a curved sword, with a cutting part outwards, with a blade two or more shaku long and a handle of various lengths. Weight 750-1000 g. The sheath for all three types of swords is called saja; they are made of varnished wood. 

Use and Tradition

The Katana was used primarily as a cutting weapon, allowing both a two-handed and a one-handed grip. The oldest schools of katana art originate in the XV-XVI centuries. The basic idea of ​​the Japanese art of sword and the techniques based on it is that the longitudinal axis of the sword during the attack must go to the target not at a right angle, but along its plane, causing cutting strokes. Therefore, it is more appropriate to speak not about strikes in the form in which they are characteristic of Western sword technicians but about cuts. That is why the blades have a curved shape.

The Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi wrote the book “Gorin no Se” (“The Book of Five Rings”), in which he reveals his technique of two swords. Working with a katana and wakidzashi is similar to the methods of eskrima. Kenjutsu, the practical art of fencing with a sword, reborn into a modern look – gendai budo. The art of a surprise attack and counterattack is called Iaido and is a meditative type of combat that is fought with an imaginary opponent. Kendo is the art of fencing with a bamboo sword, in which it is mandatory to wear a protection kit similar to the fencing European and consisting of a helmet with a grille covering the face and armor. This type of sword fencing, depending on the particular style, can be practiced as a sport discipline. In Japan, there are still numerous traditional fencing schools that managed to survive after the general prohibition of Emperor Meiji to carry swords. The most famous are Kashima Shinto Ryu, Kashima Shin Ryu and Katori Shinto Ryu .

The katana and wakizashi are always worn on the left side of the case in a sheath, laid down by the girdle, with the blade up. This is the accepted method of wearing in society, formed after the end of Sengoku wars in the early 17th century, when arms were more a tradition than a military necessity. When the samurai entered the house, he took the katana out from behind his belt. In the event of possible conflicts, he held the sword in his left hand in a state of alert or, as a sign of trust, in the right. Sitting down, he laid the katana on the floor within reach, and the wakizashi was not removed.

The installation of a sword for wearing on the street is called Kosirae, this includes the lacquered sheath of the saja. In the absence of frequent need to use a sword, it was stored at home in the installation of untreated magnolia silasia tree, which protects the steel from corrosion. Some modern katanas are originally produced in this version, in which the sheath is not varnished and not decorated. Such an installation, in which there was no tsuba and other decorative elements, did not attract attention and became widespread in the late 19th century after the imperial ban on wearing a sword.


The manufacture of katana consists of many stages and can last up to several months. In the beginning, pieces of tamahagane varieties are added together, filled with clay and sprinkled with ashes. This is necessary to remove the slag from the metal, which in the process of melting leaves it and is absorbed by clay and ash. After that, the pieces began to heat, to allow them to connect with each other. Then the resulting block is forged with a hammer: it is flattened and folded, then flattened and folded again so the number of layers is doubled. Thus, the carbon is evenly distributed in the workpiece, so that the hardness of the blade in each section will be the same. Further in the block of tamahagane it is required to add softer steel so that the sword does not break at high dynamic loads. In the process of forging, lasting several days, the block is stretched to the length and the composition of the strips with different hardness creates the structure of the blade and its original shape. After that, a layer of liquid clay is applied – to prevent overheating and oxidation. In the process of hardening, when observing the technological process, a jamon is formed between the yakib or hard part with a cutting edge and the hiraji or softer and flexible part. This pattern takes its final form when the sword is hardened and manifests itself in the polishing process. Jamon, unlike the zone-hardening line, is a material at the junction of two steels, from which a blade is forged, showing how well the katana maker possesses skill. Then follows the quenching: the sword is heated to a temperature strictly dependent on the metal, which is used for forging and is rapidly cooled, so that the crystal lattice of one of the components passes into a state of martensite, and the cutting edge acquires extreme hardness. After a long process of giving the blade the final form, sharpening and polishing, which the polisher performs using stones of various granularity (up to 9 steps). In this case, the master pays special attention to the achievement of ideally flat surfaces and strict angles of faces between the mating surfaces. At the end of sharpening, the master works with very small stone-plates, which he holds with one or two fingers or special plaques. With special care, all details and features of the hade are exhibited. In some cases, especially modern masters, on not hardened parts of the blade leave an engraving of a decorative character of predominantly Buddhist theme. After polishing and decorating the handle, which takes a few more days, the katana is ready.


Kanzan Sato . The Japanese Sword. A Comprehensive Guide

Leon and Hiroko Kapp, Yoshindo Yoshihara . The Craft of the Japanese Sword

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