Katana Sword – The Sword of the Samurai

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Evolution of the Katana Sword

Name: Katana Sword
Blade Length: 60 -78 Cm long
Handle Length: 1/3 of the Blade Length
Weight: 1.1 to 1.6 kg
Blade Type: Curved and single edged
Used By:   Samurai Warriors
Place of Origin: Japan
Date Produced: Muromachi period from 1392 to the present

Katana Sword History

There is a lot of rich history that surrounds the Katana sword. The Katana is a traditionally made Japanese sword used during the feudal period in Japan. Samurai Katana is characterized by a single edged curved blade with either a circular or square guard.

This Katana sword has a long grip and can accommodate both hands of the Samurai. There are actually six different periods when the production of swords in Japan took place. Katana is also known as uchigatana which describes a long sword to differentiate this sword from that of the Tachi. However, Tachi was the inspiration for the Katana.

Katana were traditionally made from Japanese steel using different folded layered steel with various carbon concentration.  This process actually removes the impurities. Older steel has higher oxygen concentrations and can be easily stretched to remove the impurities.

This process is made during the hammering phase were a stronger Katana is forged. The edged of the blade is coated with a thinner layer of clay. Because of the process of hardening and quenching this causes the blade to harden and curved.  This is because of the difference in densities applied to the steel.

After the forging process, the Katana blade is sent to be polished. This produces a mirror finish which improves the aesthetics of the sword. A matte finish is given to the blunt edge of the sword to emphasize the hamon.

Japanese Katana Sword
Japanese Katana T10 Folded Clay Tempered Steel with Hadori Polish

Samurai warriors preferred using Katana sword. During combat, it was essential that the fighter needs to quickly draw his sword. It was this quick response time that save the lives of the owner hence the preference for Samurai Katana.

This sword was convenient to use because it can be worn with the help of a belt like sash or obi. The warriors wore the sharp edges facing up. The Katana has evolved throughout the course of Japanese history. During the early 16th century the average length of this sword was only 60 cm however, by the late 16th century this has been change to 73 cm.

Katana was often paired with a wakizashi or a smaller sword. Wearing both the Katana with the wakizashi was symbolical because only those who have social power and deeply revered fighters were given the honor to wear the daisho.

Daisho is another term given for the wakizashi when worn by Samurais. Gradually, the samurai class was disbanded and the privilege of carrying these swords in public was prohibited during the Meiji period. It was the Haitorel Edict of 1876 that only allowed the carrying of these swords only to the Samurai lords or daimyo, police and those who are in military.

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Everything you need to know about the Katana Sword

Before wars were fought by satellites and drones. Before semi-automatic rifles made holes in walls. Before airplanes sailed through the skies with their deafening buzz like furious swarms of metal bees. Before the red flashes that illuminated the world as never before, and then darkened it.

Long before that. When men were still riding the paths of the land of the rising sun, with bows at their backs and swords hanging from their waists.

Then the Katana sword was king.

Get ready to learn the history of the Katana from beginning to end, to then see what makes this extraordinary sword so special, what uses it has today, how important the style of the Katana is, and how you can create a completely unique Katana sword online.

Tamahagane Steel Katana Sword
Folded Clay Tempered Tamahagane Steel Katana with Hadori Polish

The Historical Significance of the Katana Sword

The Katana, being the most important weapon for Japanese culture, both medieval and contemporary, is the one that has occupied more place in its history. From legendary warriors to blacksmiths capable of making swords of unsurpassed quality.

In this section we will take a look at the history of the Katana, from its glorious beginnings, through its dark ages, to its resurgence.

Handmade Katana sword
Hand Made Katana T10 Clay Tempered Steel Sythentic Leopard Saya with Shoulder Strap

How it All Started?

Some of the oldest examples of Japanese swords are the chokuto, which were straight swords presumably derived from Chinese swords. This is logical if we bear in mind that at that time China was the most advanced nation in the East, and an example for all other neighboring civilizations.

The first predecessors of the traditionally Japanese swords are the Waritabe sword – a weapon created by the Emishi, who were considered barbarians for the Japanese – and the Kenukigatatati, which was a more advanced version of the previous one.

Later, in the middle of the Heian period, the demands of a growing military class would lead Japanese blacksmiths to create tachi. Its curved shape implied the need to adapt to the new combat modes of the Japanese warriors, who had discovered the efficiency of cavalry.

The chokuto, being a straight sword, was inefficient for mounted warriors. The tachi, on the other hand, was able to make much better use of the horse’s speed, diverting all the impact force to the curved part of the blade in order to deliver powerful blows.

While tachi was terribly effective, its use was diminished by the change in society and the appearance of enemies who were not only on the battlefield, but also in towns and cities. Thus, a new type of curved sword emerged, considerably shorter than the tachi; the uchigatana. And this, in turn, would be replaced with a sword with the same design, but made with higher quality materials: the Katana.

Japanese Katana
Japanese Katana Blade T10 Clay Tempered Steel

Creation of the Katana Sword

The Mongol invasions were a key point for the creation of the Katana. These took place between 1185 and 1333, and became a turning point for the Japanese, as they discovered that their weapons were not capable of piercing the boiled leather armor of the Mongols.

The story goes that Amakuni, an important Japanese military blacksmith, was shocked to see how the Japanese soldiers returned from the fight against the Mongols with broken or ruined swords. He collected all the evidence he could of the fractures and defects of the swords, and charged himself with creating a weapon capable of dealing with the invaders.

He locked himself in his blacksmith’s shop for weeks, experimenting with different consistencies, different metals, different shapes. And when he emerged, he did so with a sword of exceptional quality; curved, with a resplendent finish, created only with the best materials. What he had in his hands would be the sword capable of turning the winds of war; the one that would face the invaders.

The main advantage of the Katana in relation to other swords was that it allowed the novel technique of drawing and striking in a single movement. This made it a weapon to be relied upon, thanks to which the Samurai could defend himself even when taken by surprise. In combats in which the response time was a determining factor, the Katana rose victorious over the rest of the swords.

It was only a matter of time before it began to be paired with a secondary weapon, usually a Wakizashi or Tanto. This combination was known as daisho, and it was something only high-status Samurai could afford.

Thanks to its adaptability, the Katana became the weapon of choice for Japanese warriors. Samurai took them wherever they went, on a mission, or walked through the village, for they knew that, if the situation warranted it, they could defend themselves in a fraction of a second —as fast as those cowboys in the movies.

Samurai Katana Sword
Hand Made Katana Sword T10 Folded Clay Tempered Steel with Feather Hadori Polish and Purple Acid Dye

How is the Katana forged?

In the old days, Katana swords were only made from a special steel called Tamahagane. These swords are created from a forging process that results in several, layered steels with varied carbon concentrations. These processes used to have the benefit of removing the impurities of the steel. Today, this is not longer a requirement to make a good, functional sword.

It is important to emphasize that this is a steel full of impurities, but also unique to Japan. Its name can be translated as “jewel steel”, and it is so called because of the particular color it leaves in the blades of the Katana forged with it.

The age of the steel is a very important factor when it comes to removing impurities. Older steels have a higher oxygen concentration, so they can be more easily stretched, and they rid of impurities more effectively during hammering, resulting in a stronger blade. The smith starts the process with expertise: folding several times the steel with the aim of giving it a more homogeneous structure, working out most of the differences in the steel.

Okay, so now the blacksmith has a piece of steel. It can be slightly curved, or it can even have no curve at all. So, how does he give it that characteristic form of the Japanese sword?

Folding the Katana Sword Steel

What gives to the Katana it’s curve form is a process called differential hardening (or differential quenching). During this stage, the smith covers partially the blade with layers of wet clay slurry. This is a special mix of ingredients made specially by the sword maker, and it varies a lot depending of the one who carries out this process. Generally, is composed of clay, water, and some ingredients such as grinding stone powder or rust.

The edge of the blade is barely coated with this mix. Unlike the spine and the sides, which receive a much thicker coverage. Then, the sword is heated. Here, steel with high carbon content (0.7% at least), in enters in an austenite phase.

Later, it is quenched in water (or oil, depending of the sword maker). And at this part, the structure changes from austenite to martensite. Don’t worry, sounds complicated but it isn’t that much. The important thing of the martensite is that it is a very hard form of steel, so we can say the blade, literally, is getting stronger.

This changes if the blade isn’t suddenly cooled (quenching it), and it is left to cool slowly. In that situation, the austenite wouldn’t become martensite. Instead, it would change into a softer metal, which is a mixture of ferrite and pearlite.

Battle Ready Katana sword
Battle Ready Katana Blade T10 Folded Clay Tempered Steel Seashell Bird Saya with Real Buffalo Horn

But let’s return to the normal process. This quenching doesn’t just strengths the blade, but it also creates the well-known patterns along the edge known as hamon, which becomes visible after the polishing. Each hamon is unique, and it’s the result of the artistic skills of the bladesmith.

Once the blade has been forged, it can be sent to a polisher. There, he uses a series of techniques and different types of stones to give to the blade crystalline looking, which can reflect as a mirror. The blunt edge of the sword, in the other hand, receives matte finish to make it look tougher and emphasize the hamon.  This polishing process can take from one to three weeks.

Katana Sword as weapon

The Katana is a unique weapon in the history of mankind. While in other parts of the world the swords were pieces of sharp metal in which the hand guard and the form hardly varied, in Japan they already possessed a sword of an enormous complexity for the time. A sword optimized to be as efficient as possible.

The Katana is just moderately curved. Unlike the tachi, which is a saber from end to end, the Katana has a rather slightly curve. This may decrease its effectiveness if used over a horse, but it gives it a lot of benefits that we’ll explore in some minutes.

Its blade length varies from 60 cm (24 inches) to 80cm (29.5 inches). It has distinctive slender, curved design that makes it recognizable by almost anyone, anywhere in the world. It’s also one of the few swords whose handguard can be considered an art form; with many details and designs made by artists.

Clay Tempered Katana swords
T10 Clay Tempered Steel Katana with Choji Hamon, Hadori Polish and Black Acid Dye

The Katana is originally a two-handed sword, although popular culture has led many people to believe that it is actually a one-handed weapon. The truth is that while it is possible to use a Katana in one hand – and in fact many fighting styles are based on this – this would be more or less the equivalent of using a longsword in one hand. It is heavy enough to be carried in one hand, and it is possible for the Samurai to tire easily.

Now, it can be pretty tricky to try to distinguish a Katana from a tachi. The easiest way to realize if it’s one or the other is to look at the signature (mei). If you just can learn the signature while the sword if facing the floor, it’s a tachi. That’s because tachi were made to be worn with the edge down. If you just can learn the signature when the cutting edge is facing the sky, then that’s a Katana. Also, if you compare both, you’ll easily notice which of them is more curved than the other; that one is the tachi.

But enough comparisons.

Let’s focus on the parts of the Katana.

Parts of the Katana Sword

What do you see when you see a Katana? A piece of steel with a handle, yes. But what happens when you delve deeper into this particular sword?

Let’s take a look at the components of a Katana (later we will develop its qualities):

  • Blade: Well, the blade. Traditionally forged with tamahagane, which is a type of steel only available in Japan.
  • Habaki: It is the blade collar. It is a piece of metal halfway between the blade and the handle.
  • Hamon: A stela that runs along the edge of the blade in swords that have been strengthened with a process of clay tempering.
  • Tsuba: It is the hand guard. Usually decorated with traditional motifs. Some can be counted as authentic ancient paintings.
  • Seppa: Metal rings above and below the Tsuba that help to adjust the components of the sword.
  • Fuchi: Metal piece that contributes to the integrity of the handle. It is halfway between the Tsuba and the Tsuka.
  • Tsuka: This is the handle itself of the Katana. But wait, because it is composed of more things.
  • Samegawa: It’s ray skin used to cover the handle, giving a better grip for the fingertips.
  • Ito: It is the silk, cotton or leather wrapper that partially covers the Samegawa in order to make the handle more comfortable and improve grip.
  • Kashira: It is the final part of the handle, known as cap or pommel. (No, it does not unscrew).
  • Saya: It is the sheath of the sword. It alone has more components, but we are not going to delve into them so as not to make this too heavy.

And we didn’t get technical!

As you can see, the Katana is a long way from conventional swords. It is a complex piece of engineering that required a deep understanding of sword design issues.

We have already explained what a Katana is made of, now let’s go to those qualities that make it special.

Qualities of the Katana Sword

The Katana is a sword known for its elegance and effectiveness in combat. But what makes it special? What makes one sword considered a Katana and not another? What are its advantages over other types of swords?

That is what we will discuss in this section.

  • Cutting Oriented Design: The Katana is a sword that was created with the main purpose of cutting. Not only is it good at keeping the edge longer, but its semi-curved shape adjusts to the wide movements of a warrior when attacking, allowing even during a direct hit the blade to glide easily over the target, cutting more effectively than straight swords.
  • The best of two worlds: The fact that it is optimized for cutting does not mean that the ability to lunge has been sacrificed. Unlike other sabres, which can become much less efficient at stabbing, the design of the Katana means that this type of stroke is still viable for the Katana. That is why some prefer the term semi-curve. This not only makes both types of attack viable, but also gives it a greater range than the common curved sword.
  • Drawing and hitting ability: One of the things the Katana is best known for is its unique ability to be drawn and hit in one move. This is the result of its semi-curved form, which, as mentioned above, allows it to adapt to the movements of a warrior. With greater curvature or greater straightness, it would be very cumbersome to draw it. On the other hand, the structure of the Katana fits so well to the human body that it is even possible to draw and attack in one movement. In fact, entire martial arts are devoted to this (more information in the following sections).
  • Advantages of the handle: One of the least known advantages of the Katana is the benefits that its complex handle provides to the warrior. Not only is it more comfortable than the vast majority of swords, but it also provides a much safer grip. And, as if that weren’t enough, it’s made so that the habaki (blade collar,) absorbs a good part of the vibrations caused by the impact. This means that the warrior’s hand suffers less than other swords, in which vibrations caused by a heavy blow pass unfiltered into the warrior’s hand.
  • Style: Let’s be honest, it’s not just the bestial combat effectiveness of Katanas that attracts us so much from them. Design is a big part of what makes them special. With its semi-curved shape, the designs of its handle and saya, the ability even to customize the lines in the hamon… It is a sword that can take on a thousand different aspects, and each one will be as attractive as the previous one. That’s why we actually created the first online Katana customizer. Create your own Katana fast and easy!

 

Custom Katana sword
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Uses of the Katana

We have already taken a look at the history of the Katana and its special features that make it a unique weapon of its kind. Now let’s go a little further. Let’s see what use these emblematic weapons are being put to today.

And first, we’ll start with the martial arts which use Katana swords.

Japanese martial arts athlete training kendo in a dojo – Samaurai practicing in a gym

Martial arts with Katana Swords

The most important Japanese swords have specific martial arts that teach how to use them effectively in a fight. The Naginata has the naginatajutsu, which teaches movements and techniques to attack without exposure. And in the same way, the Nodachi bearers have nodachijutsu, thanks to which they learn to make the most of such a large sword.

The Katana is no less in this respect. Several martial arts have been directed at this sword. Even martial arts that are not based primarily on the use of the sword such as Aikido or Jujutsu have been inspired by these.

It is important to note that several of the techniques for using swords converged in different ways, taking this and that from others to form their own styles.

These are some of the most famous martial arts with Katana swords:

Kendo: The most famous martial art and sport with regarding to swords is Kendo. It is a style of sword fighting using a Bamboo sword that gives their practitioners for the realities of a Samurai battle. It does not claim to be clean or elegant, recognizing that sword fights are tricky and complicated. It concentrates on teaching how to attack the points where it is most possible to connect a blow and cause a great deal of damage to the opponent.

Iaido: Iaido is a martial art focused on how to engage in combat with the opponent. For this reason, it focuses mainly on the first movement, that of drawing and hitting, either standing or sitting. Iaido understands that, if the first move is effective, then there will be no need for a fight. This martial art also teaches how to properly practice tameshigeri (cut test). some practitioners are using non sharp swords called Iaito , while advanced users are using Shinken swords.

Haidong Gumdo: This is a Korean martial art oriented to the use of Katana swords in a dynamic form. It claims to be more street than kendo, which makes it less sporty, but more conducive to self-defense. Thus, it not only focuses on “touching the opponent”, but on giving as much force as possible to his blows. His practitioners often use wooden swords, bamboo swords, or even real (blunt) swords. Always with the necessary safety equipment, of course. One of the points that its practitioners emphasize is that it is not only about swords, but it translates to the use of any long object for self-defense. For example, an umbrella -like a Kingsman-, or a wooden stick, or any other object that the practitioner has at hand at the time of need.

Toyama-Ryu: This is a martial art that can hardly be practiced today. It was created during World War II to teach Japanese warriors to use the Katana in a large-scale battle context.

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Iaido, the subtle and deadly Katana sword Martial art 

Iaido appears in 1932, and can be translated, taking certain translation liberties to make sense of it, such as “being constantly prepared to fight”. This is a very famous martial art that began in feudal Japan, but is still practiced with the same enthusiasm today.

Iaido emphasizes, at first, the psychological state of being constantly present or alert. In this way, the Samurai should never be caught off guard. He should never be surprised. He can never stop being attentive enough, both to what is happening to him and to the environment around him and to the actions of others.

The second focus of the Iaido is to draw the sword and respond to an attack as quickly as possible. This is also one of the strong points of this martial art. Iaido experts know that a fight can be won from the very beginning if you act fast enough.

Another way to translate Iaido is “the way of mental presence and immediate reaction”.

The Iaido is composed of hundreds of styles of fighting with swords, with the particularity that all these are oriented to evade combat. Acting only when really necessary.

It is also considered that the Iaido carries with it the morals and beliefs of the warriors of ancient Japan with the aim of cultivating the apprentices of this martial art in matters of harmony, intellect, sensitivity, and will power.

In this martial art it is common to find a single practitioner, making various strategies against one or more enemies. Each single movement begins and ends with the Katana sheathed, back into the saya. This pushes the person to a state of great concentration and creativity to face the challenge.

Very often, practitioners of this martial art also learn kendo, which is more fight-based.

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Kendo, the way of the Sword

The term kendo can be translated as “sword path” or “the path of the sword”. Its origin goes back to feudal Japan.

The ancestor of kendo was kenjustu, a martial art made to instruct Samurais in the art of fighting with Katanas. These warriors established the first schools of this martial art, and its techniques would evolve in the sport that today we know as kendo.

Kendo exercises were created and improved throughout centuries by kenjutsu masters. They have evolved into the basic techniques that practitioners of this sport learn today.

But the kendo is not just a sport. The kendo is a way of disciplining human character through the application of the principles of the Katana. And this is done through kata.

What is kata?

Kata are movements made to instruct the kendo apprentice in the basics of effectively operating a Katana. It focuses on teaching the fundamental techniques of attack and counterattack with a sword, and opens the way for learning more advanced techniques.

These basic techniques were originally made to preserve the history of kenjutsu. In the past, many schools had their specific own katas, but today they are more generalized.

Today, the Katana swords are used to teach movement, attack techniques, sincerity, and pride in combat.

Blue Katana sword
Battle Ready Katana Sword T10 Clay Tempered Steel Blue Acid Dye with Black Saya

Test Cutting (Tameshigiri)

The art of tameshigeri (test cut) is a derivative of Iaijutsu. People who carry out this activity use objects that seek to emulate a human limb and practice cutting them as cleanly as possible.

The first part of the Tameshigeri is to master the cuts. The bearer will try to pierce the test target with his sword almost undisturbed. Once this is mastered, it is common for practitioners to try to cut off the detached part of the object more than once while it is still in the air. This is a practice that requires not only extreme speed, but also the skill necessary to make precise cuts.

The most commonly used objects for these practices are wet tatami piles or bamboo canes.

A variant of the traditional test cuts is to use fruits in the air or to place fruits on top of the test objectives, in order to practice the precision of the swordsman.

Style of the Katana

As mentioned above, in medieval Japan the Katana was not only a combat weapon, but also a status symbol. It was normal for an upper-class Samurai to look for a style that most represented him. Thus, a Katana could have a tsuba with sparrow engravings to symbolize the Samurai’s clan, or it could be silvered like the rays of the moon to reflect the purity of its wearer.

Next, let’s take a look at the styles in the Katanas.

Styles according to Samurai

One of the things that make Katanas special is the number of styles they can adopt to the wearer’s liking. Why this? Because all the parts of its handle are highly modifiable.

From the basics, such as alternating samegawa and ito colors, to different engravings on tsuba and saya.

If a Samurai is sober and leads an austere life, then he is likely to prefer a Katana devoid of eye-catching things. Single-colored swords with simple tsubas are popular among this type of warrior.

The same applies to those who prefer “pure” designs on their Katanas.

Those who are more fans of artistic violence, on the other hand, may be much more comfortable with a Katana with a more aggressive design.

Those who prefer a more peaceful and traditional design may opt for another type of design, more reminiscent of this.

At the end of the day you will decide which style suits you best.

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Katana Sword T10 Folded Clay Tempered Steel Hadori Polish With Full Ray Skin Buffalo Horn Saya

Customizing your own Katana online

In medieval Japan, only high-class Samurai could afford custom-made Katanas of excellent quality. Today, however, that possibility is within everyone’s reach.

With our online Katana customizer, you can create the Katana of your dreams in just a few minutes!

Not only will you have access to a variety of options to create a unique Katana from end to end, but you’ll also be able to go further and even request specific engravings on the blade, like words or symbols.

Have a look! It’s quick and easy.

Katana Swords During the 20th Century

During the Meiji period, skilled swordsmith whose trade was once thriving are having trouble making a living. The Meiji period saw the modernization of Japan’s military force. Swordsmiths were forced to make other kinds of implements mostly used in farming.

The interest in Katana again revives during the military action by Japan against China and Russia. It was during this period when these swords were produce in mass scale. Because the swords were used for a different purpose these were referred to as gunto or military swords.

During pre-World War II, because of military buildup in Japan, all military officials were ordered to wear a sword. Traditionally made Katana were produced during this period however, due to the large volume of orders even blacksmiths with little experience manufactured swords.

Japan Katana

Since supply of steel or tamahagane were limited, these swordsmith used other forms of steel. Everything was done quickly which means lack of quality. Forging was done quicker as well to produce showato or non-traditionally made swords.

To control the situation, the Japanese government required placing of special stamps on the tang or nakago to let users know that these were traditionally made swords.

Today, showato is not considered as true Japanese swords and are confiscated. However, outside of Japan these are collected for its historical value.

During Post World War II, making swords was banned. By 1953, Japanese swordsmiths were only allowed to work if they follow certain strict conditions which include a license and a five year apprenticeship.

On top of this, only two swords were allowed to produce in each month. After the sword was produce, it must be registered with the Japanese government.

During the same period, outside of Japan, modern Katana were produce by western swordsmiths. They use modern steel alloys. These were used for martial arts as cutting practice.

Samurai Katana
Katana T10 Folded Clay Tempered Steel with Hadori Polish Black Engraved Dragon Saya

How to Care for Your Katana

Katana sword was used by samurai for practicing and for martial arts. Modern martial art uses a variety of this sword. Some of the martial arts that use this sword include iaido, kendo, aikido and ninjutsu to name a few. It is a must to handle the sword with care when you don’t use it.

There is a tendency for this sword to be damage beyond repair when storage is not done properly.  The blade must be stored horizontally. To maintain the edge, the sheath must be curve down and its edge facing upward.

Additional information about handling this sword includes oiling, powdering and polishing it from time to time. Natural moisture has the tendency to leave behind residue. The dirt and oil coming from the users’ hands will cause the blade to rust. It is essential to clean the sword thoroughly.

The traditional way of cleaning it is with the use of choji oil. When storing the Katana for a longer period of time it must be aired out. Molds may form and again contribute to its damage.