Nagamaki Sword – Japanese Sword Evolution

About Nagamaki and Its History

The Nagamaki sword is considered as a traditional Japanese Samurai sword. The difference between the Nagamaki and the Katana lies in the handle because in this case a Nagamaki sword has a long handle than the standard sword. This was used by the Samurai class of feudal Japan which is why it was also known as Samurai Nagamaki. There is a chance that this weapon was made during the Heain period since there were no examples during the mid Kamakura period. It was however, during the Muromachi period when Samurai Nagamaki reached its popularity. There was even a story that says the famed warlord Uesugi Kenshin which is a daimyo in the Echigo province kept a special guard of retainers that he armed with Nagamaki.  The Nagamaki sword was around 2-2.5 feet in blade length with its handle around 2 feet. The hilt used for this sword resembles those found on the Katana. This sword gets its name from the special wrapping made on the handle of the swords. It could either be made with leather or silk cords in criss cross manner.

Description of Nagamaki

The Nagamaki sword was said to evolve from the Nodachi sword from the 14th century. However, the blade length was similar to the Katana or tachi blade which is more than 2 shaku or 2 feet. Even if the name derives from the wrappings of which this weapon is known for, there is a specimen that has no wrapping cord. The cord helps to improve grip on the hilt. Samples of this sword without the wrappings compensate for it by having metal collars around the hilt where the tang is located. There were not rules to be followed regarding the creation of how to make a sword like this. Some swords like wakizashi and tanto follows strict measurements. However, in the case of the Nagamaki the blade length, kissaki style etc can be different and still remain categorize as Nagamaki. There are swords like this that has a long tang. This only solidifies the fact that there are no strict rules on how this sword is made. One thing is common with this sword and that is it can still fit snugly on the hilts. It was held in place with a mekugi.
Uses

This sword was designed for large sweeping and slicing strokes. This was used as an infantry weapon. Records show that Nagamaki was used against cavalry. The hands do not change when using this weapon. The right hand was preferred than the left hand. There are fewer sliding actions on how the handle was use. Today, this sword is made with high carbon steel tempered with a polished surface. Today’s version of the Nagamaki is a cross between Katana and Naginata. The length of the handle gives this sword superb leverage to increase its ability to cut. This sword is not just for display but is a thoroughly functional weapon both in the past and even today.

Inspiring Fiction

In the Dark Souls II, Sir Alonne the character who wields a Nagamaki will use this weapon to commit seppuku in case another player defeats him under 5 minutes without sustaining damage. Lyon the main character in the 5th Suikoden game protects Prince of Falena using this sword. Bishamon who was a Japanese god of war use this sword to punish those who are evil. He is one of the seven gods of fortune. He is also a guardian. He was called and protected Prince Shotoku in 587 using this sword. In the Lord of the Rings, the High Elves used a similar sword but, there was a subtle change in the shape. Arai Hakuseki who was a Japanese historian mentions the best known warriors who use this sword all throughout history.  Most of these warriors carried swords like these that are from 4 feet long to 7 feet. Oda Nobunaga when he broke out of Owari province armed his warriors with this sword. He believed in its efficiency when used against the enemy. A real version of this sword today has its blade shortened or reshapes to make it usable just like the Katana or Wakizashi.

Nagamaki Jutsu

Some dojos who teach sword techniques also teach Nagamaki Jutsu to students who wish to master this skill. Even the Naginata when introduced eclipse this sword, modern dojos still believe in this weapon. Wielding a Nagamaki incorporates special movements since this sword is long. Most teachers who are proficient in teaching these sword techniques are those that have reached upper level dans in different kinds of martial art practice. The best teachers are those who carefully lay out step by step program that even beginners can simply follow. It also helps if the teachers in question also know how to perfect his art since he can share a wide range of techniques on how to use this weapon.

Nagamaki vs Naginata

The first obvious difference is that this weapon is a sword and the Naginata is a pole arm. The Naginata has a shorter blade length but with much longer handle, unlike the Nagamaki sword that is blade is longer, but have a shorter handle. In terms of handling the weapons both needs both hands to be able to swing it properly. While in the case of Naginata there is a need for the user to rapidly change the hands use as the need arises. In terms of the blade, Nagamaki was shape like that of a standard sword. It was however, thinned out on the back edge to reduce its weight. In the case of Naginata, the tip was curved much more. Because of its straight shape long rod it is usable as a spear. However some compromise needs to be made because there is less slashing and cutting capabilities. The long blade made it hard to hit difficult targets using slashing movements.