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Tachi Sword – Traditionally Made Swords
The Tachi sword is one of the oldest Japanese swords. Its innovative curved shape was a revolution for the standards of swords at the time and its design was the precursor to the designs that made Japanese swords famous.
It is a sword of war, born for the vast battlefield and with a great history behind it.
In this post we will cover everything about the renowned Tachi.
What is the Tachi sword?
Blade Length: 60 to 80 cm
Handle Length: 26-35 cm
Weight: 1.1 – 1.5 kg
Used By: Samurai Class of Feudal Japan; Cavalry
Function: Used by cavalry for battle
Place of Origin: Japan
Date Produced: Koto period before 1596
Special Features: Has two hangers that allows the sword to be worn horizontally with the cutting edge down
The Tachi is a Japanese curved sword (nihonto) that used to be used by the samurai class of feudal Japan. Its blade curves upwards in the middle, which gives it a balance between momentum and precision when striking, concentrating all the force it can generate in movement in the centre.
When it comes to Samurai swords, momentum is essential. In short, it is the force that a blade achieves when it is wielded. The arc that describes a sword before it hits its target is what gives this momentum.
This factor is also influenced by the weight of the blade. The greater the weight, the greater the accumulated momentum when wielding the sword, and therefore the more devastating the blow. But, in contrast, it will be more difficult for a person to wield it.
The Tachi was special precisely because it allowed for greater momentum without the need for a heavy blade. By concentrating the entire force of the blow on a smaller surface, such as the belly of the sword, the energy generated is used much better.
The totally curved design makes the blows especially devastating at high speeds – something that becomes important when we consider that it was a sword used mainly by riders.
Another advantage of the Tachi’s curvature is that the blade slides over what it cuts following the movement of the body. This makes it cut not only on impact, but by the action of sliding over the object as it cuts, something that straight swords cannot achieve.
Today you can find Tachi with all kinds of curvatures. Traditionally, however, these used to have enormous curvatures, which greatly increased the damage they could do with the right amount of momentum.
To carry the Tachi properly it must have a koshirae tachi. This type of koshirae had two supports that allowed the blade to be carried horizontally, ready to be drawn.
The Tachi is often compared to the Katana (a topic that we discuss below). However, it is a sword with its own identity, history, and function.
History of Tachi
The Tachi blade first appeared during the Koto period. At that time, these samurai swords were usually between seventy and eighty-two centimeters in size, making them a little larger than what we are accustomed to seeing in katanas.
This was because it was necessary for the Japanese horsemen to have the greatest possible range, but without the sword being too long to lose its balance when used, which could be fatal in the middle of a battle.
During this time, the cavalry was one of the fundamental pillars of the Japanese army (enhanced by the knowledge gained from the Emishi). Back then, samurai used to fight mainly on horseback with straight swords and bows.
The Tachi was created with just this in mind, in order to create an even more powerful weapon. A weapon that harnessed all the power a horse was capable of generating.
And when it emerged, it proved destructive on the battlefield.
Its curved shape allowed the full force of the high speeds that could be reached on horseback to be concentrated in the middle of the sword.
All this momentum concentrated in a smaller area translated into powerful attacks like those never seen before in Japanese history.
It didn’t take long for it to become a famous sword.These Tachi used by mounted samurai were considerably lighter than one might expect when looking at them. Lighter even than a conventional katana, considering its size.
By this time it had become customary for a blacksmith, such as an artist, to sign his creation.
Thus it is possible to identify, for example, that the oldest Tachi was forged by Namihira Yukimasa, which was made in the year 1159.
Out in the Kakamura era (1184 – 1333) emerged the power of the samurai class. During this time, Kakamura had been transformed, under the leadership of Minamoto no Yorimoto, into the capital of the country, becoming a hub of both technological and cultural innovation.
Soon, all kinds of sword makers began to gather in Kakamura, the most famous of which was Masamune himself, creator of swords so good that they were said to have mystical powers.
The importance that the samurai class had gained made Kakamura a mecca for these swords during this time. Not only was the design of the Tachi perfected, but also its style changed considerably, becoming more attractive, luxurious, and efficient.
This period is known as the golden age of the Nihonto (Japanese sword), and was led by the famous Tachi.
During this period, the dimensions of the Tachi were also experimented with, creating two variants of the sword.
On the one hand, there were the kodachi, which can be translated as “small sword” or “small tachi”. These possessed the same characteristics of the Tachi, including its striking design, but were usually less than 60 cm long.
It is believed that these swords could have been used as a complement to the Tachi (in a similar way to how the Katana and Wakizashi are used). It is also believed that they could have been swords for teenagers, as they used to be produced in sword-making schools.
On the other hand, there is the odachi/nodachi, also known as the “field sword”. This is a larger Tachi, with a length of about 91 cm. They used to be carried with a strap on the back, as they were too heavy and large to be carried on the belt.
It is known that the odachi traditionally had two functions. Firstly, it was used as an infantry sword, mainly as a weapon against cavalry. Its specialty was descending cuts, as these made better use of the weight of the sword.
Secondly, the odachi was also used as a ceremonial weapon. Many of these colossal swords were used in prayer before a war, and others were displayed in religious places, treating them as mythical swords.
This sword, however, lost its popularity when the new shogunate law forbade the carrying of swords that passed a certain length.
From Tachi to Katana
The Tachi enjoyed enormous popularity in feudal Japan. For a long time it was the preferred weapon of the samurai, along with the bow they used when they rode their horses.
However, the golden age of the Tachi came to an abrupt end.
During the same Kakamura period that this sword saw an unusual surge in popularity, what would go down in history as the Mongolian Invasions also occurred.
These were a series of confrontations carried out by Genghis Khan in order to seize as much power as possible in Asia and Europe.
These invasions are considered by historians as one of the bloodiest episodes in the history of mankind, and one of the most deadly ones.
The Mongols proved to be devastating on the battlefield, mercilessly subduing dozens of countries like China and Korea, and putting a few others, including Japan, on the spot.
Between 1274 and 1281, the Mongols relentlessly fought in the shores of Japan. The Japanese soldiers discovered by one of the reasons that had guaranteed the victory of the Mongols in so many wars; the innovative boiled leather armor.
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This armor proved too strong for conventional Tachi, resulting in many broken or cracked Japanese swords at the end of the day.
But the Japanese were not going to give up so easily.
It was there, amidst the devastation of an army whose weapons were inefficient, that the Katana was born; a slightly shorter, less curved, and thicker sword than the Tachi.
The new sword proved effective in combat, being able to cut through the boiled leather armor of the Mongols without any problem.
Such was the impact of the Katana that, as we well know today, it became the symbol of the samurai.
And so, little by little, the tachi was relegated exclusively to a cavalry weapon, and then to a ceremonial weapon.
Difference between Katana and Tachi
Although the tachi is a weapon with a huge history behind it and with its own uses, its resemblance to the world famous katana makes it logical that people sometimes ask: What is the difference between a katana and a tachi?
Well, in this section we propose to list a series of differences that, at least historically, have separated these two swords.
1. The Katana has (or used to have) a shorter blade
One of the main innovations of the katana was to make it shorter, so it was easier to wield and concentrate all the force of its strike in a smaller area.
Its size made the katana a more versatile weapon, allowing also to fight in more closed spaces and being also very effective without the need to be on horseback.
In addition, it also allowed the possibility of drawing it and hitting with it at the same time. This was a revolutionary feature, especially for that time, and opened the way for the advent of martial arts that were based exclusively on this possibility.
The tachi, as we mentioned above, used to have a longer blade.
2. The Tachi is considerably more curved than the Katana
The tachi had been created at a time when cavalry was the center of battle. Its enormously curved shape was a reflection of this way of thinking, as it allowed for much better use of the momentum generated on horseback.
When the objective was no longer to harness the momentum of the horse but to focus on creating a strong sword capable of piercing armor, the katana was created.
The possibility of using the katana on horseback was not given up, but the sword was made more versatile, so that it could also be used by infantrymen. This resulted in a greater concentration of weight for stronger strikes and a lesser curvature, allowing also the possibility of stabbing.
Thus, the tachi has a deeper curvature than the katana.
3. The Tachi used to be lighter and thinner than the Katana
This is another of the historical differences that separated these two swords.
The tachi used to be longer than the katana, but its body was thinner, resulting in a correspondingly lighter weight.
The katana, on the other hand, concentrates a greater weight on a smaller blade. This allows it to gain firmness when used in close combat, allowing it to deflect blows more easily and accumulate greater momentum without the need to describe large movements when wielding it.
Today it is difficult to see a difference in weight between a tachi and a katana. In the past, however, this was a major factor in distinguishing the two swords.
4. The Tachi points to the ground, the Katana points to the sky
This is another significant difference between the katana and the tachi.
On the one hand, the tachi is traditionally used with the blade pointing downwards. This was in ancient times common to all Japanese swords, and the tachi was no exception.
The katana, on the other hand, is used with the blade pointing upwards. Not because it seeks to be different, but because it makes much better use of its ability to be drawn and strike at the same time.
Therefore, if a sword is meant to be carried pointing downwards it is probably a tachi. If it is pointed at the sky then it is probably a Katana – ignoring, of course, other swords such as Wakizashi, Nodachi, Tanto, and so on.
5. The Tachi and the Katana have different signatures
When a blacksmith finishes his creation, it is common for him to sign the tang of the sword so that everyone can know that it is his creation.
Thanks to the signature on the tang of the sword, we can see today that many of the swords in Japanese history belonged to famous blacksmiths, such as Masamune or Muramasa.
When it comes to signatures, there is a major difference between the tachi and the Katana.
The signatures on the tang of the tachi are made so that they can be clearly read when the edge of the sword is pointed downwards.
When it comes to Katanas, on the other hand, the signature must be legible only when the edge of the sword is pointing to the sky.
This is one of the surest ways of knowing whether a sword is a Katana or a tachi, especially nowadays when the difference between these two swords is becoming increasingly blurred.
Curved Tachi Swords of Feudal Japan
Tachi was a traditional sword worn by the Samurai class of feudal Japan. Japanese Tachi preceded the development of the Katana.
Katana started being used during the end of the 12th century. Tachi sword is similar to Katana with some few exceptions.
One glaring difference is on the way that these swords were worn. Tachi was worn with cutting edge down and Katana was worn cutting edge up. The Tachi sword was said to be effective when carried in cavalry.
Tachi swords that are short and closer to the size of wakizashi are referred to as Kodachi.
The longest known Samurai tachi in existence was constructed for ceremonial purposes. In the 1600s, many of these blades were converted into Katana by cutting off the original tang. Suffice to say that this Japanese sword has a more curved blade than that of a Katana.
Tachi Sword Uses
The uchigatana was derived from this sword. Because of these swords close resemblance identifying them depends on the way these are worn.
The Mongol successfully invaded Japan which prompted swordsmiths to produce thicker and wider tachi swords. High ranking warriors who became the ruling class wore this sword with the edge down.
With the rise of Statism in Showa, Japan and its right wing political ideologies, swords were worn with the cutting edge down.
Tachi swords Unknown Facts
When the Katana became more popular than this sword it was relegated for being used during ceremonies held in court. This sword was richly decorated with traditional cord wrappings with special designed handle.
Tachi sword was worn by horsemen. Because of its strong curved blade it was easy to use this sword for slicing. Even if this was a long sword it was light enough to be carried in just one hand. Its hilt can be held together with both hands though.
Not all kinds of Tachi sword were of standard size and it can comes in various styles, shapes and sizes.
Swords of this kind that are on display on museum have chips along the back of the sword. The cutting edge looks untouched while the blade is mirror polished.
Experts were impressed with the ability of this sword to allow Samurai in making the smallest move to use this sword to kill their enemy.
The blunt end of Tachi sword was use to hit the enemy while the cutting edge was used to cut them down.
Methods use for this sword allows the user to maneuver it in an opening with weak point.
This will allow the user to stab or cut his enemy. Some of the methods used look similar to the medieval Western style of using half sword for grappling.
Using the sword to lock up an opponent was also a method taught to users of this Japanese long sword.
Tachi vs Katana
There was different emphasis on the way that these swords were used. The Tachi sword was also used to be worn together with an Auxiliary sword as a backup or close range personal arm.
The Tachi swords was created before the Katana. and until the arrival of the Katana, Tachi was a preferred choice by many Samurai. It would be safe to say that those who belong to the upper class favor the use of this sword.
The biggest difference between these two is that the Katana was used for combat on foot while this sword was used by cavalry mounted on horses during combat.
Mostly The Katana has a shorter tsuka with some exemptions. Kissaki for the Katana was longer to enhance the cut and pierce ability against armor. However, the Tachi sword kissaki is generally small to fit between the gaps of armor, and the blade is has more curve than the traditional Katana.
Personal Connection to Japan
A Japanese sword is a made from nature’s elements: earth, wind, fire and water and constructed with human hands. There are no culture that has developed their sword to a level of technological excellence while at the same time giving importance to the sword spiritual side.
To this day, swordsmiths aim to recreate pieces of art that are forged according to the methods used by masters of long ago.
This is an art that continuous to evolve. It is an art form that continues to thrive because there is respect in the new generations as well as those who belong to eras gone by.
Swords like the Tachi are unique symbols of modern day warriors. A lot of sword enthusiastic are looking for Tachi swords to add uniqueness to their collection.
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