Tanto – Powerful Small Blades

Name:  Tanto
Blade Length: 15 to 30 cm
Handle Length:  14.28 cm
Weight: 0.50 kg – 0.63 (1.1 lbs. – 1.4 lbs.)
Used By:   Samurai Warriors
Function: Used for Stabbing especially for hard materials. Can be altered for better ergonomics
Place of Origin: Japan
Date Produced: Heian Period from 794 to 1185

Getting to Know More about Tanto

Throughout the world, there have been knives made by different cultures, however, what makes Tanto stand out is its style. Tanto blade is used at close quarter combat. Japanese Tanto is a perfect specimen of a superior blade. This is a Japanese dagger that is worn on the sleeve or belt. The intricate process of forging, folding, differential heat treating and extensive polishing to create such a unique blade makes it a work of art. This knife might be a thing of beauty but, it is lethal when used during close quarters fighting. This knife is a perfect example of form and function. No less than the American market has a close fascination with this genre of legendary swords of the Samurai.

Classifications of Tanto

Samurai Tanto can be classified based on its different blade shapes and mounting styles:

  • Tsuba – that has a hand guard
  • Aikuchi – Style which uses no hand guard
  • Hamadashi – style that has a small hand guard

Among these three mounting styles, Aikuchi and Hamadashi style are more popular than tsuba. The use of tsuba is not popular because it creates a hindrance in carrying the Tanto blade. Bear in mind that Samurai Tanto is not use in fencing hence there is no need for a guard like those found in tsuba. In terms of shape Hira-zukuri is the most common shape. This type of shape is specifically designed for armor piercing where the blade is narrow and is very thick. This shape allows the blade to penetrate even hard armor. The traditional Japanese Tanto short sword uses the blade geometry of a normal blade with curve edge and flat back. This back is dull to allow the fingers to concentrate force. This makes this knife heavy and strong for its size. An advantage of having this shape allows this knife to be capable to chop, pick and slice.

tanto blade

Unusual Tanto

  • Fan Shape. This simulates a folded Japanese fan. These have low grade blades although there are cases when there are manufacturers who produce good quality ones. Legend states that this style was used by women and retired Samurai. In some cases even doctors and monks use this unique knife. Since it does not look like a weapon whoever carries it feel safe because it is conspicuous even if they are arm
  • Ken. Rare type with double edged blades. This is made for Buddhist rituals. Some top swordsmiths made these are offerings for different temples
  • Pistol type. These are considered as rare as well. The pattern that inspired this knife came from the matchlock gun introduced by the Portuguese during the 15th century. These were used for military combat and as a form of personal defense

Tanto Evolution

This knife was invented in the Heian period. However, it was during the Kamakura period when this knife was forged to look aesthetically impressive. The more popular styles includes hira and uchi sori. In the middle of the Kamakura period, more artisans were seen which create an abundant supply of this weapon. The designs were wider and longer. Hachiman faith inspired carvings on the hilt. Even the length was forged to be as long as 40 centimeters as opposed to the standard length. The blades became thinner. Two styles of hamon were employed which are: older style; subtle and artistic and the new style; more popular one. During the Muromachi period, due to constant fighting there rose a demand in the production of these blades. This only mean lower quality blades. Blades must be custom forged to avoid failing. At the end of this period, the average blade became narrow and the curve shallow.

Tanto On The Battlefield

The Tanto blades was used by warriors to penetrate feudal era armor when they were up close and grappling their opponent. You can see some Samurai art depicting this scenario where warriors are engage in such a struggle. A part of the Samurai training is devoted on learning how to do grappling in armor. Even if the Katana and Tachi were more popular than Tanto these swords are not designed for armor piercing purposes. The kissaki Japanese swords for instance were design for cutting points. the Tanto knife was designed to serve a greater purpose. Tanto can be used both for slashing and stabbing. Even Samurai women were taught how to use the tanto. This hopefully protects them from those who will attempt on their honor or anybody who might want to take their life. Tanto is also used by Samurai men to commit seppuku or ritual suicide. This only happens when their honor is at stake or circumstances dictates that it is the only option that they have. Suffice to say, that this knife has serve the Samurai throughout the centuries during close quarter battles.

Peace Time Onwards

Two hundred fifty years of peace unified Japan. This means there is less need for Tanto. There were less knife forged. The only ones produce during this time were copies from the earlier era. During the Meiji period when the Emperor was restored to power, members of the Imperial Court began wearing this knife once more. This gave way to the growing number of existing knives of this kind. However, during World War II, restriction was place on forging this knife causing production to go down. It was actually the demand from the American and European market that created a demand for this knife from the 1960s up to the present. There is a difference in the Westernised knife. It has somewhat chisel like point which is thick towards the point.  This makes the spine that strong. At this point it has similar points on most Japanese long and short swords.