What was the Japanese Tanto Used for in Battle?

Throughout history, the uses of the Japanese Tanto in battle varied. Generally, it was a combat weapon that specialized in piercing and stabbing. This short sword was one of the preferred weapons of the Samurai for close-range combat.

For Close-Quarter Battles

The Tanto was a great weapon for close-quarter battles. Since it was small, it was easy to use it in enclosed spaces. When properly carried and used, it became a highly efficient weapon. The Samurai utilized this short sword as a knife.

A Hidden Weapon for Cutting Soft Targets

The Tanto was a hidden weapon of the Samurai, and it was designed for cutting soft targets. Aside from using it in close quarters, the Samurai warriors also brought it to the battlefield.

The Tanto features a narrow blade with a thick spine. Because of this, it was an efficient weapon for piercing through an opponent’s armor.

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A Weapon for Stabbing

Although most Tanto was useful for slashing, it was most effective when used for stabbing and bringing down an opponent. Wielders had different methods of gripping the Tanto for stabbing and slashing.

Tanto wielders held the weapon with its edge out while the blade lay along the forearm. The point of the blade goes towards the elbow in a reverse grip to allow for deflecting longer blades. This was effective against opponents with weapons that had greater reach.

A Multi-Purpose Tool for the Ninja

Aside from the Samurai, the Ninja also carried the Tanto. They utilized this as a short-range melee weapon or a multi-purpose tool. It had numerous functions in different situations, making it one of their preferred weapons. Tanto was also used for different martial arts.

It was not only a cutting and stabbing piece. It could also be thrown at an opponent, but the technique was only effective if done by a professional.

Another advantage it had for the Ninja was that it allowed them to move swiftly, which is essential for espionage. Since the Tanto is small, the Ninja were able to dodge quickly and strike enemies accurately. The speed of the wielder combined with the force of the Tanto made it easier to strike an opponent.


What are the Types of Tanto?

There are different types of Tanto blades forged in many blade shapes over the last 700-800 years. And with that, the blade went through numerous changes throughout the centuries.

There are different styles of Japanese Tanto categorized by the shape and mounting styles of their blade. Here is a list of the best-known ones.

Aikuchi and Hamadashi

Aikuchi and Hamadashi Tanto blades were highly popular. The Aikuchi had no Tsuba (guard), and the Hamadashi featured a small one.

They were easy and convenient to carry. Plus, they were rapidly deployed without any issues of having a Tsuba.

Since the blade was not utilized in a fencing-manner, its Tsuba was mostly unnecessary.

Hira Zukuri

This specific Tanto has a Ha Watari that measures 20-23cm. It features a very narrow Sakihaba and an extremely thick blade.

The Sakihaba is the blade’s width along the Yokote. This Yokote is a line perpendicular to the ridge, marking off the Kisaki from the rest of the blade.

Shobu Zukuri

A Shobu Zukuri Tanto features a ridgeline but without a Yokote. It also had a Bohi or blood groove. The first Shobu Zukuri blades were made around the 14th century.


The Moroha is a rare type of Tanto, and its blade features a double edge. This type of sword features a broad temper line or Hamon.


Kissaki-Moroha Zukuri

The Kissaki-Moroha Zukuri features an extremely long and sharp point or O-Kissaki.


The Kaiken is a short Tanto with small guards. The women in feudal Japan usually carried this type of blade.

The Kaiken was also known as the Futokoro Gatana. The term translates to a pocket or purse sword.

It did not feature ornamental fittings and were often kept in simple-looking mounts. Often, the Kaiken is concealed in the user’s sleeve or inside the Kimono.

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The Kubikiri is a very rare type of Tanto wherein its blade is on the inner curve rather than outside. It has no sharpened point, making it difficult to use in battle and enshrouding the weapon in mystery.

There are numerous speculations on the uses of the Kubikiri. It is said that doctors carried this and high-ranking officials carried like how one would wear a badge today. Also, it could’ve been a tool cutting incense or charcoal, and pruning bonsai trees.


The Hochogata is a type of Tanto with a short and broad Hira or the curve between the blade’s ridge and temper line. This variation of the Tanto was the one that Masamune, the legendary swordsmith, favored.

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