Weapons of the Samurai
If you can find another martial arts instructor in Arizona who teaches more traditional Samurai Arts than Soke Hausel, you should sign up for their classes. Soke Hausel, specializes in Okinawan karate and kobudo and in 1999, was certified as a grandmaster of Shorin-Ryu Karate & Kobudo.
In addition, the Hall-of-Fame Karate instructor was certified in 1996 as Juko Kai Samurai due to his many black belt and Shihan certifications in other martial arts: he has certifications as master instructor (Shihan) in the samurai arts of Kempojutsu, Bojutsu, Naginatajutsu and Yarijutsu. He is also certified as Shihan of Juko Ryu Bujutsu Kai, and in 2004 was presented the prestigious award as a 'Genius of Martial Arts'. Can you find another Arizona martial arts instructor with so many black belt ranks. Copies of all of these certifications are available to examine at the Arizona Hombu dojo.
Our samurai students at the Arizona Hombu Dojo learn to use samurai sword, pole arm (naginata), spear (yari), staff (bo), half-staff (hanbo), throwing arts (jujutsu), knife (tanto), rope restraints (hojojutsu), short stick (kuboton), cane (tsune) and other samurai weapons.
Swords used in Feudal Japan are generally known as Japanese swords (日本刀) or nihonto. The kanji includes ‘日’ the ideograph for sun, and ‘本’ for ‘origin’ or ‘root’ (a pictorial graphic of a tree with a root at its base). These two kanji (日本) combined represent Japan (origin of the sun). The third kanji (刀) represents sword.
Japanese sword lengths were measured in shaku (average distance between nodes of a mature bamboo stem ~1 foot). The primary shaku was equal to 30.3 cm (11.93 inches) resulting in the following general classification:
- tanto (knife or dagger) = 1 shaku or less;
- wakizashi or kodachi (short swords known as shoto) = 1 to 2 shaku;
- katana or tachi (long swords known as daito) = more than 2 shaku;
- odachi (long swords) = more than 3 shaku.
LONG SWORDS - Daito
Odachi (otachi) (大太刀). The ‘o’ in odachi refers to ‘great’. The kanji for ‘great’ is written as ‘大’ which also means big. The odachi predated katana and had unique characteristics. Not only was the sword noticeably long, the odachi was marked by religious inscriptions imprinted on the tang. It is thought that odachi were used in ceremonies prior to battle and because their length (5 to 6 shaku)(often longer than a samurai was tall), it is thought many were used as cavalry swords and carried on one’s back, in hand, attached to a horse, or by an assistant who followed the samurai.
Nodachi. The nodachi is often confused with odachi. However, nodachi refers to any type of long battlefield sword (daito) as well as a tachi and is often misapplied to any over-sized Japanese sword. It has the appearance of tachi, but significantly longer. The sword may have been used for dueling.
Katana (刀). The most common sword was the katana (刀) referred to as Samurai Sword by most Westerners. The katana is a single edged sword, with a curved blade whose possession was restricted to samurai during Feudal Japan. It was thought that katana were the soul of samurai. The samurai actually gave names to these swords, as they were considered to be part of the living.
Katana (pronounced kah-ta-nah), was one of the traditional swords worn by samurai. It had a blade larger than 2 shaku with a more moderate curve than tachi. The katana was worn on the left side (there were no left-handed samurai) of the samurai with the cutting edge (ha) up. The blade included a circular to square guard (tsuba) separating it from a long grip handle and pommel (tuska). The blade of katana along with the portion of the blade known as the nakago that extends into the handle was all one continuous piece known as the tang. Those katana made for combat (shinken) and training (iaito) have full tang. This simply means the nakago and ken (blade) are made of one, uninterrupted, piece of steel. Many cheap practice iaito sold at martial arts outlets have two separate pieces - a blade and handle. This results in loosening of the blade with moderate use until the handle separates from the blade. To train in most dojo today, the iaito must have a dull edge. Shinken are too dangerous for dojo use and in Arizona should be reserved for trimming cactus.
The grip handle of katana is covered with ray skin leather (sa-me’) and wrapped with cord known as ito. To hold the handle (tsuka) in place on the nakago, a hole was punched into the steel nakago and a small bamboo peg (mekugi) forced through the handle into the nakago. When the handle is removed from a well-made katana by forcing the mekugi out, the swordsmith’s signature should be seen carved into the nakago. The katana was developed from an earlier sword referred to as uchigatana (打刀). The katana was carried in a scabbard known as saya.
Tachi (太刀). Katana and tachi look similar but can be distinguished by locating the mei (signature) on the sword’s nakago under the handle. When worn, the mei would be carved on that side of the tang that would face outward when placed in one’s obi. Because the tachi was worn with the cutting edge down opposite of the katana, the mdi is on the opposite side of the tang. The tachi was often considered as a spare blade for battle. There were tachi with variations from the classical weapon that not only included odachi but also included a shorter sword known as kodachi. The kodachi was similar in length to wakizashi.
SHORT SWORDS - Shoto
Wakizashi (脇差). The wakizashi, also referred to as wakizashi no kataka, translates as ‘sword inserted at one’s side’. Wakizashi had a 1 to 2 shaku blade. Those closer in length to katana were referred to as o-wakazashi. Shorter blade wakizashi were known as ko-wakizashi. The wakizashi was worn with katana. Together, the pair was referred to as daisho which translates as ‘dai’ (big) and ‘sho’ (little), terms some of us are already familiar with because of advanced karate kata such as Passai Dai and Passai Sho.
The wakizashi was a back-up sword for close quarters fighting and for seppuku (ritual suicide). The size of wakizashi was not regulated until the Edo Period in 1638 AD, when only samurai were allowed to wear katana of a regulated length. At that time wakizashi were also regulated. Samurai were allowed to wear both while those of the chonin class (merchants) were only allowed to wear a shorter ko-wakizashi to protect themselves from bandits. It was customary for samurai to leave katana at a door of a castle, but they always carried wakizashi. The wakizashi was the samurai’s honor blade and would never leave his/hers side, so much so, that it is reported samurai even slept with them under their pillows.
KNIFE - Tanto. The tanto was a knife worn by samurai. One variety was yoroi toshi or dagger (about 8 inches long) that had a greater thickness used for piercing armor. Another was aikuchi (匕首) which had a distinct characteristic of no tsuba, similar to another dagger known as a kaiken. Even so, many tanto had tsuba.
Chokuto. The chokuto had a straight blade and introduced to Japan from Korea.
Kusanagi no Tsurugi. A double-edged sword used in 5th century Japan similar to the ken tanto (double-edged knife).
Shirasaya (白鞘). Shirasaya translates as ‘white scabbard’. This sword that had a plain wood blade mount consisting of a saya (scabbard) with a tsuka (hilt) and traditionally used for storage when a sword blade was not needed for some time. In this form, it was not used on a battlefield.
Shikomi-zue (仕込み杖). The shikomi-zue is a sword-stick. These typically contained a blade inside a cane (tsue) for concealment. Some of these also other weapons such as pepper powder (metsubuski), chains, hooks, etc.
Kenjutsu (sword techniques) is combat sword training. Similar to kenjutsu, kendo (way of the sword) focuses on sport. Both of these focus on techniques of the sword after it has been drawn from the saya (scabbard). Kendo-ka practice with bamboo swords known as shinai, while wearing padded clothing known as bogy wotj and head gear known as men. Most kenjutsu practitioners use a sword or wooden sword.
Iaijutsu, iaido (居合道) & battojutsu (抜刀術) are martial arts designed to develop fast draws. These are similar and generally only differ in training methods. For instance, battojutsu incorporates multiple cuts following a draw; while iaido emphasizes reaction to unknown scenarios, or a reaction to a sudden & swift attack. In iaido, the student often begins with a bokken (wooden practice sword) and later switches to iaito (dull-edged practice sword). Because iaido is practiced with a weapon, whether dull or live, nearly all training is through kata that includes drawing the weapon followed by cuts and finishing with ceremonial de-blooding and replacing the weapon back into the saya. Sparring is not part of iaido but is instead restricted to kendo and kenjutsu. Sword testing, known as tameshigiri was designed to test the blade’s sharpness and the practitioner’s abilities to cut a variety of materials.
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