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Japanese Swords

A Japanese sword (日本刀 nihontō) is one of several types of traditionally made swords from Japan. Swords have been made from as early as the Kofun period, though generally "Japanese swords" refer to the curved blades made after the Heian period. There are many types of Japanese swords that differ by size, shape, field of application and method of manufacture. Some of the more commonly known types of Japanese swords are the katanawakizashiodachi, and tachi.

Types of Swords:

The type classifications for Japanese swords indicate the combination of a blade and its mounts as this, then, determines the style of use of the blade. An unsigned and shortened blade that was once made and intended for use as a tachi may be alternately mounted in tachi koshirae and katana koshirae. It is properly distinguished, then, by the style of mount it currently inhabits. A long tanto may be classified as a wakizashi due to its length being over 30 cm, however it may have originally been mounted and used as a tanto making the length distinction somewhat arbitrary but necessary when referring to unmounted short blades. When the mounts are taken out of the equation, a tanto and wakizashi will be determined by length under or over 30 cm unless their intended use can be absolutely determined or the speaker is rendering an opinion on the intended use of the blade. In this way, a blade formally attributed as a wakizashi due to length may be informally discussed between individuals as a tanto because the blade was made during an age where tanto were popular and the wakizashi as a companion sword to katana did not yet exist.

The following are types of Japanese swords:

  • Chokutō (直刀, "straight sword"): A straight single edged sword that was produced prior to the 10th century, and without differential hardening or folding.

  • Tsurugi/Ken (剣, "sword"): A straight two edged sword that was produced prior to the 10th century, and may be without differential hardening or folding.

  • Tachi (太刀, "big sword"): A sword that is generally longer and more curved than the later katana, with curvature centered from the middle or towards the tang, and often including the tang. Tachi were worn suspended, with the edge downward. The tachi was in vogue before the 15th century.

  • Kodachi (小太刀, "small big sword"): A shorter version of the tachi, but with similar mounts and intended use, mostly found in the 13th century or earlier.

  • Ōdachi (大太刀, "big big sword")/Nodachi (野太刀, "big field sword"): Very large tachi, some in excess of 100 cm, and usually a blade of the late 14th century.

  • Uchigatana (打刀): A development from the tachi in the 15th century. Worn with the edge upwards in the obi.

  • Katate-uchi (片手打ち, "one handed"): A short type of uchigatana developed in the 16th century, with short tang, intended for one handed use. One of the forerunners of the wakizashi.

  • Katana (刀, "sword"): A general term for the traditional sword with a curved blade longer than 60 cm (there is no upper length limit but generally they are shorter than 80 cm), worn with the edge upwards in the sash. Developed from the uchigatana and the sword of the samurai class of the Edo period (1600s to late 19th century).

  • Wakizashi (脇差 "companion sword"): A general term for a sword between one and two shaku long (30 cm and 60 cm in modern measurement), predominantly made after 1600. Generally it is the short blade that accompanies a katana in the traditional samurai daisho pairing of swords, but may be worn by classes other than the samurai as a single blade, also worn edge up as the katana.

It should be noted that there are bladed weapons made in the same traditional manner as other Japanese swords and they are also considered to be swords even though they are not swords, these include:

  • Nagamaki (長巻, "long wrapping"): A polearm similar to a naginata, but with a straighter blade, more like that of a tachi or katana, and mounted with a wrapped handle similar to a highly exaggerated katana handle. The name refers to the style of mount as well as a blade type which means that a naginata blade could be mounted in a nagamaki mount and be considered a nagamaki.

  • Naginata (なぎなた, 薙刀): A polearm with a curved single-edged blade. Naginata mounts consist of a long wooden pole, different from a nagamaki mount, which is shorter and wrapped.

  • Yari (槍, "spear"): A spear, or spear-like polearm. Yari have various blade forms, from a simple double edged and flat blade, to a triangular cross section double edged blade, to those with a symmetric cross-piece (jumonji-yari) or those with an asymmetric cross piece. The main blade is symmetric and straight unlike a naginata, and usually smaller but can be as large or bigger than some naginata blades.

  • Tantō (短刀, "short blade"): A knife or dagger. Usually one-edged, but some were double-edged, though asymmetrical.

  • Ken (剣, "sword"): Usually a tanto or wakizashi length religious or ceremonial blade, with a gentle leaf shape and point, but some may be larger and can also refer to old pre-curve types of swords as above. Symmetrical and double edged.

Arrowheads for war, yajiri, were also made using the same methods as Japanese swords were.



Shinkage-ryū (新陰流) meaning "new shadow school", is a traditional school (koryū) of Japanese martial arts, founded by Kamiizumi Ise-no-Kami Nobutsuna(上泉 伊勢守 信綱, 1508–1578) in the mid-sixteenth century. Shinkage-ryū is primarily a school of swordsmanship (kenjutsu and iaijutsu), and is a synthesis of Nobutsuna's studies in the school of Kage-ryū (Aizu). Shinkage-ryu can also refer to Kashima derived schools such as Kashima Shinden Jikishinkage Ryu and Kashima Shin Ryu.

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