Myths of the Katana...

Discussion in 'General Weapons & Armour' started by Justice, Jul 5, 2005.

  1. Justice

    Justice New Member

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    This is just to help disperse the action flick anime inspired air about the Japanese katana. These days people think the katana is the A #1 numero uno ichiban of weapons. A katana can cut other swords in half. They weighed nothing. They withstood hundreds of years of cutting armour without getting a scratch. So forth.

    All wrong. Shame on you if you believed any of that. Here is a somewhat concise list of what myths are absolutely false, what are untrue, and what is misleading.

    1. Katanas are folded hundreds of times during the forging process.

    False. A katana might not even be folded at all. I will get into folded steel later. Get a sheet of paper and fold it in half. You have two layers. Fold it again. You have four. One more time and you have eight. Each time you fold the steel you double the layers in the blade. Only 9 times will bring it to 1024 layers. Most katanas do not need to have more than 4096. A sword may have thousands of layers of steel, but it is not folded that many times. Folding the steel hundreds of times makes the layers become so small they become sub atomic, therefore eradicating the layered effect you tried to produce.

    2. A folded steel katana is much stronger than a non folded steel katana.

    False. In fact these days a non folded katana will actually have more structural strength than a folded katana to some extent. Folding the steel always allows for some kind of mistake to be made, perhaps tiny gaps in the layers of a blade that was not folded and laminated properly. The reason steel was folded is because japanese steel was often impure and brittle. Parts of the sword may be very strong, and others very weak. Folding the steel evens out the blade, giving the sword no specific weak point. The sword may overall become slightly weaker, but with even strength. A sword with a brittle section would undoubtedly snap during usage.

    3. "Tempered" means folded.

    False. Not at all. Many people claim that even the hamon pattern, the hardened portion of the blade that appears whitish in color, means the blade is folded. The tempering or hardening of a blade has nothing to do with whether or not it is folded.

    4. A katana can cut other swords in half.

    False. The edge of the katana ma be harder than the rest of the blade, but hard does not mean indestructable. In fact it means the exact opposite in this case. The harder the steel, the more brittle it becomes. hard steel can hold a sharper edge longer, but it also sacrifices strength. In fact katanas are usually brittle weapons. they have to be pampered or else it will be damaged or destroyed. Even cutting rolled up straw mats can bend a japanese katana.

    European swords are through hardened. The steel is the same hardness at every part of the blade. They are also extremely flexible and will return to the originl shape. Japanese katanas are dfferentially hardened (most of them, some special makers through harden them) and will bend and stay bent. The hamon can be damaged and possibly flake off, and the sword will be useless unless straightned by an experienced polisher for probably a lot of money.

    There was a video on the internet showing a katana cutting a bullet in half. The blade was gripped in a vice and a bullet was fired at it, cutting it in two. Howver most bullets are very soft lead, or maybe copper jacketed. Lead and copper stand no chance against steel in a strength competition so the video is interesting, but unfascinating.

    5. Katanas weigh less than other swords.

    Depends. In fact a katana can weigh much more than a similar sized eauropean sword. Very few swords with a 29 inch blade require two hands for usage, but many japanese katanas need two hands to weild properly. Katana blades were usually very thick at the time they are forged, mostly because a great deal of the blade could be polished off during the swords lifetime. Steel weihs the same no matter what sword you make, but the Europeans relied on pommels for counter balance, katanas had no pommels, but instead a thicker tang in the grip.

    That is all for now. I would love for people to add of to this thread or ask questions.
     
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  2. Cudgel

    Cudgel The name says it all

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    someone needs to make this a sticky
    and a few additonal tidbits
    Europeans swords are sually both through hardened and temperd whre as katana were sually only differentiall hardened and rarely tempered, another reason i think for being beefier and teh differntial hardening, shock absorbtion.
     
  3. Jessehk

    Jessehk The introverted

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    Stuck.

    Thanks for the guide Justice, I'm sure that clears things up for many people.
     
  4. elrond243

    elrond243 The Fighters Guide House Member

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    wow you really did some resaerch on this topic, thanks.
     
  5. Justice

    Justice New Member

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    6. Katanas are hollow. There is straw in the center

    False. Many people who have actually seen the forging of a katana will actually see the smith place traw in the steel and forge with it. Somehow there are people who believe the straw survives the heat and forging of steel. Burning straw adds carbon content to steel, the main difference between steel and iron. It has nothing to do with the makeup.

    As for being hollow, it would be a terrible sword that is hollow in the center. A sword like that would probably shatter in the first really hard impact.

    7. Reverse katanas

    Never existed. Anime invention. Chalk this under fantasy if you are the least bit serious about owning one.

    8. In this movie/anime I saw this guy...

    Stop right there. First off movies are fake. Even if somone in an unbelievably realistic movie does something outlandish, it probably took about 30 takes to get it and speacialized weapons. Most movie weapos are unedged steel or aluminum. Or if you are trying to use something in an anime cartoon as proof as something in real life... get out more often.

    9. There was a story about a Samurai who deuled with a Rapier swordsman and cut him and his rapier in half.

    Unsubstantiated. There are at least 5 or 10 different versions of this story. In some the man with the rapier wins. The rapier often had blades in excess of 36 inches in length, so he would definitely have a reach advantage. Even if this did ever happen, it is just a single incident. I doubt this samurai would beat every challenger he ever faced.

    10. A silk scarf dropped on the edge of a katana should cut in half by itself.

    Silk does not have the weight to press down on the edge of a katana and slice itself. The only way to do that is to pull the silk across the edge, not just dropping it.
     
  6. R. Laine

    R. Laine New Member

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    Yeah, though there are historical accounts of European seamen giving Oriental, often Japanese, pirates quite a whoopin' on several occasions. At least I don't know of any that speak of encounters that went the other way.

    36 inches of blade is actually a fairly short length for a rapier, btw - most were several inches longer. Wouldn't be that uncommon for a cutting sword (e.g. Silver's "short sword"), though.

    Rabbe
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2005
  7. I. R. Shogun

    I. R. Shogun Midnight Demon

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    In addition to the reach advantage a fencer would also have the advantage in aggression, samurai sword duels were usually over very quickly often desided in the first move, very little parrying would be used, whereas european fencing requires very good reaction time and constant moving, so I'd favor the european fencer in that confrontation
     
  8. Justice

    Justice New Member

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    Yeah, I know, that's why I put in excess of 36 inches. I saw a rapier with a 44 inch blade once. Crazy.
     
  9. R. Laine

    R. Laine New Member

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    Oh, whoops - I sorta misunderstood you there. Sorry for the confusion.
     
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  10. elrond243

    elrond243 The Fighters Guide House Member

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    theres also the style problem fencing(rapier) is like I.R.shogun said reaction, parrying and thrusting rather the slicing at an opponent. so i think the rapier swordsmen would win that fight.
     
  11. Makonu

    Makonu New Member

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    By John Clements, ARMA Director

    There is typically a view that the katana and rapier represent the ideal cutting blade and the ideal thrusting blade; the "highest" development of East and West. Every once in awhile it's not uncommon to hear people speculate on what result might occur in a duel between a Japanese samurai armed with his katana and an European Renaissance swordsman with a rapier. It's a worthwhile question to consider.

    As someone who has some small experience in both Japanese swordsmanship and fencing (kenjutsu & kendo) and who has been a long-time Renaissance swordsman and previously a sport fencer, I can offer an opinion on this question. From my own experience sparring with cutting against thrusting swords, I have a few insights. While there are certainly no historically recorded accounts (other than unsubstantiated folklore and rumor) as to a one on one duel between an European swordsman with a rapier and Japanese samurai using a katana, I think we can make a few very general suppositions about such a hypothetical encounter.

    First, while typical samurai warriors were highly trained soldiers, the average samurai was not an expert swordsman, perhaps only 5% or so were its been suggested. Of this 5%, maybe 5% of those were "master" level swordsmen (not that it matters to the issue at hand whether the figure was over 99% or less than 1%). Whereas the average European rapier swordsman, would more or less be an ordinary urban citizen with or without military experience. He would likely have received some (if any) professional instruction from a master in a private school of fence and then would of course have likely some degree of practical "street-fighting" experience or have been in a duel. The weapon he used would be one of personal self-defence and duel as opposed to a battlefield sword.

    There is no question that each swordsman was experienced at armed close- combat. For sake of argument though, let's assume mastery level by each hypothetical fighter. Let us also assume armor is a non-factor in the encounter, as are any missile weapons or terrain factors. Let's additionally assume neither has any major physical advantages over the other. Further, let’s assume that each swordsman is equally ignorant of the other's style of fight. Though the rapier fighter was ideally at home in a civilian environment, he would certainly be far from ignorant of fighting tactics. While it is arguably not relevant to a duel of single combat, cavaliers and knights of this age were often well read in military strategy being familiar with the well-known literature on the subject, such as Vegetius, Frontius, Pizan, and Machiavelli’s art of war as well as countless fencing treatises.

    An immediate question that occurs then, is would the samurai's notorious resolute contempt for death and self-disregard lead to an audacious and immediate offensive attack? Would the rapier fighter's presumably cautious, cool-headed counter-thrusting style of fight provoke a simple stop-thrust? The samurai might well hold disdain for his "barbarian" foreigner's seemingly "flimsy" blade. This could prove fatal against a weapon with the speed and reach of a rapier. The rapier fighter himself may also erroneously hold his "pagan" adversary's cutting style equally in contempt. Underestimating both the speed and the force of a katana's deflecting counter-cuts can be disastrous. Even a small snipping cut could often dismember an arm. Simply stepping to evade an initial cut can even place you in the path of a powerful second and third one. For the most part though, since all the psychological factors, although important, are notoriously hard to quantify, we'll have to avoid them for now.

    Personally, from my own experience, I think the outcome of such a fight would fall in one of either two directions: The samurai would move directly to make a devastating cut, becoming punctured through the head, throat, or chest as a result, but still having his cut cleave through the rapier fighter's head and torso (or at least his extended arm). Else, the rapier fighter would over time, make multiple quick, shallow punctures at unpredictable angles of attack to the samurai's hands, arms, and face until able to deliver an incapacitating thrust. But at this same time, the samurai would be carefully closing the distance and waiting until the split second he could dash the rapier aside and step in with a slice clean across his opponent's abdomen or face.

    Typically, the sword user won't risk stepping into a stop-thrust and the rapier fighter won't risk taking a swiping cut. The heavier blade can usually beat the rapier aside but can't respond in time. While the rapier often can attack but afterwards couldn't recover or parry once it connects. I have seen both forms of outcomes in my mock-fighting practices, but more often the Japanese stylist underestimates the rapier rather than vice-versa. The katana is limited to about 7 or 8 cuts and a thrust -all of which are techniques already contained within the familiar longsword and short sword styles a rapier fencer would be somewhat familiar with. Whereas the katana fighter, in contrast, has no equivalent foyning style of rapier (or rapier and dagger) fencing in their experience. Historically, in the late 16th century, it was the rapier's very deadliness at making unpredictable, lightning fast thrusts from unusual angulation that made it become so popular so quickly in place of all manner of cutting blades.

    As is becoming increasingly well known, the rapier is not the flimsy tool of the modern sport version, nor is it used in the same flicking manner. It is longer, stronger, heavier, and involves a greater range of techniques and moves. The rapier's penetrating stabs have great reach and are very quick, particularly on the disengage. But it can still be grabbed and lacks cutting offense. The katana has a well-rounded offence to defence, and is much more symmetrical in its handling. It can make great close-in draw cuts and is an agile weapon with quick footwork of its own. It can be wielded well enough one-handed if need be, too. Obviously, a katana can't match the rapier thrust for thrust. What a rapier does best is fight point-on with linear stabs, and no heavier, wider blade will possibly out maneuver it. Playing to the rapier's strength by using a katana horizontally is a losing game.

    While the rapier certainly is a "point-based" threat and does not work well close in, it makes up for this by being able to out thrust cutting swords, like the katana, by about three feet of range using in its foyning method specialized footwork such as the lunge. A long lunge can strike a lethal hit from well outside the effective distance of a man with a long cutting sword.

    If a longer, straighter, double-edged sword adept at stabbing attacks could not out-thrust the rapier, we may well wonder what chance a shorter single edged katana, devised for slashing, would have? Besides that, the rapier was devised to outfight blades that could strike with both their edges in sixteen possible lines of attack—twice the number employed by a katana—as well as trap and bind with their large cross-guards which the katana also did not possess.

    The katana itself s not a slow sword. It has a good deal of agility as well as being able to thrust some. Kenjutsu cuts are delivered in quick succession using a flowing manner. Its two-hand grip can generate great power by using a sort of "torqueing" method with additional force added from the hips. The katana's cutting power and edge sharpness is also legendary (although often the subject of exaggeration, sometimes absurdly so). It is a sword of war after all, and faced a variety of arms and armors. While not every puncture with a rapier would be lethal, to be sure, virtually every cut by a katana was intended to kill instantly. During the centuries of the Renaissance in Europe (the 1400s to early 1600s), Japan was in its Warring States period; the samurai class were essentially mounted archers with their main infantry weapon being the spear (yari). At this time the sword was a secondary weapon. It was only later, during the peace of the Tokugawa unification when the era of endless civil war had ended, that the “cult” of the katana developed around the samurai as warriors (which in modern times this has grown into something of a pop-cultural mythology). The rapier on the other hand, had but one purpose: dueling another swordsman.

    Although occasionally argued by some, I do not believe for an instant that the rapier would be "cut" or broken by a katana. Although katanas were (more or less) capable of cutting through metal, slicing an adversary's very sword, especially one as agile as a rapier, is improbable at best. The rapier really just doesn't offer the opportunity or the necessary resistance to even attempt it. We might wonder however about the rapier's recorded propensity to break when used in cutting. Yet it is necessary to understand that there was considerable diversity in the geometry of rapier blades. Some designs intended to produce an especially light and agile thrusting weapons resulted in particularly thin points that did indeed tend to snap off when a forcible edge blow was struck with them.

    The speed and angulation of the highly methodical and calculating rapier and dagger style (quiet unlike the dui tempo Baroque form of modern sport fencing) is also one that would intentionally avoid contact with a wider cutting blade. (Cutting through highly tempered and deceptively swift blade of a thrusting rapier with a one- handed slash from a katana, while an interesting and not inconvenient theory, it must be admitted is certainly one without any physical or literary evidence).

    In thinking about all this, I have to admit to a certain bias. Being somewhat familiar with both Eastern and Western systems, I have a good feel I think for the strengths and weaknesses of each. So I may have a slightly skewed opinion. When I have sparred with each weapon against each style of fighter, I know generally what they can and can't do and adjust myself accordingly. Then again, maybe that makes me more objective than biased. My own experiences contrasting the two forms has been in using a variety of implements, including: non-contact steel blunts, semi-contact bokken (wooden sword) versus replica rapier, and full-contact padded sword versus schläger (rapier simulator). Attempting a simulation of sport epee versus bokken though, is a futile exercise as the super light epee, more often than it can flash in with a poke, can be easily knocked around and even end up being bent. As well, shinai versus a foil or epee is just as futile. The virtually weightless bamboo shinai distorts a katana's handling far more so than even a foil or epee misrepresents the performance of a rapier or small-sword.

    Very often it has seemed to me, that sport fencers are quite often much too quick to assume that their own speedy feints, disengages, and long reach will easily overwhelm a cutting sword. Frequently, what passes for the kenjutsu that Western fencers have previously encountered was far from competent. Thus, they are habitually unprepared for a katana's agile strength and defensive counter-cuts. The worst thing the rapier fighter can do is to allow his weapon to be bound up with the point off to the side (once you're past a rapier's point, the weapon is almost impotent). He also must avoid fighting close-in where the katana's force and slicing ability will instantly dominate. On the other hand, Asian stylists unfamiliar with what a rapier really is and what it can do, severely underestimate it. They too readily believe what they see in sport epee and foil is the "real thing", or that the Princess Bride and Zorro fans at the local Renn faire represent the best the weapon has to offer. The rapier's deceptive speed combined with its excellent reach and fast, efficient footwork make it a formidable weapon to face in single (unarmored) combat. Essentially, underestimating either weapon is a fatal misperception.*

    If we assume the rapier is being used alone, that means the fencer has its left hand free to seize his opponent's grip, handle, or arm. If we assume he is using a companion dagger with his rapier, then when he closes in he has a potential killing thrust at his disposal. Also, the rapier fighter would not have been ignorant of grappling and wrestling techniques any less than his Asian opponent.

    It is worth mentioning that the rapier was used more often with a companion dagger. But employing a dagger against a fast katana is extremely challenging as well as possibly self-defeating. Trying to trap or block a sword held in two-hands with a light dagger held in one is not advisable. The samurai might always release one hand from his weapon and grab his opponent's blade. However, some dagger techniques against a sword actually resemble those effectively used with the Okinawan sai --a weapon fully capable of defeating a katana. Also, the respected two-sword nito-ryu style of the famous Miyamoto Musashi seems to be much less relevant against the rapier. In this case, using one hand on two separate swords reduces the katana's own speed and strength advantages while playing to the rapier's. The two swords end up being too slow to employ their combination parry/cut against the rapier's greater speed and stabbing reach.

    So, after all this I am reluctant to form an opinion of one over another, but I have to say I really don't know one way or the other. I have tremendous respect for kenjutsu's excellent technique and its ferocious cutting ability, yet I favor the rapier's innovative fence and vicious mechanics. Though it's very fun to speculate on, I think "who would win" between a rapier swordsman and a samurai is a moot question and unanswerable. Thus, what it eventually gets down to is not the weapon or even the art, but the individual (their conditioning and attitude) and the circumstances. Bottom line, it's about personal skill.
     
  12. kartaron

    kartaron Hunter / Gatherer

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    If you are using katana in the sense of the traditional curved japanese sword and not the specific katana there were some tachi and odachi that ran beyond 48". They were somewhat rare and not meant for dueling but they were around.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katana
     
  13. Anduril

    Anduril Flame of the West

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    I would also like to add that unlike most weapons, if you are not holding the katana correctly, you can snap your wrist when you hit the target.

    11. It is pronounced ka'ta na.

    False. The japaneese to not stress their syllables the same way we do.
     
  14. LIL LOCO

    LIL LOCO New Member

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    So I guess the kill bill vol 1 scene is pretty impossible but i wanted to by a samurai, not to display but to use cutting stuff. But now Justice's observation makes it seem like I will break the sword after one practice run.
     
  15. Gundar

    Gundar New Member

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    Are there some Japanese swords that was suppose to be hold bended down and some to be hold bended up?

    Think i heard that it was the Jindachi that was to hold bended down, or or was this just a choice?


    ...Just came to my mind how you draw the Japanese swords...it has to be held bended down

    :stupid: -with
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2005
  16. Gundar

    Gundar New Member

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  17. I. R. Shogun

    I. R. Shogun Midnight Demon

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    The way the edge points is dependant on which stance you intend to employ. There are six proper stances taught in Kendo, two that come to mind have the edge facing down, two have the edge fcing up, and one has the edge facing the enemy, I'm not sure of the other one. The sword itself doesn't nesesarily dictate the way you hold it, just your preferred technique. As for drawing a katana, the edge was always supposed to face up while in it's scabbard. That way the faster draw didn't matter, you couldn't kill in a single move, your enemy would be aware of your intent. However the employment of the art of Iajutsu would change this, that was drawing to kill, but rarely used.
     
  18. Alchemist

    Alchemist The Fighters Guide House Member

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    One thing some left out ( well from what i read ) is that the katana is the sharpest of the swords. Due to its curved shape ( scimitars fall into this category as well ). Any naturally cruved blade is significantly sharper than a straight blade. While being forged the blade is allowed to curve, this happens naturally to any steel. By allowing the blade to curve the edge retains its sharpness longer and, as stated above, starts of sharper.

    just my two cents.
     
  19. Patrick Kelly

    Patrick Kelly New Member

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    Incorrect. Sharpness is about edge geometry not blade curvature. The katana's blade isn't curved through the forging, in fact it's straight after forging. It becomes curved through the reaction on the clay-covered and non-clay covered surfaces during heat treatment.

    A curved blade cuts no more or less effectively than a straight one. This is myth.
     
  20. Alchemist

    Alchemist The Fighters Guide House Member

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    No, its fact. Just recently watched a documentry on the history of swords. I'll take an atcual expert's opinion over a board members.
     
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