Myths of the Katana...

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

  1. Justice

    Justice New Member

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    Some smaller points.

    Daikatana: means really big katana!

    Nope. There was a game called Daikatana. It is just a horrible translation of Japanese Kanji. DAI is japanese for big. DIATO is japanese for "big sword", also known as a "katana". DAIKATANA would mean "big big sword" which is horrible grammar in Japanese.

    No-Dachi or more correctly Odachi are the very large katanas meant for battle.


    Why is the edge of a Japanese katana so sharp?

    Well, it has nothing to do with the curve or the hamon. The swords are polished, rather expensively might I add, to be razor sharp. Not all blades are sharpened to the same exact cutting edge, a thicker edge may be left on a sword that will experience heavy armor or very heavy cutting, but a razors edge could be used on an unarmored opponent. Since the katana was more of a deuling sword than a weapon of battle, a Samurai could have his sword polished to a razor edge because his opponent would be wearing only a silk kimono.
     
  2. Alchemist

    Alchemist The Fighters Guide House Member

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    So the long katana is the Odachi
    what is the name of the medium and smaller ones?
     
  3. Patrick Kelly

    Patrick Kelly New Member

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    ".....but a razors edge could be used on an unarmored opponent."

    I think it's wise to stay away from terms like "a razors edge" when describing the sharpness of swords. A sword primarily dedicated to the cut, such as a katana, will have a keen edge so as to maximize its cutting ability. However, the edge geometry will still allow quite a bit of body to the shoulder of the edge so the edge is well supported. This allows for an edge that is keen yet durable, quite unlike a razor. I know it's a fine distinction but in the written medium semantics are everything.
     
  4. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Another question from the uneducated: Were katanas held to be superior over European swords, at least in terms of practical use? Or vice versa?
     
  5. Justice

    Justice New Member

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    Actually the answer could be no.

    It really depends on a host of other factors.

    Japanese swords are, put simply and over-generalized, expensive. Everything had to be made by hand, and as far as the cost of forging a Japanese blade goes it has a lot more components than a typical European sword. A barebones Euro sword would have a pommel, handle, crossguard, and blade. Even a barebones Japanese sword would still have a blade, habaki, seppa, tsuba, fuchi, kashira, and a wood core handle wrapped in stingray skin and then wrapped with a silk cord. The cost of all these parts, not even including the cost of the basic polish of the blade would be far greater than that of a European sword.

    Of course the sword was a symbol of status. The nicer swords could be compared to the purchase of a new house. Of course if any of the peasentry had a sword they probably took it from a battlefield or from a dead Samurai.

    European swords weren't cheap either. It's been a while, but I saw a scale as to how much a basic sword would cost and it equated to a small herd of cows.

    As far as design... the katana remained relatively unchanged for over 600 years. It worked for them. Being one nation and fairly isolated they never really changed much as far as design goes. Europe however has so many different styles of swords I stop counting.

    In most ways a European sword is a lot more forgiving to abuse. Through hardening helps a lot in terms of flexibility. Japanese swords can be considered brittle compared to them, but they are very powerful weapons in their own right. "Sword Fabricator" Angus Trim tried to demote the myth of the "all powerful cutting katana" by introducing European swords that could perform just as well as katanas, and he did a very good job of it.

    Well, then he made some katanas and he was shocked as to how well they performed compared to his Euro swords. He basically admitted they performed better in cutting than almost all his European blades.

    So the design of the katana is not something to be scorned, as some of us know some people are extremely protective over them, perhaps a tad overserious.

    When I get some more time I'll elborate more.
     
  6. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Hmmm, I see. So you can't really judge one way or the other - katanas "perform" a lot better, but European swords are much more durable.

    And thanks for the info :) (looking forward to some more though :p).
     
  7. Anduril

    Anduril Flame of the West

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    I would like to mention though, that no matter what the sword, the ultimate deciding factor is the swordsman. One time my coach did a better cutting job with a broadsword than a swordsman with a katana. My coach also describes a fight between a knight and a samurai this way. "The samurai would be running all over the place, but he wouldn't be able to get through the knight's armour. Meanwhile, the knight would be pretty much immobile compared to the samurai, and wouldn't be able to reach him."
     
  8. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Lol, I understand that, but I was wondering in practical terms (such as several centuries ago) which sword would be more practical to use.
     
  9. Mububban

    Mububban Administrator Staff Member

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    It's all about context. Anduril's example is a perfect one. Any weapon is designed for a certain type of use.

    What exactly do you mean by "practical"? Do you mean which was easier to master? Which was easier to wield? Because the practical application of a sword is going to dictate its design ie is it an armour buster, or a flesh slicer?
     
  10. Justice

    Justice New Member

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    Well, depending on what you mean by practical, they all have their uses. Katanas, side swords, rapiers, court swords, all these types of swords coodinated with dress styles. A gentlemen in a powdered wig will not look proper carrying a 4 and a half foot long war sword around.

    The japanese katana is integrated with samurai fashion, in fact a samurai not carrying his swords would be an unforgivable act.

    Rapiers, court swords, and katanas are not practical for battles. Naginatas, yaris, war swords otherwise known as two handers, axes, and other style weapons were more practical battlefield weapons.

    Hopes this answers any questions.
     
  11. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Thanks, it does (and yes, I was asking about in battle). Naginatas and yaris, I know... but for European blades, which would be the most practical? (Sorry if it's off-topic...)
     
  12. Justice

    Justice New Member

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    Great swords (the very large two handed kind), claymores, and other large swords like these below.

    http://www.albion-swords.com/images/swords/albion/nextGen/baron04.jpg
    http://www.albion-swords.com/images/swords/albion/nextGen/baron01.jpg

    By and large the sword was not the preferred battle weapon. Spears, lances, pikes, halberds, axes, partisans, maces, and flails would have taken the forefront. A sword would be for backup un case the mail assault weapon would fail.

    *edit: meant MAIN assault weapon, not mail assault weapon. Come to think of it, these would be the preferred weapons for going against mail armour though...*
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2006
  13. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Ah, I see. And once again, thanks! :)
     
  14. Patrick Kelly

    Patrick Kelly New Member

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    This is really an unanswerable question, since any answer would be an overgeneralization of a complex topic. Sword types are myriad in any culture that developed them. Even the japanese katana has quite a few variations if studied closely. Each type of sword was designed to perform a specific function. Some types will do some things better than others but none of them will be the outstanding performer in all areas.

    Rather than asking which sword is "best", "practical", "superior", etc., a far better question to ask is "What do I want to do with it?" Answering this question will then help to determine the "best" sword for a given situation.
     
  15. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    I meant it in terms of battle, as Justice said. :)
     
  16. Patrick Kelly

    Patrick Kelly New Member

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    Yes, and in those terms we should really define what kind of battle, what kind of tactical application, etc.

    There really is no answer to a basic "Which one is best." type of question.
     
  17. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Well, I don't know anything, which is why I ask questions of the people who DO know. Could you give me some examples of kinds of battle, tactical applications, etc.?
     
  18. I. R. Shogun

    I. R. Shogun Midnight Demon

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    actually that depends on what age in the knight area the knight is dressed in. the knights we typically think of weren't seen until fairly late in the age of the knight, earlier suits of armor would include a few plates around the arms, a large helmet and chainmail, enabling the knight to be fairly mobile
     
  19. Anduril

    Anduril Flame of the West

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    Very true. The period I was thinking of was in the fourteenth century.

    Actually, in the movie Dragonheart, the armour selection was fairly accurate to the period (being set about 1000 A.D.). There was mostly leather and chain mail with not a lot of the plate mail we see later.

    I don't want to get off topic here, so I will just end my discussion with European knights by saying that the best source for learning the history and documentation on swords comes from the late Ewart Oakeshott.

    Anyhow, I find it interesting that people think the katana was the "ultimate sword". I think it's because it looks sort of cool and has a reputation for being incredibly sharp which the amateur thinks immediately qualifies a blade for being "ultimate".
     
  20. Patrick Kelly

    Patrick Kelly New Member

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    The sword was a main battlefield weapon for over two thousand years, so there are countless variations to consider.

    In terms of things to consider................................

    Would the sword be used in an infantry context, with organized and massed bodies of footsoldiers such as the roman legions? Would the sword be used by mounted troops such as mongol warriors or european knights?

    If we're talking about medieval europe than we need to consider which era. The age of mail, say the 11th-13th century? In that context a sword with a blade that features a broad cutting surface was the standard. If we're talking about the 13th-15th century then swords with a more rigid thrusting design begin to surface due to the evolution of plate armor. (there's no such thing as 'plate mail' outside of D&D) If we're talking about a period such as the renaissance, where swords such as the rapier were worn as part of civilian dress, then there are non-military applications to consider

    In the end there really isn't a 'best' or most 'practical' sword. Swords were designed for specific uses during different periods in history. I'm not trying to give you a hard time. I'm just trying to point out that the subject (which I have studies for over 25 years) is quite a bit more complex than many assume and really can't be covered adequately with simple "X or Y?" questions.

    Anduril mentioned the works of Ewart Oakeshott. His books are well worth reading and are one of the best sources available in the english language. Swords of the Viking Age by Ian Peirce is also an excellent reference on swords of that era. Many translations of medieval fechtbuchs (fight books) are now available and these can give valuable insight into the use of medieval weapons.
     
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