Samurai Swords | Katana
Samurai Swords - Meaning and History
While samurai swords or katanas are unique to Japan, they have become an iconic weapon throughout most of the world. This is mostly due to the many various television shows and movies that utilize it.
Now, people are drawn to the sleek design, the precision for wielding the weapon, and artistry, and what the samurai sword represents.
In order to truly understand the meaning behind the samurai sword, it is important to look back at it’s history and origins.
Just where did the samurai sword come from? How did the design come about? What significant historic moments influenced the creation of the weapon? And what does this traditional weapon mean to the Japanese samurais that carried them?
A Brief Chinese Influence
The first sign of a Japanese sword did not share the same iconic curve of the katana. It was actually straight in nature and sporting a double-edged iron blade. They got this practice from the swords that the Chinese had.
The fact that they got it from the Chinese may seem a bit odd to those who know Japan today. As a country, Japan is a very proud country with an unbreakable and unyielding culture and tradition.
That is why by the time the 10th century came to an end, the Japanese eventually stepped away from any and all Chinese influences. They started creating their own class divisions within their society. Included in these divisions was a military group that defended their societies.
The military group would become the first samurai. In history, we can see this time as the first steps taken towards the katana sword we know today.
Durability as a Base
The next touchpoint for the evolution of the katana comes around 700 AD in the Yamato Province. At this time, Japan was being invaded by the Mongolians.
A swordsmith named Amakuni noticed the Japanese soldiers were coming back with their swords largely broken. This incident pushed him to think of a way to evolve the Japanese samurai sword.
This is where the iconic curve of the katana came to be. He utilized iron sand ore and built the katana that was meant for slicing through most anything, especially their enemies.
There are little qualms on why the katana is deemed the most impressive melee weapon that has been made by man. The secret of its efficacy lies in its craftsmanship. The people who practice certain crafts - even blacksmithing back then - would hone their skills and keep improving upon previous works.
In the hands of legendary blacksmith Masamune, the katana came to life and transformed into its revolutionary design.
At the start though, even this amazing blacksmith was stumped. He actually faced challenges in refining the katana. He was thinking of a way to keep the blade sharp but could defend and survive against the harsh blows dealt in battle.
The issue though was that a blade made so fine and sharp could not - at least in theory at the time - be durable as well.
Masamune’s solution was to integrate at least four different metal bars into the blade. The first metal bar was a soft iron bar that helped to keep the blade whole and keep it from breaking.
Next came two hard iron bars. These would allow the blade’s shape to be retained and help withstand bending. The final metal bar is a steel bar and is responsible for the sharpness of the blade.
Once all these bars are heated at a sweltering 2,500° F heat, it is made into a singular rectangular bar. This bar would be the base for the revolutionary killer design of the katana.
These swords were very important and vital. They were seen as works of hardwork and art. So much so that priests were called in to bless these swords during the creation process.
The Way of Bushido
Warriors were very important in Japan. As stated before, the ruling warrior class became the military class that helped to defend their society.
As a guiding principle, the warriors followed the “Bushido”. Roughly translated, it means “the way of the warrior”.
This is a set of beliefs, philosophies, and practices that the samurai live by. These include things like compassion, respect, loyalty, courage, honor, and more.
The weapon of the samurai was the katana. It was seen as an extension of the samurai’s soul. When a new warrior baby was being born, the katana he would eventually use would be present in the delivery room. In much the same way, an old warrior at his deathbed would have his katana by his side.
However, we all know that the katana was way more than just an extension of their soul. It was a weapon that they needed to master.
The katana came in a set. The longer katana was accompanied by the much shorter wakizashi. Together, the set was called a Daisho.
The samurai would study the effective use of these weapons. The tree of knowledge is called Kenjutsu and involves more than just the Daisho, but every other effective weapon that the samurai need to learn. It also included tactics, war, and more.
An Everlasting Legacy
The katana is indeed a very interesting weapon. It has been used in numerous films, television, shows, and comics. The fascination for this weapon continues to grow.
For many, the sheer destructive power is awe-inspiring. Used in fiction, it can help to create many fun and cool scenes. If you don’t believe us, just watch Kill Bill or any other Japanese anime that utilizes it.
For others, it is the sheer craftsmanship that was used to create it. The deep artistry of a great katana is much like a good Renaissance painting.
These are great reasons to like the katana. Even to own one. However, we must not turn away from the rich history and significance of the katana.
The samurai used it as a tool to not only develop physical prowess, but also mental acuity and discipline that they could use to live a great life.
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