What is special about samurai swords katanas

The samurai sword - symbol of power and weapon in one

Wednesday November 13, 2019

A samurai sword, also known as a katana, is popular not only because of its elegant look. It also reflects a long tradition of Japanese warriors and their values. Learn more about the famous samurai sword, its history and its function. In addition, we give you tips in this article on what is particularly important when buying a samurai sword.

The world famous swords of the samurai

The samurai ("servants" or "companions") are world-famous as Japanese warriors of pre-industrial Japan. The samurai caste originated in the 12th century when the Japanese clans of the Taira and the Minamoto fought against each other. Belonging to this caste was inherited and the samurai were trained in the arts of war and the use of weapons from early childhood. In addition to sword fighting, this also included archery. The young samurai also had to learn fencing, spearfighting and jui jitsu. All over the world, however, the samurai are primarily associated with the samurai sword with its narrow, sharp blade.

When one speaks of the swords of the samurai, one usually means the traditional long sword of the Japanese warriors. It is also known as the katana. In addition to the katana, the samurai of course also used other types of swords. The katana is probably the most famous samurai sword. The katana is a long sword with a single-edged blade curved backwards and at least 60.6 cm long. In contrast to many Swiss swords, the blade was not straight, but rather resembled a saber.

The samurai sword appeared for the first time towards the end of the 14th century and was used in duels with unarmored opponents. With its long, narrow blade, a samurai could inflict deep stab wounds on his opponent. Each part of the sword has a special name. The back of the blade, for example, is called Mune, and the sword tang is called Nakago. Swords offered today are sometimes provided with a certificate that attests to their high quality. If this comes from a well-known institution, the buyer can trust the seal without hesitation.

Historical use of the samurai sword

The samurai enjoyed many privileges. Unlike other parts of the population, they were allowed to carry two swords. Most citizens were not allowed to carry weapons at all. At times the samurai were even allowed to behead ordinary citizens if they had previously been insulted by them. The samurai were divided into three different classes: the kenin as vassals, mounted samurai in higher ranks and foot soldiers. In combat, the samurai used the samurai sword with two or one hand as a cutting and stabbing weapon.

The sword was considered part of the spirit for the samurai. It was not for nothing that there was a saying that expressed that the sword is the soul of the warrior. In normal everyday life, the samurai wore the katana together with the wakizashi - a short sword - on his hip belt. This pair of swords was known as the daishō. A combat knife, the tanto, was also often worn. At home, the samurai kept his sword in a tight fitting outfit made of untreated wood.

If the samurai took a seat in a strange house, he always placed his sword on the floor within easy reach. So he could use it immediately in the event of hostilities, but still demonstrated the necessary respect for the host by laying down his weapons. Nobody was allowed to touch a samurai's sword. Nor was it allowed to step over the sword when it was on the ground. In the event of an offense, the wrongdoer could be punished with death.

However, during the long period of peace between the beginning of the 17th and mid-19th centuries, the meaning of the sword changed. There was no longer any need for the samurai to fight. They took on more and more other tasks and pursued activities that had nothing to do with sword fighting.

During this time, the former weapon became more and more a status symbol and was no longer used primarily because of its properties in a duel. This change in meaning was reflected in increasingly elaborate decorations on the samurai swords.

The increasing use of firearms led to the fact that the samurai forfeited their privileges and were no longer allowed to carry their swords with them. This change was not without problems for the samurai. Nevertheless, the samurai sword has an important place even nowadays. In Japan, the descendants of the samurai still enjoy a high reputation among the population today. A samurai sword is also considered the epitome of coolness in the western world, and not only for those who practice martial arts from the Far East. Samurai swords also play an important role in many films and series, for example in Quentin Tarantino's classic series “Kill Bill”.

Variants of the blade steels in the katana

In order for the katana to be suitable for practical use, it must have certain properties. A simple cut test is not enough for this. With this, the user can only find out whether it has the required extreme sharpness. Swords for sporting exercises are made of special blade steel and are hardened in a special process.

Tamahagane steel, 1060 or 1095 carbon steel (carbon steel), spring steel, T-10 steel or L-6 steel are usually used for the blades. Modern carbon steel, like its historical predecessor, Tamahagane steel, mainly contains iron. Its carbon content is less than 2.1 percent. Industrially manufactured steel has a consistent quality. Tamahagane steel still needs to be folded up to fifteen times before hardening.

This distributes the carbon present in the material evenly and prevents the blade from cracking later during hardening. In addition, the folding removes any impurities present in the raw material. The number of steel layers depends on that of the folding: Folding five times, for example, results in two to the power of five layers, i.e. 32 layers. Since Tamahagane steel can only be machined with great effort, swords with such blades are correspondingly more expensive.

Decorative swords are often made of standardized industrial stainless steel. Spring steel is also well suited for making sword blades. T-10 steel has properties similar to 1095 carbon steel. While swords with blades made of L-6 steel are recommended by many experts for practical training, they are not widely used. This is because few gunsmiths have mastered the difficult heat treatment of this steel. Such swords are therefore often difficult to obtain.

About the elaborate production of the katana

Katana blades are then hardened: the steel is heated and then exposed to a significantly lower temperature. In the next step, the back of the blade is hardened at a slightly lower temperature. This is called differential hardening. In the end, the cutting edge is harder than the back of the blade. Hardened cutting edges are more resistant and can be sharpened better.

The back of the blade must always be a little softer and more elastic, otherwise it will break. This makes samurai swords particularly flexible. The Japanese use a traditional method for differential hardening. They coat the back of the blade thickly with a mixture of finely ground whetstone, clay, charcoal ash and water. The cutting edge only receives a thin coating.

After the pasty mass has dried, the blade is heated up to 900 degrees and then immersed in warm water to quench. Since the layer on the cutting edge is much thinner, this area hardens more. In addition, the blade curves into the desired shape.
The grinder then receives the sword for polishing and sharpening.

For this he first uses coarse and then finer stones. Then the sword scabbard (Saya) and handle (Tsuka) are made. In front of the vaginal opening (koiguchi), a bone termination is then attached, the handle is covered with ray skin and it is varnished. An externally attached round button with an opening serves as a holder for the silk sword band, which serves as a holder.

What to look for when buying a samurai sword

There is no general answer to the question of which katana is the best. Different swords come into question depending on the intended use. If you only want to use the samurai sword as an attractive decorative object, an attractively designed, inexpensive katana is sufficient. Ultimately, it only has to be visually convincing, the material and manufacturing process are of secondary importance. Swords that are also suitable for sporting exercises, on the other hand, cost up to CHF 2,000, depending on their quality.

The price is related to the elaborate production of the swords. They are completely or partially made manually, the latter variant being a bit cheaper. Machine-made replicas are available at much lower prices than samurai swords, which are hand-forged using the tried and tested technique.

Katanas planned as collector's items have a significantly higher price than swords for fencing. The most expensive ancient sword auctioned to date is now valued at more than $ 700,000. Swords for art collectors are made of particularly exquisite materials and come from well-known workshops with proven quality.

Such coveted samurai swords also have a high quality of workmanship. If the armorer is a master of his trade, the buyer must of course calculate an even higher price. After all, the blade is the most important part of the sword and thus largely determines its quality. Samurai swords made by the famous Japanese katana smith Yoshindo Yoshihara, for example, usually start at an auction price of CHF 10,000. An individual production of a samurai sword by this master is, however, much more expensive.

How you can distinguish real samurai swords from decorative swords

Of course, this also applies to katanas that are not used as collectors' items. So that you can safely handle the sword when fencing, it should have a high steel quality, proper processing and sufficient sharpness. Swords with blades made of Tamahagane, 1060, 1095, T-10 or spring steel are ideal.

These samurai swords are usually properly hardened. Also make sure that your sword has a real nakago (sword tang): the blade and the slightly narrow tang must be made from one piece. The tang should also have two holes because it is attached to the sword handle with two mekugi pins. If this is not the case, the samurai sword does not have sufficient stability in use. Then it can fall apart in battle and injure the swordsman.

The sharpness of the cutting edge is of course also important for close combat. Depending on the quality of the sword, there are big differences in this regard. You can recognize decorative swords by the fact that they have a very narrow tang that is simply screwed to the blade. These items are also a good choice for hanging in the living room at home. However, if you actually want to use the samurai sword, you should rely on a real samurai sword of high quality.

Buy samurai swords from Meister Messer

You can also buy a high-quality samurai sword from Meister Messer. In our online shop you will find, for example, high-quality katanas from the brands Hanwei, John Lee or Ten Ryu. These are powerful swords with an attractive look. They differ in terms of their workmanship, blade length and optical details.

The elegant Shinto Katana by Hanwei, for example, is particularly functional and is made using a traditional process. The blade is made of T10 carbon steel. A filigree dragon motif makes the samurai sword a real visual highlight.

The Ten Kei Katana by John Lee is another high-quality samurai sword that you can buy from Meister Messer. The blade is hand forged from 1095 carbon steel. Handcrafted fittings that are refined with gold and silver make the sword a masterpiece of the blacksmith's craft. Floral patterns on the handle take into account old traditions of high blacksmithing.

More high-quality products in the Meister Messer online shop

At Meister Messer you will also find a large selection of other swords and knives of the highest quality. We also offer our customers axes,spade, Spears and blowguns.

Fantasy fans are also right with us. For example, we have well-known swords from TV series such as Game of Thrones and swords and helmets from Lord of the Rings for you. Of course, you will also find the necessary accessories at your knife shop in Switzerland, for example whetstones, so that your blades always remain razor-sharp. We also have brackets for your swords and knives.

If you are not sure which product is the right choice for you, do not hesitate to call our competent team. Simply contact us by message, email or give us a call. We will be happy to advise you and show you how different items differ from each other. This is how we help you make a choice that you will be completely satisfied with.

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