If you put together all of the deadliest weapons in human history, the most recognizable one would probably be the samurai sword. Although samurai swords have been gaining popularity lately through outlets like television and Hollywood, the weapon has been around for centuries. Originating in Japan, it has been one of the most recognized symbols of the country. Synonymous with strength and beauty, many feel that the samurai sword is the crown jewel of Japanese culture.
There are three main types of samurai swords, however probably the most famous is the Katana. The Katana is a sword with a long, curved blade that has a cutting edge on only one side. It came into being sometime in the late 10th century, with its original purpose being a weapon for surprise attacks. Soldiers would carry them at their belts in battle with the cutting edge facing up.
During the age of the Samurai, swords were paired together and worn at the side as a symbol of status. Only if you were a samurai could you wear a pair of swords? All samurai wore a Katana. However, the second sword was chosen and worn as a matter of taste. The Katana could be paired with one of two additional swords, a Wakizashi, or a Tanto.
A Wakizashi is a shorter sword than the Katana and when used in concert it is an effective tool for defense. Most times a Wakizashi was worn with the Katana if the particular practitioner of swordsmanship was a student of a particular "two-sword" style, like that of Miyamoto Musashi.
The other sword that could be worn with a Katana was more of a knife than a sword. The Tanto was a short blade not usually longer than eleven or twelve inches in length, that was carried as an instrument for committing "hara-kiri" or a type of ritual suicide. Hara-kiri, or Seppuku, was enacted when a samurai had dishonored himself in some way and was done by sticking the Tanto into the left side of the abdomen and then dragging the blade upwards towards the heart and then to the right towards the lungs, thereby severing most major organs and ensuring an honorable death.
Once again, either the Wakizashi or the Tanto could be paired with the Katana and worn on the left side.
Traditional samurai swords are made out of a special Japanese steel called Tamahagane. During the forging process, two different consistencies of Tamahagane are added together to form the finished product. A harder outer steel is used to provide the sword with a hard and sharp cutting edge that will not dent or fracture easily. The harder steel is then wrapped around a softer inner core steel that allows the blade to absorb the energy of impacts thereby adding to the longevity and durability of the sword.
After their forging, traditional Japanese swords are then sent to a polisher who sharpens and hones the edge of the blade to its final razor-sharpness. Japanese sword polishers spend years apprenticing and improving their skills under a teacher before they are certified and allowed to do such things on their own. It takes on average five to six years to become a licensed Japanese sword polisher, and even then it takes longer to be called a master.
After the polishing of the blade is complete, it is fitted with a handle and a scabbard. Each of which is custom made by professionals in the respective areas. Only after the fittings are complete can a traditional samurai sword be considered complete.
Buying a Samurai Sword
In recent years the market for Japanese swords has grown, partly due to the massive flooding of cheap stainless Chinese knockoffs, that is ONLY MEANT FOR DISPLAY! In no way are these cheapo Chinese swords functional or intended for use at all. However, it is still possible to find functional samurai swords at affordable prices. Although not always traditional Japanese swords (by definition being made in Japan), they are made using the same methods and materials as higher priced traditional swords. Manufacturers such as Musashi Swords, Masahiro/Ryumon, Shinwa, United Cutlery, and C.A.S. Hanwei offer fully functional Japanese-style swords at affordable prices.
Although most traditional Japanese Katana's have traveled to the realm of Antiquity and sword collectors, it is still possible for the modern day sword enthusiast to find and buy Japanese-style swords at affordable prices. Who knows, you might stumble upon something better than you bargained for. Keep your eyes and ear open. Traditional Japanese swords do turn up every once and a while. You just have to be patient.