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Tachi vs Katana

The Tachi and Katana are easily two of the most instantly recognizable swords that originated from Japan. Both have a long and interesting history owing their existence the unique feudal period that dominated Japanese culture for generations. The swords were almost exclusively used by the samurai warrior cast. 

The Katana and Tachi are visually very similar, both have a single curved blade and tsuba. It’s easy to understand why some people may mistake one for the other, or even believe that they are both essentially the same sword with a different name. However, there are distinct characteristics that set these two weapons apart which we’ll explore further in this article. 

Which Came First?

The Tachi came into being at least a couple of centuries ahead of the Katana. Academics believe the Tachi was developed at the start of the Koto period, or around 900 AD. While the use of the word ‘Katana’ didn’t appear until around the Kamakura period, or 1185 AD to 1333 AD. It is believed by some that the Katana was an evolution of the Tachi, as it utilises many of the same technologies and forging methods used to produce the Tachi.

The Tachi’s Longer Blade

The Katana has been produced with a stouter blade than what is commonly found with a Tachi. A tachi produced using traditional methods and techniques will have a blade length that will average 29 inches. While a Katana produced during the same period will have a blade that will average 23 inches. This shorter length allowed the Katana to have increased utility and was particularly well suited to hand to hand fighting. A Katana also allows for a faster draw, which can make the difference between life and death.

The Tachi’s More Pronounced Curve

Both the Tachi and Katana are known by their defining feature, which is the curved blade. However, the Tachi has a significantly more pronounced curvature. This characteristic is a quick and easy way to distinguish between the two swords, the Tachi will feature a deeper curve.

The Katana Was Worn Blade Up

Another difference that set the Tachi and Katana apart was how they were worn. Most Japanese swords, or swords produced in other regions around the world, are predominantly worn with the cutting edge facing down. This is certainly true of the Tachi, but not the Katana. A Katana was unique because of how it was worn, which was with the cutting edge facing up. This offered the Samurai some advantages when it came to combat, allowing the sword to be drawn and used to strike in one fluid movement. In a situation where fractions of a second could mean the difference between victory and defeat, a faster draw could prove to be massively advantageous.

How They Were Used

Another key difference that differentiates the Tachi and the Katana is how they were used in battle and the style of fighting they suited. It is believed that Tachi was primarily worn while fighting on horseback, this view is supported by the pronounced curve of the sword as well as the extended length. This design and dimensions allowed for greater reach while on horseback and the curve is well-suited slashing rather than stabbing. The Katana, on the other hand, would primarily be used in close quarters combat while on foot.

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Signed by the Swordsmith

Often the Tachi and Katana were signed on the tang by the swordsmith that forged the sword. However, as the Katana was worn with the edge of the blade facing upwards, the signature would often be reversed. Not all Japanese swords would have been signed by the swordsmith, but if they are, taking a look at the tang is an easy way to distinguish between the two types of sword.

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