In honor of the Japanese Sword, Knife Club Member Randy Price has written this helpful article.
There is argument that the Japanese warrior was a horseman who fought from the saddle, wielding his swords like a Civil War cavalryman; however, Dr. Karl Friday, Professor of Japanese History, University of Georgia, believes otherwise. Samurai began as archers, using their bows and arrows from the saddle and the use of the curved sword while on foot became an alternative when the warrior ran out of arrows. By the late 15th century, warfare changed to archery battles on foot augmented by sword battles.
Soon after the first empire of Japan was established, sword making began. The art of weapon making was imported from China and Korea and was characterized by straight blades that were sometimes double-edged. The straight blade era lasted over 300 years until, according to legend, a swordsmith named Yasutsuna recognized that blades were failing due to improper forging. The swordsmith created the first single-edged curved sword with better steel. In the middle of the Heian period of Japanese culture, sword making moved into the koto era or old-sword period. During this period, swordmaking made a giant leap in technology and the blades that emerged are the finest made to date making them the most sought after by collectors. Swords from the koto era are considered national treasures by the Japanese government.
In the koto era, the Samurai wore two swords. A long sword, the katana, was normally two to three feet in length and was worn with a shorter sword, the wakazashi. The swordsmith found that these blades when curved were stronger, easier to draw, and allowed more natural cutting and chopping motions used in battle. The katana and wakazashi were a matched set called the daisho. Swordmakers of today strive to reach the level of excellence of the great masters of the koto era.
The Daisho long sword could only be worn by samurai or higher rank whereas the wakizashi short sword could be worn by merchants, tradesmen and craftsmen. For this reason, today daito have a higher value and are found in lesser quantities than wakizashi.
Randy (Ransom) Price © 2005 - S.W. Florida Knife Collectors Club