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Old 11-29-2005, 03:17 PM
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What was the function of a samurai wakizashi (short sword)?

In Kill Bill, Vol. 1, the Bride, wielding only a samurai-style katana or longsword, defeats a small army of yakuza similarly armed. (Why it never occurs to them simply to shoot her is not clear, but never mind that.) I noted that both the Bride and her opponents fought with the katana only. Samurai were distinguished by wearing two swords, the long katana and the short wakizashi. But I'm unclear on what the wakizashi was for. I've heard it said the short sword was kept handy in case a samurai had to commit seppuku, but it seems rather too long for the purpose. One can imagine wielding the katana in one's right hand and the wakizashi in one's left, as a sort of shield or parrying-weapon -- but artistic representations of samurai in combat usually show them wielding the katana with two hands; which makes the wakizashi appear to be useless weight.

The Wikipedia article on the wakizashi -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wakizashi -- states it was a sort of ceremonial sidearm one could retain while visiting a host (the katana being removed and placed on a special stand). Also, "For particularly strong samurai like Miyamoto Musashi, the blade was sometimes used as an off hand weapon while the favored hand wielded the katana in order to fight with two weapons for maximum combat advantage." Is that the whole story?
Old 11-29-2005, 03:46 PM
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Couldn't they just hang on to it in case they lost their katana? Mostly I think it's part of the samurai heritage, but if you're going to make your swords lighter and thinner and easier to carry, you may as well carry two.
Old 11-29-2005, 03:53 PM
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Well, there are a few other reasons a samurai would want to use a wakizashi. First of all, he could be disarmed, or the katana could break. Also, he could be fighting inside, or some other confined space, where he might not have room to use a katana.
Old 11-29-2005, 03:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Anaamika
Couldn't they just hang on to it in case they lost their katana? Mostly I think it's part of the samurai heritage, but if you're going to make your swords lighter and thinner and easier to carry, you may as well carry two.
My understanding is that Anaamika is right. It was a combination of tradition (and the Japanese were big on that) and the simple practicality of carrying a another side arm. Most samurai would not have used the two weapons at the same time, something also true of the longsword back in Europe.
Old 11-29-2005, 03:58 PM
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Well, I know jack about real samurai swordsmanship, but I always pictured the 'paired swords' as being used one in each hand, katana in the main hand and wakizashi in the off hand... to parry two blows from different opponents (or someone else using two swords,) parry with one and strike with the other, or strike with both at once.

Now, the 'Katana' would also be sword that could be quite deadly alone, wielded either one-handed or two-handed. That only confuses the issue.

IIRC, one of the 'ninja turtles', probably Leonardo, had the twin samurai swords as his signature weapon, and he did use them like that, with one in each hand. (In fact, none of the turtles used traditional ninja weapons as their primary arms, I remember... samurai swords, nunchuks [Okinawan rice-threshers], Okinawan battle-forks, and an Okinawan quarterstaff. Of course, Okinawa has a rich history of unusual martial arts and combat techniques using improvised or unusual weapons, because it was a Japanese subject province and the Japanese didn't allow Okinawans to own certain types of weapons, or something like that.)

Okay, I've rambled long enough. Message ends.


On preview: sounds like the cultural references I've been relying on don't have much basis in reality. That's okay.
Old 11-29-2005, 04:23 PM
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On a related note, what's with the Japanese disdain for shields?
Old 11-29-2005, 04:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Alessan
On a related note, what's with the Japanese disdain for shields?
Samurai started out as horse archers and two handed spearmen, and shields are pretty useless if you have weapons that need to be wielded with two hands. (The Greek hoplite spears were specially designed to be wielded one handed).
Old 11-29-2005, 04:51 PM
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The Katana is also a two-handed weapon, yet another reason shields were not used by Samurai.

Even in Europe, once armor began to really improve and the longsword became the prefered side arm of the elite the shield began to fall by the wayside.
Old 11-29-2005, 05:04 PM
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IANA expert on this subject, but:

The wakizashi is used to commit seppuku. The left hand grasps the blade using white paper, while the right hand provides most of the force of driving the sword into one's guts. The left hand may also be used to guide the sword up and over once it is in. I've seen this represented in movies and NHK TV dramas, and I assume NHK has done their research.

I believe it is true that the short sword could be retained by the samurai when in the lord's dwelling, as a badge of status. The status of this sword is tied closely to the warrior philosophy in Japan, where a warrior's honor was intimately connected with his right, ability and willingness to commit ritual suicide, either to preserve his or his lord's honor, or in protest over something that his lord (or someone higher) has done that was not honorable. This is why only samurai or higher were allowed to carry a second sword. Peasants could fight with the long sword, but could not legitimately carry the short one.

Also, Wikipedia is correct that some strong fighters could wield the long sword in one hand and the short sword in the other. Musashi did this in extremis, when he was facing a large number of foes single-handed. This technique was, I believe, taught in some fencing schools, but the warrior had to be very strong physically to take advantage of it.
Old 11-29-2005, 05:31 PM
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Take what you've got in your OP and the replies and you've pretty much got the long and short of it, hardy har har. The wakizashi had several purposes. For one, it was poor ettiquette to wear the katana indoors. The wakizashi allowed the samurai to remain armed, and was likely an advantage in very close quarters. As already stated, it was useful as a secondary weapon in case the katana was broken. In addition to that, some fighting styles advocated the use of the katana and wakizashi together. In The Book of Five Rings, the Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi describes his two-sword method of fighting with both katana and wakizashi, Nitenichi ryu.
Old 11-29-2005, 05:32 PM
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Leonardo was the one who used swords, but both of his were the same length (both rather longish). And how does one justify classifying a staff as specifically Okinawan? I can't think of any weapon more universal than a big long stick.
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Old 11-29-2005, 05:46 PM
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Why the wakizashi? To make sushi!
Old 11-29-2005, 05:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chrisk
(In fact, none of the turtles used traditional ninja weapons as their primary arms, I remember... samurai swords, nunchuks [Okinawan rice-threshers], Okinawan battle-forks, and an Okinawan quarterstaff.
What exactly is a "traditional ninja weapon". Ninja, insofar as they existed, were simply spies and saboteurs. There was no tradition associated with them beyond hanging them if they were caught and whatever customs they may have developed as an organised crime gang. The vast majority of Ninja were Samurai and used whatever weapons Samurai normally used in that context, be it sword, bow or polearm. I know movies show Ninja using shaken and kama, but that's just the movies, not reality.

By "Okinawan battle-forks" do you mean sai? There is nothing remotely Okinawan or even Oriental about those particular weapons. Nor are they improvised weapons, they are specifically designed metal weapons. The fact that they are made of iron in Japan should tell you that.

Okinawan quarterstaff? Perhaps you are referring to the bo/shortstaff. Not a quarterstaff at all. And as Chronos points out a heavy length of hardwood is about as universal as a weapon gets.

Okinawan rice-threshers? Nothing partiularly Okinawan or even oriental about wooden flails.
Old 11-29-2005, 06:05 PM
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Its basically a 'side arm' as other posters said...for use as a backup weapon or in a confined space like a room. There are some kata's that use it (and there are actually a few kata's for using both, though as others noted the katana is a two handed weapon generally)...and the kata's I learned using the thing emphasize almost knife fighting techniques and defensive tactics with a lot of other hand and foot techniques thrown in (of course my style is kempo-jitsu so that might have something to do with it...I never studied kenjitsu seriously). Its use for committing suicide is just incidental afaik.

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Old 11-29-2005, 06:06 PM
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Miyamoto aside, part of what made the katana so effective was the long grip that allowed it to be used two-handed, despite it's [relatively] light weight. The relative paucity of metal in Japanese armour meant that a shield woundn't have been particularly effective against yumi (samurai bows), anyway. James Clavell's description of the European dismay at the speed with which samurai flashed their razor sharp katana around is probably pretty accurate.

The wakizashi was actually the symbol of a samurai, which in turn gave him the right to wear a katana. Together, the wakizashi and katana were called daisho ("great and small").
Old 11-29-2005, 06:16 PM
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Originally Posted by Blake
What exactly is a "traditional ninja weapon". Ninja, insofar as they existed, were simply spies and saboteurs. There was no tradition associated with them beyond hanging them if they were caught and whatever customs they may have developed as an organised crime gang. The vast majority of Ninja were Samurai and used whatever weapons Samurai normally used in that context, be it sword, bow or polearm. I know movies show Ninja using shaken and kama, but that's just the movies, not reality.

By "Okinawan battle-forks" do you mean sai? There is nothing remotely Okinawan or even Oriental about those particular weapons. Nor are they improvised weapons, they are specifically designed metal weapons. The fact that they are made of iron in Japan should tell you that.

Okinawan quarterstaff? Perhaps you are referring to the bo/shortstaff. Not a quarterstaff at all. And as Chronos points out a heavy length of hardwood is about as universal as a weapon gets.

Okinawan rice-threshers? Nothing partiularly Okinawan or even oriental about wooden flails.
(slinks away, mortified.)
Old 11-29-2005, 06:38 PM
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I've read that the short sword was also used for beheading captured, or dead, enemies, which was done if the head was wanted for a trophy. (There's a scene in the film The 47 Ronin where the ronin deliver the head of their dead master's enemy, neatly wrapped, to the master's tomb.)
Old 11-29-2005, 07:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Cerowyn
James Clavell's description of the European dismay at the speed with which samurai flashed their razor sharp katana around is probably pretty accurate.
Could you elaborate on this a bit. I'm not familiar with James Clavell. Was he writing about Europeans in the 16-17th centuries? Because if so, then I don't see why they would be dismayed at something they are entirely fmailiar with (swords).
Old 11-29-2005, 07:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Roderick Femm
The wakizashi is used to commit seppuku. The left hand grasps the blade using white paper, while the right hand provides most of the force of driving the sword into one's guts. The left hand may also be used to guide the sword up and over once it is in. I've seen this represented in movies and NHK TV dramas, and I assume NHK has done their research.
According to the Wikipedia article on seppuku, -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seppuku -- it was sometimes done with a wakizashi (12"-24" in length), sometimes with a shorter blade (6"-12") known as a tanto (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanto).

If I had to do it, I would choose a tanto. So, I think, should anyone who does not have exceptionally long arms.
Old 11-29-2005, 07:18 PM
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The Japanese Wikipedia article on wakizashi says that the wearing of wakizashi only became widespread during the Edo Period - by which time the the primary role of the samurai was no longer that of a warrior. I'm inclined to agree that it was worn for reasons of status rather than for any particular martial reason.
Old 11-29-2005, 07:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kinthalis
Could you elaborate on this a bit. I'm not familiar with James Clavell. Was he writing about Europeans in the 16-17th centuries? Because if so, then I don't see why they would be dismayed at something they are entirely fmailiar with (swords).
Europeans were not used to swords that were two-handed and yet were used with such speed. Most smaller edged swords, such as cutlasses and sabres, were used one-handed. Two-handed swords were generally great, heavy things that relied nearly as much on sheer weight as cutting power. The Japanese, on the other hand, were using what was essentially a form of low steel (or at least a rough carbon-iron alloy), which allowed their blades to hold a keener edge. Consequently, katana were lighter and sharper than European two-handed swords, allowing them to be swept around in a very tight, quick arc. Two-handed power behind an exceptionally sharp blade, with the speed of the deftest rapier.

James Clavell is the author of Shogun (amongst other books), and although his characterization of Japanese culture is often derided by Japanese historians, he does get a lot of the sense of history right. He describes one particular scene in which English and Dutch sailors are horrified at the ease with which a samurai draws his katana and decapitates a peasant in the blink of an eye. No European could have matched that feat. (Of course, a musket ball at 10 yards is just as deadly and marginally safer than going toe-to-toe with someone who is perhaps at least as well trained as you.)
Old 11-29-2005, 07:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cerowyn
Europeans were not used to swords that were two-handed and yet were used with such speed. Most smaller edged swords, such as cutlasses and sabres, were used one-handed. Two-handed swords were generally great, heavy things that relied nearly as much on sheer weight as cutting power. The Japanese, on the other hand, were using what was essentially a form of low steel (or at least a rough carbon-iron alloy), which allowed their blades to hold a keener edge. Consequently, katana were lighter and sharper than European two-handed swords, allowing them to be swept around in a very tight, quick arc. Two-handed power behind an exceptionally sharp blade, with the speed of the deftest rapier.
Seeing how we're fighitng ignorance here, I'd just like to point out, that just about eveyrthing you've said here is completely 100% innacurate.

First of all the "Iron-carbon alloy" you speak of is STEEL, you know that, right? And steel was not a mystery to Europeans of the time, or even to Europeans of 1000+ years before.

European two-handed swords (by this I'm talking about the medieval longsword), were actually LIGHTER than Katana per inch of length. The end result is that a longsword, typically several inches longer than a typical Daito, weighed about the same (2.5 to 4 pounds).

It is also false that Katana were sharper than medieval or renaissance cutting swords.

Your info is outdated by about 50 years


Quote:
James Clavell is the author of Shogun (amongst other books), and although his characterization of Japanese culture is often derided by Japanese historians, he does get a lot of the sense of history right. He describes one particular scene in which English and Dutch sailors are horrified at the ease with which a samurai draws his katana and decapitates a peasant in the blink of an eye. No European could have matched that feat. (Of course, a musket ball at 10 yards is just as deadly and marginally safer than going toe-to-toe with someone who is perhaps at least as well trained as you.)

Did he base his stories on historical evidence, or was he simply making stuff up?

Europeans were using swords long before the katana gained it's popularity in Japan. European martial arts were highly developed long before the renaissance, and indeed Europeans appear not to have seen anything particularly interesting in the martial arts of Japan. They wrote a lot about the culture, but hardly anythign at all about their martial arts.

Certainly, decapitaiton by sword was somehting a european swordsman could also do.

I'm thinking you should investigate the histoprical veracity of this writer before you base your opinions on him.
Old 11-29-2005, 07:55 PM
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Worst cite ever, but I'm sure in "Zatoichi at the Fire Festival" someone asks his master why he uses the short sword and he replies saying something about how useless the long sword is in their current confines of the casino.

So I assume, basing my answer on a movie made hundreds of years after the event, that it was for close quarter fighting.
Old 11-29-2005, 08:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kinthalis
Did he base his stories on historical evidence, or was he simply making stuff up?
A bit of both actually (though leaning more towards 'making stuff up' IMHO). I dont think the Europeans in Shogun were particularly surprised by the use of the sword by the Japanese, or surprised by the swords themselves, as they were shocked by how the Japanese used them pretty much indiscriminately (from their perspective). Historically I doubt that Europeans were THAT shocked by Japanese nobles cutting down peasants who annoyed them...but the guys in the book were.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kinthalis
Europeans were using swords long before the katana gained it's popularity in Japan. European martial arts were highly developed long before the renaissance, and indeed Europeans appear not to have seen anything particularly interesting in the martial arts of Japan. They wrote a lot about the culture, but hardly anythign at all about their martial arts.
This is true, though I think that the Europeans used their swords differently than Japanese did (probably due to their different armor). For Europeans the sword was really a secondary weapon IIRC, something you used when your mace/ax or lance broke, or to hunt down broken infantry. The Japanese also used other weapons on the battle field, but samarai fighting blade to blade on the battlefield was more common (I think) than European knights doing the same thing.

A lot of folks are under the impression that Japanese martial arts were much more advanced than our Euro brothers but this really isn't the case. For shear killing its hard to compete with the Europeans...they really were the masters.

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Old 11-29-2005, 10:13 PM
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I remember three lengths of sword.

The really long one was used on horseback, and could be used on foot.

The medium long one was used on foot.

When two swords were used, either a long/medium pair was used, or a medium/medium pair was used.

The really short one was a weapon of last resort, and was used for ritual suicide.
Old 11-29-2005, 10:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kinthalis
First of all the "Iron-carbon alloy" you speak of is STEEL, you know that, right? And steel was not a mystery to Europeans of the time, or even to Europeans of 1000+ years before.
You mean, where I said "a form of low steel" a couple of words before the parenthetical statement you quoted? Unquestionably, by the 17th century, European metalurgy was far more advanced than contemporary Japanese technology. However, swords no longer had the same role in Europe at the time in question. In fact, the longsword was all but gone by that time (surviving only as a martial arts weapon of a couple of schools, no longer a battlefield choice).
Quote:
European two-handed swords (by this I'm talking about the medieval longsword), were actually LIGHTER than Katana per inch of length. The end result is that a longsword, typically several inches longer than a typical Daito, weighed about the same (2.5 to 4 pounds).
Early longswords used on battlefields, and later "civilian" versions, were typically 46-52 inches long and 2.5 to 4 pounds, as you note. Later military examples, used mostly from horseback, were typically 54-56 inches long and 3.5 to 5 pounds. A katana, which is a type of daito, was typically around 27 inches, although different swordsmiths had their own ideas about the "perfect length." They were usually 2 to 3 pounds.
Quote:
It is also false that Katana were sharper than medieval or renaissance cutting swords.
You're right. What I meant but failed to express, is that they are designed differently. The edge of a longsword was forged as an axe, not a knife, because it relied on heft behind the blade to cut through metal armour. A katana, on the other hand, has a much narrower blade, more suited to slicing lightly armoured opponents than European warriors would typically be facing. It would be utterly useless against your average 15th century heavy knight. European swords designed for lighter armoured opponents were typically one-handed.
Quote:
Your info is outdated by about 50 years
Good thing there are people like you around to correct me, then.
Old 11-29-2005, 11:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cerowyn
He describes one particular scene in which English and Dutch sailors are horrified at the ease with which a samurai draws his katana and decapitates a peasant in the blink of an eye. No European could have matched that feat.
Sorry, on a relevant hijack...

From another forum, there was this discussion about katanas vs. european swords, and one poster said the rapier is actually faster than the katana, and if we would pit a samaurai vs. a fencer in a quick draw contest, the samurai will lose as the rapier is lighter (and hence speedier) while the katana, being a battlefield weapon, is heavy.

Is there any truth to it?
Old 11-29-2005, 11:06 PM
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Originally Posted by ExtraKun
Is there any truth to it?
Of course...they were designed for two different things so its comparing apples to oranges. Ever heard the old adage 'the point beats the blade'? Its pretty much true and the rapier was designed as a thrust weapon for dueling while the katana was a battle field weapon for slashing. Its sort of like comparing a hand gun to a rifle. On the battlefield you'd much rather have the rifle all things considered. For close in work though a pistol might be the optimal weapon.

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Old 11-29-2005, 11:13 PM
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As xtisme says, a rapier would probably be faster, especially since it is designed as a piercing weapon and so moves less when used properly. There are two mitigating factors to this that should be kept in mind: 1) one of the reasons that slashing weapons were never completely eclipsed by thrusting weapons is that it is much, much easier to dodge the latter, and 2) samurai practiced drawing a katana as an art (iaido). I'd still take the rapier fencer, though.
Old 11-30-2005, 12:03 AM
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yeah but unlike a katana you can just grab the rapier with your hand and push it away



(semi obscure movie move)
Old 11-30-2005, 12:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Critical1
yeah but unlike a katana you can just grab the rapier with your hand and push it away
You can do that to a katana too, and with about the same effects... stumpy.
Old 11-30-2005, 12:29 AM
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(IIRC...)

No-Dachi = Samurai Great (2-handed, huge, used from horseback) Sword

Katana = Samurai Bastard (hand and a half) Sword. As some have said, this sword was traditionally weilded with both hands, but a few could weild well with only one hand. Sometimes referred to as Tachi.

Wakasashi = Samurai Short (one hand or off hand) Sword. A back-up weapon, or to be used in the off hand attacking multiple targets at once. Also to be used in Seppuku.

Together the Wakasashi and the Katana are referred to as the Daisho, or the Short and the Long. In later times, this was the mark of the Samurai. Any soldier could carry one sword, but the two marked the Samurai as noble. Ironically, though, the Samurai were originally known for their bowmanship.

Tanto = Knife.

The above are known for their quality, but also their curve and tip.

Ninjato = Ninja's Short Sword. This is what Leonardo carried. (He was a Ninja afterall!)
Old 11-30-2005, 01:03 AM
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Originally Posted by ExtraKun
Is there any truth to it?
I had a fencing instructor who once went head-to-head with a kendo enthusiast of comparable skill. Epee vs. kendo sword seems like a decent simulation of rapier vs. katana. My instructor won.
Old 11-30-2005, 01:13 AM
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Originally Posted by Pochacco
I had a fencing instructor who once went head-to-head with a kendo enthusiast of comparable skill. Epee vs. kendo sword seems like a decent simulation of rapier vs. katana. My instructor won.
Reasonable, but Kendo is not Iado, the art of drawing a katana and striking in one fluid motion. Also, Epee simulates the "first blood" duels of Europe, and relies on speed and accuracy, to honorable nick your opponent before yourself are nicked. The katana however is meant to kill and or maim. Sabre or foil might be more fair comparisons, since they simulate duels which were of similar lethality to katana duels.

If this were a real epee vrs katana fight, I imagine that the epee fighter would easily get first blood, and the katana fighter would hit last, there being no more fight after that.
Old 11-30-2005, 03:47 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pochacco
I had a fencing instructor who once went head-to-head with a kendo enthusiast of comparable skill. Epee vs. kendo sword seems like a decent simulation of rapier vs. katana. My instructor won.
Kendo is far too stylized and restrictive to be considered an accurate simulation of actual katana usage.
Old 11-30-2005, 07:16 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cerowyn
The edge of a longsword was forged as an axe, not a knife, because it relied on heft behind the blade to cut through metal armour. A katana, on the other hand, has a much narrower blade, more suited to slicing lightly armoured opponents than European warriors would typically be facing. It would be utterly useless against your average 15th century heavy knight. European swords designed for lighter armoured opponents were typically one-handed.Good thing there are people like you around to correct me, then.
Glad to help.

I would have to correct you here again though and point out that both weapons encountered armor. Certainly, European weapons would encounter a lot more plate, specially during the high middle ages and early renaissance, but swords were not designed to cut through that type of armor anyway.

The confusion, I think, arises from modern replicas of Katana. Many modern smiths are crafting pieces that aren't historically accurate. They are made to be razor sharp (among other things), which is fine today when most people either hang them up on a wall, or test cut on very light targets like pool noodles and water jugs. But would not be ideal for a piece meant to be used in combat as it would only hasten edge failure.

BOTH European and Japanese swords, then were typically made sharp (equally on most cases), but not razor sharp, that would be bad.
Old 11-30-2005, 07:18 AM
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Originally Posted by ExtraKun
Sorry, on a relevant hijack...

From another forum, there was this discussion about katanas vs. european swords, and one poster said the rapier is actually faster than the katana, and if we would pit a samaurai vs. a fencer in a quick draw contest, the samurai will lose as the rapier is lighter (and hence speedier) while the katana, being a battlefield weapon, is heavy.

Is there any truth to it?
I don't know about this. It's not really that the Rapier is "faster", certainly not because it is lighter. A historically accurate rapier will weigh close to what aKatana weighs anyway.

It is perhaps it's foigning style of use and it's greater reach that might prove an advantage on a one to one duel with light or no armor. Hence the popularity of the Rapier in civilian self defence. The Katana (or the longsword) is the more versatile weapon on the battlefield, however, IMHO.
Old 11-30-2005, 07:21 AM
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Originally Posted by Pochacco
I had a fencing instructor who once went head-to-head with a kendo enthusiast of comparable skill. Epee vs. kendo sword seems like a decent simulation of rapier vs. katana. My instructor won.
Not really. Kendo and modern fencing are sports, not martial arts. A closer experiment would involve a Kenjutsu and a historicla martial artist.

Also a Shinai and an epee are two objects completely removed from the form and function of a Katana and a rapier.
Old 11-30-2005, 09:25 AM
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Quote:
Kendo is far too stylized and restrictive to be considered an accurate simulation of actual katana usage.
Yeah, but on the other hand, modern fencing is far too stylized and restrictive to be considered an accurate simulation of actual rapier usage.

Or, upon preview, what Kinthalis said.
Old 11-30-2005, 12:41 PM
XT XT is offline
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Originally Posted by Critical1
yeah but unlike a katana you can just grab the rapier with your hand and push it away
lol, good luck with that. You do realize that a rapier has a blade, right? I think there is some confusion here. Check out this wiki article on the rapier.

Quote:
A rapier is a relatively slender (blade 2.5 centimetres or less in width), sharply pointed sword with a blade at least 90 centimetres in length, often sporting an elaborate hilt and hand-guard. For most of its period of use, the rapier was double-edged, some later rapiers were single-edged (with a sharply triangular blade) or edgeless. A rapier is capable of both cutting and thrusting attacks, but the thrust is the main attack in all rapier fighting styles.

The term refers to a variety of blade and hilt forms depending on who is writing and when. It can refer to earlier "spada da lato" (much like the "espada ropera") through the high rapier period of the 17th century through the smallsword and duelling swords, thus context is important in understanding what is meant by the word. (It should be noted that the term "sidesword", used among some modern historical martial arts reconstructionists, is a 21st century translation in English from the Italian "spada da lato" and is not referred to the slender, long rapier, but only to the early 16th century italian sword with a broader and shorter blade that is considered its ancestor).
Somehow folks are equating a rapier with modern fencing weapons/styles. I took ExtraKun's question as asking about the real, historical weapons...rapier (perhaps with off hand small shield or short sword/dagger) vs katana. Depending on how we set up the contest would depend on which would have an advantage. In an unarmored duel I'd say the katana would be at a huge disadvantage. On the battlefield, especially from horse the rapier would be totally outclassed. They are tools for different purposes.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cerowyn
1) one of the reasons that slashing weapons were never completely eclipsed by thrusting weapons is that it is much, much easier to dodge the latter
I disagree here. Slashing weapons have their role on the battlefield just like thrusting weapons do. The main reason slashing weapons continued on was because they worked well from horse back against broken and fleeing infantry. You could ride in at a gallop and slash down without breaking stride and go on to the next victim.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cerowyn
2) samurai practiced drawing a katana as an art (iaido). I'd still take the rapier fencer, though.
I studied iajitsu for a time and I'm not sure I agree. Iajitsu is the art of drawing, cutting and returning the blade in a fluid motion (or a series of fluid motions depending on what specific kata we are talking about). Obviously if you got the drop on the rapier wieldier (i.e. if you drew, cut and returned while he was sitting there drinking his sake...er, mead I guess) you'd win. But in an actual duel with his blade(s) out I don't see how this would really help...he'd be ready for your attack even if your blade was undrawn. Also, while I've seen some blazingly fast sensei who could draw and cut in probably less than a second, I've seen some folks who re-enact rapier style combat techniques who are even faster.

If you think it through you'll see...all the rapier guy has to do is basically lunge forward (i.e. stick the pointy end into the target ), while the iajitsu master needs to draw and cut. I have a mental picture of both and I'd say the pointy end would be in the chest of the iajitsu master around the time the katana is sweeping up for the cut. Bad news for the katana wielder.

Put them both on horse back though or in full armor and it might be a different story. Then perhaps the question would be...katana vs sabre or long sword (or ax, mace or lance).

-XT
Old 11-30-2005, 02:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xtisme
I studied iajitsu for a time and I'm not sure I agree. Iajitsu is the art of drawing, cutting and returning the blade in a fluid motion (or a series of fluid motions depending on what specific kata we are talking about). Obviously if you got the drop on the rapier wieldier (i.e. if you drew, cut and returned while he was sitting there drinking his sake...er, mead I guess) you'd win. But in an actual duel with his blade(s) out I don't see how this would really help...he'd be ready for your attack even if your blade was undrawn. Also, while I've seen some blazingly fast sensei who could draw and cut in probably less than a second, I've seen some folks who re-enact rapier style combat techniques who are even faster.

If you think it through you'll see...all the rapier guy has to do is basically lunge forward (i.e. stick the pointy end into the target ), while the iajitsu master needs to draw and cut. I have a mental picture of both and I'd say the pointy end would be in the chest of the iajitsu master around the time the katana is sweeping up for the cut. Bad news for the katana wielder.
So, what you're saying, is that you agree with me, then? 'Cause that's just a more detailed version of what I said, right?
Old 11-30-2005, 03:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Cerowyn
So, what you're saying, is that you agree with me, then? 'Cause that's just a more detailed version of what I said, right?
lol, I guess it is. Well, we are in agreement then.

-XT
Old 11-30-2005, 03:27 PM
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The one and only memorable line from the 1997 Chris Farley film Beverly Hills Ninja (http://imdb.com/title/tt0118708/):

SENSEI TO HARU: You are being led around by your short sword!
Old 11-30-2005, 04:40 PM
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John Clements (who leads the Association on Renaissance Martial Arts) wrote [url="http://thearma.org/essays/katanavs.htm"]a rather interesting article[/a] on the samurai-vs-fencer debate. It's really cool.

Outside of that, I think the best conclusion that I've heard is that the samurai gets a puncture wound, slices the rapier guy almost in half, and dies a short while later - those little stabs are surprisingly vicious.
Old 12-01-2005, 12:33 AM
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Long since beaten, but the theory is that a katana is going to be useless indoors due to space, and so the wakizashi becomes your main means of defense when not outside. Since samurai were really an elite class, and spent a lot of time indoors (as opposed to outside farming all day), this is plausible.

However, the reality probably has more to do with the fact that it was a status symbol. Any footsoldier might have an old sword laying around, but to carry both swords through your obi was the sign of a samurai, and an indicator that you belong to a privileged class. I believe in later years (prior to being outlawed entirely) it was a punishable offense to carry both if you were not actually a samurai proper, but I'm not entirely sure.

Finally, there are valid nito (two-sword) fighting styles. In kendo, it is allowed (although rarely seen) to fight nito style, using a short shinai in addition to a normal one. The famous duelist Musashi was reportedly very good at this (using real swords, not kendo). In his case, the wakizashi would actually be used as a primary weapon along with the katana. However, it's awkward and I personally doubt many people could have pulled it off. Basically, you have to get to a point where you can strike using one hand as powerfully and accurately as you could with two, which is a tall order...

And since people have brought up kendo being better/worse than fencing, I'd just like to point out that the two take completely different approaches to the philosophy of a duel, so it's kind of a meaningless discussion. For example, in kendo you will probably never have electronic scoring the way fencing does, because there is much more of a focus on the proper dominance of your mind. A good technical hit may not score you a point if your zanshin isn't convincing. As they say, "win, then attack."

Of course, I don't mean this as a slam against fencing in the least. I know some Japanese TV shows have done these face-offs in the past, and from what I've seen the fencer usually wins by a fraction of a second. If you rate simply by amount of time it takes to get off the mark and land a killing blow, fencing is probably going to win 9 times out of 10 because kendo strikes are cuts (with one exception). If kendo allowed more thrusts it might be more even, but then it wouldn't be Kendo.
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