The sword is the soul of the samurai.
If anyone forgets or forfeits it
he will not be forgiven.
Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu


The history of the Japanese state is permanently associated with the mythology of the sword. Even in the 20th century, samurai went to attack with swords. However, Japanese swords are for us, the inhabitants of the West, only a legend, usually known from the films of Akira Kurosawa and subsequent incarnations of Toshiro Mifune.


The shape of swords known from the screen is a product of long evolution. The oldest swords from the seventh century have straight and one-sided blades, and they were melted from one piece of metal. The later swords, also iron ones, were long and straight, unlike medieval ones – slightly curved. This shape of the blade was known only at the end of the 9th century.
The prototype of the sword came, like most things, from China. The Chinese word chien (double-edged sword) is the prototype of the Japanese ken, while dao created a Japanese one (sword with one blade), and finally merge into the name of a katana.


The oldest sword with a curved blade derived directly from the double-edged ken was jintachi – a long, heavy war sword used only during battles, carried in a march by a cone. Tachi comes from him with a length of about 3/4 m. Tachi was hung at the waist, tied with ropes that went through the rips (small circles) at the sheath. This way of fixing meant that the Tachi was worn with a blade down, while the, katana was plugged with the blade (yakiba) upwards. Originally, this tachi was a fighting tool – hence the name of the technique tachi dori (defense against the sword). Katana was initially only a ritual subject used for various ceremonies. Later, he began to replace the more than 2 meter war sword (daikatana). Daikatana was worn over the shoulder and attached to the right side, so that the handle protruded above the shoulder. The blade was directed to the left..

The long sword is supplemented by a short sword (wakizashi), which was 40 to 50 cm long. He gained the name of “guard of honor”. Samurai going to someone in hospital had to leave a long sword at the entrance. However, he was not vulnerable, because the wakizashi was resting behind the belt. He also served in the case of ritual suicide seppuku (or harakiri). A short sword was also used to decapitate (cut off the head) defeated enemies. The heads were treated as war trophies.
Together katana and wakizashi formed daisho.


Both long and short swords had a number of varieties. Chisa katana is a medium length sword used in courts. Tanto and yamadashi are two types of daggers that differ in their type of guard. The special blade had yori tochi to pierce the armor. Himogatana is a kind of dagger from the best steel kozuka , goat is knives hidden in the wakizashi sayakagai is a kind of hook left in the body of the killed as a hallmark.


The unrivaled quality of Japanese swords is the result of the search for many generations of co-founders. Their work was considered to be a great one, and proper ritual was observed during the work. The blacksmith dressed up ceremonial dress and performed rituals to demolish the demons.

Not only the armorers worked in the forges: Emperor Mikado Gotoba (1183-1198) personally forged his sword blade under the supervision of master Ichimonji Norimune. The flourishing of the frame art belonged to the 12th and 13th centuries. At that time, the families of champions Kanehir, Sukehir, Takahira from Bizen, Yoshi, Arikuni, and Kanenaga from Kyoto were formed. You can also join them with the makers – Masamune, Yoshimitsu and Yoshihiro. Each of these families placed their mark on the blades of swords.

Sword production technologies differed. Their secret and details were protected by the sacred oath given to the gods by his son in the presence of his father. During the most important activities, the smith remained alone in the forge. There is a legend about the helper of Master Masamune who wanted to know the temperature of the water used for hardening. The master cut off his arm with one cut.
Blade forging technology was associated with the smelting and appropriate selection of metal grades or their alloys, with the search for iron or sand of the highest quality. One of the methods consisted in braiding a gel-shaped rod with countless layers of steel immersed after each stage in water and oil at a suitable temperature. Finally, a bar made up of several million layers of wrought and steel-bound steel layered with layers of iron finally emerged. However, for example, Masamune used the tsukuri method using only steel.

The most difficult task, however, was not forging a blade, but hardening it. The clay-tipped blade was repeatedly heated and cooled in water at different temperatures. In this way hamon (hardening lines) was created – one of its kind. Then the blade was smoothed on the oil-laden stone, repeating this action over 100 times for 50 days. When the blade gained the proper sharpness, the master would sign it on it.


The conviction that a part of the soul of the armorer is contained in the sword was so strong in Japan that it was universally avoided that swords derived from unbalanced people. For example, the swords of Masamune’s disciple, the armorer Muramasa (born 1341), brought misfortune because of his violent character. When in the battle of Sekigahara Nagatake killed Toda Shigemasa, splitting his helmet and skull at one fell swoop, Tokugawa Ieyasu wanted to see such a great sword. Because he cut himself during the examination of the weapon, he ruled that it must be a Muramasa blade – as it turned out – he was right. Of course, there was also a katana that brought happiness, wealth and power – they were called hinken.


Naturally, swords from well-known masters were very expensive, which is why there were many people willing to counterfeit them. In order to prevent this practice, a class of experts (meikiki), was created, the kings dealt with the assessment of the quality, origin and valuation of the sword. They issued special certificates (orikami). Each katana had small incisions around the tsuki (handpiece), transmitted after the test. The number of features indicated the quality of the blade. The test consisted in arranging prisoners’ bodies and cutting them. Later, the bodies were replaced with straw sheaves (makiwara). The number of features meant the number of bodies (sheaves) cut with one cut. These expert opinions have become the privilege of well-known families like, for example, Honani – valued for knowledge of swords since the 9th century. Written confirmation was not published until the twelfth century.


The sword was for the samurai to everyone. During long journeys, he was stored in a special protective case called the katana zutsu. In the warrior’s home, the sword was placed in an honorable place next to equally prized armor. When the samurai received an important guest at home, he showed his sword. The art of meditation on the pattern of the fortitude of the blade flourished, which was admired and with contemplation meticulously. The method of watching the blade and its presentation was fixed in every detail. She was touched only by a clean silk scarves. The blade was never stripped to the end, it was believed that if the katana saw the light of day, blood must flow.
After the reunification of Japan in the seventeenth century under the authority of the Tokugawa family in the making of swords there are significant changes. This type of weapon begins to come out of use and becomes a symbol of knighthood. There is a division between old swords (koto) and new swords (shinto).

The Japanese sword is part of Japan as much as the cherry blossom or tea ritual. It is part of its history and culture. It is true, then, that the soul of a Japanese warrior was enchanted in him.


A. Śpiewakowski “Samuraje”
S. Tokarski “Ruchowe formy ekspresji filozofii Wschodu”