Sunday, December 3, 2006

Katana - the best two-handed sword of the World.

Katana is the word for "sword" in the Japanese language. It is also used specifically for a type of Japanese backsword or longsword (daito) in use after the 1400s: a curved, single-edged sword traditionally used by the samurai. Pronounced [kah-tah-nah] in the kun'yomi (Japanese reading) of the kanji, the word has been adopted as a loan word by the English language.
Katana Sword
The katana was typically paired with the wakizashi or shoto, a similarly made but shorter sword, both worn by the members of the warrior class. It could also be worn with the tanto, an even smaller similarly shaped blade. The two weapons together were called the daisho, and represented the social power and personal honor of the samurai. The long blade was used for open combat, while the shorter blade was considered a side arm, more suited for stabbing, close quarters combat, and seppuku, a form of ritual suicide.

The katana was primarily used for cutting, and intended for use with a two-handed grip. It is traditionally worn edge up. While the practical arts for using the sword for its original purpose are now obsolete, kenjutsu and iaijutsu have turned into modern martial arts. The art of drawing the katana and attacking one's enemies is iaido.

Under the United States occupation at the end of World War II all armed forces in Occupied Japan were disbanded and production of katana with edges was banned except under police or government permit. The ban was overturned through a personal appeal by Dr. Homma Junji. During a meeting with General Douglas MacArthur, Dr. Homma produced blades from the various periods of Japanese history and MacArthur was able to identify very quickly what blades held artistic merit and which could be considered purely weapons. As a result of this meeting, the ban was amended so that gunto weapons would be destroyed while swords of artistic merit could be owned and preserved. Even so, many katana were sold to American soldiers at a bargain price; as of 1958 there were more Japanese swords in America than in Japan. The vast majority of these 1,000,000 or more swords were gunto, but there were still a sizable number of older swords.

Almost all blades are decorated, although not all blades are decorated on the visible part of the blade. Once the blade is cool, and the mud is scraped off, the blade has designs and grooves cut into it. One of the most important markings on the sword is performed here: the file markings. These are cut into the tang, or the hilt-section of the blade, where they will be covered by a hilt later. The tang is never supposed to be cleaned: doing this can cut the value of the sword in half or more. The purpose is to show how well the blade steel ages.