Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Katanas

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The Japanese katana is one of the most emblematic swords in history. It’s not just its unique (and then novel) semi-curved form, but the weight it has had for the samurai class.

It’s a sword with an enormous weight in the Japanese culture. A true national symbol.

However, precisely because of this, the katana is the sword most surrounded by myths in history.

Many of these myths have survived the passage of time. They are just around the corner; in your next Youtube video or Wikipedia segment.

No wonder that every month thousands of Google searches are registered with doubts about what a samurai sword is capable of.

In this post you will learn everything you ever wanted or needed to know about these emblematic swords. All the information here is scientifically and historically backed up to create a hoax-free environment.

Use the guide below to jump to the topic that interests you most.

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History of the Katana

The story of the creation of the katana is confusing and uncertain. It is an event that occurred hundreds of years ago, when history was not yet given the importance we give it today. It was a time tinged with myths and legends.

Many times people were looking for supernatural answers to heroic or unusual events.  And it was not uncommon for a story that was passed on by word of mouth to be distorted to the point of completely altering its core.

As far as we can tell from the few records that remain from that time, the history of the katana was like this…

The Swords That Preceded the Katana

The katana was not always the samurai’s default weapon. Before its appearance, the tachi dominated the battlefield.

The tachi is a sword similar to the katana that we all know in terms of design, but historically it has always been more curved and thinner. It was a devastating sword if used on horseback, but not as effective in close combat.

For many years, this was the flagship sword of the samurai class. A sharp and deadly weapon, designed to take advantage of the horse’s speed to execute clean and devastating cuts.

It was usually combined with a tanto— a considerably long knife, also curved. The samurais called this combination “daisho”. Translated into English it means “the big one and the small one”.

Although these swords are strictly Japanese, we cannot ignore the Chinese influence on them. Many of the initial swords were directly inspired by their Chinese counterparts, such as the Dao.

Much of the credit also goes to the Emishi. They created the so-called Warabite sword. The same one that the Japanese would later take and modify, thus giving rise to the “Kenukigatatati”— much more similar to the Japanese swords we know today.

Creation of the Katana

It is estimated that the katana was invented in the 13th century. The story of how and who invented it, however, is diffuse.

The exact point in history when the tachi was transformed into the famous and deadly katana is uncertain. There are not many records of that time, and the little we know is due more to rumors that ran through the time than to concrete historical facts.

However, there is one point where all the stories seem to coincide.

The creation of the katana is attributed to Amakuni, a swordsmith who worked for the emperor.

During the Mongol invasions, the samurais found out by bad means that their swords were inefficient. The boiled leather armor of the Mongols was something new, and the curved and thin tachis were unable to penetrate it.

Many of the tachis broke or got stuck in the armor, leaving the warriors defenseless in the middle of the combat.

Legend has it that one day, seeing how the samurai returned from the battlefield wounded and with cracked swords, Amakuni decided to change the design of the sword.

He and his son locked themselves for seven days and seven nights in their forge, praying to the gods. On the seventh night, the goddess Amaterasu appeared before him in a dream and presented him the recipe of what would be a sword like no other.

After that, Amakuni and his son worked without rest for four weeks, following Amaterasu’s recipe. They forged. They hammered. They tempered. They tested. Until, on the 31st, they emerged with it…

A single-edged sword, extremely sharp, shorter than the tachi but with a thicker body.

As soon as the emperor saw what this sword was capable of, he put all his resources and workers at Amakuni’s disposal and ordered him to forge hundreds for his elite troops.

The new sword was capable of piercing the armor of the Mongols without any problem, and thanks to it the samurais were able to push back the continuous waves of attacks.

Of course, thanks to that… not thanks to the powerful storm that mercilessly lashed the Mongolian fleet… twice. Cof, cof.

The whereabouts of Amakuni after his role in the creation of the katana is a mystery. An ancient legend says that he won immortality for his undoubted contribution to the Japanese army.

Who knows? Perhaps even today he continues to forge swords for the gods.

How The Katana Became King

As we mentioned before, prior to the appearance of the katana, the tachi was the flagship weapon of the samurai. It is a particularly lethal sword on horseback. The problem, however, is that cavalry confrontations became increasingly rare.

When the civil war broke out, battles were no longer fought only on vast battlefields. The enemy was no longer just that general guarded by hundreds of men, but you could find him going to collect water, at any corner, inside the palace or in the alleys of the town.

Confrontations became more diverse, and a sword made only for great battles was not so useful anymore.

Unlike the tachi, the katana was compact in size, so it could be used even in enclosed spaces.  Also, its lesser curvature and greater mass made it more versatile when fighting- you don’t need a horse if your sword is heavy enough to execute powerful attacks.

As the years passed, the tachi was put aside and relegated only to cavalry. The katana became the default weapon of the samurai class. At first it was combined with a tanto, and then it was used with a wakizashi.

The Katana Today

The katana has become a symbol of samurai culture. Japan has adopted the famous sword as a national symbol, and to this day it continues to pay tribute to it.

It is a weapon so iconic that it is possible to find it everywhere; movies, anime, video games, and more.

Here at XXX we are dedicated to preserving samurai culture. We believe that every samurai has the right to own their own sword, so we created the first APP to design your own sword in 3D completely online.

Once you design it, with the parts and styles you want, you can order it and receive it at your doorstep in just days. All our swords are 100% functional and ready for battle; they are as effective as the samurai swords used throughout history.

Revealing the True Power of the Katana

Today many myths about the capabilities of the katana circulate on the internet. These myths are often fed by fiction, but also by ignorance of the design of the sword.

In this section we are going to clarify definitively what a katana is capable of.

Advantages of the Katana

You have probably heard that katanas are special weapons. You know that there is something that makes them unique, but you are not sure what. Is it the phylum? Is it the materials? Is it because it is blessed by the Shinto gods themselves?

Let’s see…

The katana, both for its design and for its forging process, has 3 advantages that differentiate it from other swords

1 – The Katana is the Only Sword That Can Be Quickly Drawn

The main advantage of the katana is its quick-draw technique. Thanks to its semi-curved design, the samurai were able to develop a technique that allowed them to draw and attack in a single movement.

This ability to draw and attack in a second makes it one of the most versatile swords.

This movement is so important for the katana that there is even a martial art dedicated exclusively to it. It is called iaido, and it specializes in forming warriors capable of responding to attacks in milliseconds.

Whether it is at a tea ceremony or walking down the village streets; no one can surprise you when you carry your versatile katana with you.

2 – The Katana Combines Two Densities of Steel

It is common to hear in dojos the saying that a katana is a sword both offensive and defensive. But what do they mean by that? Aren’t all swords both defensive and offensive?

Well, not exactly.

Most swords cannot be sharp and defensive at the same time. This is because when you hit edge to edge, the normal thing is for the edge of your sword to end up destroyed. Or worse, that cracks form that lead to the blade breaking.

So many swords resort to dispensing with their edge. That is, presenting a not so sharp edge but still being lethal and efficient in defense.

The katana does not like the idea of not having a very sharp edge. Therefore, it presents another solution.

Clay tempering allows the sword to have two densities of steel in the blade.

On the one hand, a strong density for the border, which allows it to keep a very sharp cutting edge for longer.

On the other hand, a lower density in the body of the blade. This allows it to efficiently absorb all kinds of shocks. It also gives rise to many defensive techniques that consist of using the body of the blade to stop and deflect attacks.

In the past, instead of tempering clay, a fusion of metals of different density was used. However, tempering is just as efficient and much cheaper than mixing metals.

Clay tempering also creates a series of patterns along the blade. These are called Hamon, and are a work of art in themselves.

Note: If you will use our online katana customizer, don’t forget that you can, among many things, choose the type of hamon you like best for your samurai sword. Besides that you will be able to see the meaning of the hamon and what kind of appearance it gives to your sword.

3 – The Katana’s Handle Absorbs the Impacts

This is one of the least known advantages of the katana. But also, one of the most interesting.

If you take a look at the handle of the katana you will discover more pieces than you would have imagined could go in a handle. And the question is, what’s the point? Is it unnecessarily complex for the sake of art?

Well, it turns out that the katana handle has a number of advantages that other swords do not.

Just by grabbing a katana you will notice the difference. The surface of the handle, made of a mixture of silk and ray-skin, is extremely comfortable. In fact, we do not exaggerate when we say that it is the most comfortable handle in the world.

If you were to wield a conventional sword for a long time you would probably get blisters. With the katana that is not the case. Wielding a katana is simply pleasant.

Besides, it is practically impossible for the sword to slip out of your hands. The porous surface of the ray skin provides an extraordinary grip when in contact with your fingers.

Are your hands sweating? Are you fighting in the rain? It doesn’t matter. The sword will not slip an inch from your hands.

The handle of the katana provides even more advantage: it absorbs the vibrations of the blows.

When you strike with a sword, you usually feel the vibrations of the blow in your hand. In case of a bad hit, the vibrations are sometimes so strong that you feel them in the whole skeleton and can even make you drop your sword (imminent death).

The katana overcomes this problem. This is due in part to the materials we mentioned before, but also to the Habaki.

When the katana receives a strong blow, much of the vibrations of the blow are dissipated by the Habaki and cushioned by the soft materials of the handle (Samegawa of ray-skin and Ito of silk).

Thanks to this, the vibrations that reach the hands of the samurai are greatly reduced. This allows him to have more control when fighting.

When we talk about the katana handle, we are talking about a true feat of engineering.

Frequently Asked Questions About Katanas

There are so many myths revolving around the katana that if we were to unravel them one by one we would not finish even in several hours. Therefore, instead of denying myths, let’s talk about the truths of the katana.

Here is a section with many of the frequent doubts about the katana. These answers, by themselves, should be enough to dispel any myths that may be circulating.

How sharp is a katana?

The sharpness of a katana depends on two factors: the hardness of the steel and the structure of the edge.

Here we distinguish two types of edge structures: the Niku and the Ultra.

The Niku is the default edge, strong and reliable. The Ultra, on the other hand, makes the cutting edge of the blade as sharp as a razor blade. Both have different uses which we will explore below.

On the other hand, there is the issue of steel.

If the steel used is hard (like T10), the katana will be able to maintain a sharp edge (Ultra) longer. If you use a lower density steel (1065), then it will be more difficult to maintain such a sharp edge.

What edge should I choose for my katana?

If you use our unique in-the-world 3D katana customizer, you will find two types of cutting edge: Niku and Ultra. Each has a different function, and depending on what you want to use your katana for, you will find one or the other more convenient.

If you plan to use your katana to cut medium density objects such as bamboo or wood, then you’d better use the Niku. This type of edge is more resistant than the Ultra, and is useful for all types of situations.

If, on the other hand, you are looking to make high precision cuts on all types of lightweight objects, then the Ultra is for you. This sharpness makes the cutting edge of the blade as sharp as a razor blade. This allows the katana to cut through meat, tatami, and all kinds of light objects as easily as you would cut through butter.

If you choose the Ultra sharp, you will have to be especially careful when using your sword. It is a very dangerous edge that should not be taken lightly. Under no circumstances should you touch the blade with your hand— at least not without cutting gloves. Even the slightest touch with this type of blade is capable of opening deep wounds. It is not meant to be played with.

Is the katana faster than other swords?

In a way, yes, but not for the reason you are thinking. It is not a particularly lightweight sword. In fact, a conventional katana weighs about the same as a longsword.

What makes it faster to maneuver with a katana is that this samurai sword is shorter.

While the blade of other swords measures up to 110 cm, the katana’s is only 80 cm long.

These 30 cm less precisely make the katana such a versatile weapon, as they allow it to be as effective indoors as outdoors.

The Japanese had other longer swords. Some are excessively huge, such as the nodachi. However, these were reserved only for the battlefield.

When it came to portability and versatility, the answer was always the katana.

Is the katana stronger than a longsword?

This depends largely on the steel from which each sword is forged. But suppose both swords are made of the same material.

In that case, one point to note is that the katana is thicker than the longsword.

A longsword weighs almost the same as a katana. However, the longsword is considerably longer and also usually has a heavy knob at the base of the handle.

With this in mind, you can imagine the difference in the blade of both swords.

The longsword is often very dependent on its flexibility to withstand shock. The blade is thin, and that’s why it bends so much when you hit it.

The katana, on the other hand, has a hard and thick blade that rarely bends. And if it does, it is not usually very much – unless it is made of a particularly flexible material such as elastic steel (ringspun steel).

Can a katana cut through bone?

A katana can cut through bone without problems. Not only that, it can go through several bones at once.

In feudal Japan, for example, katanas were used on several occasions to cut through the body parts of criminals. There are records of katanas that were able to pass through dozens of bodies piled up in a single movement.

This practice gave rise to the modern Tameshigiri, in which objects are used and not people.

Can a katana cut through armor?

Yes, a katana can cut through armor without problems. In fact, it can cut through it so easily that its wearer would not even notice what happened.

There is only one small detail: it has to be leather armor.

Can a katana cut through steel?

A katana can cut through thin sheets of steel. There are videos on youtube of professionals performing this feat.

Unfortunately, that is all the steel that the sword can cut.

Can a katana cut through plate armor?

A katana cannot cut through plate armor.

Interestingly, the reason why plate armor was so expensive in ancient times is because it actually worked (who knew?)

Can a katana cut through steel mesh?

This is an interesting case. It turns out that since steel mesh is composed of many relatively weak rings, it is usually considered weaker than full steel armor.

With a direct lunge, a katana should be able to cut through one ring or two. However, this would not be significant enough to tip the battle in favor of the samurai.

When it comes to steel armor, the answer is always the same: tackle them and hit them hard in the weak spots!

How can I create my own 100% customized katana?

It is normal to want your own custom katana. After all, the point of having a samurai sword, with all its pieces and the art that goes with it, is that it represents you.

In feudal Japan, the samurai used to customize their own swords. Musashi, the most famous samurai in history, went so far as to design his own Tsuba (hand guard).

Today we offer you a huge variety of options so you can customize your own samurai sword to suit your needs. Best of all you can see your sword’s 3D design during the process!

Try our 3D samurai sword customizer by clicking here. It’s easy and fun!

Once you create your sword, use the code XXXX to get a 5% discount when you buy it. You will receive your fully functional, custom-made samurai sword at your doorstep.

Is the katana folded thousands of times?

No. This is a misunderstanding that arises from a fact.

A katana whose steel has been folded when forged, crazy as it sounds, is made up of thousands of layers. However, this is not because the sword has been folded many times, but because each time it is folded the number of layers grows exponentially.

Thus, it is only necessary to fold it a little more than a dozen times to make thousands of layers form in the steel.

Anatomy of the Katana

The katana is not only a mortal sword, but also a true work of art. The complexity of its design, the art behind each of its pieces, makes it one of the most striking swords in the world.

Each one of the pieces of a katana is customizable. Each one can be chosen to represent both its bearer and its clan, making them unique.

In this section we will analyze the different parts of the katana and understand their role in the functioning of the sword.

Katana Blade

The katana has one of the most characteristic designs in the world of swords. Its blade is curved and thick, with a tip that can be either rounded (classic) or straight (kiriha zukuri).

If the sword is clay tempered, then the blade will have undulations around the edge known as Hamon- besides being, as we mentioned before, more resistant and with greater capacity to absorb blows.

If you would like the sword to have its own “fingerprint”, then you can ask for the steel to be folded. This will create a series of patterns along the blade that are unique to each sword: the Hada.

Katana blades can also be of a different color, have different Hamon designs, and even display incredible engravings.

If you use our online 3D customizer, you will be able to decide down to the smallest detail how you want your sword blade to look. Do you prefer a strong steel or a flexible one? With or without Hamon? Would you like a phrase or symbol engraved on the steel? You decide.

Handguard of the Katana

The Handguard of the katana, known as Tsuba, is one of the most striking pieces of the legendary samurai sword.

Conventional swords usually have simple handguards; pieces of steel that only seek to fulfill their purpose. But for the Japanese this was not enough. They went to great lengths to create one of the most beautiful swords in the world.

And the handguard is a central piece to this.

The Tsuba is usually a disc or square of metal (or copper) that is found between the blade and the handle of the katana. What makes the Tsubas special is that they usually feature magnificent scenes and symbolism from feudal Japan.

In addition to this, the hand guard is composed of a Habaki (blade necklace) and Seppas. These pieces help to keep the blade firm, while absorbing some of the vibrations caused by striking.

We are proud to have one of the largest selections of Tsubas in the world of Japanese swords. If you create your sword with our unique in-world 3D customizer, you will have dozens of Tsubas at your disposal. Even the one designed by the legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi!

Each Tsuba has its own design, history, and symbolism. You can even take a look at the description of the one you like best and discover the meaning behind its design, and how it represents you as a samurai.

Try our unique 3D samurai sword customizer by clicking here.

Katana Handle

The katana has one of the most complex and beautiful handles in the world. Creating a handle for a katana, with all the materials and designs that go with it, is an art in itself.

But, let’s take a look at how the handle of these samurai swords is shaped:

– Tsuka: This is the core of the sword handle. It is a wooden structure that wraps the tang of the blade. They also have holes that are aligned with the tang itself, through which the Mekugi will pass.

– Mekugi: These are small wooden pegs with a starred design. They go through the holes in the tang and the Tsuka, securing both and keeping them steady.

– Samegawa: This is a wrap made of ray skin that completely wraps the wooden Tsuka once it is secured to the tang. The porous surface of the Samegawa allows it to adhere perfectly to the fingertips, preventing the sword from sliding out of the hand. The Samegawa, along with the Ito, are key to providing the exceptional grip so characteristic of samurai swords.

– Ito: The Ito is a strip that partially wraps around the Samegawa, providing an excellent grip for the palm but still leaving room for the fingertips to come into contact with the ray skin. The Ito can be made of cotton, silk, leather, or other types of materials pleasant to the touch. It can also come in a variety of colors. Wrapping the Ito around the Samegawa is a difficult feat, and requires the mastery that only an expert is capable of achieving.

– Fuchi: Fuchi is the necklace on the handle (not to be confused with Habaki, which is the necklace on the blade). The Fuchi is found just below the hand guard (Tsuba), and usually has a series of engravings that match the Kashira.

– Kashira: The Kashira is the base of the sword handle (some call it a pommel). This piece, like the Fuchi, usually has an artistic design, full of Japanese symbolism. The Kashira can also be used to execute strong blows at short distances. It is known that many samurai have cleanly finished with their opponent with just one blow with the Kashira.

Scabbard of the Katana

The Saya is the scabbard of the katana. It is usually made of lacquered wood or other similar materials. It can be decorated with a variety of designs and patterns. The Premium Sayas can be partially or totally made of ray-skin, which gives them a striking and hypnotic appearance.

The Saya of the katana is tied to the belt of the samurai by a cord called Sageo. The katana is usually carried face up, which allows the samurai to draw it and attack in a single movement.