Everything You Need to Know About Wakizashi

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The Japanese wakizashi is the ultimate companion to the katana. It is a samurai sword with the same shape as the katana, but considerably smaller. It is an ideal sword for indoor use or for use with the katana in a Daisho combination.

Another characteristic of the wakizashi is that, of both swords, it is usually the one with the thinnest edge. This makes it a deadly weapon at close range, capable of making devastating cuts on light targets.

In this post we will take a look at the Wakizashi and understand what makes it special.

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History of Wakizashi

The wakizashi was created between the 15th and 16th centuries. However, more than properly “created”, one could say that it arose from the needs and limitations of the blacksmiths of the time.

In feudal Japan, steel could only be obtained from the iron sand (satetsu) commonly found in Shimane, which was filtered and processed through complicated processes that required hundreds of people working together.

Steel was an extremely valuable resource. For this reason, not all warriors could afford katanas or other long Japanese swords. The only alternative was the tanto, but this weapon is more of a very long knife than a sword.

That’s when wakizashi appeared.

Being the wakizashi a midpoint between a katana and a tanto, it was the ideal choice for those warriors who could not afford a katana.

However, what began as a simple production advantage was transformed into a historic love story when the samurai discovered the true potential of the wakizashi.

Beginnings of the Wakizashi

At first, the Wakizashi was used as a back-up weapon that the samurai carried with him in case he lost his katana during a confrontation. In that case, the samurai would still have a reliable sword with which to defend himself.

In the past, this place was occupied by the tanto. This was the quintessential backup weapon prior to the wakizashi. However, the wakizashi proved to be much more useful. Not surprisingly.

Although at first it didn’t seem that there were too many reasons why a samurai should use a wakizashi, this sword proved to be more useful than was previously thought.

It was only a matter of time before the wakizashi was established as the ultimate backup weapon. Thus relegating the tanto to a secondary role— often ceremonial.

The Role of the Samurai Wakizashi

How do you know if a warrior is a samurai in feudal Japan?

Easy: because he has a katana.

In feudal Japan, the use of the katana was exclusive to the samurai class. This was not only the favorite sword of these warriors, but also a badge. It was a distinctive symbol for these warriors.

Therefore, unless you were a samurai, it was completely FORBIDDEN for you to use a katana.

A wakizashi, on the other hand…

For it there were no rules.

In ancient Japan, wakizashi could be carried by any member of the chonin class— usually known as “men of town”.

This was composed mainly of merchants and artisans; people who eventually might need to resort to a sword to defend themselves from possible assailants.

In order for the wakizashi to be legal, however, it had to fulfill a fundamental requirement: it had to be a ko wakizashi. In other words, it had to be an even smaller version of the wakizashi that we normally know.

In itself it sounds crazy. However, it is a logical thing to do.

Japan was up to its neck in civil wars. The last thing they wanted was to have to worry about was waves of armed farmers capable of organizing a revolt or causing trouble at any time.

The weapons were to be for the warriors, and the tools for the farmers.

The Wakizashi in the Daisho

For the samurai, the use of two swords at once was their daily routine. It was a practice that had begun many years ago, with the use of the tachi and the tanto. Later, that practice had changed to that of the katana and the tanto.

Now, wakizashi took the place of the tanto in what was known as a Daisho combination.

What is Daisho?

The word Daisho can be translated literally as “the big one and the little one”. It is the practice of carrying two swords at once.

It is popularly believed that this involved using both sword at the same time as seen in the movies. However, the truth is that this was not a very common practice.

Few samurai throughout history have resorted to using both swords at the same time in combat. One of them was none other than Miyamoto Musashi— the most famous samurai in history.

Speaking of Miyamoto, do you know what the famous samurai would have loved? The ability to create his sword completely online with the world’s first 3D sword customizer.

Furthermore, he might have been proud to know that we now have available for all swords the legendary Tsuba Musashi, designed in feudal Japan by the famous samurai. Create your own samurai sword online today, it’s easy and fun.

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The Importance of Wakizashi for Samurai

There were two advantages that wakizashi had over the katana.

The first advantage was related to the rules.

In feudal Japan, it was not allowed to carry a katana in certain places.

If you entered the mansion of an important feudal lord, for example, it was normal to be forbidden to enter with a katana. You would have had to leave your katana when you entered, which exposed you to all kinds of attacks.

However, you were allowed to carry a smaller weapon in these places. And this is where the wakizashi shone.

The second advantage of wakizashi is that, being smaller, it was ideal for indoor encounters.

Inside a building, if you tried to use a katana you would most likely have a hard time. Every time you tried to strike, your sword would hit the walls, furniture or decoration.

With every blow you would strike, you would be risking that your katana would get stuck somewhere. Which, in a life or death situation, is a setback.

Literally, never.

Such was the bond of a samurai with his wakizashi that it would be difficult for him to leave his small sword at any time of the day.

In fact, it is well known that a common custom that the samurai of ancient Japan had was to sleep along with their wakizashi. Not hugging it, but close enough to be able to take it in hand in case someone broke into their house.

There was another reason, however, that closely linked a samurai and his wakizashi: seppuku.

After that duel, Musashi made a vow never to hold another duel to death. However, the damage was done, and the best Nodachi warrior in the world would never fight again.

Despite his death, Sasaki’s mark remains on history as one of the greatest warriors in history.

And, without a doubt, the best Nodachi fighter history has ever seen.

In fact, it is because of the popularity that warriors like Sasaki gave to this massive sword that today we can offer you the opportunity to customize your own 100% Nodachi online and have it delivered to your doorstep.

Wakizashi and Seppuku

Wakizashi has gone down in history as the “blade of honor” of the samurai. This short sword accompanied the samurai in life… and also in death.

Seppuku, also called “hara-kiri”, is a traditional suicide ritual in ancient Japan reserved only for the bravest samurai. In it, the warrior uses a wakizashi to pierce his stomach from side to side.


No, worse.

It is a terrible agony for the samurai. But this is exactly why it was so important for these warriors.

By facing such a painful death, the samurai demonstrated resolution, courage, and bravery in the face of death. And it was by demonstrating all these qualities that the warrior regained the honor he had otherwise lost.

In the beginning, this practice was performed with a tanto. However, wakizashi would end up displacing it in this area as well, as it was much more suitable for this practice. Being larger and sharper than the tanto, this sword was much more suitable.

Because of this, wakizashi is popularly known as the “blade of honor”.

Characteristics of Wakizashi

The wakizashi is forged in the same way and with the same materials as the katana. It has a high carbon steel blade, Saya, Tsuba, and handle. It is so similar to the katana that they are often confused.

This is where the size of the blade becomes important.

The blade of a wakizashi can measure from 12 inches (30 centimeters) to 24 inches (59 centimeters). If the blade is larger than that, then we are in the presence of a katana.

What usually happens with Japanese swords is that the same type of sword is divided into different subcategories depending on the size. This is how we arrive at the terms “ko wakizashi” and “o wakizashi”.

The first subcategory, the ko wakizashi, is the smaller version of the wakizashi. Sometimes it can even be confused with a tanto. To fit into this category, the sword must be less than 45 centimeters long. This is the type of wakizashi that a chonin would be allowed to carry.

On the other hand, the o wakizashi is the longest version of this sword. It is most commonly confused with a katana. Especially in its longer versions. For a sword to be a wakizashi, its blade must measure between 46 and 59 centimeters.

Note: the measurements may vary slightly depending on who you ask. Categorizing swords is not a science, but it serves to roughly understand the different roles of each blade.

katana handle (tsuka}

Wakizashi in Combat

Being a smaller and more agile weapon than the katana, the wakizashi was always a dangerous weapon against unarmored opponents. As mentioned before, this type of sword is much more suitable for indoor fighting.

Martial arts like Iaido exploit this advantage.

In the Iaido, the most important thing in combat is who draws first. Its practitioners practice one and a thousand times how to draw quickly while executing a deadly attack against an opponent.

In Iaido, sword fighting is secondary. It’s not a martial art designed for open-air combat, but for tea ceremonies— for those situations where someone said the wrong thing and negotiations go down the drain.

In those cases, a wakizashi is the ideal weapon to have. Not only can it be drawn even faster than the katana, but it will also be easier to attack with it without it getting stuck in the table or some other piece of furniture.

Some schools of martial arts in ancient Japan knew the power of wakizashi, and so they taught how to stop a potential attacker before he draws. They seek to hinder him, push him, or stop his arm before it is too late.

Wakizashi Combat Techniques

The most common thing was always to use the katana as the main weapon and relegate the wakizashi to the role of a secondary weapon. However, as mentioned above, there were some samurai who preferred to use both swords at the same time in combat.

But was this really effective? How do you use a katana and a wakizashi at the same time?

Well, there were several ways to do it.

What was usually resorted to was using the katana as an attack weapon and the wakizashi as a defense weapon. Sometimes, for this purpose, the wakizashi could be held with an inverted grip, so that it was more convenient to the blade to stop attacks.

In case of being faced with several enemies, the samurai would not stop moving. Ideally he would have to try to keep all of his targets within his field of vision, preventing them from surrounding him.

This is where the technique of using the wakizashi with an inverted grip comes from, because that way it is easier to stop enemies trying to flank you.

There was also the possibility of using the wakizashi in an offensive way.

Niten Ichi-ryu specializes in using both katana and wakizashi to attack. It seeks to pressure the opponent, leaving him no time to respond. This was, in fact, the favorite style of the famous samurai Miyamoto Musashi.

In his martial arts school, among other things, he taught his students how to effectively use both swords at the same time.

If the most famous samurai in history did it, then you can know for sure that this style of combat was a success. But only in experienced hands, of course.

As you may have seen, there are many ways to use wakizashi. Whether you plan to use your wakizashi in a lethal Daisho combination or alone, you know you can always count on this powerful weapon.

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