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Samurai Swords: The Wakizashi


The wakizashi is a traditional samurai sword that a person wears on his or her side. This sword was common to see in Feudal Japan and was the companion sword to the Katana. The wakizashi is smaller and offers more ease in close combat fighting. This article is going to explore the history surrounding the wakizashi, its usage in both ancient and modern times, how sword smiths craft it, and the difference between the wakizashi and katana.


The History of the Wakizashi

Historians have noted that the samurai used the wakizashi as long ago as the 15th and 16th century. The main function of this weapon was to serve as a backup or companion sword to longer weapons like the katana. This weapon also served to help in close combat fighting when the samurai defeated their opponent. The samurai would use the wakizashi to behead the vanquished opponent, allowing the samurai to keep the head as a trophy. The samurai also used this blade to perform ritual suicide.


The term wakizashi did not originally stand for a specific sword and was used to describe any companion sword, no matter the length. It was simply to differentiate between the katana and a non-katana. It was not until the Edo period of Japan that the name started to refer to a particular sword. Around 1638, the rulers of Japan decided that they needed to regulate the different types used by the samurai by naming every weapon. This was to make sure the correct class of individual wore the right weapons. People of different classes were not allowed to wear certain weapons, mainly if the people were lower class citizens. Only the samurai were allowed to wear katana, but lower class individuals such as merchants were allowed to wear the wakizashi. This was when the sword received its official name of wakizashi, along with the katana receiving its name.


Some historians even believe that there was not much need for the wakizashi in fighting, as the tanto and katana both offered excellent fighting capabilities. Some believe that the wakizashi became popular because of its ease of use in indoor combat. This is because it was customary for soldiers to leave their weapons at the front gates of a castle or palace when entering, but were still allowed to carry their wakizashi. These weapons were carried on the left side on the waist sash of the samurai armor.


What Was The Wakizashi Used For?

As stated above, this blade was used in combat by the samurai to decapitate their opponents or for ritual suicide. Foreigners eventually started to refer to the wakizashi as an “Honor Blade” due to the use in samurai suicides. It is important to note that the wakizashi was not the only blade used in the ritual suicides as many samurai would also use a tanto. The wakizashi saw many ceremonial killings, as decapitation was not something that was done quickly when in the heat of battle (though this did happen). Many samurai would hold their victims down and show that they were victorious over their foe. This was to show that the solider had won the duel. The reason the wakizashi was used instead of katana or tanto blades is because those blades were at higher risk to be damaged by beheading a person wearing armor.


A samurai was never without the wakizashi, and oftentimes slept with the blade under his pillow as a way to quickly draw the weapon if needed. In fact, some historians liken the usage and placement of the wakizashi to that of a modern day solider carrying a pistol. Much like soldiers nowadays are able to carry their pistols wherever they go, so too were the samurai allowed to carry the wakizashi wherever they went.


How Is The Wakizashi Crafted?

The wakizashi is crafted similarly to other samurai swords. Shoppers can either find cheap blades that are only for show or they can invest in a sword that will not only look amazing but be amazing as well. Samurai swords have a rich history of craftsmanship, as each and every Japanese sword smith had to be one of the best and most well-trained to make swords for samurai. Legend has it that not only is the soul of the sword wielder embedded in the blade, but the spirit of its maker is as well. This is why a sword smith always made sure his blades were the best he could offer.


As they crafted the swords, the old Japanese sword smiths began to notice that a sword would greatly benefit if it were flexible and softer than other, older swords, which would shatter or damage easily. The Japanese smiths ended up creating a weapon that was softer, yet incredibly durable and strong. This caused the blade to be able to move at high speeds, cutting effectively, without shattering on contact.


Historians say that when a samurai would lose a battle, the sword smith would take it upon himself to correct the blade and add onto it, getting rid of things he felt caused the samurai to lose. This led to the multiple layers and different types of carbon steel used in the crafting of a sword. While most modern day sword smiths and wielders may no longer believe the soul is part of the craft, they still do believe that the weapon should be the best possible. They now follow the traditions of the wondrous Japanese sword smiths to ensure that they are able to craft these perfect swords.


Modern Usages Of Wakizashi

There is quite the amount of mysticism built up around this blade because of its use in ritual suicides with both casual appreciators and samurai enthusiasts. It is in several martial arts films and can be one of the most popular blades for the casual fans to purchase. Enthusiasts now will collect a wakizashi because it is such an integral part to any samurai armor and weapons collection. In fact, it is impossible to say that any samurai collection would be complete without a wakizashi as it holds so much meaning and history.


Remember that a wakizashi, or any samurai sword, should be used either for collections and viewing or competitions and practicing martial arts. There have been quite a few instances of individuals wanting to use a variety of samurai weapons as home defense tools as they are opposed to other forms of weaponry. Many experts point out that this might not be in the best interest of the individual and that he or she should seek out other home defense methods.


Always Respect The Blade

When purchasing a samurai sword whether it is a katana or wakizashi, you should always make sure you show the sword the proper respect. While new, this blade is a living part of history, which many only briefly acknowledge, if not simply forget about. Because this blade is such an integral part of that history, you should make sure you show it the proper care and respect it deserves. A few ways in which to respect the blade are:


·       Always keep the blade properly sheathed in its own, specific sheath. Never put the sword in an ill-fitting sheath, as this can cause it to breakdown and become blunt from being bumped and jarred.

·       Always make sure you properly sheath the sword, as well as properly unsheathe it. This will help keep damage from occurring to the blade. A sensei could easily teach you the proper methods of drawing a weapon and returning it to its sheath, as well as teach you the different martial arts involving the wakizashi.

·       Make sure that when the sword is put on display that you use a display case made specifically to house the wakizashi. This will make sure it is stored correctly, which will help keep the sword from becoming damaged.

·       Oil the blade regularly with special samurai sword care kits that will make sure the blade stays not only beautiful, but also functional. You can find samurai kits that will make sure it maintains that gorgeous sheen we all love.

·       If you are storing the sword for long periods of time, make sure you regularly take it out of its sheath. This can keep mold from building up if you are in a humid environment, and can also help you notice if the sword needs any repairs.

·       Make sure to treat the blade as something that can and will hurt you if not handled with care. As the samurai respected their blades, so should you. If you do happen to get too comfortable around the sword, you will be reminded to be vigilant in quite a painful manner.


In Closing

The wakizashi has an incredible, rich history that has mystified all who are not knowledgeable about the samurai, as well as those who know all there is to learn. It is imperative that we continue making these swords so that we are able to keep this wonderful history and tradition alive for many more centuries to come.