5 Reasons Why Katanas are Stupid

EDIT: For anyone who cares, I did a follow-up to this article here.

You heard me right.

First of all, what is the katana? It’s a traditional Japanese sword, characterized by a curved, single-edged blade, a short guard that can be round or square, and a hilt that can accommodate two hands. Due to some incredibly good marketing, there are legions of idiots out there with stupid ideas about katanas.

Now, dear friends, is the time to whack them upside the head with some knowledge. The truth is, katanas are stupid.

1. They were made from crap materials

So here’s the thing: the Japanese bladesmiths were very, very good at making swords. They had to be, because the raw ore they had to work with was limited and the quality wasn’t great. Europe was relatively spoiled in its availability of good iron, but over in Japan, they had to really scrape the stuff together. So the Japanese had to make do with what was available, and the end result is tamahagane, or jewel steel.

The long and short of it is that katanas themselves are made from the best steel the Japanese could produce from really bad raw materials. The well-known process of folding the metal to increase the strength of the blade was just part of what they had to do to draw out impurities; it wasn’t some mystical technique known only to master bladesmiths. (The Vikings were pattern-welding their blades for extra strength centuries earlier.) The end result was a fine sword made from some of the purest steel in the ancient world, but the whole process was long and backbreaking.

Why is this stupid, you may ask? Well, in the 16th century, the Portuguese and Dutch got to Japan. Just when the Japanese were on the verge of getting their hands on all the European iron they could eat, the shogunate decided to kick out all the foreigners and get into xenophobia in a big way for the next 250 years.

2.They were designed to cut, and not much else

The katana is not an all-round weapon. It’s probably the ur-example of a cutting sword, in fact. The katana is a curved, fat blade with a viciously keen single edge, used with two hands, and there’s a high preference for the draw-and-cut. It’s also a short weapon, only 25 inches on average. Yes, you can thrust with it, but it’s really not designed for it. It’s designed for fast cutting work.

This is stupid because it’s a one-trick pony that just isn’t all that useful on a battlefield. Bows, spears and later matchlocks were the primary weapons of the samurai in battle, not katanas – like many swords, they were the weapon of last resort, not first. They were and are a very expensive status symbol.

3. They weren’t good at parrying or blocking

So here’s the thing – a sword that takes an age to forge and sharpen and polish isn’t something you want to damage. Combat means damage. Blocking means damage. Parrying means damage. And that immensely sharp edge is somewhat brittle.

Europeans had enough iron and steel to not care too much about their swords when they took a beating. The Japanese had no such luxury. A cutting sword isn’t great at blocking or parrying anyway, because its one great advantage – a deep draw cut – is compromised by nicks to the cutting edge.

This is stupid because of the same problem of it being a one-trick pony. It’s a sword that is super good at one specific thing, and really mediocre in comparison to many other swords at other really vital things, like defensive actions.

4. They couldn’t cut through absolutely anything

There are far, far too many myths about katanas, and the one that pops up most frequently is that a katana is some mystical blade that can chop a tank in two, or cut through plate armor.

Yes, a sharp cutting sword is good at cutting stuff. Don’t tell me that surprises you. But they’re still physical objects that can’t break the laws of physics at will by slicing through steel plate armor like it’s butter. A katana can’t even slice through mail, for gods’ sake. That’s the kind of stuff that happens in anime, not in real life.

Katanas were tested on cadavers – naked cadavers. They sliced through them pretty well, and there are some historical swords that apparently cut through five bodies at once. But those tests were expensive, and the point of them was to increase the value of the sword. I’m not sure why anyone takes them as absolute truth.

5. Their fanboys are idiots

There’s no other way to say this: there is a strain of toxic fanboyism out there that insists that katanas were perfect, elegant killing tools wielded by master swordsmen, and European swords were big, blunt ugly choppers that any idiot could wave around. Said strain of fanboyism also insists that a katana versus a longsword would inevitably result in a win for the katana.

I can’t roll my eyes hard enough, seriously. I’m a big believer in the idea of form following necessity and feasibility when it comes to swords and swordplay, and never is this more apparent in the evolution of European martial arts. The concept that all European swords can be reduced to heavy, badly-made, mass-produced lumps, more akin to a steel bar than an actual weapon of war, is offensive. It actually bothers me that people seem to think that it’s totally plausible for a whole continent of nations to make war on each other (and anyone they met) for hundreds of years, but somehow no one ever came up with a design for a good sword.

I’m saying this a lot, but it is So. Goddamn. Stupid.

I know longswords, and if I had to take bets on the average katana-wielder versus the average longsword-wielder, I’d bet on the longsword every time, and here’s why.

  • A katana loses viability against armor of any kind, because its big advantage – deep cuts – is negated pretty effectively by metal armor.
  • A katana is too specialized; it lacks a level of defensive ability because its design is so hyper-focused on cuts.
  • A katana is good at fast, close moves, but this means it lacks reach.
  • A longsword has a whole selection of techniques for getting an armored opponent on the ground.
  • A longsword is a great all-round weapon – you can cut, thrust, defend, and attack in many different ways. It doesn’t excel in any particular field, but it doesn’t need to. Its big advantage is flexibility.
  • A longsword is… long. The average katana blade is 23-28 inches. For comparison, my longsword’s blade is 38 inches. That extra reach isn’t trivial in combat, especially when the counter to it – getting inside the longsword’s close measure – means you’ll get grappled and bashed in the face with the pommel.

Do I think the longsword is the best weapon ever? No. I just think it’s a pretty good bet against a katana. Let’s be honest here, if we’re talking one-on-one duels, a samurai with a katana and a knight with a longsword are both going to get their asses kicked by the same person – someone who had the foresight to bring a sword heavily designed for dueling to the fight, i.e. a rapier.

In conclusion

Katanas are stupid.

Okay, okay – they’re pretty good swords, and many ancient katanas are works of art. We also have the benefit of hundreds of years worth of records of Japanese weaponsmithing and swordfighting, which Europeans certainly didn’t do to the same degree. But the level of asshattery that’s grown up around katanas is stupid, so much so that it’s almost hard to appreciate them without being tainted by it.

In short, I am on Team Longsword and I regret nothing.

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53 comments on “5 Reasons Why Katanas are StupidAdd yours →

    1. In the Feudal Japan days..not a single Samurai EVER had to go up against a European with metal armor, or a long sword..so though the statement made about a long sword being better, is indeed NOT indicative to the times, and location..yes the Katana was built for slicing, and dicing..and NO, THEY ARE NOT CAPABLE OF CUTTING THROUGH A TANK..how fucking stupid is that statement?.. katana and a long sword was built for 2 different scenarios, and should NOT be compared. My humble opinion, one is better than the next depending on application..a 10lb long sword, could NEVER out class a shorter, lighter Katana in the right hands…NEVER

      1. In the Feudal Japan days..not a single Samurai EVER had to go up against a European with metal armor, or a long sword..so though the statement made about a long sword being better, is indeed NOT indicative to the times, and location..yes the Katana was built for slicing, and dicing..and NO, THEY ARE NOT CAPABLE OF CUTTING THROUGH A TANK..how fucking stupid is that statement?.. katana and a long sword was built for 2 different scenarios, and should NOT be compared. My humble opinion, one is better than the next depending on application..a 10lb long sword, could NEVER out class a shorter, lighter Katana in the right hands…NEVER.Not to mention the European Knight was NOT trained in martial arts, or were they trained they same as a Japanese samurai. They were pussies in comparison to a fully trained Samurai..So, yes, you made some valid points, however, the comparison is not relevant

        1. A Samurai had no fear of death..A pussy Knight, had no intention on dying for their Kings..I’d say the better, trained Samurai WITH A KATANA, has the better edge

          1. A Samurai had no fear of death..A pussy Knight, had no intention on dying for their Kings..I’d say the better, trained Samurai WITH A KATANA, has the better edge. It’s not a fair comparison by any means..2 different worlds, and warriors that never met. However, I’ll bet on the Samurai, skilled in martial arts..and trained ,( in the way of the sword). It’s in the hands of the weilder..not the weapons

        2. Longswords did not weigh 10 lbs, rather 2.8 to 3.9 pounds on average, with some slightly lighter an others slightly heavier. How can someone wield a 10 lbs sword an be effective and not get exhausted? Furthermore, the balance of the sword tended to be close to the guard, making it less tiring to swing or to change attack direction mid-swing.

  1. Very entertaining read. I will point out a couple points you may not be aware of. Katana lengths tended to be based on the size of the user. Back then most Japanese were very short. The sword length was based on what they could draw from the scabbard. I am over 6′ and use a very long Katana myself. Blocking – is primarily done with the side of the back edge – to prevent the blade from getting nicked, as it was and is a big deal to fix. If there was to be a battle between a normal sword of both kinds, the katana is much lighter, and will beat the long sword to the strike. The long sword can kill from impact even if the opponent has armor, that is not something a katana can do. So it comes down to who is better trained – like with all martial arts. Katanas are used to stab (ski) to go in between layers of armor. I like that you state that longer weapons/spear type were more effective on the battle field, as longer trumps shorter on the field, and a gun trumps them all. Another consideration is battle time, how long are you on the battle field, how much weight are you carrying/swinging, how long can keep up the fight with your tools. I’d rather be using a long bow myself, but I know I am a better with a katana than a heavier blade, so it fits me. You might be a very burly guy that can swing a 6lb sword for an hour, then that works for you.

    1. Very informative, thank you.

      [edit] I should point out that I’m basing my determination of longsword vs. katana on the assumption that the longsword wielder has European plate armor, and the katana-wielder has Japanese armor, and they’re in a duel situation rather than on the battlefield. I’d still give it to the longsword, assuming fighters of equal skill, for the points mentioned above.

      This is a debate that will never be settled, of course. And all things considered, I’d prefer a bow too

    2. Bluntly speaking: Everything you wrote is practically wrong.

      Long swords aren’t slow. They average three pounds wielded in two hands whereas katanas are about 2.3 lbs in two hands. Sabers can easily be longer and lighter than katanas and still be wielded one-handed. Most of the material in katanas are basically to support the edge.

      I do some HEMA and I can tell you that, when it comes down to it, longsword reach is quite easy to abuse. Short of you being some kind of martial god, it’s a very difficult thing to deal with. You say “speed” like it means something, but it’s sort of meaningless if I can touch you first just because of reach.

      Katanas are just dang short because it’s a technological/cultural limitation. And I seriously doubt they’re short because they’re just specialized for cutting.

      Find me a scrawny teenage girl. I’ll bet you she can come out once a week for a few months and she’ll find the average longsword pretty reasonably comfortable to swing. Much easier than if she had to handle a rapier or a saber.

      Nodachi are the longest this style of sword can get and those have to be made-to-order because it’s difficult to draw steel out to that length. So it’s not simply a matter of being tailored to personal height.

      The Japanese method of swordmaking is, basically, lamination with some differential tempering thrown in at the end of the process. Better steel heralded the death of infantry tactics like the ones Romans used because that made longer swords and, probably more importantly, better stirrups.

      You probably have some ideas about armor, since full suits of European armor basically amounts to what I’ve heard somebody describe as “can opener” fighting. Or in short: Wrestling. Secure a hold or throw the other person, then finish him at your leisure.

      You can knock a dude senseless with a murderstroke, but that’s an unlikely proposition unless you’re similarly armored.

      1. Tachi and nodachi were invented before the katana, and for use on horseback. They were discarded because the katana was more useful on foot – I’m guessing it made for a better policing weapon. However, it’s worth pointing out that katana were favored over tachi even as Japanese metalsmithing improved.

    3. Longswords weigh from 2.8 to 4 lbs. If a longsword could kill someone from impact, so could a
      katana; both are metal bars with somewhat simllar weight and none can cut through amour. Longswords were also used to penetrate armour gaps with techniques such as half-swording. European swordsmen also developed their own techniques and they also focus on speed, control and form, instead of just brute force, so I think this idea that Japanese martial artists and warriors were simply superior in fighting techniques doesn’t make sense. Both peoples had been fighting and dueling for generations and both learned and developed their techniques. In my opinion, also, having to take care of the angle in which your blade is struck by your enemy’s in order to preserve it, like with the Katana is more difficult than just using your sword to parry whichever way you want to save your life, like the Longsword.

  2. You’re no better you’re a European long sword fanboy.. I could come up with a list of why long swords are stupid too btw soooo I think all swords have their own advantages and disadvantages and none are superior or inferior

  3. Enjoyable read 🙂

    I’ve trained in Iaido, fenced and handled western medieval and renaissance swords and mostly agree with you.

    However, there are many types of Katana and some can deliver a devastating thrust. It’s down to the type of Kissaki (point) used.

    Another katana advantage: Draw speed. In a hypothetical situation with both swords sheathed, someone skilled in Iai *will* get a cut in before the longsword user can draw his/her blade.

    Finally, vs rapier: A katana is no match for the speed, reach and point control of a rapier. However, will one or two thrusts be enough to stop a samurai (fired up on adrenaline) before his swing connects and does catastrophic damage?

    1. Interesting questions.

      My opinion would be that the katana cut is effectively neutered by plate armour, so draw speed is not relevant. You just can’t cut through plate armour with any kind of sword. So the theoretical katana user would get the first cut off, fail to actually do damage, and then we’re back to square one.

      As to whether a katana can deliver an effective thrust against plate… I don’t quite know offhand, but my guess would be no. It would have to be incredibly accurate (to hit a gap in the plate) and very forceful, and then it’s a question of attaining effective penetration. The usual katana blade I’ve seen, however, is really fat in the cross-section, and this presents a problem for the possible penetration depth. In the European tradition, knights used half-swording to get their opponent on the ground, and then switched to a rondel dagger to actually do any damage. Rondel daggers are all very thin and straight; hold them in an ice-pick grip for maximum power, while you’ve got your opponent pinned under you, and getting through a gap, and through the mail and the padding under it isn’t so difficult. But in combat, with moving targets, where you can’t apply your full strength and more importantly your full weight to the thrust, with a fat blade? I would put it at a level that’s very close to impossible.

      Now, whether a rapier would actually stop a samurai with a katana is something else entirely. The answer to that is twofold. Rapiers are not designed to be used against armour, even lamellar armour. A samurai in armour would likely destroy a rapier duelist because the duelist just can’t hurt them. Same for the longsword user in plate. (It was a civilian weapon, after all.) But if we’re looking at just the swords, on equal footing, meaning everyone in regular clothes? I’d still give it to the rapier. It’s not just faster; it’s got a much greater reach, and superior protection in the hand guard and its defensive tactics. It’s designed for the wielder to avoid being hit at all, so the lunge is long, the hand guard is huge, and the stance leans backwards.
      A rapier can disengage and strike at higher speed, from outside the katana’s range, with better defensive capabilities, and that’s a lot to overcome on the part of the katana wielder.

      The longsword in this situation is tricky as well, but there’s always the option of taking the first few hits to get inside the rapier’s effective measure, and going to half-swording. It’s probably very risky, but it’s an option at least. The katana, as far as I know, doesn’t have an equivalent to half-swording.

      But that’s just how it is with specialization. A rapier is rubbish on a battlefield, and its ability to cut is laughable. You’ll always trade off some functionality in one area and accept that, in some situations, your blade is no better than a paperweight. Just goes to show there is no such thing as a perfect sword.

      1. As you’ve stated the sword is a last resort weapon, not a first resort. So it’s unlikely that somebody is just out on foot in the battlefield to duel another armored person with a sword. That’s what polearms are for. Mounted cavalry wouldn’t be on foot either way.

        The only exceptions armored duels with swords would happen is basically:
        – As a last resort on the battlefield.
        – Competitive purposes.
        – You need to kill some less fortunate people who are less armored than you.

        Most people just don’t wear that much armor in everyday life. It’s like going about your day wearing a full vest with plates in it rated to stop rifle rounds. Few people have any business wearing such a thing unless you’re a professional soldier fighting a war.

        1. Does anyone know of the School in Japan that TEACHES the individual How and Were to “BEAT” the Armor of an opponent! The school is centuries old and is still available today. I spent 23 years as a Gunner in side the M60-A3 and then the M1/M1A2. Yes 62 tons of Steel, but as of Ole it can always be Beaten, it always gets done to the Individual mind and Training??? So words are just that words, on the Battlefield Me or You both have implements of Death!!! Who is Better Trained???

      2. 4 points: first, samurai carried smaller bladed weapons (wakizashi and tanto) for the killing strike that you describe above with the rondel dagger. In fact, much of the close combat training for samurai involved finishing off opponents on the ground with these weapons rather than the katana.

        Second, it’s been mentioned a couple times now that people can just take stabs from rapiers and keep fighting. I find that very difficult to believe. Sure, adrenaline will prevent a lot of pain, but penetrative injuries to the solar plexus and stomach are extremely hard to deal with. In fact, part of katana fighting relies on the fact that stabs to such locations end fights.

        Next, the katana is considered a one strike weapon. The philosophy behind using them is that only 3 outcomes are possible after the first attack: you’re dead, your opponent is dead, or you’re both dead. To achieve this, samurai trained to strike at locations on the body that end in these 3 results: the wrists, neck, and other major arteries.

        Last, katana wielders fought against longer bladed weapons called ‘naginata.’ So their training included dealing with opponents with a much longer reach. It’s worth pointing out that people who don’t train against much longer reaches don’t do very well. For example, contemporary kendo competitors generally train only against the same or similar reach. Thus, even the best of them, when facing off against a naginata, find it very, very difficult to survive. But their troubles – and the people who are writing here a) aren’t real swordsmen and b) don’t train to fight against people with longer reach. So we should take these “rational” comments with a grain of salt.

        Yes, you made good points, but that doesn’t mean that your logic anticipates how real combat works between well trained swordsmen.

  4. I fully agree with your statements and points, however I want to point out that rapiers are even WORSE weapons
    They are designed for thrusting and that’s the ONLY thing they can do, since you can’t expect to block or parry with it unless you’re up against another rapier
    And they can do NOTHING at all against any armor ever

    They were created when people started using the first firing weapons, meaning armor was disappearing and rapiers were a relatively easy out in close quarters
    Against any other ancient weapon; the rapier is biting the dust

    1. I happen to disagree.

      Katanas are specialized at cutting; longswords are good all-rounders. But they are still not dueling weapons, and their place is on the battlefield. If we’re going to assume the rules and space of single combat, then the person with the sword designed for it is going to win the duel. Winning a duel usually didn’t mean ‘kill the other person’. It meant to first blood, or to exhaustion, or to someone conceding.

      Rapiers are fast and terrifyingly precise. Rapier sword play is based on avoidance and reach. All that adds up to the rapier duelist being able to land a hit on a longsword or katana fighter long before they can get a strike in return. (Fun fact: you can parry and block a longsword or katana with a 16th century steel rapier. Source: the Academie Duello Open Floor Night every Friday.)

      Let’s say it’s an utterly unfair duel, and the other fighter is in plate or lamellar armor. I’ve said before that the rapier wielder will lose this, but having thought about it some more, I think I would still give it to the rapier duelist – the one carrying a lighter weapon who isn’t burdened down with forty pounds of armor. The other fighter still has the problem of actually hitting the rapier wielder (not an easy feat, considering the weapon), and they’ve got to do it before they themselves are too tired to continue. Plus they have the additional problem of defending against a lucky strike from the rapier in between their armor’s plates.

      Now, this is not to say that rapiers are superior weapons. They’re not. In an unpredictable battlefield setting, surrounded by multiple opponents, they’re always going to be ineffective compared to weapons and armor actually designed for those conditions. Funny how that works, eh?

      But I think the best counter to the argument that rapiers were terrible weapons and useless against anything but another rapier is the fact that they were the the civilian weapon of choice for such a long time. If longswords or katanas were superior single combat blades, all else being equal, then we would have seen a very different evolution of sword design in the 16th-17th centuries in Europe. After all, why would someone choose an inferior sword to defend themselves? We have to assume that actual swordfighters of the time were not stupid, and the rapier endured for so long because it worked well in its proper context against other swords of the same era.

      1. If you think a rapier duelist can defeat an armored opponent, and write a post of 3 paragraphs trying to defend this incredibly stupid opinion, you should not make another post about fighting ever again.

        In any combat situation the rapier would be broken in half by the armored opponent in the first contact. Unless the “much lighter” rapier wielder decides to run away to his mommy, he would be utterly crushed by someone who even doesn’t have a weapon and is merely wearing gauntlets.

        It’s amazing how people who haven’t fought a day in their lives can advance their stupid argument to the point of fanatical zeal…

        1. Oh noes! Some random person on the Internet thinks I’m full of shit! Whatever shall I doooooooo!

          …that was sarcasm, in case your reading comprehension is failing here too.

          Ref. your point about armoured opponents, I refer you to this other article I wrote that addresses that. In short: no, rapiers don’t work against armour, because they were not designed for it. They were designed for the classical civilian one-on-one duel, and there they will excel – which is what I said above.

  5. Very good points, good sir, though any weapon is only as useful as the individual wielding it. For example, you could give me the finest sword ever made and I would still probably be disemboweled in seconds by any knight or samurai with a dull knife. I was born in the twentieth century, after all. My pops taught me to shoot; not beat on people with sharpened pieces of metal.

    However, as a lover of the old school weapons of war from all over the world, I have to disagree that the longsword is a superior weapon, altogether. A lengthy straight blade can be just as much a curse as a blessing if your opponent can inside of its reach. You said it yourself: “A katana is good at fast, close moves, but this means it lacks reach.” In saying this, you’re also forgetting that the people that used these swords were beyond being simply aware of how they were meant to be utilized, and had well-developed techniques to prove it and, as I have personally witnessed, this does actually include some very effective and well-developed sparring and parrying techniques using what looked like the back of the blade. In other words, the skilled user of the katana being confronted by a guy with a longsword is obviously going to know that he wants to get inside to make those fast, deep cuts just as much as the skilled user of the longsword is going to know that he wants to keep the guy with the katana at a distance. There is no way of knowing what would happen here. The moment that one them makes that wrong move, consciously or unintentionally, it’s over for them.

    This is, of course, assuming that armor is not involved. You are talking about swords, after all. You should compare the swords alone without factoring in armor. The katana is fine and quick slicing/slashing blade, but why would you even use a sword against plate or mail? From what I’ve read, small-bladed axes, picks, and spears dominated the battle-field during that time period, and swords were reduced to being small backup weapons. I think a more interesting scenario (seeing as we’re talking hypothetically) would be a knight is plate mail armor with a katana versus a guy in samurai armor with a longsword.

    1. Oh, I just love comments like these. You can almost taste the impotent, room-tempterature-IQ rage spilling forth from the face hole of this individual who has chosen to identify themselves with the email address eatme@suckit.com, apparently hailing from sickofpeoplewhoarefullofshit.com. You have to savour it, like fine whine.

      The video is an extra bonus. Highly recommended, if only for a couple of laughs.

  6. The only thing I see out of this is bellicose arrogance and a want to deliberately bad mouth just to get some laughs from “stupid weeaboos” and an internet ego high.

    If you call yourself a writer, you are an embarrassment to the name. Poke and prod, roll around in your skepticism and cynicism, get high off of your entitlement, and whenever you see opposition, you just up and throw out the “you are stupid” card. You hurt my feelings because I thought people like you were better than this. For all of your posts on equality and fairness, you certainly know how to cherry pick.

    I couldn’t imagine a person like you in real life. Don’t even call yourself a real martial artist either. People like you make me sick, and a for a fair warning, I’d best beware how you’d act and what you say in real life. Right now, you’re just a dirty racist coward hypocrite whom I bet spits on anyone who likes so much as a shred of “non white culture”. Good luck.

    1. You heard it here first, people – I’m a filthy racist because I talk about katanas not being super-duper-wonder-swords.

      I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether the shit-tossing above is merited or not.

  7. Not a very good post at all. ‘Katanas are stupid because they were made from crap materials’ honestly does not mean much. Because blacksmiths had to make-do with what they had doesn’t hold any merit towards the type of blade. ‘Katanas were designed to cut, and not much else’ is about as much as you can say as any other sword. I’m not saying Katanas are the best sword in the world, just that everything has it’s advantages and disadvantages. Third point is pretty much the same thing as I said. I mean you wouldn’t see a rapier trying to parry a katana. ‘They couldn’t cut through absolutely anything’. I’m sorry, what? What kind of preconceived notion is this? Nothing can cut through anything, the katana is no exception. I don’t see how this is a point in the slightest. Last but not least ‘Their fanboys are idiots’ which, again, holds absolutely no merit to the actual sword at all. The only point I completely agreed on was with your conclusion, but it contradicts everything else you said beforehand. This entire post was just a very biased ramble which, don’t get me wrong, isn’t any different from what I’d expect since of course people have their likes and dislikes when it comes to, well, anything, but it’s just not a great source of information.

    1. Sorry if my idea of humour doesn’t line up with yours, friend. Most of this was written to be tongue-in-cheek, not informative. I figure there’s enough material out there that discusses the actual merits of the katana as a usable sword form. Is it a biased ramble? Yeah, it is. I wasn’t trying for academic rigour.

      Your comment is completely fair if you’re going to look at this as a serious take on katanas, so thanks for responding.

      1. Honestly did not even think this was meant to be humorous, I’ve seen too many of these kinds of things (not necessarily about katanas, that would be strange) that were being serious, so it went right over my head. Sorry about that, good post then.

  8. You apparently do not know either your Japanese History or Japanese custom, in that:
    1. Katana were used 1000 years befor firearms some time after Sekigahara some time after 1500 by the Jesuits (with Portuguese and Dutch as trading partners).
    2. O-N-L-Y the Katana was considered “The Soul of the Samurai.”
    3. Even in the Shi-Shi Rebellion in Choshu during whch the final battle and being outnumbered perhaps 1000 to 1 by Japans first professional Army who possessed modern military firearms, the Samurai chose swords, i.e., the Katana because for the sake of honor and tradition it was, to them, more important to die Samurai that as the civilian rabble that composed Japans “modern” Army.
    4. So for the Samurai, honor, even today, was everything–it was much preferable to them to die Samurai than to win the war.
    Note, even to this day Tokyo Police and others reinforce their training with the practice of Traditional Swordsmanship.
    Stupid? Not hardly!
    Only, maybe, to uneducated foreigners.

    1. The katana was used until WW1. Firearms were imported from europe and were pretty much a rarity before then. Ironically although se asians invented hunpowder the europeans invented fire arms

  9. Just a quick Nota Bene.
    Re your somewhat misguided comment that Katana were made from “crap materials” is an uneducated lie and not true at all, i.e., while the original Japanese swords were imported from China the Japanese soon developed their own shapes and techniques for the necessary, and very complicated metallurgy–which still today defy analysis–and have use Tamahagane for centuries and which, sadly, is today only made in one location in Japan.
    Further, the Japanese are not stupid (unlike some Americans) and knew which swordsmiths made the best swords and where the metal for those swords came from–having a sword break in battle was something no Samurai wanted, hence the fame of swordsmiths such as Gassan, et al, and many of who’s swords still exist.
    And to the chap who said “Katanas are specialized at cutting; longswords are good all-rounders,” is not true. Iaido, the art of sword drawing use quite a number of stabbing moves since, as it always does, the situation may present itself as the only method to kill your opponent. And worse the comment “but they are still not dueling weapons,” is also wildly untrue. Read Musashi, a very good work of fiction but based on documented facts of the life of Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi engaged in 60 duels, many to the death.
    Further, his Book of Five Rings is primarily a book on dueling (one-on-one) although it works equally well as a guide to strategy for a large Armies. And as regards duels, traditionally death had to do, mainly, with the type of weapon chosen, i.e., a wooden sword (still used to this day as a practice weapon) or steel. Although it is recorded that Musashi killed more than one man with a wooden sword.
    It just occurred to me that people here should read a little more befor they expound on matters about which they know little or nothing.

    1. Actually a Katana is made of two different types of irons , one for the back side and one for the edge. The reason was most of their iron was pretty low quality

  10. First off many good points. SE Asia in general had low quantities of iron ore , that is why chop sticks were invented. Second reports on fights between european swords ad katanas usually go like this: an european soldier with average training goes aganst a samurai which trained all his life. Generally due to the extra training the samurai is faster and gets first blow. Now if you have some chain mail or mange to deflect the first and second attack more often tan not you have a chance to win as the katana is weaker against european swords in resistance to shock. But since you mentioned long swords my question would be what is your pinion on sabres. And by sabre I mean the D guard ones based on the polish sabla, from the brittish cavalery sword to the cutlass. And here are two disadvantages of a longsword: in cavallery it will get stuck more often than a sabre; does not work so well in crowded spaces. I was a katana fanboy when I was younger but as learned more about swords and got my hands beaten when playing with wooden swords I swiched to sabres as my favorite weapons.

    1. My opinion on sabres is limited to Italian and French dueling techniques, unfortunately, which isn’t really applicable in a battlefield setting. I also don’t really comment on cavalry because I’ve never personally trained to fight from horseback.

      So, here’s the thing: historical encounters between samurai and European soldiers seem to have happened after the age of the longsword. Ref: http://www.tameshigiri.ca/2014/05/07/european-vs-japanese-swordsmen-historical-encounters-in-the-16th-19th-centuries/ One-on-one historical duels seem rare and limited to sabres, cutlasses, etc versus katanas, with the better swordfighter winning. In other battles, the outcomes were decided more by which side had access to the better firearms.

      Comparing the quintessential longsword in the hands of a knight versus the katana in the hands of a samurai doesn’t really have a historical context; it’s all theorycrafting, in which I generally come down in favour of the longsword because of all the reasons I’ve written about in other articles.

      I’m very much of the opinion that you need the right sword for the situation at hand, and there is no perfect weapon.

  11. you fogot an important part. japan had only poor kind of iron. So if japan had imported EU raw iron, they may had made flexible others equipment like a sheild. And japanese people could block with their sword, just not an direct block. For now lets call it for “half block”. with half block u have more mobility to come closer. but it require alot of training and fast reflexes to do that. so average duels can maybe to difference between EU and JP. it is easier to learn usetage of EU sword, axe and clubs, so EU army is more stable then JP “hardtolearnskillthatonlyfew%ofpeoplecanlearnintheirlifetime” experience.(LOL). so ur never know. army vs army EU wins cuz the stongest of the JP dont have stamina to cut 100 iron pumped soldiers. master vs master? dont know. dont want to know cuz that will only bring toxic to different fans in this world

    I dont know why u make this toxic article, but it was FKing entertainment for meXD

    to people who want to spread toxic,dont. people have same intrest in their belife. dont destroy their positive community with bad negative word that drags people down. people may even be lonely cuz of this article cuz someone ruin their intrest. I dont care if ur against it like white against black or gay against nazi. instead respect others then urself. if u want something to stop,respect it first

  12. Claire Ryan, I think you do have to read a lot more about the historic context, and evolution of the form and sword styles over the years. You’ve done some reading, but not very well-rounded reading.

    For example, the point about “xenophobia”, call it what you want, but in retrospect it’s politically smart, considering what’s happening to Africa the rest of Asia, and what’s happening today. With colonialism, first come the bible, then come the guns. Christianity have proven their power of subversion in Nagasaki. The Shouganate isn’t blind though, that’s why they’ve kept the Portuguese on an island as a “window to the outside world”.

    “Crap materials” – Pretty much, though you got to admire how they’ve managed to consolidate that into a (relatively) pure product. It’s not like the West is the only source of iron, we do know there were imports of iron from China and Korea.

    “Bows, spears and later matchlocks were the primary weapons” – Correct. Even in European, swords are a last resort on an open battlefield, where polearms (reach, ease of use, penetration, etc) dominate the field. We know from tapestries and old tomes that swords break on the battlefield, you recycle what’s left to make spears. It is very much the same mentality with the katana, it’s a weapon for certain situations (travelling, inspecting your lands, etc), and in some cases, last resort. If it’s bent you straighten it, if you break it it gets cut down to a tanto. Culturally and functionally, it’s near identical in Japan.

    Your point regarding “parrying/blocking”, in a sense you are correct, modern practitioner avoid blade on blade contact to protect their blades (just like old Tae Kwon Do is not the same as its modern counterpart to reduce lethality), but we do know katanas were used to block and parry with knowledge passed through schools, with consistent battle damage patterns to back it up. A sidenote to your point, is that back then while people cherished their tools, not all of them polished their swords, and most certain wouldn’t polish them to the same degree as the swords you see on display today. Sword polishing as we know it today is a fairly modern artform that serve no practicality outside of display purposes.

    “They couldn’t cut through absolutely anything” – The myths are pretty silly, like being able to chop machine gun barrels, but we do know an appropriately shaped (right bevel, enough “niku”) katana will cut through light armour. We know that during the warring periods katana had more curvature, more heft, and a different bevel because they weren’t like the dueling weapons of the later centuries and had to stand more abuse.

    In my opinion, a katana (generic non period specific) is somewhere between a longsword (a tool of the field), and a rapier (a common choice for a dueling weapon). When it comes to fighting against plate armour, which would I pick? None. I think the fanboys of either camp should be more realistic about the capabilities and role of their weapons, facing plate armour with a sword of any kind is a good time to rethink your choice of profession.

    1. I didn’t read this essay, because this article is less than semi-serious and I don’t have the time. Thank you for commenting!

  13. I found the article an interesting read, and, despite what some of the comments say, covered multiple perspectives and argued the faults of each sword fairly, not being bias at all against katanas unjustly. (Personally, I consider a sabre the best alternative to the three swords if one wanted both a cutting sword and dueling sword).

  14. We’re you raised by *fas* lesbian’s? If so; I might forgive you for being such a big-mouth or maybe even appearing to be so ‘ham-handed’ in your understanding of h and d (#PolishMyNob)… but since you’re clearly one of my 101’s allow me to point you in the right direction: the purpose of the archaic katana was not to “bang swords” or even ‘fence’ with an opponent; (because that is why one would own a bokken (or a fencing wand)… Plain and simple; the purpose of the Katana was to kill, to slay, and in the modern sense to ”’cut-off’ from the unworthy’. The Japanese and more specifically; the “Gokudo” (path) dictates that the warrior go to war with a ‘full heart’ and absolute resolve… “In the words of Napoleon; ‘when you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.'” … BTW; have you ever tried to kill anyone with a dull blade?? Let me rephrase; have you ever been made to put down an animal with a sub-par or faulty weapon? Its a nightmare… The moral of the story being; a sharp and well kept blade is blessing for everyone.

  15. Funnily enough I think you missed the point in your article. I do have a couple of points I would like to make (or attempt to) politely.

    1. Much of your article fails to address the Katana at all, and addresses political or economic stupidity instead. While these are valid points to a degree, they do not make the Katana stupid, merely its creation process and the government(s) that made them. The same is true of the fanboys and mythology they have created around it. They aren’t points against Katanas, merely their fanboys.

    2. The longsword to Katana comparison is not entirely apt, as these two weapons were not designed the same. Notice how you don’t see this type of comparison with the Scimitar, Tulwar, Dao, and Cavalry Sabre. You are comparing a sword mean for secondary use on foot to a sword designed for horseback charges. The Katana is in fact not nearly unique, and shares design elements and styles with all of these weapons. Also, there is no such thing as a Longsword: this is a modern invention to quickly classify a number of different European designs into something vaguely similar for ease of conversation, not an actual class of weapon.

  16. I absolutely enjoyed your post and the comments that went with it.

    But honestly speaking, unless a world war breaks out, a zombie apocalypse starts or maybe the whole world and people in it turns into murderous madmen(women) for some reason, we won’t know who’ll win if we let the guys with blades to duke it out.

  17. Katanas are stupid?

    Not so much. Kenjutsu (and any kind of fencing really) focuses on killing as fast and efficiently as possible. How long do you think duels would last? Cause yes, that’s basically what they would be used for, unarmored, quick duels. Or killing some highwaymen on the road. Wich as you guessed wouldn’t be wearing plates…

    So basically all your statements but one becomes random blabering because you’re taking it as a battlefield weapon when it’s not.

    You don’t parry or block with a katana if you can dodge the attack. And that’s basically what kenjutsu focuses on. All but one i said. It WAS a costly status symbol as you say. Why do i use past here, well think about it. This sword is good at only one thing. Cut through unarmored ennemies… Plates aren’t common anymore, and swords aren’t much used either… So with both armor and fencing out of the way is it that weird that nowadays thugs would take a liking to this weapon?

    Now why katana and not say european sword? Well there are people that come straigt in line from samuraïs, people with the same way of life, if not sense of honnor. Yakusas. “Defend what’s worth with your sword”. Not “call the cops”, but basically DIY kind of justice.

    Do we have modern days knights or similar things in Europe? Arguably mafias could fit the bill… They are after all the european pendant to japanese yakusas, with the familly and all. Those thoughts led to the creation of USA biker gangs to at some point. But the sword never became a symbole in europe as much as the katana got in japan.

    Now most “medieval swords” (aka “longswords/shortswords/ …) can be used (and are despicted being used in fencing manuals) with one hand on the handle, and the other hand around the blade. That’s called half-swording. I wouldn’t say they were completely blunt. But they weren’t made to cut in the first place. To tear through at best. Those wich were made to cut, the fauchon for exemple, the sax too, and many other actually, were quite often single edge weapons. And suffered the very same issues you’re attributing to katanas.

    European swords. We’re here again facing an “expensive status symbol” knights fighting in plates wielding bladed weapons against everyone, not holding back because swords could not harm their cousins fighting against them thanks to plate… now footsoldiers under their command that’s another story… Rifles did exist back to waterloo’s battle… they weren’t used because they were expensive sure, but one could have been enought to kill officers… Then why? Well troop soldiers shouldn’t be allowed to take down single handedly the leader of the ennemy, that’s what all sides of the conflict thought. So let’s all get butchered by those smoothbore smoke spiters…

    Specialists are often, if not always, better at doing what they’re good at than a jack of all trades.

    So all in all… Katanas aren’t stupid. Fanboys are. You’re an european sword fanboy.

    1. *sings*

      I’m sooorrrrryyyy you don’t shaaaaaaaarrrrreee my sense of huuuuuuummmorrrrr *guitar solo*

      But overall I don’t caaaarrrrre what you thiiiiiiiinnnnnkk

      Lighten the fuuuuuuuuucccck uuuuuuupppppp

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