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Samurai Sword Handles

Samurai Sword Handles


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Japanese sword

A Japanese sword (Japanese: 日本刀 , Hepburn: nihontō) is one of several types of traditionally made swords from Japan. Bronze swords were made as early as the Yayoi period (1000 BC – 300 AD), though most people generally refer to the curved blades made after the Heian period (794 – 1185) when speaking of "Japanese swords". There are many types of Japanese swords that differ by size, shape, field of application and method of manufacture. Some of the more commonly known types of Japanese swords are the katana, tachi, odachi, wakizashi, and tantō. [1]


Japanese Swords Fittings

The "rayskin" (sometimes called shagreen) is actually fish skin taken from specific species of stingray or shark. It has been used on Japanese Sword handles for a very long time mostly due to its rough texture which when wrapped with 'cord', denies the cord from slipping.

SYNTHETIC SILK TSUKA-ITO

T SUKA-ITO is the cord wrap on the handles of Japanese swords. Its purpose is both aesthetic and functional, Ito comes in a wide array of color to suit every taste, and it helps reinforce the tsuka and prevent failure.

LEATHER TSUKA-ITO ( $20 )

L01: Dark Gray L02: White L03: Light Black L04: Red-Brown L05: Black L06: Dark Coffe L07: Dark Blue L08: Gold L09: Dark Brown

The Sageo 下緒 (さげお) have been used on Japanese swords for many centuries. The purpose of the Sageo is to hold the scabbard into the obi belt and keep it from slipping. It is also used at times to secure the katana into its saya by wrapping the sageo around the tsuka and tying it off.

Tsuka-maki- the art of wrapping the tsuka, including the most common hineri-maki and katate-maki (battle wrap) You can choose the warpping between them, Our focus is making the wrap as tight as possible to keep if functional as long as possible.

The saya is a wooden scabbard for the blade traditionally done in lacquered wood. Our saya are manufactured from very dry wood, they are not can keep the shape of the saya, but also can ensure the blade is not easy to rust.

S01: Green S02: Blue S03: White S04: Black/Red S05: Deep Blue with speckle S06: Deep red with speckle S07: Black matt finish S08: Red S09: Yellow S10: Black high gloss finish S11: Reddish brown with black speckle S12: Black with red threadiness S13: Yellow stripe S14: Reddish brown stripe S15: White with black fumy S16: Black/white

High Qualty Japanese Sword SAYA ( +$45 )

Here there are many high quality SAYA for available, Each Saya is fitted with genuine Water Buffalo Horn Kurikata, Koiguchi and Kojiri. you can ungrade the saya for an addtional $45 .

SAYA ENGRAVING SERVICE ( +$20 )

We can make engraving on the SAYA(scabbard), Following samples are fully traditional HAND-CARVED.

The following engravings are available with different color SAYA.

E01: Plum blossom E02: Japanese warrior E03: Orchid E04: Magpie on the branch E05: Bamboo E06: Crane E07: Mandarin duck E08: Oriental Dragon E09: Phoenix E10: Cherry blossom

TSUBA ( 鍔 or 鐔 ) is usually a round or occasionally squarish guard at the end of the grip of bladed Japanese weapons, like the katana and its various declinations, tachi , wakizashi , tantō etc. They contribute to the balance of the weapon and to the protection of the hand. The tsuba was mostly meant to be used to prevent the hand from sliding onto the blade during thrusts as opposed to protecting from an opponent's blade.

W e have about 200 kinds of tsuba, they can be roughly divided into four groups, ALLOY TSUBA , IRON TSUBA , BRASS TSUBA and HIGH QUALITY BRASS TSUBA .


Read More

I hope this article was helpful. Hopefully, you now know what to look for in a katana. I feel confident you will master the basic principles of how to check if a sword is of solid quality.

If you have any question, I have many more articles on each topic. I go really deep into some of these issues. I also made a selection of what I consider to be some of the best battle-ready katanas at a reasonable price.

Many thanks to the artists and photographs for sharing their work:

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Sword Reviews Layout

Introduction: Background information on my motivations for acquiring the blade being reviewed.

History: Japanese swords often come with a detailed history or lineage. Where possible in my s word reviews I'll try to provide information on that. In other cases the blade being reviewed may be from a movie or animated feature, or even a custom made piece - again I'll provide historical background and context where available.

Disclosure Statment: The majority of the s word reviews here are from my own personal collection and acquired by me, at cost over the last 15 + years. I do however receive free or heavily discounted blades for review by manufacturers and other interested parties (if you'd like me to review a blade, please feel free to contact me) and I'll note that in this section.

Initial Impressions: My first immediate intake, from the packaging to the first unsheathing. You should never judge a book by its cover (or a sword by first glance) but it's nice to know how the cover influences and suggests the interior.

Vital Statistics: In this section of the sword reviews I run down the technical details on the blade Blade and Handle length, tsuba width, balance point weight etc.

Composition: A detailed in depth review of the various components that make up a Japanese samurai sword: The Blade (Nagasa), Handle (Tsuka), Fittings (Fuchi / Kashira/ Menuki), Scabbard (Saya), etc.

Functional Assessment: Does the sword do what it's meant to. How does it hande? Here I try to answer the subjective matters of the swords feel in use.

Tameshagiri (Test Cutting): If the blade being reviewed is a "full tang" live blade designed for cutting I'll have information and video on that here.

Conclusion and Insights: I'll share my final thoughts on the sword and summarise it's pro's and con's.

Straight Cut: My one line summary of the sword and if you should buy one or not. These points will provide you with the most comprehensive sword reviews online for Japanese Samurai Swords.

Before you look at the sword reviews below you may want to know a little bit about who I am and why I am qualified to produce these sword reviews - About the Author


Different Reasons for a Samurai to Commit Suicide

Of course, there were circumstances where there was not enough time for the samurai to undergo the whole ritual of seppuku. Therefore, acts such as cutting his own throat, throwing himself from a running horse with a sword in his mouth, or throwing himself off cliffs were also allowed.

There were a few reasons for a samurai’s suicide. The first is Junshi, an act of suicide by following one's lord in death, which was common in the days of open samurai warfare. With the final confrontation of the Gempei War imminent and all hope lost, general Taira Tomomori resolved to end his life.

He summoned his foster brother, who then assisted Tomomori into a second suit of armor and donned another himself. Hand in hand, they jumped into the sea. Seeing this, at least 20 samurai then put on their heavy armor, bore weighty objects on their backs to make sure they would sink, took one another by the hand, and jumped, determined not to stay behind after their master was gone.

Funshi is an act of suicide to express one’s indignation at a situation. A well-known occurrence was in 1970, when the novelist Mishima Yukio disemboweled himself in protest against what he believed was the loss of traditional values in his country. However, as the act of seppuku was abolished in 1873, his suicide was mostly seen as anachronistic and something of a national embarrassment.

General Akashi Gidayu preparing to commit Seppuku after losing a battle for his master in 1582. He had just written his death poem, which is also visible in the upper right corner. ( Public Domain )

Kanshi is an act of suicide due to remonstration. A samurai would commit suicide to state his case or make his point to a lord when all other forms of persuasion had proven ineffective. This was done by Hirate Nakatsukasa Kiyohide in 1553. He committed suicide to make his master Oda Nobunaga change his ways.

Nobunaga’s behavior as a young man was said to be disgraceful. Hirate wrote a letter urging Nobunaga to change his ways and then committed Kanshi. His death is said to have had a dramatic effect on Nobunaga. He did mend his ways, and built the Seisyu-ji in Owari to honor Hirate.

Finally, Sokotsu-shi is an act of suicide as a means for an offending samurai to make amends for his transgression. An example of a transgression is striking his fellow retainer with a sword in anger, which was punishable by death, and often the option of suicide was given. A samurai would also commit suicide due to his failure in his duty of protecting his lord from being killed in battle, or by an assassin.

Top Image: ‘The Suicide of Saigō Takamori’ by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. This color woodblock shows the moments before the seppuku of an influential samurai. Source: National Gallery of Victoria


Vintage Japanese sword (edged weapon)

These items have been sold, and the description, image and price are for reference purposes only..

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Japanese military Samurai sword World War II issue, original leather scabbard, shagreen handle with bronzed tsuba in good original condition

A Japanese Wakizashi blade with later wooden housing, Meiji Period, 19th/20th century, 66 cm long
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A Japanese naval officers dagger and scabbard having a shagreen grip. Length, handle and blade, 32 cm with scabbard, 42 cm
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Japanese World War II army officer's sword. Officers shin-gunto sword. 1 chip, some dents and corrosion to blade, fittings in deteriorated condition. Signed illegibly. Length 67 cm, blade length 92 cm, total
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Japanese World War II army officer's sword. Officers shin-gunto sword. 2 chips to blade, fittings in deteriorated condition. Signed illegibly. Length 60 cm, blade length 89 cm, total
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World War II Japanese Nco Katana sword, with brass floral cast tsuba, menuki, kashira, and fuchi, in leather scabbard
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Japanese World War II Naval Officers sword, signed Tang, in good original condition
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World War II period Japanese Warrant Officer's sword and metal scabbard, Government Armoury issue, 95 cm long

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Japanese Samurai sword with original leather scabbard, shagreen handle and bronzed tsuba

Japanese short sword Wakasashi: Decretive civilian mounts including tsuba. Tang is signed. With sword knot and leather covered lacquered scabbard

Japanese Katana, with a curved blade with incised makers marks, above a square tsuba accented with flowers, with leather wrapped handle and sheath, length 100 cm

Japanese Katana sword, curved steel blade with engraved maker's mark to shaft, late Meiji period comes with leather bound wooden scabbard, fish skin and cord bound handle grip, complete with tsuba, surface rust to blade, 81.5 cm blade

Japanese officers (Imperial Navy) sword c.1930 highly decorative. With leather scabbard and sword knot. (for dress uniform) length 84 cm
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World War II Japanese officers sword (Katana) quality and decorative family/ civilian tsuba. Tang is signed. Complete with sword knot. Length 99 cm
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A Japanese sword with engraved ivory handle and scabbard, early 20th century, 108 cm long

Japanese Katana, with sheath with cast decoration above woven handle
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Japanese officer's sword circa World War II decorative tsuba metal scabbard and good blade with signed Tang
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Japanese commissioned officers naval dirk, nickel plated blade with good polish, fish skin wire bound hilt with brass fittings&hellip
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Decorative Japanese tanto'/dagger with embossed brass decoration, length 41 cm approx
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An early 20th century Japanese Type 30 1897 bayonet in scabbard, pattern 1904/05, wood grips, hooked quillion, blue fullered 40 cm blade.
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A Japanese World War II Type 30 1897 bayonet in scabbard, 2nd pattern, 40 cm blued blade, arsenal marks for Toyada Jidoshaki Siesakusho.
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World War II Japanese naval dirk with shagreen & sakura handle, and sheath decorated with blossoms
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Japanese carved horn dagger etched with Japanese erotic and floral scenes to the handle and sheath.

Japanese Samurai sword, with curved blade, above a shaped tsuba and red handle, impressed marks and no:74508 to blade, length 91.5 cm
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World War II Japanese Naval Kai Gunto Sword Provenance: captured at the Battle of Morotai 1945 by Lance Corporal William Paul, Royal Australian Army. Total length in scabbard 102 cm approx, sword length 98 cm approx, length of blade from tsuba 71 cm&hellip
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A Japanese wakasashi, the mumei (nameless sword) with straight yakiba, brass habaki, plain copper tsuba, tape bound lacquered tsuka and fittings and lacquered leather patterned saya (scabbard). 62 cm, blade 47 cm.
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Katana Echizen Seki with full Higo mounts, c 1658 with papers early Kanbun: Shinto period (1658-1683) katana, mumei (shortened tang), 66.3 cm nagasa (cutting edge), 3 mm mihaba, 8 mm sori&hellip
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World war II Japanese naval officers sword, a sunburst tsuba in an imitation ray skin scabbard, blade with suka temper line. Condition: good, most wear to leather sheath, otherwise quite good order, length of blade 68 cm.
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Japanese Wakizashi 19th century forged blade, the nakago (tang) unmarked, in a timber and leather covered sheath, with faults, shortened to current, length&hellip
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A 19th century Japanese sword fitting Menuki tie slide, circa 1820 - 1920, an interesting and famous subject depicting Kinko riding his giant carp, mixed metals: copper, silver and shibuichi, with silver backing and slide, for European market, length 5&hellip

Japanese Tanto, Reshaped katana blade, 32 cm long single edge with fuller along back edge from copper hibachi to run out at reshaped tip. Unsigned cut down tang. Hilt tape boundary skin with single silver menuki, kashira missing&hellip
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Japanese sword bronze tsuba with fuchi and menuki (missing rayskin) with lacquered saya 47.5 cm blade length (blade showing wear)
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Japanese sword blade with temperline/hamon, bronze tsuba with ray skin handle/ tsuka, fine menuki with plain black lacquered scabbard/saya 63 cm blade length
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Japanese sword long blade with signature to tang, bronze tsuba with decoration of fisherman in boat below Mt Fuji with silver and gold highlights, wooden saya with braid binding (replacement mekugi) 75 cm blade length
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World War II Japanese officers naval sword the gunto fully decorated with blossom, wire bound shagreen grip with metal nickel plated saya 60 cm blade length (some faults to grip base)
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World War II Japanese naval dagger single edge fullered blade on shagreen wire bound grip, brass mounts with decorated embossed copper bound scabbard (some faults) 22.5 cm blade length
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Japanese child's naval type sword brass scroll quillion loop guard and grip mount patterned with blossom, steel scabbard with chrome plating 41.5 cm blade length
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A Japanese Shin Gunto katana, with leather covered scabbard, four character marks to the blade at the ricasso, stamped to the habaki '60086'. Overall length 104 cm.
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An old Japanese tanto, unsigned 12 1/4 inch x 1 inch single edged blade with copper habaki. Rebound hilt with single silver menuki, old dragon embossed fushi and plain copper kashira. Oval steel plate tsuba. Black lacquered scabbard 20 3/4 inch length. GC.
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An old Japanese katana sword, the blade with some spotting displaying a visible temper line, the tang signed with multiple character marks, the bronze tsuba with demonic and other figure within a landscape, gilt highlights&hellip
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Japanese, Type 30 A bayonet, 1897/1935, Tokyo/Kokura arsenal mark, 15 1/2 inch fullered steel blade in grease, some staining, hook quillon with flattened spur tip,1&hellip
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World War II Japanese NCOs sword This sword has a cast aluminium tsuka (hilt) with a 9 mm thick ornate tsuba (guard) with pebble finish. The fuchi is copper and the sword is secured in the scabbard by a top latch&hellip
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Japanese World War II army officers sword. Shin-Gunto army sword mounts. Signed, length 66 cm (blade)
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A Japanese bone covered Katana, carved with erotic scenes to scabbard and handle. Length 107 cm.

Shinto period Japanese Katana Monju-ha tengai school with NBTHK hozon kanteisho, Flawless long blade in high quality polish with silver habaki in fine shirasaya. Nagasa of 69&hellip
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A Japanese World War II katana long sword, military fittings, the blade with two engraved characters and two holes to the tang, finely textured black lacquered scabbard, single hanger. Blade length 62.4 cm
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Bokken and Shinai, Japanese training swords, the bokken in hardwood, and the shinai in flexible bamboo, length of bokken 101 cm, length of shinai 116 cm
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World War II Japanese Shin Gunto sword, brass tsuba and kashira, leather cord wrap, inscription on blade, (a/f: wear and loose scabbard clip, leather scabbard), length 100 cm
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An old Japanese katana sword, visible temper line to blade, the tang with engraved character marks, military leather stitched scabbard. Blade length 54.5 cm
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An old Japanese wakizashi sword, multiple character marks to the tang, blade length 50.2 cm, black lacquered scabbard.
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Japanese army officers' sword (Shin Gunto) of World War II date, blade has been shortened and was originally from a Naginata blade. Mounted in usual Shin Gunto mounting


By Paul 'Batman' O'Brien B.A., N.C.E.H.S., Dip. Acu., Adv. Dip. OBB, Cert Clin. Med. M.AFPA, M.ETCMA, M.C.Th.A.

Before we learn sageo tying methods, it is important to understand the different types, it's history and function. The Sageo is a braided cord that extends from the kurikata knob on the saya. The sageo itself can be made from silk, cord, leather etc. In addition there are a variety of patterns that are available, a short list would include:

  • kainokuchi
  • kakucho
  • sasanamigumi
  • Ryūkogumi
  • shigeuchi
  • kikiogumi
  • karagumi 

In my own personal experience I find the shigeuchi style, while extremely pretty, frays very quickly. As such, for those more practically minded the kakucho is a far better choice for functional sageo. In addition, if you keep a close eye out, you can occasionally find traditional manufacturers of this style of sageo in Japan who have maintained their family's craft. Their sageo are both beautiful and resistant to wear.

There are many stories concerning sageo and ito colour in regard to rank etc. Today these don't have much impact and the historical veracity of such can claims can be disputed. However I would mention one thing. As you'll see later when discussing the tsuka-ito (. in the Sensei's Sword), by 1645 the Tokugawa shogunate had laid out specific choices for the tsuka-ito. It was black. That was it. Some samurai tried to get around this by using a very dark blue/navy or very dark brown instead. The sageo should of course match this colour. As such, most standard sageo are black. 

It is generally good form for the sageo colour to match the tsuka-ito colour (handle wrap), and thus I generally use a black one as that matches my tsuka-ito. However for formal occasions, embu (demonstrations etc I wear a sageo that matches the colours of my dojo's mon.  

How to Tie a Sageo

When the sword is not in use there are a variety of methods for tying the sageo on the saya in both practical and ceremonial styles such as:

  • Cho Musubi
  • Ronin Musubi
  • Myoga Musubi 
  • Taicho musubi 
  • Daimyo Musubi 

Below you'll see one video on how to tie a sageo - the Cho Musubi Method. I'll include a variety of instructional videos for tying the sageo, including those listed above and a few for the tanto as well in the members area. :-) 

Within the Japanese sword arts there are various ways of securing, or not securing the sageo to you during training. In fact, if one is familiar with the different knotting methods one easily identify the school and lineage one belongs too. For instance, in the Musō Jikiden Eishin Ryū we tie the sageo on the  over the saya and on the left side himo band. Muso Shinden Ryū by contrast tie their sageo on across the body on the right hand side himo band. Within the Tosa-Ota ha Ryū of MJER under Tsugiyoshi Ota Sensei they simply drape the sageo over the saya. Within the Yamauchi-ha tradition of Musō Jikiden Eishin Ryū the recount that higher ranked samurai simply let the sageo drape of the saya and lower ranked samurai tied it on to the himo

As for tying the sageo on to the hakama itself within the various ryū there were also additional methods on how to tie a sageo to secure a blade for different situations. For instance in certain cases (such as riding on horseback or firing a long gun) it was necessary to tie a katana on in the manner of tachi, e.g. cutting edge down and suspended from the obi as opposed to being placed through it. Using the sageo to secure the blade in this fashion is known as "tenshinzashi". 

Sageo, the Spiritual Cord

Many schools sadly dismiss the importance of the sageo, the methods of how to tie a sageo, or prescribe it no importance within their Ryū. And this is a great shame.

Even within Nakamura Sensei's cuttingly practical text he writes:

"The practice seen among some high-ranking instructors not to fit sageo at all is undesirable from the point of view etiquette and expressing the correct respect toward the sword fittings and is a most idiotic idea. I would earnestly caution against it". 

The sageo is of great importance both practically and spiritually to the Musō Jikiden Eishin Ryū Ryū student. Within Japanese tradition every physical tool, be it a needle, thread, axe, sword knife, hammer etc has an intrinsic spirit. This is a reflection of the long held Shinto beliefs of Japan. Everyday objects are not just every day, they do in fact hold special significance. In fact there is a religious festival to give thanks to broken pins and needles. 

Thus the sageo for the MJER student is not just a cord, but a sacred cord connecting them to the tool by which they shall perfect their character. 

Some of you may be familiar with the Japanese tradition of "shimenawa". This is the act of tying a large sacred rope around objects of great natural beauty such as huge rock or tree. They are also tied close to venerable sacred sites such as a waterfall. Attached to these thick ropes are small pieces of paper (shide). These ropes are also used to define sacred spaces, say between four pillars. You may even see miniature versions of these ropes in the small kamidama (a small shrine at the spiritual head of a traditional Japanese dojo)

The sageo enshrines the same spiritual functions and thus is of great importance.  

There are of course practical considerations for the sageo too within the Musō Jikiden Eishin Ryū. a particular oku iai teaching known poetically in English as "Searching in Hell" makes use of the sageo during low light or no light confrontations. And there methods for tying the katana edge downwards in the style of a tachi using the sageo as well as methods for securing the katana to the uwaobi while wearing armour.

In addition specific Ryū-ha also contained specific how to tie a sageo techniques referred to in the Bansensūkai as, 'sageo rikata shichi no jutsu', or the  seven sageo rope tying methods. These include techniques for using the saya and the sageo to scale as wall (tsurigatana no hō, "hanging/fishing sword way"), methods of tying the saego to another sword and sleeping arrangement so as to prevent theft (tabimakura no hō, "travel pillow way"). 

One can also make use of the sageo in a number of other methods, for instance when entering a room. within the Musō Jikiden Eishin Ryū we have several specific waza termed "mon-iri" (門入) ("entering a gate") that cover these methods, including slinging the daito over the shoulder using the sageo and even the sahō (preparation)for going to a public bathroom utilises the sageo in surprising fashion.

Although rare, there are methods on how to tie a sageo s that it can be used for Hojōjutsu (捕縄術) or Nawajutsu, (縄術) to secure a prisoner with makeshift rope handcuffs. In fact some specific schools such as Enshin Ryū actually incorporate the removal of the sageo from the saya as part of their sahō (preparation). Within the how to tie a sageo method of thier style, they then gather this up and place it the sode (sleeves) in such a way that they can quickly access it to restrain an individual. 

Additionally it can be also used as a tasuki (たすき 襷 繦 手繦).   Though many seem to be unaware that tying the sleeves back in such a manner, originated from the proper sacred form for making an offering to the kami (Shinto spirits). 

Finally, Draegar writes 

"The braided cord (sageo) should be of a standard length (approximately 165 centimetres), flexible soft, and of a color that matches or blends well with the color of the scabbard." 

Interesting, traditionally in the Edo period, the sageo would measure about 160-166cms. 

References 

All Japan Swordsmith Association Introduction to the Japanese Sword through Pictures, Vol 1.

Mol, Serge Classical Swordsmanship of Japan A Comprehensive Guide to Kenjutsu and Iaijutsu, Eibusha, 2010.

Taisaburo, Nakamura The Spirit and the Sword, Blue Snake Books, 2003. 

Masaki, Yamakoshi and Kazutake, Tsukimoto Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu The Oral Traditions of the Yamauchi Branch, Maruzen, 2004

Draegar, Donn F. and Warner, Gordon Japanese Swordsmanship, Technique and Practice, Weatherill, 2007, pg 109


History of the Samurai

For more than 800 years, the samurai helped to lay the foundations of Japan's culture. Their reverence for honor, duty, and service remains ingrained in Japanese society even today. Together with their renowned martial capabilities, these characteristics made the samurai what historian Stephen Turnbull calls "the knights of old Japan." In this interactive time line, familiarize yourself with the samurai and their challenges, and learn how the warrior class evolved.—Rima Chaddha


Those who serve
8th󈝶th centuries

The term "samurai" comes from the Japanese word saburau, meaning "to serve," and was first used in A.D. 702 to describe mid-to-low-ranking court administrators and, later, armed imperial guards. Their title was mostly metaphorical, referring to their loyalty to the emperor. By the 10th century, when provincial governors began offering heavy rewards for military service, the samurai as we know them came into being. The term eventually gained strong aristocratic overtones and brought great prestige to the samurai's lineage—so much so that warriors would recite their ancestry on the battlefield.

Left: A samurai in traditional armor, 1860s

Rival clans
Mid-12th century

By the 11th century, powerful military clans had begun vying for power. Two particularly strong family groups, the Taira and the Minamoto, stood out from the rest and went on to influence Japanese politics for centuries to come. Each took part in the Hogen Rebellion of 1156, a civil war fought over the disputed imperial line of succession following the death of the emperor Toba. The conflict resulted in the Taira rising to power to form the first samurai-led government in the history of Japan.

Left: Taira no Shigemori, eldest son of the Taira patriarch during the Hogen Rebellion

The Gempei War
Late 12th century

In 1180, the Minamoto clan resumed hostilities with the Taira in what became the first armed conflict of the Gempei War (so-named for the Chinese reading of both clans' names). The war spelled defeat for the Taira and changed the role of shogun—previously a commissioned military leader hired to dispose of enemies of the throne—to permanent military dictator. The war also had lasting implications for the samurai and fostered many of the codes of excellence by which these warriors led their lives, including selfless heroism, high personal standards of conduct, and martial prowess. Even the samurai's understanding of art and poetry can be traced to stories of the Gempei War.

Left: The Gempei War spawned many myths. Here, a samurai battles a great beast.

Wind of the gods
13th century

As infighting increased through the following century, so did the need to defend Japan from foreign invaders. Among them were Genghis Khan's Mongol successors, who attacked Japan in 1274 and again in 1281. The Japanese were severely outnumbered each time, but a major storm during the first invasion destroyed, by some accounts, 200 Mongol ships, while a typhoon thwarted the second siege. Together, these storms are known as kamikaze ("wind of the gods"), a term that would take on a more sinister definition during World War II when Japanese pilots carried out suicide attacks. The belief in a protective divine shield—as well as in Zen Buddhism, which allowed soldiers to overcome their fear of dying—became essential to the samurai way of life. The warriors believed they were largely safeguarded from death but needed to prepare for the possibility in order to perform their best in battle.

Left: An artist's representation of the kamikaze

Way of the Warrior
14th century

Fighting continued within Japan, which soon had not one but two rival governments: Emperor Go-Daigo's court to the south versus a new northern court established by the ruling shogunate. From these so-called Nanbokucho Wars, or the "Wars Between the Courts," emerged Kusunoki Masashige, a samurai who would be venerated for centuries as an exemplar of warrior conduct through his unstinting loyalty to his lord, Emperor Go-Daigo. Masashige was a brilliant strategist, but in 1336, Go-Daigo refused to accept the warrior's counsel, and the samurai knowingly undertook what would become a suicide mission. When death at the hands of the opposition became imminent, Masashige and 600 of his troops committed seppuku (ritual suicide) on the battleground. Being killed by the enemy was dishonorable, but seppuku, a key aspect of the samurai code of honor known as bushido, allowed warriors an honorable end.

Left: Masashige's statue outside the Imperial Palace in Tokyo

The Warring States
15th century

The Warring States period (c. 15th to early 17th centuries) was a time of widespread conflict, both physical and social, among the dominant clans of Japan. Only the strong would survive, and strength lay in assembling large armies and the most advanced weapons. Foot soldiers learned to use traditional samurai weapons such as the bow, while the samurai became adept with the famed katana sword. Although crude Chinese handguns reached Japan by the early 16th century, the later introduction of the European arquebus and its armor-piercing bullets caused a revolution in warfare. The Japanese soon began producing their own firearms.

Left: A painting depicting one of the period's many brutal battles

Continuing strife
16th century

Toyotomi Hideyoshi was the next samurai to change the course of Japanese (and warrior) history. Through a series of successful political and military campaigns, he asserted control over all of Japan by 1591. His power was greater than that of any previous shogun, but it wouldn't last: Hideyoshi stretched himself thin with attempted conquests of China and Korea. Two years after Hideyoshi's death in 1598, a provincial leader, Tokugawa Ieyasu, defeated Hideyoshi's armies and took control of the recentralized military government. Ieyasu's family line ruled Japan through the mid-19th century.

Left: Toyotomi Hideyoshi rose from peasant stock to lead Japan.

Knights of Japan
17th century

By the first few decades of the 17th century, Japan had finally achieved an era of relative peace. The samurai had no armies to fight, but they remained the ruling class of Japan. Many went on to become administrative bureaucrats. Bushido, the code by which samurai once guided their lives, became formalized, much like knightly chivalry in Europe when the medieval warrior class became obsolete. A samurai could legally still cut down any commoner who showed him insufficient respect, but his martial days were largely over. What remained was the samurai ideal of unwavering devotion to one's lord, which survives today in the great value that the Japanese place on loyalty.

Left: Samurai fought in the 1868-69 Boshin War, which marked the end of the shogunate.

End of the samurai
19th󈞀th centuries

The samurai maintained their elite status into the mid-1800s, when Western influences began to take hold. In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry and his American fleet sailed into Japanese waters and began to push for trade concessions, helping to compel the government by the following year to open its ports to foreigners. Awed by the West's military prowess, the Japanese went on to modernize their forces and did away with many of the samurai's special rights. Thus, the sword-slashing warrior of yore abandoned his neatly kept ponytail for a shaven head and a modern, government-issue uniform. Still, the samurai's ethos of honor and patriotism lives on in the Japanese spirit.

Left: World War II Japanese soldiers in Western-style uniforms

We recommend you visit the interactive version. The text to the left is provided for printing purposes.


Katana Names From Popular Culture

Due to the popularity of Japanese swords, storylines of films, TV series, and animes, are often based around ro feature these swords. These are therefore some famous katana names that have appeared either on the big screen or in books. Such is the fame of these Japanese katana names that some people who actually acquire real katanas and need names for them are tempted to use some of these as inspiration for their real new sword names. If you want to be a real-life Japanese Samurai, complete with a toy (of course, it is important to remember that a katana is a real weapon along with other swords, and can be dangerous) katana, then your toy sword will need a name. You can select from any of these legendary katana names that will surely suit your new toy Samurai sword.

21. Aimi, means "beautiful love" given to a beautiful sword.

22. Ashisogi Jizo, means “leg cutting” used by a mad scientist in the anime ɻleach'.

23. Benihime, meaning the “crimson princess” is the weapon used by Kisike Uruahara in the anime ɻleach'.

24. Faridah, means "unique" as it is given to a truly unique katana.

25. Gabriel, a sword name inspired by the archangel Gabriel.

26. Katen Kyokotsu, means “bones of heavenly blooming madness," a unique zanpakuto which is a paired weapon used in ɻleach'.

27. Kazeshini, means “wind of death” and is truly an iconic tool that transforms into a tool of death, used by Shuhei Hisagi in ɻleach'.

28. Kubikiri Orochi, means “beheading serpent”, it is used by the character Hiyori. The name is derived from a mythical dragon found in various Japanese myths.

29. Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, meaning “grass cutter”, this Samurai sword has a very unique story to it. It is said to have been used by a warrior fighting with a corrupt Samurai. The sword helped him to escape encroaching flames in an open field as he directed the sword against the flames when it was swung

30. Kyoka Suigetsu, means “mirror flower, water moon,” a mythical sword that had the abilities of deception, hypnosis and illusion. From the anime ɻleach'.

31. Mia means "mine" and is a suitable name for a sword.

32. Mugenjin, meaning “hailing from the abyss” and was used in the manga and anime series 'Rurouni Kenshin' by Shishio.

33. Myra, the name means "myrrh".

34. Nozarashi, means “weather beaten one” and it belongs to the character Kenpachi Zaraki in ɻleach'. In the anime, this sword is in need of some maintenance.

35. Rane, means "deciding warrior".

36. Ranjit, means "beguiled, charmed".

37. Suzaku this is a sword that appears in various franchises of the 'Showdown' fighting game. It is depicted as a bird on fire in the game.

38. Shichishito, meaning“seven branched sword”, this is a sword that is used during ceremonial rituals, it branches off into six alternating prongs. It is a unique katana name.

39. Shinken Hakkyoken, means “eight mirror sword”, this sword is used by a character Nanao Ise, by the virtue of her family lineage.

40. Shisui, meaning “water stopper”, the name comes from the legendary sword's ability to cut through a waterfall. It was used in the movie 'Motoko Aoyama'.

41. Tenken, means “heavenly punishment”, this is an impressive katana that is used by the character Sajin Komamura in ɻleach'.

42. Wabisuke, means “the wretched one,” it is used by the character Izuru Kira. This sword can also transform into a rigid 90 degree hook weapon just by the phrase "raise your head".

43. Zabimaru, means “snake tail” used by Renji Abarai from the anime ɻleach'.

44. Zangetsu, means “slaying moon” and is used by the very popular protagonist Ichigo Kurosaki in ɻleach'.

45. Zantetsuken, meaning “iron cutting blade” and is a weapon used by gaming characters to remove things from their path. The sword appears in some ɿinal Fantasy' games.


Further Resources

Without a doubt my favorite book on the traditional manufacturing processes of the authentic Samurai sword, and considered by many to be the ‘bible’ of Japanese sword enthusiasts, The Craft of the Japanese Sword is the best source for further information on the subject.

Simply an amazing read, it is an absolute MUST HAVE for anyone interested in Japanese swords, providing a solid and reliable foundation of knowledge to refer back to and build upon.


Watch the video: How To: Wrap Katana Handle Tsuka-Maki (July 2022).


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