Katanas, Katanas, Katanas

japanese katanaOkay, this is definitely a sword rant. I am so sick and tired of all of this hoopla and crap about “katanas”. The absolute donkeytwaddle that is continuously spread about this weapon could supply a fertilizer factory for a year. Let me qualify my statement by saying this: the finely crafted traditional Japanese katana is a superb fighting instrument with a very specific purpose and narrow set of variables for which it was designed. For this purpose it fulfills the task admirably and honorably.

Having said that…

I am nauseated by the countless articles and comments I see spread across the web concerning the “amazing” and “magical” properties of the katana. Cutting a car door in half? The old story about cutting a 50 caliber machine gun barrel in two? How about that crap about dropping a piece of silk on the upturned edge of the mystical katana and the silk being sliced in twain? Let me stop laughing for a second. Steel is steel. Certain alloys, methods of construction, and heat-treating can allow it to have some tremendous toughness, cutting ability, or both but it still has limitations. I have been a live steel combatant for 18 years and have been forging blades for the same length of time. I have seen old originals and the latest high-tech steels with complex heat-treating regimens. I have yet to see a sword blade of any design, alloy or heat-treatment cut a machine gun barrel, or even anything close to it, in half. There are are number of videos and pictures out there on the net photo-shopped with varying amounts of skill that depict the supposedly miraculous cutting ability of the katana. I also think that the comparisons between katanas and longswords is usually quite laughable. Apples and oranges folks. Even still the tests are rarely conducted with a scientific precision. Most often these “tests” are conducted with a predicted and desired outcome and the testing reflects this. Search long enough for an answer and you will find it.

Let me state once again what I have said in a previous article (Medieval European Swords Vs. Japanese Swords)

“The Japanese katana is designed to slice and cut. To accomplish this, the edge must be left very hard from the heat-treating process to retain a very sharp edge. This very hard edge is thus brittle. The katana was not designed to encounter hard materials such as metal armor and other metal weapons on a regular basis.”

If you look at historical accounts of Japanese sword testing you will find testimony of being able to slice through  one, two or even three and in rare cases five bodies of condemned prisoners at various points. These unfortunate test specimens were almost universally in minimal clothing and certainly not armored. There are a number of accounts of samurai concerned about chipping and breaking their swords. This means that it must have happened frequently enough to be an issue. Finely crafted swords made of top quality materials of any cultural background are certainly formidable instruments of combat. Not just Japanese katanas.

Okay, now as for all the “handmade” stainless steel or 1045 steel katanas available out there. Excuse me while I barf. Just because you saw it in “Kill Bill” or “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” doesn’t mean it is real. Come on people, get a grip on reality. I am the first to admit that amazing things can be accomplished and that indeed blades can have an energy or life that could quite possibly improve (at least in the wielder’s mind) the performance of a blade. There is more to this world than the air we breath and the sword we hold. But cutting silk scarves when dropped across the edge?!?!?!?? I am well known for producing exceptionally sharp edges on my knives and swords and out of sheer curiosity I have conducted this test myself. A friend who happens to be a knife collector and professional jeweler for over 30 years has looked at the edge of my blades with his jeweler’s microscope and commented that they possess the finest and sharpest edges he has ever seen. When I dropped the silk did it slice? No. I have conducted this test with an original 16th century katana of the Muromachi period. This weapon was exceptionally sharp and very finely polished. The silk simply slid off of the blade. Basic physics folks.

I know we no longer live in a time where the sword is a standard weapon on the field of battle. It can be very difficult to sort through the morass of hype and literary sewage out there. But if we take a step back and take a careful look at what is really going on, we will see that beyond the flashy brain-draining mystical propaganda aimed at draining us of our souls and the currency in our pocketbooks is a faint glimmer of the truth. It is still there people. We have to really look hard to find it, but you will eventually.

0 thoughts on “Katanas, Katanas, Katanas

  1. I completely agree with this blog. I think a lot of the hype over Japanese swords is due to ignorant, overzealous anime fanboys posting on the internet. They have no idea of metallurgy or the physics involved in sword-making, but since they saw some cool, stoic samurai cut through ten ninjas in a cartoon then the katana must surely be better than a knight’s sword!!

  2. You could not say any better !!!

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