THE SAMURAI SWORD The katana (sword) of the samurai is one of the best-known edged weapons in world military history. It is also probably the finest, being made using metallurgical skills based on tradition and observation, a process that has enabled 800-year-old swords to be preserved in perfect condition. Created from iron sand drawn from river beds, a mass of raw iron was created that was successively beaten and stretched to produce a billet of steel from which the sword bladed would be hammered. Apart from low-grade daggers, a samurai blade was of a composite construction whereby a super-hard core was embedded partly within a more resilient and less brittle outer section. A wavy line along the blade indicated where the two parts met. When the sword was quenched, coatings of clay of varying thickness allowed the body to stay springy, so that as the cutting edge sliced through its target the body absorbed the shock of impact.
A skilled swordsman could deliver a killing stroke direct from the scabbard in one devastating swoop.
The cherished ideal of the samurai warrior was not that of a captain of infantry but an individual mounted archer.
Legend tells of one samurai who struck his victim so quickly and keenly that the man walked on for six paces before falling into two pieces.
THE JAPANESE LONGBOW From ancient times, the value of a samurai was assessed in terms of his prowess at kyuba no michi, the way of horse and bow, whereby the elite warrior
would deliver arrows from his longbow while riding a horse. Unlike the light horse-archers of the steppes, the samurai was quite heavily armoured and used his horse as a mobile ‘gun platform’. It was only when hunting that archery would be conducted at a gallop, a martial art performed nowadays at festivals under the name of yabusame. The bow itself
was made of bamboo sections wound with rattan and lacquered. It was loosed from one third of the way up its shaft for convenience when riding a horse. Some bows were very powerful, and stories are told of the finest archers sending arrows through an enemy’s arm or
even shattering the planking of a boat so that the samurai on board were drowned.
As the samurai sword was too sharp to allow ‘full-contact’ practice samurai sparred with each other using stout wooden swords called bokken.
The samurai and his sword are almost inseparable in popular mythology, a relationship that is not far from the truth.
Military Times in association with Intel and Total War: Shogun 2
The superlative Japanese sword was the finest edged weapon in history
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