Not Just Any Sword: What Makes A Samurai Sword So Special?

Whenever there is any discussion of historical warfare and the importance of sword-fighting skills, the word “Samurai” always makes its way into the middle of the conversation. For hundreds of years, the heroic tales of the unmatched bravery of the Samurai have been delivered to the ears of eager listeners.

Samurai Warrior

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Types of Samurai Swords

The combat skills of Samurai are greatly complemented by the strength of the sword they possess. Samurai possessed many different kinds of swords, which went through many changes in their design over the years. Some of these are: chokutu, kodachi, tachi, katana, odachi, wakizashi and uchigatana. They all had their own qualities and were used according to the type of duel in which the Samurai engaged.

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Some of the Japanese swords

What’s so Special About These Swords?

The process of making a Samurai sword is an elaborate one and requires great conviction and patience. The sword is made of excellent-quality steel that is repeatedly heated, hammered and folded.

The repetition of the process has its advantages:

1. It ensures the removal of all air bubbles that form in the steel (which weakens the sword) during heating.

2. Repetition adds layers to the surface of the sword, which is good for increasing its strength.

3. It ensures that the naturally-occurring strengthening properties of carbon are distributed throughout the surface.

Traditional Samurai Sword

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Now Comes the Cooling

After the sword is heated, hammered and folded until the sword-maker (who is also its owner in many cases) is satisfied, it needs to be cooled. However, it cannot be cooled by directly submerging the blade into cold water, as that would make the surface of the blade brittle. On the other hand, if cooled slowly, the blade would become blunt.

To achieve an optimal level of cooling for the sword, a thin layer of clay (actually a combination of ash, water and clay) is applied on the cutting edge of the blade to cool it down to keep it sharp and hard, while on the other edge, a thicker layer of the same clay is applied to make it sturdy and shatter-proof – essentially providing a sturdy backbone.

This is why Samurai blades are often seen to be slightly curved, as the two edges cool at unequal rates.

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It is very appropriate to say that a sword embodies the soul of the Samurai wielding it.

A cool-looking weapon with all the strength that a piece of steel can provide. What more could you ask of a weapon?

References:

  1. Japanese Swordsmithing – Wikipedia
  2. Japanese Sword – Wikipedia
  3. Making A Masterpiece – Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)

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