The Wakizashi Short Sword
The sword played a huge role in the life of the samurai. When a samurai was born, a sword is brought into the room. The same thing happens when he dies. This time the sword is laid beside him. In between these two monumental events in his life, he sleeps with his sword near him. There are two swords that he carries. The longer sword is the Katana and the short sword is the wakizashi. Although the wakizashi is the shorter sword its role is bigger than its size. The wakizashi worn together with the Katana signifies that the one wearing this is a samurai or swordsman. This sword is one of the traditionally made Japanese swords or Nihonto.
- Blade length. The blade is between 30 to 60 cm or 12 to 24 inches in length while its handle is around 6 inches
- Appearance. This short sword has a slightly curled blade with a single cutting edge and was intended to survive harsh combat. Wakizashi swords can be unforgiving in battle
- First use between 1332 to 1369
- Forged differently. Complements the Katana and has a different cross section
- Traditionally constructed from folded steel whereas today mono steel wakizashi can be found
- Uses. Close fighting combat that can even allow the samurai to behead his enemy and thus defeat him. He can also use this sword to commit seppuku or ritual suicide. Suited for indoor fighting than the tanto
- Can be manage with just one hand
- A matched set of Katana and Wakizashi is known as daisho( big and little sword)
If the Katana was known as the soul of the samurai, the wakizashi is his honor weapon. If in the old west the cowboys have their pistols the sidearm of the samurai would be this short sword. The wakizashi was not just one of the pair swords but, a higher quality and ornate weapon. A weapon such as this means the samurai is well compensated by this lord to own such a pair of swords. This is the samurai’s livelihood. It was not until the end of the Muromachi period that the rulers in Japan regulate the use of these swords and the social groups that are allowed to wear these.
It was also during the middle Muromachi period when wakizashi came in lengths of 40 cm. These were made with hira zukuri and have no sori. Most of these short sword are engraved with Buddha deities or Sanskrit characters. The engravings are referred to as horimono.
It was during the Momoyaya period when the length of the blades were properly categorized by length. Thus the samurai being in the military belonging to a social class are allowed to wear the Katana and wakizashi. Although only these shorter blade are the only authorized sidearm. There is a custom during the feudal period in Japan where the Katana is left at the door of the castle or palace. The wakizashi can be worn inside. This is a practical way of protecting their life in case they ever encounter surprise attack while inside the castle or palace. There is also the risk of encountering bandits while traveling. This is why for easier access the wakizashi was worn on the left side and secured using a waist sash or Uwa Obi.
Many years after the Civil War ended in Japan that people does not always follow the old laws. This is because the old laws has various definitions of Katana, wakizashi and tanto in terms of lengths. As a result, yakuza gangs, commoners (townspeople) openly carry long wakizashi known as oo wakizashi. This type of wakizashi is equivalent to the length of the Katana. An executive order that prohibits the commoner class to carry or weat any swords longer than a small wakizashi unless the government allows it.
When peacetime reign the daisho became a status symbol. Only members of society are allowed to wear two swords. The sword at this time was more of a symbol. Elegant fittings accompany these swords that it reached its peak as an art form. Various patterns were made by combining the use of precious metals and new alloy. The fittings have inlaid and sculpted scenes. Since there was less focus on the functional side of the sword, the quality of the blades decline. However, collectors and sword enthusiast were after elaborate and expensive sword fittings.
For Kenjutsu, wakizashi is used to practice Tameshigiri(cutting techniques)with the Katana. Some sword schools like Musashi’s Niten Ichi Ryu, the Katana is used on one hand while the other hand holds the wakizashi. Other sword combination can also include the use of tanto and wakizashi. In fact Niten Ryu techniques can be performed with the use of the sword and scabbard (saya). It was the goal of the sword wielder to stay out of his opponent’s reach and to dance around him. He will look for openings so that he can deliver a blow and get back to a position where he will be out of reach similar to the moves seen in European fencing.
Samurai prefer the use of these curved bladed sword because it is stronger and more effective than using straight bladed sword. At some point in Japan’s history, wakizashi was allowed to be worn by the members of the chonin class which includes merchant to protect them against highway robbers and similar type of people. However, even if the use of this sword was allowed, the Katana remains exclusively for the members of the samurai class. Edicts that fix the blade length for high ranking samurai and hatamoto when in duty in Edo and mid-Edo period is what is generally accepted today as the standard length for Japanese sword blades. Wakizashi was set from 1 shaku or 30.3 cm to 1 shaku 9 sun 9 bu or 60. 297 cm. Other types of wakizashi have different size range. Blade lengths in used during this period and today allowed wakizashi to be longer than 30 cm but shorter than 60 cm.