For the Love of the Japanese Sword!

Discussion in 'Sword Arts Talk' started by Samurai-do, Mar 2, 2016.

  1. Samurai-do

    Samurai-do White Belt

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    For the love of the Japanese sword
    Comments, reactions feedback, always appreciated :)
    (apologies if you are seeing this for the second time, I realised it was languishing in the wrong category!)
     
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  2. Aiki Lee

    Aiki Lee Master of Arts

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    Your articles seem very well written. I am quite impressed with the clarity of it.
     
  3. mber

    mber Yellow Belt

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    Nice article, and I always love learning about Japanese history. I have no real expertise here, but I definitely remember running across battles in various historical accounts in which samurai did in fact do battle primarily with swords. Perhaps this was later on, maybe during the warring states period?
     
  4. Samurai-do

    Samurai-do White Belt

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    Thank you both for your feedback! :) In answer to you mber, I find this unlikely. Sure samurai swords were still widely used during the sengoku period, but a full on battle with armored warriors would unlikely have been fought primarily with swords. Earlier during the Gempei war and so on, when only very wealthy warriors could actually afford armor, many footsoldiers simply didn't bother even trying to procure armor so what you're talking about could be referring to this or a later skirmish which didn't involve armor... :)
     
  5. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    Nope. Essentially, the most common (and early primary, identifying) weapon of the samurai was the bow and arrow throughout the early periods (Heian, Kamakura etc), to the point that samurai were said to adhere to kyuba no michi, or the "path of the mounted archer", and samurai families were referred to as "kyusen no iie", or "bow and arrow families. As time moved on, mounted warfare turned to pitched foot battles, with the infantry making up the bulk of the armies. Even here, though, the sword was a minimalist-used secondary weapon, with spears making up the bulk of the foot soldiers arsenal for close-quarters melee combat. Then, of course, guns made their appearance.

    The first firearms were introduced to Japan at Tanegashima Island in the mid 16th Century… three were purchased by the local Daimyo, and given to his chief swordsmith to replicate… within a few decades there were more firearms in Japan than in all of Europe. At the battle of Sekigahara (which essentially ended the Sengoku Jidai, the "warring states period") there was the largest collection of firearms on a battlefield anywhere in the world at that time.

    From this, you can see that the primary battlefield weapon was never the sword… it was projectile weapons, followed by long-range pole arms. A sword, giving you a range of about 2-3 feet, is really no advantage against a 9 foot spear or a guy shooting arrows from 100 feet away. That said, there were uses for swords on a battlefield… commonly, it's stated that the weapons became a "last resort", when your primary weapon was damaged or lost… but I feel that it was a bit more pragmatic than that. During the earlier periods (Heian, Kamakura), when the most common form of battle was two armies of mounted archers charging and shooting at each other, should two warriors and up next to each other on horseback, they would draw their tachi and engage that way. Obviously, this was due to the fact that a spear on horseback is just too cumbersome… and is why tachi of the period were typically lighter than later weapons (to be used single handed). The other primary use was in the Sengoku Jidai, where the sword was not commonly used in combat, but would be used to decapitate fallen enemies in order to claim the head (and get the associated prestige). Most frequently it was the tachi or uchigatana/kodachi that was used to perform this act.

    Yep, absolutely.

    Hmm… not so much here, I feel. The thing to remember, particularly prior to the Sengoku Jidai, is that many of the Japanese wars were fought dominantly with an almost purely samurai army… which meant that the "armies" on either side weren't anywhere near the size that we often associate with an "army" today… realistically, an entire "war" could be waged between two sides of not much more than a number of hundred samurai each. As a result, there weren't many of these basic foot soldiers (ashigaru) around… they were largely a later development (due to the changes in power struggles, set in motion with the Ashikaga Shogunate, and really solidified when it ended) when a power vacuum appeared, kicking off the Sengoku Jidai itself… with many Daimyo looking to bolster their samurai ranks with lower ranked personnel in order to attempt to seize power and land from their neighbours and rivals.

    As a result, during the Genpei wars, most of those involves were armoured… it was basically suicidal to go into battle unarmoured. It was only later that the advent of lower degrees of armour came about (hara-ate, kogusoku, and so on) for ashigaru and similar… but even then, sword on sword was simply not common. The most common form of warfare was siege warfare, with pitched battles being a bit rarer… and the most common weapons were bows and arrows, rocks, boiling water (not oil, as you'd burn your own castle down at the same time), spears, and (later) guns. There would be some who would carry more unique weapons, such as kumade, o-tsuchi, naginata, nagamaki, and yes, large odachi (swords)… but these were really the minority… and were reserved for those with the strength to use them. It might also be good to remember that much of the representations of battlefield weaponry, such as mural screens, the artists would often try to give some kind of defining characteristic to particular individuals… such as putting an unusual or representative weapon in their hands… which might be based on what that individual actually used, but might simply be a way to separate an important person out from the others.
     
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  6. Hyoho

    Hyoho Black Belt

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    An archaeological pathologist (Iaido sandan) did research on skulls and bones back in the early 1980's in Japan and found most of the injuries were from rocks.
     
  7. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master of Arts

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    I remember Karl Friday discussing research he did for a dissertation comparing casualties from before and after the introduction of firearms. I believe it was back on the old iaido-L mailing list. If I recall correctly, his research had most injuries from ranged weapons (arrows early, then arrows and bullets later) followed by rocks, then spears, then swords. I'll have to dig around in my computer and see if I saved that email as I thought it was interesting at the time.
     
  8. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master of Arts

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    Found it!
    My mistake, it was not Professor Friday's research, he was merely reporting on someone else's research. Here is the relevant portion of the email from 1999. Since it should still be available on the internet, I don't think he'll mind me repeating it here ...

    An analysis that I was just looking at this morning, of documents reporting battle wounds, for example, shows that between 1500 and 1560, out of some 620 casualties described, 368 were arrow wounds, 124 were spear wounds, 96 were injuries from rocks (thrown by slings or by hand), 18 were sword wounds, 7 were combined arrow and spear wounds, 3 were combined arrow and sword wounds, 2 were combined rock and spear wounds, and 2 were combined rock and arrow wounds. Between 1563 and 1600 (after the adoption of the gun) some 584 reported casualties break down as follows: there were 263 gunshot victims, 126 arrow victims, 99 spear victims, 40 sword victims, 30 injured by rocks, and 26 injured by combinations of the above (including one poor SOB who was shot by both guns and arrows and stabbed by spears, and one who was speared, naginata-ed, and cut with a sword). In other words, long distance weapons (arrows and rocks) accounted for about 75% of the wounds received in the pre-gun era, and about 72 % (arrows + guns + rocks) during the gunpowder era. Which is to say that "traditional fighting" does not appear to have been heavily centered on close-quarters clashes of swords or even of spears, except in literary sources.
     
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