What is a wakizashi

Discussion in 'Japanese Swords and Sword Arts' started by MI_martialist, Feb 28, 2016.

  1. MI_martialist

    MI_martialist Brown Belt

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    Good evening,

    I do not know if this has been posted before, but I was wondering what everyone's understanding of what a Wakizashi is. I often hear that it is a short sword. Is this an accurate use of the term?
     
  2. kempodisciple

    kempodisciple Senior Master

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    Basically a shorter version of a katana for when there was not enough space to use a katana efficiently.
     
  3. MI_martialist

    MI_martialist Brown Belt

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    Interesting. What part of wakizashi makes reference to a sword? What is the difference between wakizashi and a shoto?
     
  4. kempodisciple

    kempodisciple Senior Master

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    Not sure what you're asking here.
    May be wrong, but I'm fairly certain a shoto just refers to a length of a blade, and that wakizashi's generally fall within the length.
     
  5. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    It's a particular term, so "everyone's understanding" isn't really what's needed…

    Er… no, not quite. While yes, a wakizashi is shorter, the rest of this is incorrect.

    Cool… I'll answer that in regards to kempodisciple's response…

    My suggestion is that he's asking what part of the word "wakizashi" refers to, or relates specifically to "sword"… and the answer is, well, none of it.

    Okay, this is getting to it…

    The term "shoto" (小刀) fairly simply means "small sword/blade", and is commonly applied to nihonto between 1 shaku and 2 shaku in length (basically between 1 and 2 feet) for the blade. The term "wakizashi" (脇差し) actually translates as "inserted at the side", and is a reference to a way of wearing a shorter blade… in other words, a wakizashi is a short blade worn at the side, often as a companion blade, whereas the sword might be referred to as a kodachi, shoto, or any of a number of other terms depending on mounting, period, usage, and more.

    What a wakizashi is not, necessarily, is simply a "shorter version of a katana"… in the same way that a sidearm (pistol) isn't simply a "smaller version of a rifle". There were a range of blade shapes and designs used and found, many of which (such as the uno-kubi form) that are practically never found on katana (other than adapted nagamaki or naginata blades), as well as there often being differences in cross-section, formation, and even forging methods, before we even get to mountings a furniture (koshirae).

    They also weren't really used "when there was not enough space"… while it can certainly be argued that a shorter weapon is superior in enclosed environments, the usage of a kodachi, when looking at the usage found in classical (extant) arts commonly pair it against a long sword as the uchidachi. Historical usage included the more practical (and somewhat gruesome) applications of decapitating your enemy in order to claim their head after killing them, or for committing seppuku (ritual suicide) in expedient circumstances.

    The thing to remember with Japanese blades is that the descriptive terminology is more often about the mountings than the blade design itself… so a wakizashi isn't a type of blade per se, it's a particular way of mounting and wearing it.
     
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  6. Tgace

    Tgace Grandmaster

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    A fairly accurate and concise explanation can be found here:

    Wakizashi

    Sent from my XT1080 using Tapatalk
     
  7. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master Black Belt

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    A couple of very informative answers for you. I want to add a couple of things to what's already been said.

    First off, many of the terms for Japanese swords today are collector's terms, because there are a great many more collectors than practitioners. From a collector's standpoint, any sword between 12 and 24 inches is a wakizashi. Less than 12 is a tanto, greater than 24 is a katana or daito. It being Japanese based, there are a great many distinctions within those limits, but those measurements generally hold true.

    Terms for swords within the ranks of practitioners varies greatly, depending upon the term used within the school. This brings me to the second thing I wanted to say ... don't try and pin any single definition to any Japanese word. The Japanese language is very context driven, and there are a great number of words that can mean almost the same thing with only subtle differences depending upon the context within which it is used. The best you can get with anything Japanese is "it usually means this". :)
     
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  8. MI_martialist

    MI_martialist Brown Belt

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    If the term Wakizashi makes no reference to a sword / blade then does it not make sense that a wakizashi is a term used for a secondary or tertiary weapon that can be deployed and used and not necessarily a blade?
     
  9. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master Black Belt

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    While that was possibly true when the term began 2 or 3 hundred years ago, the same would not be true now. Although none of the kanji used in wakizashi have anything to do with swords, if you insert those same kanji, or the word wakizashi, into any Japanese English dictionary, it will return the definition "short sword".

    If you go and look at the site Aoi-art (they are a large reseller of both antique and modern Japanese swords) you'll find many wakizashi listed that are unmounted blades only. I love to periodically go to their site and drool over the beautiful swords!
     
  10. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    Hmm… honestly, it's not entirely something I'd rely on for information… there are a number of mistakes throughout that page (and others on that site), primarily stemming from a seeming need to give everything exacting classifications… which doesn't really work that well with Japanese weapons. For example, stating that a wakizashi was made differently, and had a different length to a kodachi is not correct… a kodachi is simply a "short sword"… a wakizashi is one way of classifying a kodachi. Then again, it's a page for foam sport combat, not actual martial arts or usage of Japanese weapons… so take it as it is, I guess…

    Why should it? The term "side arm" refers to a soldiers or police officers pistol… but the term includes no mention of a gun at all…
     
  11. MI_martialist

    MI_martialist Brown Belt

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    There is a difference. The term "arm" has been used to mean a weapon since the 13th century: 1200-50 for v.; 1300-50 for noun; (v.) Middle English armen < Anglo-French, Old French armer < Latin armāre to arm, verbal derivative of arma(plural) tools, weapons (not akin to arm1); (noun) Middle English armes(plural) ≪ Latin arma, as above.

    Can the same be said for wakizashi?
     
  12. kempodisciple

    kempodisciple Senior Master

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    Does it matter? Wakizashi is a term thats been around for (at least) 500 years. The kanji for it might have resulted from a local dialect that is no longer around, or from a word that, in english, would bear no relation but in japanese used to (the side arm is a good example of this. To a non-english speaker, the would not see the relation between arm and pistol, but as an english speaker you can see it).

    It makes more sense to me to focus on what history suggests the wakizashi was used for, which is documented, then trying to interpret it through a linguistic viewpoint, which is full of dialects that aren't documented.
     
  13. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    No. Mainly as I said that the term "side arm" makes no mention of being a "gun"… not that it didn't mention or refer to any weaponry at all. You also have to remember that Japanese is an incredibly context driven language… you don't need to spell everything out, as it's perfectly clear to all listening what's being referred to.
     
  14. Felix Galt

    Felix Galt White Belt

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    You could think of it like this -

    'wakizashi' is the word used in everyday speech for the Japanese short sword. This is what people who don't practice martial arts call it.

    "Did you see that TV show last night? The guy got killed with a wakizashi!"

    Martial artists always call it a kodachi.

    'Shoto' is used when you are talking about a paired set of swords. It is relative to 'daito'.
     
  15. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master Black Belt

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    I'm sorry, but that is incorrect.

    Japanese is a context driven language, and the words used can vary greatly from one region to another, from one conversation to another, and indeed within the same conversation. As an example, the Mugai ryu that I practice has a set of short sword kumitachi. In working with one of the senior Japanese instructors a few years back, he called them shoto kumitachi and wakizashi kumitachi within the same lesson. He then proceeded to talk about how to properly swing the kodachi for best effect. While you're welcome to argue his use of Japanese with him (he doesn't speak English though), it is far better to just get used to the fact that you can't pin a single definition on any Japanese word. Trying to do so will just lead you to frustration.
     
  16. Felix Galt

    Felix Galt White Belt

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    Interesting... When I studied Mugai Ryu, although the short sword kata series was called wakizashi no kata, the object was always called a kodachi.
     

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