The Straight Bladed Ninja Sword is awesome...

Kajowaraku

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still...i it feels more like an improvised sword with construction and metalworking finesse closer to those of agricultural tools than to those of a sword. No doubt it existed left and right, making a crude straight sword is a lot easier and requires alot less skill than making a proper daito. Guess that too plays here... in the old days good swords were even more precious than now. Those that couldn't afford it were probably left with scraps, like remade broken swords or crudely forged ones.

I mean, the large battle axe is also a classical weapon of Japan. That doesn't mean it was common or standard in any way. The same probably goes for the straightbladed "ninja" sword.

On top of that, the oldest swords in Japan were not "daito" but "tsurugi" (ok, same kanji as "ken"), those were actually straight swords, but looked more like the taichiswords than the SBNS under discussion here. The straight sword kusanagi (草薙劍) is actually one of the three sacred treasures of Japan, together with the Mirror and the Jewel. So, sure, straight blades in Japan aren't that odd, conceptually. But it's not the same, and the single edge straight ninjato, if it ever existed as a distinct model, was probably more of an improvised cheaper and more available version of a proper sword. Look at it like this: most ninja lived in agricultural communities. The smith had experience with tools in excess to making swords (a very distinct trade). It wasn't an option to order a nice daito on the internet back than, so what was left was what was available locally.

Just an exercise historic deductive logic. Mostly speculation. Might get the topic going though :)
 

Muawijhe

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Oh, and on topic of "Straight swords", Steve Hayes has put a blog about this very subject online at the moment: http://www.skhquest.com/2010/10/31/ninja-sword-non-controversy/

Of course, that could just start things off again.......

I read that the other day and was going to post something about it, then figured that it offered nothing really to be discussed in a historical, logical, or constructive manner. Merely the opinions of a man who is unwilling to let go of grudges/ghosts.
 

Chris Parker

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Now, just to make things interesting....

The idea of straight bladed swords being "inferior" in manufacture is sort of crucial to the idea of them being "ninja" swords (poor, downtrodden farmers etc). However, I have yet to see an example of this type of sword that isn't relatively modern. On the other hand, someone on another forum linked this site today (http://www.thelanesarmoury.co.uk/shop/shop.php), which shows a straight bladed, single edged Chokuto apparently dated to the before the 12th Century. It has been shortened at some point, and my initial thought was just that the curve was situated down near the tsuba (Koshi Sori), but I'm not so sure. Most likely it was a form of Kazari Tachi, a formal Court sword with a straight blade mounted as a Tachi.

In the end, I'm not convinced that "straight = cheap", really. During Japan's history, there have been plenty of cheap curved swords put out in mass production during times of turbulent warfare. So it continues....
 

Muawijhe

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Excuse my ignorance, but is the SBNS a Hayesism (based on his jumping to conclusions, bad translations, and what little evidence he has found), or does the debate pre-date him and go further back?
 

Chris Parker

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It seems to be mainly from Hayes. He has reportedly admitted to not being taught much sword when in Japan to begin with, and from reports from my Instructor, in most classes most people only had a training knife and a hanbo, and would use the hanbo to double as a sword... which would be shorter... and straight.... hmm.

If he was then told that the reason was that there wasn't enough significant difference, he could have jumped to the conclusion then (conjecture on my part there). Suffice to say I've never come across any accounts of older documents that support it, the closest is the Togakure Ryu blade, which is shorter, yes, but still curved. And from what I can tell, that was only one form of sword they were said to use.
 

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I can't believe that I haven't posted in this thread yet!
 

cdunn

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In the end, I'm not convinced that "straight = cheap", really. During Japan's history, there have been plenty of cheap curved swords put out in mass production during times of turbulent warfare. So it continues....

I don't have any dogs in this, but, I would like to note that the curvature of the majority of nihonto, while controllable, is a direct consequence of the methods of manufacture.

It has to be understood that the native iron sands in Japan are very, very poor sources of iron ore, and the tamagahane blast furnace process results in a very uneven, possibly very high carbon steel that is full of a variety of impurities. This material can be fed into pre-1000 AD smithing techniques, which can easily result in a straight blade - indeed, the straight blade is easier to make.

However, because of this, the steel-folding process was invented and the differential hardening process began to spread through Japan. The folding functions to, after a fashion, homogenize the steel and reduce many of the oxide impurities that remain in the tamagahane. Once the steel is brought in rangs of a good sword, a straight or gently curved blade can be produced.

Once the blade is produced, it needs to be hardened and tempered. The high carbon blades and rapid hardening of the Japanese smiths will, without alteration, result in an extremely hard, extremely brittle blade - the two properties are almost invariably inversely related. Therefore, the back end of the blade is wrapped in clay during the hardening, to slow the quench, resulting in a softer steel in the back, which can absorb the impact of a blow. However, this same process means that the back of the blade and the edge have different compositional arrangements, and the back will shrink relative to the edge, creating the curve of the blade from a straight sword.

A straight blade, then, tells you that it has either not been differentially hardened, or that the curve of the blade has been removed in some fashion after the curvature, such as breakage and regrinding. Running my straightedge up to my screen, that chokuto you linked appears to have a very gentle curve, likely introduced by the differential hardening process on a straight blade, before the technology became much more aggressive and the large, deliberate curve was introduced.
 

Chris Parker

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I don't have any dogs in this, but, I would like to note that the curvature of the majority of nihonto, while controllable, is a direct consequence of the methods of manufacture.

It has to be understood that the native iron sands in Japan are very, very poor sources of iron ore, and the tamagahane blast furnace process results in a very uneven, possibly very high carbon steel that is full of a variety of impurities. This material can be fed into pre-1000 AD smithing techniques, which can easily result in a straight blade - indeed, the straight blade is easier to make.

However, because of this, the steel-folding process was invented and the differential hardening process began to spread through Japan. The folding functions to, after a fashion, homogenize the steel and reduce many of the oxide impurities that remain in the tamagahane. Once the steel is brought in rangs of a good sword, a straight or gently curved blade can be produced.

Once the blade is produced, it needs to be hardened and tempered. The high carbon blades and rapid hardening of the Japanese smiths will, without alteration, result in an extremely hard, extremely brittle blade - the two properties are almost invariably inversely related. Therefore, the back end of the blade is wrapped in clay during the hardening, to slow the quench, resulting in a softer steel in the back, which can absorb the impact of a blow. However, this same process means that the back of the blade and the edge have different compositional arrangements, and the back will shrink relative to the edge, creating the curve of the blade from a straight sword.

A straight blade, then, tells you that it has either not been differentially hardened, or that the curve of the blade has been removed in some fashion after the curvature, such as breakage and regrinding. Running my straightedge up to my screen, that chokuto you linked appears to have a very gentle curve, likely introduced by the differential hardening process on a straight blade, before the technology became much more aggressive and the large, deliberate curve was introduced.

Yep, agreed. Nearly.

Therefore, the back end of the blade is wrapped in clay during the hardening, to slow the quench, resulting in a softer steel in the back, which can absorb the impact of a blow. However, this same process means that the back of the blade and the edge have different compositional arrangements, and the back will shrink relative to the edge, creating the curve of the blade from a straight sword.

It's the edge that has the clay applied to it, if the back of the blade cooled slower, it would contract slower, which would give an "inverse" curve. But that's really only half the story. The blade itself is made of a couple of different carbon steels, with the back of the blade being a lower carbon metal, and the front (edge) being the higher carbon. That's where you get the "soft" and "hard" steel variants.

That said, with a very shallow curve to the Chokuto I'd still think that this was a Koshi Sori Tachi that has been cut down, above the sori itself, making it virtually "straight". The other possibility I have thought of is that it was potentially a votive offering at a shrine, as many "unusual" weapons were created for those reasons, such as extra long spear-tips and so on. But again, this is conjecture without seeing the blade itself.
 

cdunn

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Bleh, my first reference was backwards. Yes, there are also many different lamination techniques that enhance the process.

Anyway, the point was: 'straight' simply means that the process of differential hardening has not been applied. A high quality, through hardened blade is still possible, and it is relatively possible to bang, or even harden, a curve into a cheap blade.
 

Kajowaraku

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my point was mostly that if straigh single edged swords existed they would have been rather marginal phenomena as swords, and probably the result of quick improvisation rather than proper swordsmithing. Personally I feel the weapon cannot really have been a 'ninjasword' because of a few simple reasons:
A: it's inferiour to curved swords in hardness and cutting power
B: it really marks you as a ninjer.
C: the historic straight blades were double edged, which would make some sense, singled edged makes far less sense.

The only exception could be hidden weapons. A sword hidden in the walking cane of a priest would have to be either very short or reasonably straight, but what are we talking about than? not ninjato at any rate, and another rather rare and uncommen exotic weapon.

I think we can safely assume it never really was common practice for ninja to carry straightblades. Some would have survived to date, as chris stated clearly.

But they are awesome.

They make for great discussions :)
 

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Sorry Chris, but I have to correct you on this. Ah... I am savouring this moment (it doesn't happen often that I can correct you :D) but I am confident that I can out-trivia you in the topic of metallurgy and blades. The mune (spine / back side of the blade) has the clay coating applied to it. There is also clay near the edge, but the thick layer is on the mune. Here is a link with some additional info. The smith Mike Blue is a friend of mine. http://www.dfoggknives.com/workshop.htm

The edge cools rapidly and is 'frozen'. The mune cools slowly and therefore contracts again, leading to the curved design.
I've seen this happen on camera on a national geographic documentary, and it was really neat to actually see the blade bend backwards slowly.

But you can't know everything of course :p
Now excuse me while I bask in the glory of this moment.

EDIT: quote from 'The art of Japanese sword polishing', page 16.
A complex but thin layer of clay is used to coat the edge. of the sword, and a thick uniform layer is used to cover the body of the blade. The blade is then heated to a high temperature and cooled rapidly by plunging it into a tank of water. The edge cools rapidly, the steel taking on the hard form of martensite. The body of the blade with its thicker coating, cools more slowly and the steel remains in the ferrite and pearlite forms.
 
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Chifuka-ryu

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The people who say that the ninja did not use straight blades are wrong.
<H2 class=title>"Ninja Sword" Non-Controversy</H2>My friend Scott W. found a 20-year old issue of a ninja magazine with a quote from Masaaki Hatsumi that supports what I have said about ninja swords for decades. I do not own a copy of the magazine, and I had long ago forgotten about the article.
A few silly people envious of the attention my work has gotten over the past 30 years have tried to use a debate over ninja swords to discredit my authority. If you cant beat him, at least cheat him, might be their battle cry.
One of the reputation-killer arguments put out by those critics has been an attack on my reference to choku-to straight-blade shinobi-gatana ninja swords as part of the stereotypical ninja image. No such thing existed, some like to insist in dismissal of me.
Do I believe that all ninja of feudal Japan carried straight-blade short swords as some sort of badge of official ninja-ness? No, of course not, and I never said anything like that.
Many ninja may not have even thought of themselves as ninja. They called themselves Iga no Mono men of Iga and rappa grass-roots and the like. Many or most carried standard curved-edge swords of the times.
Nonetheless, in Iga Castle and Odawara Castle and even the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, you can see straight-blade Japanese swords on display.
My teacher used to do public demonstrations with such straight-blade swords back in the 1970s and early 1980s (before my most severe critics were even around to see such things).
My first books in the early 1980s were an introduction to the ninja tradition of Japan. I chose not to conflict with stereotype at that stage. Later, once the practice was established, I mentioned on page 22 of my 1988 book Ninja Vol 5; Lore of the Shinobi Warrior that the straight sword was a stereotype, and that indeed many ninja did not carry such a weapon.
My original ninjutsu teacher Masaaki Hatsumi had this to say on the subject:
The shinobi-gatana was little more than a straight slab of heavy steel with a single ground edge; the tsuba was a hammered thick steel square barren of ornamentation, but it could also be used as a prying device or by leaning the sword against a wall or tree as a booster step for climbing; the saya was usually longer than the short blade.
by Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi
Ninja Magazine Winter 1987
Translated by Masaru Hirai
Thats what Scott found, and heres a comment of his own:
I thought this was interesting. I know some people try to say that because Mr. Hayes was a ghost writer translator on the book Ninja History and Tradition by Mr. Hatsumi, that some of the stuff about swords in the book is not correct. But this article was not translated by Mr. and Mrs. Hayes. I wonder what reason Mr. Hayes critics would come up with to explain away this one.
A friend asked me why this was important enough to put on my web site. He was concerned that it made me look defensive arguing back against my inferiors. Why would a master need to justify what he teaches?
I post it because the no straight blade ninja sword argument makes me look wrong. If you just follow the foolishness on those critical internet sites, you could assume that others who know more than I do proved me wrong. And if I were wrong, I would expect my best students to be alarmed over what else I might be teaching wrong.
This kind of educational integrity has nothing to do with loyalty. It is intelligence. If I am wrong, I expect my students to be concerned. I expect to be held accountable for the veracity of what I teach. I would certainly be the first to hold my own teacher to the same standards.
But I am not wrong, and my teacher quoted above is not wrong, and you need to be very confident in that.
You are therefore right to take strong faith in what you study in our SKH Quest Center dojos.




 

Tanaka

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Isn't there a video on youtube of Hatsumi clearly stating that the Ninjato would of been a wakizashi length blade with a katana length handle?
 

Sukerkin

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The morphology of Japanese swords changed over time but the only time when non-curved blades were made was prior to the 10th century.

I recall seeing a thumbnail chronology somewhere ... hang on ...

Here we go:

http://www.thejapanesesword.com/history.htm

As an aside, by the way, I will say again what I have said before, that the whole Ninja mythology is growing and gaining credence solely because of Hatsumi and those that choose to hang on his every word as gospel truth. It needs to be recalled that in Japan what is 'true' is a highly malleable concept and if an 'elder' which Hatusmi has become, says something, then it becomes true even if it manifestly is unsupportable.

The Ninja-to is a prime example of this in action. There is no such blade in historical context, other than, perhaps, in fictional literature (of which there was a little). More importantly, there are no physical examples in material context either.

Straight swords were used in theatre as a sign that someone was a bad guy (a la two-six-guns in Westerns) but that was not because bad guys were Ninja's. The cultural context is that China was the enemy of Japan (tho more often the target of invasion it has to be said :D), so the natural cliche for bad guys was to use a sword design common there.
 

Ken Morgan

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The morphology of Japanese swords changed over time but the only time when non-curved blades were made was prior to the 10th century.

I recall seeing a thumbnail chronology somewhere ... hang on ...

Here we go:

http://www.thejapanesesword.com/history.htm

As an aside, by the way, I will say again what I have said before, that the whole Ninja mythology is growing and gaining credence solely because of Hatsumi and those that choose to hang on his every word as gospel truth. It needs to be recalled that in Japan what is 'true' is a highly malleable concept and if an 'elder' which Hatusmi has become, says something, then it becomes true even if it manifestly is unsupportable.

The Ninja-to is a prime example of this in action. There is no such blade in historical context, other than, perhaps, in fictional literature (of which there was a little). More importantly, there are no physical examples in material context either.

Straight swords were used in theatre as a sign that someone was a bad guy (a la two-six-guns in Westerns) but that was not because bad guys were Ninja's. The cultural context is that China was the enemy of Japan (tho more often the target of invasion it has to be said :D), so the natural cliche for bad guys was to use a sword design common there.

x2
 
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Cryozombie

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The people who say that the ninja did not use straight blades are wrong.

Ok. I forgot, Hayes knows everything... and despite the fact he was (in his own opinion) Hatsumi's top #1 forever student he clearly doesn't seem to know that things are often shown/told to the public at large that are contradicted to the ACTUAL practitioners of the art as (or as has been explained to me) a means of knowing who is "for real" and who tried to learn from books magazines and videos.

Nahhhhh. That article can't be an example of that... Some anonymous dude named Scott said so!
 

Bruno@MT

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Ok. I forgot, Hayes knows everything... and despite the fact he was (in his own opinion) Hatsumi's top #1 forever student he clearly doesn't seem to know that things are often shown/told to the public at large that are contradicted to the ACTUAL practitioners of the art as (or as has been explained to me) a means of knowing who is "for real" and who tried to learn from books magazines and videos.

Nahhhhh. That article can't be an example of that... Some anonymous dude named Scott said so!

As a Genbukan student, I can say that a significant % of the explanation / names / pictures in rou kyu level book is just plain wrong. This is to make it unusable for people without any actual training and to make visible those who use the book to pretend they had training.
 

Bruno@MT

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As an aside, by the way, I will say again what I have said before, that the whole Ninja mythology is growing and gaining credence solely because of Hatsumi and those that choose to hang on his every word as gospel truth. It needs to be recalled that in Japan what is 'true' is a highly malleable concept and if an 'elder' which Hatusmi has become, says something, then it becomes true even if it manifestly is unsupportable.

+1 and this is an interesting cultural thing. My sensei has a saying for this: sensei is always right. For example, if sensei says 'this tatami is green' then that tatami is green. No matter if it is red. You don't contradict him if he says something. The tatami exampleof course is a silly one, but you don't contradict your sensei, even if he is wrong. You just say 'hai sensei' and get on with things. And if he then says you're doing it wrong (because you are doing what he said) then you just say 'hai sensei' instead of saying 'but you told me to do this'.

In the Japanese context, this makes sense, even though in western culture you'd 'defend' your actions. So if Hatsumi sensei ever said something wrong (by accident or intentionally) then noone in the art will say he is wrong, even though they know he is / was.

Of course, there are ways for everybody to move on and pretend it was never said, or said in a different context. And everybody will know this. But don't expect anyone to use the word 'wrong'.

In a similar vein, Hatsumi sensei has never outright kicked people out or publicly said they were out. Every Japanese person knows perfectly well that an absence of public support for Hayes means he is out. Yet because of the lack of denouncement that would be expected in the west, Hayes is still claiming to be on good terms with Hatsumi because in the US, he can still sell the story that not being denounced in public must mean that he is still in good graces.

The Ninja-to is a prime example of this in action. There is no such blade in historical context, other than, perhaps, in fictional literature (of which there was a little). More importantly, there are no physical examples in material context either.

Straight swords were used in theatre as a sign that someone was a bad guy (a la two-six-guns in Westerns) but that was not because bad guys were Ninja's. The cultural context is that China was the enemy of Japan (tho more often the target of invasion it has to be said :D), so the natural cliche for bad guys was to use a sword design common there.

+1

And that is not to say that noone in a pinch took a straight bar of steel or farming implement and made a makeshift sword out of it. But the idea that a ninja would carry an item that would immediately identify him as such is laughable. The items they carried were supposed to be inconspicuous at a glance.
 

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The people who say that the ninja did not use straight blades are wrong.

Son, you are seriously behind the times here. I posted that blog nearly two months ago (see the previous page), on the 4th of November, and it has already been discussed. It was discussed in even more detail over on MAP, and the prevailing thought was that, aside from the rather heavy handed Hayes propaganda in the blog (talking about conspiracies against him and so forth), there was real doubt as to whether or not this was actually a quote from Hatsumi, as the wording and phrasing doesn't match his speaking style or writing style, and it is remarkably close to a very similar section in Ninjutsu: History and Traditions, which Hayes ghost wrote, rather than Hatsumi.

People such as Don Roley commented that oftentimes editors add sections to articles, and it could very easily be that the editor just added it in themselves.

Oh, and for the record, Ninja magazine is not really regarded as a credible source.... it frequently had expert articles from such luminaries as Harunaka Hoshino, James Loriega, and so on.
 
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Cryozombie

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Oh, and for the record, Ninja magazine is not really regarded as a credible source.... it frequently had expert articles from such luminaries as Harunaka Hoshino, James Loriega, and so on.

Off Topic but equally hilarious, I found a Poster from my high school days back in the 80s in a box of my parents stuff I was sorting, and it was a "Hidden Weapons of the Ninja" poster drawn by Loriega. I should auction it on Ebay. hehe
 
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