Posts Tagged ‘Musashi’

Enter the Ninja… Again…

Friday, February 1st, 2008

Dunno if it’s obvious from my posts or not, but I have a thing for Ninja weapons… 🙂 Actually to be honest, It’s just not ninja weapons, but the all of the interesting medieval analogs of modern day covert and highly specialized weaponry that people came up with back in the day. That and I also have a thing for dark weapons. So with that in mind, the reasons why this particular weapon caught my eye might appear to be obvious:

Musashi Hand Honed Black Ninja Sword

Musashi Black Ninja Sword
[view full size]

But they are not. For the observationally impaired among you, yes. It’s black, and it’s a ninja sword. (It’s Da Bomb Diggity!!) But that is not the only reason this weapon is the topic of today’s post. Nope, it’s not. What else? Well, for one thing, unlike most of the weapons I blog about, this one is actually functional. Don’t know if it’s good enough to be considered “Battle ready” (yes, there’s a difference) but this usually means that this would take abuse the likes of which the others would simply have given up the ghost under.

However, there are a couple of more subtle features that this sword has that are interesting and unique. Like the saya (scabbard). If you look at the picture, it looks like there is a hole at the base of the sheath. Now traditionally, a Ninja’s saya was designed so that it could be used as a breathing tube while underwater. If that is what this is, it’s actually a unique implementation of that functionality, as most designs I see today simply make a completely hollow saya and put a removable plug or cap on the far end.

And perhaps the most interesting design feature of this sword is the blade. If you were paying attention during the Shinobigatana 101 class I lectured you on many posts ago, you would remember that one of the trademark features of common ninjaken was it’s straight blade. Now to be perfectly honest, there are older Ninja swords that did, in fact, look like katanas, with curved blades, and everything.

However for our intents and purposes we can ignore the earlier, borrowed, ninja sword designs and focus on the later, redesigned and more tactically appropriate weapons of the medieval shinobi warrior, currently recognized as Ninjaken. I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

And back to the blade of the dark beauty before us. 😉 This Ninjato does have a straight blade, however the observant among you will have noticed that there is actually a taper to the width of the blade from the hilt to the point. The blade is actually narrower at the tip than at the hilt! Whoa.

Now for a Japanese sword, this taper is an atypical design feature. The blade of your average Ninjato, indeed, even your average Japanese Katana, usually maintains an almost consistent width from the hilt to the point. This helps keep the point of percussion (AKA the sweet spot) towards the tip of the sword, where the most damage can be done. Tapering the blade in this fashion would move the sweet spot further down the blade towards the hilt. Now in a Katana, this would make no sense, as you would effectively be moving the weight of the sword down, and away from the top of the blade, where it would do the most good.

However narrowing the tip of a blade also has the effect of reducing the weight at the tip of the blade, and in the shorter Ninja sword, this would mean a much faster, much more controllable sword. This added agility would come at the cost of your ability to make shearing cuts, however most Japanese blade arts are heavily biased towards thrusts and slashing cuts, not shearing or chopping cuts, so this disadvantage would not crippling by any means. Especially for a ninja.

In fact, given that Ninjas would be going for a speedy assassinations, or infiltration, or whatever, and trying to avoid direct confrontation with opponents wielding larger, heavier Katanas, the narrower, faster sword might be a very useful modification. Show up, fast draw, fast kill, get the heck outta Dodge. I kinda look at the difference between a shinobigatana, thusly modified, and a large katana as similar to the difference between a light, Japanese tuner car and American muscle car. Except they are both Japanese.

No, I meant the swords, not the cars… OK, Hardy, har, har. Very funny. Whatever, smarty pants…

Musashi Hand Honed Black Ninja Sword – [Medieval Weapon Art]

The Shirasaya. A sword of simplicity and elegance.

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

Given that I’ve been talking a lot about cool, stealthy staff weapons, I thought i’d throw one more sword type into the mix, designed along similar lines to the venerable shikomizue. Especially since I recently encountered a rather beautiful specimen of such a sword. It’s only fair that I share:

Mushashi Black Shirasaya

Musashi Black Shirasaya
[view full size]

The oh, so elegant sword you see above is called a shirasaya. The shirasaya, which means “White Scabbard” in Japanese, is a style of sword that features a minimalist theme with regards to the way the grip and scabbard is designed. A traditional shirasaya features a smooth grip with no fancy fittings, in hardly any fittings at all, save for the bamboo pin(s) used to secure the blade in the grip. No guard either. The scabbard is usually equally plain, though they sometimes have information about the sword written on them.

The shirasaya above is unique in that it is lacquered in black, which runs counter to the traditional “white scabbard” design theme, but it is still smooth, and devoid of all fittings, except, of course, for the bamboo pin used to secure the blade. A sleek, beautiful fusion of traditional shirasaya style in modern black.

The shirasaya, while beautiful, suffers from a flaw that is common to pretty much every other staff weapon I have mentioned in previous posts. No guard and a poor grip. This causes two problems. First, because there is no guard, your fingers/arms/etc. no longer have any protection from a sword strike that slides down the blade towards your hand. combine that with a smooth grip, and you no longer have a positive way to prevent your hand from sliding up toward and/or onto the blade should a mishap occur.

Both issues pose rather large problems from a combat perspective, providing all the ingredients for a rather nasty accident. However, given that staff weapons were meant foremost for stealth, and easy concealment, as opposed to uncompromising battle ability, I suppose they are flaws that a person using such a weapon could learn to live with.

I thought I’d also show you an example of a more traditional shirasaya. At least on the outside:

2 in 1 Shirasaya

2 in 1 Shirasaya
[view full size]

Now while the weapon above may actually look like a standard shirasaya when they sheathed, is actually rather unique, in that it has two swords instead of the single blade of a standard shirasaya. What is even more interesting is that these swords are sheathed at the same end of the saya, side by side. A very interesting, and quite useful design.

Based on it’s appearance alone, you might not guess that there were two swords hiding in that innocent looking piece of wood. I love stealth…

*Update*

A commenter (Muchas gracias, Miles!) recently pointed out to me that the Shirasaya design was intended primarily for storage, as opposed to stealth. I also discovered that it has traditionally been used to transport high quality blades to and from the polishers, or for shipping a blade to a collector who intended to install their own custom fittings.

Having never purchased a sword without the fittings attached, I thought this was interesting, as I have run across this design a gazillion times, but for some inexplicable reason, never really took the time to properly research it’s origins. Oh. well. I guess I’m slipping in my old age…

Anyway the light wood used (often magnolia) was usually specifically selected for the purpose and cured for many years to remove all moisture, and the lack of finishing, or more precisely, the lack of the traditional lacquer finish, was by design intended to allow the saya to “breathe” and allow moisture to escape, so that the blade would last longer in storage.

In retrospect, looking at the design, this all makes perfect sense, though I will also point out that the design is of such significant aesthetic value that it has been subverted for “practical” use by many sword designers, and even traditionally finished, such as the first blade featured above, which is technically a violation of it’s original intent.

So while similar in many respects to shikomizue, it was originally intended for a completely different purpose. Though aesthetically it’s still a sweet as all get out design… Even if it’s not really particularly stealthy…

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