Posts Tagged ‘Shikomizue’

Straight swords, plain swords, and sword canes…

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Most of my regular readers will know at this point that I am somewhat partial to sword canes, Shikomizue, or “Prepared Canes” as they are called. The reason is twofold. First because they are simple canes, and I’ve always enjoyed using “sticks” as some like to call them, or staff weapons. So throwing a blade into the mix for me, pretty much makes them completely and uncompromisingly awesome. It’s like bringing a sword to a stick fight. Dirty, but full of WIN. 😛

Blind Fury

Blind Fury

For similar reasons, I am also a great fan of Chokutō. Chokutō (or “Straight Sword”) are, as the name might suggest, just simple straight swords. But while Chokutō and Shikomizue are similar in appearance, the designs are not the same. And while they may both share structural similarities with Shirasya, (I have actually confused these designs on numerous occasions in the past) the three are actually very different in terms of design focus, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about them (I.E. go grab a cup of coffee or tea or whatever, and get comfortable, before you continue reading. 🙂 )

Shirasaya, (or “White Sheath”) swords, regardless of form factor, were designed initially as a storage format for sword blades, and are generally distinguishable from other designs by a very simple, generally unadorned saya and tsuki. Compared to the complex tsuka furniture, mountings and lacquered saya finishes of traditional Japanese swords, shirasaya were stored, lightly pinned, in plain, un-lacquered saya, so that both the saya and tsuki could “breathe” and prevent the build up of moisture that could cause corrosion and or deformation of the blade and tang.

White Double Shirasya

White Double Shirasya

Shikomizue, or “Prepared Canes”, are just that. Walking sticks or canes, designed to conceal a sword blade. The design focus here was the covert carry of a sword, without arousing suspicion. Featuring a featureless straight saya and tsuki, generally cut from the same piece of wood, or cut and finished to look like it was, this was a popular choice for ninjas and other warriors who did not wish to arouse suspicion, but still wanted to be able to carry a sword about them for offensive or defensive purposes.

Zatoichi - Blind Fury Shikomizue

Zatoichi - Blind Fury Shikomizue

Chokutō, or “straight sword” design, on the other hand, was focused on neither conceal-ability nor storage. It was a design born in an age prior to that of differential tempering, and, in fact originated outside of Japan, in places like China and Korea. Differential tempering is a process that produces a hard edge, but flexible spine on a most traditional Japanese swords. It also imparts the characteristic curve to the sword, which was found to be a much more efficient sword design, when used correctly.

However before the discovery of the benefits of curved swords and differential tempering, swords were generally straight, and is here that the Chokutō design came from. A simple straight sword, intended for practical use, with no differential tempering, and no need to conceal the blade. The form of the sword simply followed it’s function and the limitations of the technology of the time. Or so the legends say…

So I’ll bet you’re wondering why I decided to bring all of this up. Well, here’s the thing. I am a fan of anime, one of them being Naruto. Or at least I used to be a fan of Naruto. Been a while since I watched any anime. But at least the first and second seasons were acceptably entertaining. If you are willing to disregard the many annoying filler arcs. :/

Anyway, In the anime, one of our eventual anti-heros, Sasuke Uchiha, wields what can only be called a monstrous black Chokutō called the Kusanagi Grass Cutter. As I mentioned in an earlier post on the topic, there is some disparity between the Anime version of the sword, and the Manga (comic book) version of this sword. In the comic, the sword is white, with a black stripe. In the anime, however, the sword is dark gray with a black stripe.

Sasukes Kusanagi No Tsurugi (Kusanagi Grass Cutter)

Sasukes Kusanagi No Tsurugi (Kusanagi Grass Cutter)

Personally, I prefer the animated version of the sword. But, nonetheless, the most common versions I am seeing are the manga versions, a replica of which was the inspiration for todays post:

Sasuke Uchiha's Chokutō

Sasuke Uchiha's Chokutō

As you can see this is the Manga version of the sword, but despite it’s white saya, it actually looks pretty nice. And it has a sweet black blade. And it appears to of a much higher quality construction than the last one I posted about. So just thought, after my long winded post, that I’d share. 🙂

Now if only someone would make it in black… Actually never mind. I’ll probably just get this one, sand it down and give it the traditional Japanese black lacquer treatment…

Yeah… Go me! 😀

Sasuke Uchiha Chokutō – [King of Swords]

Another Copycat Blade…

Monday, September 21st, 2009

I am a big fan of shirasaya patterned swords, even though the design was originally developed for storage, rather than actual use. I find them such simple, clean designs. No muss, no fuss, no ornate furniture, no complex tsuka-maki, etc. I just really like the clean lines of the design.

However there are tactical disadvantages to using shirasaya styled sword furniture when compared to traditional sword designs. Obviously, without tsukamaki, your grip on the tsuka will not be as good. And without a guard, you are limited in the number of ways you can parry a strike. However these issues can be mitigated via training, and in the end, they become no more or less difficult to use than the purpose built shikomizue.

But I’m rambling. The real reason why I brought up the subject is because I ran into another shikomizue styled blade:

Custom Ninja Sword aka Sasukes Kusanagi Grass cutter

Custom Ninja Sword aka Sasukes Kusanagi Grass cutter

This interesting little blade, modestly called a Custom Anime Ninja Sword, bears a striking resemblance to a sword from a previous post. None other than Sasuke Uchihas’ Kusanagi Grass Cutter (aka Kusanagi no Tsurugi) from the anime Naruto! Obviously this is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that a sword company decided to make a copy of a cool anime sword. But as cheap rip offs go, this one is a pretty good likeness.

About the only differences between this and the original is that this one lacks the signature Uchiha clan fan symbol on the Tsuka, it has a cheap cast habaki, and the point is a sharply angled tanto point, as opposed to a traditional katana point. But it has a straight black blade, just like the orignial, a feature that I absolutely love, and the long, straight white saya with the rectangular cross section with the black racing stripe down the middle.

I think that black stripe adds like 9000 points to the hit strength of the sword, but I could be wrong. 🙂

Sasuke’s Kusanagi Grass Cutter (aka Kusanagi no Tsurugi) rip off – [True Swords]

A Black Shikomizue for a Blind Swordsman…

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Anyone who is into classical Japanese sword flicks will know about Zatoichi, the blind wandering swordsman masseuse, whose skill with the sword was unparalleled. Those of you who know, will also remember that Zatoichi carried with him a shikomizue, or sword cane, which he used to great effect, as he wandered from village to village, helping those in need.

Those of you who are long time readers might know that I love shikomizue. They are the embodiment of simplicity of sword design. They may not be the best functional design, but as swords go, I just love the clean lines of a well constructed shikomizue. Add to that the fact that I love stick fighting, and that a shikomizue is basically a stick with a blade in it, and I probably don’t need to explain any further why I like them.

But until recently I didn’t think there was anything more I could possibly want out of a shikomizue until I saw this one:

Handmade Zatoichi Cane Sword Nodachi Shikomizue - Black Damascus

Handmade Zatoichi Cane Sword Nodachi Shikomizue - Black Damascus

This, ladies and gentlemen, is, in all honesty, the most beautiful shikomuze I have ever seen. 40+” of shiny, jet black lacquered straight cane saya, concealing over 28″ of mildly tapering black damascus blade showing an amazing deep, orange red damascus pattern. A single accent is visible when unsheathed, a gold habaki, sitting atop the tsuka. It is absolutely breathtaking.

Now I realize that I may be a little biased, but this combination is just.. I have no words. A shikomizue, in black, with a black damascus blade…

I think I know what’s going on my Christmas list this year… 😀

Handmade Zatoichi Cane Sword Nodachi – Black Damascus – [True Swords]

Cool Replicas – Part 3: The Kusanagi Grass Cutter.

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Welcome to the latest entry in my “Cool Replicas” series. Today, I’ll be talking about an interesting anime sword which I like for quite a few of reasons, the most cool (imho) being that the name of this sword actually has a history in Japanese culture. Kinda like the British Excalibur… More on that later.

For now, let me introduce you to a unique shikomizue from the Naruto anime series (one of my favorites) wielded by Sasuke Uchiha, a highly talented young ninja, who later on becomes so entirely corrupted by his need for power that, much like young Anakin Skywalker, he succumbs to the dark side.

This is his signature weapon after his definitive turn to evil; The Kusanagi Grass Cutter sword.

Sasukes Kusanagi Grass Cutter

Sasukes Kusanagi Grass Cutter

[click image to view full size]

Now if you’ve read enough of my posts, you’ll immediately spot two things that I like. Want to take a stab at guessing what they are? Sure, go right ahead. I’ll wait… 🙂

LOL yep. The astute among you might have picked up on my shikomizue reference before, and you would be right. This is very similar in design to staff sword, saya and tsuki designed to look like a single piece of wood when closed. One of my very favorite designs.

The second? OK. For those not so familiar with my taste in weapons, I’ll be nice and give you a hint:

Sasukes Kusanagi Grass Cutter - *BLADE* and saya...

Sasukes Kusanagi Grass Cutter - *BLADE* and saya...

[click image to view full size]

Ok, if you didn’t pick up on it that time, you phail. The blade is the other thing I like on this. Why? BECAUSE IT’S BLACK!!!! Ha! OK. Now that we’ve gotten those little details out of the way, a little more about the sword. One of the first things I noticed was that the saya and tsuki were rectangular in cross section, which is an unusual trait.

Below you can see the detail of the black and white rectangular saya, sporting Sasuke Uchihas clan crest, (the fan in red), and more importantly, the point of the blade, an interesting hybrid between the traditional sweeping Japanese katana point style and the straight cut, sharply angled points we see on modernized/westernized ninjaken today.

Kusanagi Grass Cutter - Saya, Point

Kusanagi Grass Cutter - Saya, Point

[click image to view full size]

Now the great thing about a weapon like this is that it’s pretty hard to mess up, replica wise. Unless the components are really dirt cheap, and it is poorly put together, it is perhaps one of the simplest designs to replicate. All in all, I like this design. Thought it could stand to be a little darker… 🙂

BUT, interestingly enough, I did find another version of this sword, a much darker version, which proved to be not so accurate, though, to their credit, they did not try to pass it off as Sasukes sword, even though it is clearly a blatant rip off:

Kusanagi Grass Cutter - Anime Rip Off

Kusanagi Grass Cutter - Anime Rip Off

[click image to view full size]

Not so great. But now for some trivia. This particular design (in black) did not come out of nowhere. If you are one of the many who only watch anime on the cartoon channel here in the US, and don’t really know where they come from (besides from Japan, obviously) you may not realize that a great many of the popular anime series started of as Manga, or Japanese comics.

In fact most of the popular ones running now, like Naruto and Bleach, both got thier starts as Japanese comic books, and went almost immediately to TV syndication, so that the TV episodes aired almost as soon as a comic story line arc was complete. (Sometimes sooner, which often causes frequent non-storyline related filler arcs, much to my, and many others, chagrin).

Anyway the reason I brought this up is that there is a discrepancy between the Anime version and the Manga version of The Kusanagi sword. The versions we see above are actually the Manga version of the sword. The version that first appears in the Anime is a straight shikomizue (no curve) with a black saya and tsuki (no white lines), and a polished steel blade, quite similar to the black one above (except straight).

OK, so enough with the Anime trivia, on to Japanese folk history. The name of this sword is actually the name of a legendary sword in Japanese culture. The name “Kusanagi Grass Cutter” is actually a Japanese/English mix of the traditional name Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, which literally translates to “Grass cutter sword”.

There is actually a very cool story associated with this legendary sword, I was going to go into, but I won’t bore you with it, this post has gotten too long already. However If you want more details you can click here: Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi

As you can probably imagine, my ideal Kusanagi sword would be a black saya, black tsuki shikomizue, with a straight, black, westernized tanto point blade… mmm… a totally black sword… wait… I think I’m drooling… OK I’m done. I need to get a bib for these kinds of posts… 🙂

*Edit*

An astute reader, Zharkman, was kind enough to point out that my assumption about the last, black sheathed sword being a rip off of Sasukes Kusanagi is actually false, and that it actually came from the anime D. Gray-Man. I went back and looked it up, and lo and behold, I goofed!

The last sword is actually a replica of Mugen, the signature shirasaya of the D. Gray-Man protagonist Yu Kanda. And in that capacity it is actually an excellent likeness. This is what I get for making unfounded assumptions. And for not keeping up on my anime… There are just too many of them… Dagnabbit!

Sasukes Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (Naruto) – [SouthWest Blades]

Sasukes Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (Naruto) – [Swords, Swords]

Yu Kandas’ Mugen Sword (From D. Gray-Man) – [True Swords]

Another set of “cutting edge” sword staves…

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Having run into one of my favorite staff based sword weapons, I decided to go looking for a few more, specifically for one of the ones that I am going to show you today. I’m happy to say my search was quite fruitful. Today I’ve got two sightly different styles of shikomizue, that are a bit different from what I’ve shown you so far:

Dragon Katana Twin Swords

Dragon Katana Twin Swords
[view full size]

<^>

Serpent Skull Twin Swords

Serpent Skull Twin Swords
[view full size]

As you can see, while they are both of the same basic shikomizue design, they both bear a few significant modifications on the traditional shikomizue. The most salient difference being that this particular twin sword configuration is divided at the exact mid point of the staff.

This design has several practical ramifications. For instance, the fact that it is split in the middle means that the length of the blades for each sword must, at most, be slightly less than half the length of the overall shikomizue. Compared to a standard shikomizue of the same length, it doesn’t change your reach, but it does make drawing the swords a little faster. At the cost, of course, of shortening your effective blade length.

It also means that you do not need a separate saya, or scabbard. This is an advantage if you never use the saya as a backup weapon, and also in terms of not having to keep track of the saya whenever you unsheath your sword. But obviously it also means you don’t have anything else to defend yourself with if you happen to lose both of your swords. Not cool.

A much less obvious side effect of this design is that the balance of each sword is actually negatively affected. Because your blade is shorter, and your handle is longer, the sweet spot on the blade will be different from a regular sword. Also because the blades are designed to be sheathed side by side, you will also find that the blade of each sword is offset laterally from the center of the grip by a small amount.

These two small mechanical considerations may appear to be insignificant, but in practice, if you were to attempt to perform any clean, high accuracy cutting, you would find that the blade would have a tendency to rotate on contact, and you’d have to retrain yourself to make clean cuts properly! So this design is all about compromise. You gain a little stealth and speed, in exchange for some cutting efficiency.

But enough with all the technical mumbo jumbo! Shikomizue are cool regardless. And the two above are quite unique. My favorite of the two is the Dragon Katana set. For three reasons. First, it’s black. (And that’s instant win in my book). Secondly, it has these very sweet dragons carved into the black hardwood staff/grip/saya. Third, and most definitely not least, it is the closest to the originally intended design of the traditional shikomizue.

Unlike the Serpent Skull, you can see that on the Twin Dragon Katana, there are no external indicators that the staff splits into two. No external fittings, or anything. The split is a clean line that is not visible unless you are looking closely at it. It looks exactly like a fancy black staff. But, of course, by the time you get close enough to actually realize what it is, it will be too late to evade the Dragons deadly bite! MUA HA HA HA HA HA HAAAaaa…

*ahem* Sorry. I got a little carried away. I get that way sometimes.

Lets just say it’s the ultimate sleeper weapon, and leave it at that, mm’kay…?

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