Posts Tagged ‘Shinobi’

Two swords: Better than one?

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

While going through my archive of weapon pics, I came across a couple of sets of fighting sword pairs:

Black Mamba Twin Fighting Swords

Black Mamba Fighting Swords
[view full size]

Now I like this set for a couple of reasons. First, both swords are black. (Always a plus in my book) Second, they are both designed in the style of one of my favorite kinds of swords, Ninjaken! Not to mention that they have some nice looking grips, which is a rarity in this particular kind of design. Last, but certainly not least, there are two of them. And two is always better than one! Amirite? Well… No. Not always.

While I like the idea of practicing with dual weapons, one of the things I found interesting is the misconception that dual weapons are generally better than single ones, and having two weapons makes one twice the one man army they were before… The reality? Bah humbug.

Now I will readily admit to having little experience with wielding double ninjaken like these. I have studied the use of dual wushu swords, however that style differs greatly from the one that would be used for ninjaken, and even more so for dual unequal length (strong hand/weak hand) swords styles.

Viper Twin Fighting Swords

Viper Twin sword set
[view full size]

However I think the truth of the matter is that, while two swords should theoretically give you is the ability to double your offensive ability, it is already hard enough to learn to properly use a single sword. Attempting to replicate the offensive philosophy of a single sword, with two, actually presents a level is difficult that is orders of magnitude greater than that of a single sword. Let alone trying to apply that for swords of unequal length.

In fact, I’d think that the offensive ability of swordsman used to wielding a single sword, who now attempts to use two swords, might even be negatively affected. Of course experience is a relative thing, but all else being equal, I think that in practice, for all but the most well trained double swordsman, having two swords would not present any kind of advantage whatsoever…

And seriously, thats a real bummer…

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 Ever So Versatile Ninjatō

Monday, September 10th, 2007

You are probably all familiar with Japanese swords. And I’m willing to bet that when someone talks about a Japanese sword, you conjure up visions of a long, shiny, curving blade. The swords of the samurai. They were ornate, and highly symbolic blades. It was said that the soul of a Samurai rested in his blade. As a result, Samurai swords were elevated to aristocratic status, and became symbols of rank and prestige.

Today, however, we aren’t going to talk about samurai swords. Nope. There was another, more pragmatic sword that probably had just as much an effect on Japanese history as did the Samurai Sword. And it was a soulless, heartless instrument indeed. None other than the spartan Ninjatō. The sword of the Ninja. The Ninjatō (or Ninjaken) were designed to play a much different role. They were neither swords of ceremony or of prestige. They were made to do one thing, and they did it very well. They were the Ninjas weapon-of-all-trades.

Ninjaken – Polished and Gold trim

Ninja Katana Polished ChromeNinj Katana 24k Gold trim
[view full size] [view full size]

Samurai swords were excellent weapons. However Ninja needed more from their weapons than just cutting excellence. They needed functional flexibility and versatility. And thus was born Ninjaken. Ninjaken differed from their high-brow cousins in many ways. First off, they were shorter. This allowed them to be used in smaller spaces, concealed much more easily, and were faster on the draw than the longer Samurai sword.

Battleready Ninja, Blk, Musashi Koga Ninja, Blk

Battle Ready Stealth NinjatoMusashi Koga Ninja Sword Black
[view full size] [view full size]

Another advantage of the shorter sword is that they were a little lighter, stiffer and less susceptible to lateral bending stresses than their longer Samurai counterparts. Ninjaken usually have a larger, square tsuba (guard). This, in conjunction with the shorter stiffer blade allowed them to be used in ways a samurai sword might not have tolerated well, such as leaning it against a wall, and using the larger, stronger square guard as a step.

They could also still be used with a full sized saya (scabbard), which would deceive an opponent into underestimating how long the sword was, and how fast it could be drawn. Then there was the added bonus that the remaining saya space could be used to hide all manner of small items, such as blinding powders and such. Between the numerous hiding places that could be engineered into a ninjaken and it’s saya, one could conceal a set of spike or star shuriken (throwing knives), tenouchi (small, hand-held impact weapons), powders, rope, tools, etc. The possibilities were endless.

Deluxe Ninja Warrior Set

Ninja Warrior Sword Kit
[view full size]

Due to the popularity of Ninjas in the media over the past two decades, Ninjaken design has been copied rather shamelessly, spawning numerous replicas, such as the weapon used by the Operative in the movie Firefly Serenity. But the basic formula has always remained the same. A medium sized, full tang, single-edged straight blade, usually with a square tsuba (quard), and a uniquely angled, tanto-like point.

Galaxy Viper, Striking Cobra

Galaxy Viper Sword SetStriking Cobra Sword Set
[view full size] [view full size]

All in all, Ninjaken fulfilled their design objectives admirably. It is truly an interesting weapon, well suited for it’s task as the versatile, multi-function, close quarters combat version of the prestigious Samurai sword, kinda like the medieval equivalent of a carbine, as opposed to a rifle… Not quite the same range, but just as deadly…

Galaxy Viper Sword Set – [True Swords]
Ninja Katana – 24-K Gold Trim – [True Swords]
Striking Cobra Sword Set – [True Swords]
Ninja Katana – Polished Chrome Trim – [True Swords]
Deluxe Ninja Warrior Sword Kit – [True Swords]
Musashi Koga Ninja Sword, Black – [True Swords]
Battle Ready Ninja Tech – [True Swords]

Folding Throwers: Convertible Hira Shuriken?

Friday, June 8th, 2007

It is a fine Friday afternoon here in the Realm of the Dark Blade, and I thought I would write another post on the topic of small, star-shaped throwing implements. Due, in part, to an intriguing throwing star design that I have been seeing quite frequently of late. Essentially, fancy hira shuriken with folding blades. Hmm. Now the idea kinda makes sense, at least in theory, but under further examination, some fundamental weaknesses are painfully evident in the practical implementation of these weapons. Following are two examples.

Cyclone Thrower Black - Open

Cyclone Thrower Black - Open

As you can see, these throwing stars have the unique distinction of having points, (blades, in fact,) that fold. What is really kickin’ is that besides looking sleek and stealthy, the cyclone thrower can be thrown in the closed position, and will open itself in mid flight! Pretty cool. Except that both designs introduce other weaknesses and/or problems.

Dragon Twister White - Closed

Dragon Twister White - Closed

First, while folding blades allow for a smaller overall diameter, these designs are often three (or more) times thicker than a traditional throwing star. So I could store a couple of these in a smaller diameter pouch, but I’d only be able to fit 2 where I could originally fit 6, in a flatter, (albeit larger) pouch. I dunno if it’d be worth it.

Dragon Twister Black - Open

Dragon Twister Black - Open

Then of course there is the issue that more parts means more points of failure. Each hinge or blade pivot point adds another possible point of failure. Failures that would almost certainly occur under conditions of extreme duress; most likely when it would be terribly inconvenient for a failure to occur. Yeah, I agree. I hope Murphy burns in hades too. But you’d be b0ll0xed either way.

Cyclone Thrower White - Closed

Cyclone Thrower White - Closed

And most notably, in the stated scenario, with, let’s say, a Dragon Twister design where your blades don’t open by themselves mid- flight, who, on Gods green earth, would have the time to sit there and open all 5 blades before throwing it? I can just see it now, just as your determined foes are about to fall upon your pathetic little self…: “Well gosh, I’m sorry, could you hold off on killing me for a second? I just got the third blade open…” Uh huh. Brilliant survival strategy.

Nonetheless, I actually like the basic design of these throwers, especially the smooth lines of the cyclone thrower. When closed it forms a very neat little circle, no points to jab you in uncomfortable places while being carried, and the fact that it can be thrown closed and opens in mid-air just ranks it astronomically high on the cool scale. Another cool toy to add to my little black bag of tricks…

The Cyclone Thrower (Black) – [True Swords]
The Cyclone Thrower (Silver) – [True Swords]
The Dragon Twister (Black) – [True Swords]
The Dragon Twister (Silver) – [True Swords]

The Mighty Shuriken!

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

Since I have been running into so many interesting throwing weapons lately, and I’ve already posted an expose on the enigmatic kunai, I thought it would only be fair to give you all a deeper look into another one of the oft-toted ninja weapons of stage and screen. The ubiquitous shuriken! ‘Cause the etymology of shuriken is just about as interesting as that of kunai. Not to mention that there are a lot of Hollywood induced misconceptions about shuriken. So here goes nothin’!!

Contrary to what you might think, the term “Shuriken” is not restricted to throwing “stars”, but rather refer to two general forms of small, hand held throwing implements. The first form is basically a throwing spike called the bo shuriken. The second, more commonly seen shuriken type, the throwing star, are called hira shuriken, aka “Shaken”. Each requires a different throwing technique, but are equally effective. The history of these shuriken is quite interesting.

Bo Shuriken

Bo Shuriken

Back in the times of feudal Japan, Ninjas were perhaps best known for being skillful and wily assassins. Their greatest abilities were their stealth and resourcefulness. A common ninja practice was to hide in plain sight, as farmers, peasants, monks, etc. However the incognito assassin faced a tough challenge. How to carry the tools of the trade, as it were, in an inconspicuous manner. Generally, “farmers” and “peasants” did not routinely tote big, black ninjatō around. Kinda a dead giveaway, if ya know what I mean. The ever resourceful ninja often circumvented this troublesome little issue by disguising their weapons as commonplace items, like walking canes, flutes and such.

Hira Shuriken

Hira Shuriken

But the clever shinobi warrior could do even better: turn common items into weapons! Sickles become kama, flails turned into nunchaku, etc. Shurikens evolved in much the same way. In fact, shuriken was often sourced from some random building material, most commonly construction nails, pressed into duty as bo shuriken, and roofing washers, into hira shuriken. And of course these items being of plentiful supply in farms, constructions and so forth, were easy to find.

In some traditional shuriken designs you can see the influence of thier original forms. Many traditional bo shuriken often had square or triangle cross sections, mimicking the shape of the large nails of the period. Similarly, both square, triangle and sharpened ovoid style hira shuriken replicate the shapes of coins, roofing washers and other construction pieces, sword guards and so on. True to the ninja style, they probably palmed whatever was available, sharpened them on a rock, and held on to them for when the need arose. Did I mention they were really resourceful? The little kleptos… As the use of shuriken grew, clans began designing their own special flavor of shuriken.

Traditional clan-specific Hira Shuriken Design

Traditional clan-specific Hira Shuriken Design

A common misconception was that shuriken were used for killing. Yes, they could be used to kill someone, but they were hardly the ideal killing tool. Unless they were poisoned. But then again, back in the day, there were few acting poisons that could cause instantaneous death in very small quantities, and I rather doubt that any self respecting shinobi warrior would hang around just to see if their particular brand of poison performed in accordance to the advertised claims. I’m sure the victims family would get most suspicious of the “friend” in black that showed up unexpectedly to supposedly pay their respects.

Rather, they were used for distraction, deterrence and disruption, to hinder the movement of the enemy, or discourage pursuit. A shuriken to the face, or in an extremity, might not have killed an attacker, but would certainly be enough to delay an enemy long enough for a shinobi warrior to escape. Similarly shuriken could be thrown in the ground as makeshift makibishi or punji sticks, slowing down pursuing forces. They could also be used as push daggers in a pinch.

A Contemporary Hira Shuriken

A Contemporary Hira Shuriken

The shuriken changed a lot over the years. Many Japanese clans redesigned them to meet their specific needs. But even today, their basic simplicity belies how truly effective they were. They may not be the lethal universal weapons pictured in the movies, but they still hold a place of honor in the historic halls of weapons of stealth and efficiency, which, if I haven’t mentioned it yet, makes them just my kind of weapon…

6 Point Hira Shuriken – [Gung-Fu]
4 Point Classic Hira Shuriken – [Gung-Fu]

Read more about shuriken here: Practical Shuriken Design

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