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:
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:
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…
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…