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An Edo Period daishō on its stand. The long-sword is generally stored above the wakizashi, curving upwards. When hung for display, the tip points to the right.

The daishō (大小 ?), literally "big and small", is a Japanese term referring to the traditional pair of edged weapons of the samurai. The daishō is composed of the long (greater than 60 cm) katana and the shorter (50 cm) wakizashi.

The etymology of this word becomes apparent when the terms daitō, meaning big sword, and shōtō, meaning small sword, are used; dai + shō = daishō. The katana, the longer of the two swords, was typically employed in man-to-man combat. The wakizashi made an effective defensive dagger or close-combat weapon. A daisho allows for defense while fighting or the fighting of two enemies. Also, the daisho allows the fighter to have a longer or more widespread fighting range.

The daishō were limited exclusively to the samurai class and were a symbol of their rank. They came into fashion during the Muromachi period (1336 to 1392). Prior to this, the bow and horse were considered marks of the samurai class and the sword of lesser consequence. It was during this period, too, that the katana switched from a slung weapon with edge down (known as a tachi) to one thrust into the sash with the edge up. This change allowed for a much faster overhead draw while on foot.

In addition to the pair suggesting status, they were occasionally used in tandem. Miyamoto Musashi, author of The Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho), became one of the more well-known founders of a two-sword style. Musashi's Niten-ryū, or "Two Heavens School" (Also known as "Nitō-ryū", or "Two Sword School"), used the daishō in combination. Nitō-ryu is currently employed in the modern Japanese sport of kendo as a variant style of fighting. While seemingly highly effective, the use of only one hand on each blade is thought to reduce tip speed due to the inability to use both hands to create a levering action, and forces the swordsman to compensate through technique and strength training. Nitō-ryū was and remains an uncommon form of swordfighting.

The daishō was not normally worn on the battle field, where the wakizashi was replaced by the shorter and more practical tantō (dagger) when the samurai wore armor. The daishō was worn as a symbol by members of the samurai class. The use of the weapons individually or in tandem was a matter of individual taste and training.



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