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Uchigatana

The Uchigatana (打刀 ?) is a type of Japanese sword.

From the Heian to the Edo period, the primary battlefield sword was the tachi. Its long blade and sharp edge made it ideal for use on horseback. The Uchigatana was created during the Muromachi Period and, unlike the tachi, was worn edge-up in the belt. Since it is worn differently, the engraved words on the sword are also opposite to the tachi, making the words still upright instead of upside-down like when one wears the tachi like an uchigatana. This sword was developed out of the ever-increasing need for speed on the battlefield, where quickly unsheathing one’s sword and cutting down the enemy was a matter of life or death. Its rapid acceptance indicated that battlefield combat had grown in intensity. Since it was shorter, it could be used in more confined quarters, such as inside a building.

Unlike the tachi, with which the acts of drawing and striking with the sword were two separate actions, unsheathing the uchigatana and cutting the enemy down with it became one smooth, lightning-fast action (this technique was called battojutsu otherwise known as Battokiri). The curvature on the blade of the uchigatana differs from the tachi in that the blade has curvature near the sword’s point (sakizori), as opposed to curvature near the sword’s hilt (koshizori) like the tachi. Because the sword is being drawn from below, the act of unsheathing became the act of striking. For a soldier on horseback, the sakizori curve of the uchigatana was essential in such a blade, since it allows the sword to come out of the saya (sheath) at the most convenient angle for executing an immediate cut.

The word uchigatana can be found in literary works as early as the Kamakura Period, but during that time the uchigatana was used only by individuals of low status and privates in the ranks. Most uchigatana made during the early Kamakura Period were not of the highest standard, and because they were considered disposable, virtually no examples from these early times exist today. It wasn’t until the Muromachi Period (considered by some to be a kind of Dark Age in the history of the Japanese Sword), when the samurai began to use them to supplement the longer tachi, that uchigatana of high quality began to be made. In the Momoyama and Edo Periods, the tachi was almost totally abandoned and the custom of wearing a pair of long and short uchigatana together, the daisho (literally “big-little”), became the dominant sign of the Samurai class.

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