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A Zanbato (斬馬刀 Zanbatō?, literally "horse-slaying sword" or "horse-chopping saber") is an especially large type of Japanese sword, the historical use of which is disputed. The sword closely resembles the nodachi or ōdachi, however it differs from the nodachi by having a ricasso of approximately 12 to 18 inches (460 mm). This lends more to the theory of the sword having a practical use in feudal Japan. The increased length of the blade, along with the extra grip, would give it dual use both as a sword and as a polearm for attacking advancing cavalry. This style of zanbato sword can be found for sale in rural tourist shops and stands in Kyoto and Nara prefectures of Japan. This sword may have been inspired by the Chinese zhan ma dao (see below), as both were said to have been used for killing the horse and rider in one swing. It is likely that the zanbato is actually a mis-construction of the zhǎn mǎ dāo, poorly drawn or translated by Japanese travellers who witnessed the weapon being used during battle.

Such extremely long and curved zabatao swords did exist, and were solely used for ceremonial purposes. Experienced smiths often took upon themselves to prove their talent by creating these so-called "zanbatō" as a way to challenge themselves. This led to the extremely long blades often seen in ancient depictions, some of which were so long (over a dozen feet long) that they could hardly be mistaken for something other than display pieces.

Chinese zhǎn mǎ dāo

A Chinese anti-cavalry weapon of the Song Dynasty written also as 斬馬刀 (zhǎn mǎ dāo, literally "horse-cutting blade") is of similar proportion to a zanbato, although it differs in form. Surviving examples include a sword that might resemble a nagamaki in construction; it had a wrapped handle 37 cm (15 in) long, like the zanbato. However, the blade differed, having only a slight curve in the last half, whereas the zanbato's curve stretched the length of the blade and handle, similar to a katana.

Zanbato in modern fiction

The fictional interpretation of the weapon consists of a large, wide blade attached to an extended, pole-like hilt. The sword, and variations of it, are used by many characters in anime and video games. These interpretations often simply depict the weapon as an oversized sword or being imbued with magical properties. However, the weapon which most closely resembles such instances is the eku, or "wooden oar".

A few notable series featuring zanbato include the manga series Rurouni Kenshin, where major character Sagara Sanosuke uses a polearm he refers to as a Zanbato as his signature weapon,[1] and in Naruto episode 137 - A Town of Outlaws, The Shadow of the Fuma Clan it is said that a Fuma's sword is one. They are also used in popular RPG series Fire Emblem, where it is a weapon specialized against mounted units[2], and Final Fantasy, where "Zanmato" is both a high class weapon and a special attack that can cause instant death.[3][4] Also the Zanbato gave its name to the fictional Arms-company Zanber which is mentioned in Battle Angel Alita Last Order Vol.11 as the producer of the Zanber KZ90, a big rifle with multiple fire-modes.


  1. ^ Rurouni Kenshin volume 1, chapter 6, page 16.
  2. ^ Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones calls the weapon a Zanbato specifically, while other English games in the series use translations of the term, such as "cavalry sword".
  3. ^
  4. ^ Final Fantasy X's Yojimbo uses this technique.


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