The Katana: In which Snark Rears its Head

This is a special request I received: “Will you do one about katanas and how they can cut through tanks, rocks and telephone poles?”  The request was made by one of my students, so you can be assured that there may have been a hint of sarcasm in that comment.  At any rate, it’s still something that deserves to be talked about.  First take a minute or six to watch the following video.  Seriously this guy is brilliant.:

There’s nothing really I can add about how the swords were made and what they can cut through, but what I can comment more on is how they are used.  I’m primarily going to be comparing the katana to the longsword, since knights and samurai have a lot of similarities.  In my time teaching and practicing swordplay, I have been confronted many times by people who believe to the bitter end that the worst samurai would beat the best knight into a bloody pulp without hardly trying.  As a quick disclaimer, my knowledge of the use of katana is limited to a few one-off workshops, so most of what I’ll be talking about is the misconceptions about Western Martial Arts.

I remember one particularly stubborn individual, who insisted he knew better than me and my many years of training because his wife was Japanese.  Because I don’t know about you, but I know everything there is to know about sailing because one of my ancestors was an Admiral.

There’s no arguing with that kind of person, I’m afraid.  Although that may be true of most people.

I had another debate once that was actually somewhat satisfying.  I managed to win over this person and convince him that the sword styles of the two cultures were at least on par.  He was absolutely convinced, however, that the samurai would still win a fight because the samurai would be trained to grapple with a sword in hand.  He makes a good point because, and I can not stress this enough, a knight would never…



















use anything but his sword to fight with.

Most true scholars of both arts seem to agree that in a “fair fight” the samurai and knight would be relatively evenly matched, since both the longsword and katana (and indeed any sword) is simply a sharpened iron bar with a handle on one end and I promise that people who had to knew how to use them to their most efficient ends.  I’ve actually had people tell me that if you handed a knight a katana, he would be physically unable to deliver a proper cut with it.  Again, a sword is a sword.  They do have nuances in how they are used, but it’s the weilder that makes them do what they do.

It bothers me when people think that there are no European martial arts.  Any culture that has a history of violent conflict will be naturally inclined to want to be good at it.  Fighters who exhibit talent will show others how it is done and after a few generations of this a martial art is born.  Hell, one of my instructors did extensive research and discovered that the Inuit had a martial art that is similar to many asian and european systems.

So that’s that, I hope.  If you have any requests for what you want to see here, be it swords, baking, or any other topic, then leave a comment and I will make it happen.

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