When most people think of the katana, the first thing that probably comes to mind is its history. Which is understandable. The iconic martial arts weapon’s story, which dates back to the 14th century, is truly fascinating.
But the katana doesn’t only exist in the past. Its long and epic history is still being written by modern day masters and students who craft beautiful new swords, practice their techniques, and pass on their teachings to the next generations.
Let’s take a look at the modern day katana—and how you could become a part of that history.
What is a katana?
The katana is one of the most recognizable and most enduring weapons from the samurai’s arsenal. Their design is characterized by a single blade, a long handle that can accommodate a double grip, and a rounded or squared guard.
The katana was first developed in the 14th century when samurai responded to the changing demands of their combat by adapting the short-bladed sasuga into a longer weapon. It proved so effective and popular that the katana became a mainstream weapon by the 15th century.
The katana has faced a significant amount of adversity since its heyday, including long and wide-ranging restrictions on its manufacture and use. But the practices of forging the swords and training with them has endured. It’s also grown and adapted. Today, katana are both effective martial arts training tools and treasured collectors’ items all around the world.
How can you train with the katana?
Over the centuries, a number of disciplines have adopted the katana into their practice, ranging from samurai combat techniques to ninjutsu. Today, the most popular and most accessible forms of katana-based training are Iaido and Kendo.
Literally translated, “iai” means to meet in a location, but it can also be interpreted as a reference to the flow between conflict and peace.
According to the Canadian Iaido Association, “Iaido is the traditional Japanese martial art of drawing and cutting with the samurai sword. The purpose of Iaido is to develop awareness, centeredness, sincerity, a calm mind, and mental and physical harmony through the practice of traditional sword techniques. Iaido practitioners, or Iaidoka, perform predetermined techniques, or waza, to replicate a specific situation and the correct way to respond to these situations with defending or attacking techniques.”
This descendent of Kenjutsu is the modern martial art that most closely relates to samurai training. Iaido practitioners treat their discipline purely as an art. There is no sporting form.
Kendo, which literally means “the way of the sword,” is a fencing martial art. This modern art, which is also a descendant of Kenjutsu, applies the principles of the katana to training and competition involving bamboo swords and protective armor.
Kendo shares some basic similarities with the sport of fencing, like body armor, swords, scoring, and formalized tournaments with judges and ranking systems. After that, their practices and the philosophies became far more divergent.
According to The Kendo Resource, “the main difference between European fencing schools and Kendo is in the fact that Kendo primarily uses simulated cutting technique and can be classified in the category of ‘full contact’ sports. Also, Kendo has preserved the ancient customs and equally values mental and physical development. The merger of that traditional approach with the modern sport ideals represents contemporary martial art of Kendo.”
What else can you do with a katana?
If you love these beautiful martial arts weapons, but aren’t sure if you’re interested in training, you could consider becoming a collector. There is an international trade—and international community—dedicated to katana collecting. AWMA’s sword selection is a great place to start for both martial artists and collectors.
Black Sword w/ Red Engraved Blade: This beautiful sword features a hand guard with warrior imagery. The scabbard includes a tiger’s eye stone and has been modelled to perfectly fit over the blade. The scabbard is complete with a black woven waist cord that matches the tightly wrapped handle. The blade is a bright red and black, beautifully contrasting the purple woven handle. $174.99 USD at AWMA.com.
Black Sword w/ Gold Hand Guard: This beautiful sword features a gold hand guard and gold accents. The scabbard includes red and gold accents and has been modelled to perfectly fit over the blade. The scabbard and handle are a bright red, gold, and black. $99.99 USD at AWMA.com.
Blue Dragon Scabbard Sword: The unique styling of these swords is recognized by the blood groove etched into the 440 stainless steel blades that have been sharpened and finished with a true-wave frosted edge. The blue wooden scabbards have been modelled to perfectly fit over the blade and is complete with a black woven waist cord that matches the tightly wrapped handle. $54.99 USD at AWMA.com.
Black Dragon 3 Sword Set: This 3-piece sword set is black featuring a carved dragon design on a lacquer-finished scabbard. Ideal for display. $114.99 USD from AWMA.com.