A Follow-up to That Article About Katanas

Dec 18, 2017 | Swordplay


So, what I wrote about katanas has basically become the most popular thing I’ve ever published here, and the comments have been mostly random fan-boys telling me that I’m wrong or just flat out insulting me. What can I say? Sorry you don’t share my sense of humour? I would have thought that an article called “5 Reasons Why Katanas are Stupid” would be taken for the tongue-in-cheek psuedo-listicle it actually is, but apparently a lot of people thought I was being completely serious when I was only being maybe 50% serious at best.

Anyway, from the comments, let’s pick out some pertinent points, fix the grammar and spelling errors, and have at them.

You’re no better, you’re a European longsword fan-boy!

Yes, longsword is my weapon of choice, but I don’t think you can accuse me of being a fan-boy when I’ve said in the article that rapiers are superior to longswords in the average civilian duel.

Another katana advantage: Draw speed. In a hypothetical situation with both swords sheathed, someone skilled in iai *will* get a cut in before the longsword user can draw his/her blade.

My opinion would be that the katana cut is effectively neutered by plate armour, so draw speed is not relevant. You just can’t cut through plate armour with any kind of sword. So the theoretical katana user would get the first cut off, fail to actually do damage, and then we’re back to square one.

As to whether a katana can deliver an effective thrust against plate… I don’t quite know offhand, but my guess would be no. It would have to be incredibly accurate (to hit a gap in the plate) and very forceful, and then it’s a question of attaining effective penetration. The usual katana blade I’ve seen, however, is really fat in the cross-section, and this presents a problem for the possible penetration depth. In the European tradition, knights used half-swording to get their opponent on the ground, and then switched to a rondel dagger to actually do any damage. Rondel daggers are all very thin and straight; hold them in an ice-pick grip for maximum power, while you’ve got your opponent pinned under you, and getting through a gap, and through the mail and the padding under it isn’t so difficult. But in combat, with moving targets, where you can’t apply your full strength and more importantly your full weight to the thrust, with a fat blade? I would put it at a level that’s very close to impossible.

A katana is no match for the speed, reach and point control of a rapier. However, will one or two thrusts be enough to stop a samurai (fired up on adrenaline) before his swing connects and does catastrophic damage?

Whether a rapier would actually stop a samurai with a katana is something else entirely. The answer to that is twofold. Rapiers are not designed to be used against armour, even lamellar armour. A samurai in armour would likely destroy a rapier duelist because the duelist just can’t hurt them. Same for the longsword user in plate. (It was a civilian weapon, after all.) But if we’re looking at just the swords, on equal footing, meaning everyone in regular clothes? I’d still give it to the rapier. It’s not just faster; it’s got a much greater reach, and superior protection in the hand guard and its defensive tactics. It’s designed for the wielder to avoid being hit at all, so the lunge is long, the hand guard is huge, and the stance leans backwards.

A rapier can disengage and strike at higher speed, from outside the katana’s range, with better defensive capabilities, and that’s a lot to overcome on the part of the katana wielder.

The longsword in this situation is tricky as well, but there’s always the option of taking the first few hits to get inside the rapier’s effective measure, and going to half-swording. It’s probably very risky, but it’s an option at least. The katana, as far as I know, doesn’t have an equivalent to half-swording.

But that’s just how it is with specialization. A rapier is rubbish on a battlefield, and its ability to cut is laughable. You’ll always trade off some functionality in one area and accept that, in some situations, your blade is no better than a paperweight. Just goes to show there is no such thing as a perfect sword.

Rapiers are designed for thrusting and that’s the ONLY thing they can do, since you can’t expect to block or parry with it unless you’re up against another rapier… Against any other ancient weapon; the rapier is biting the dust.

Rapiers are fast and terrifyingly precise. Rapier sword play is based on avoidance and reach. All that adds up to the rapier duelist being able to land a hit on a longsword or katana fighter long before they can get a strike in return. (Fun fact: you can parry and block a longsword or katana with a 16th century steel rapier. Source: the Academie Duello Open Floor Night every Friday.)

I think the best counter to the argument that rapiers were terrible weapons and useless against anything but another rapier is the fact that they were the the civilian weapon of choice for such a long time. If longswords or katanas were superior single combat blades, all else being equal, then we would have seen a very different evolution of sword design in the 16th-17th centuries in Europe. After all, why would someone choose an inferior sword to defend themselves? We have to assume that actual swordfighters of the time were not stupid, and the rapier endured for so long because it worked well in its proper context against other swords of the same era.

If you think a rapier duelist can defeat an armored opponent, and write a post of 3 paragraphs trying to defend this incredibly stupid opinion, you should not make another post about fighting ever again.

I don’t think that. You’re just bad at reading comprehension. I wrote an entire other article on the rapier, in case you’re interested, that specifically says rapiers were crap against armoured opponents.

I love ALL swords, and as such here’s a less BS debate from someone who isn’t clearly biased. Enjoy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDkoj932YFo

I’m just including this for the laughs. Go watch the video, it’s pretty stupid.

[Insert long comment about me being a horrible person and racist against non-white culture]

Yeah, I don’t know what to make of it either. Apparently at least one commenter was driven to nausea because I had the sheer temerity to speak about katanas without fawning all over them. Said commenter also accused me of cowardice(?), hypocrisy(??), and being entitled(???), and said I hurt their feelings. Fan-boys, huh?

Your somewhat misguided comment that katanas were made from “crap materials” is an uneducated lie and not true at all.

No, it’s absolutely true. Katanas were made from the best possible steel that could be produced from really shitty base materials. The Japanese had to get really good at working their iron supplies to produce quality steel, and hence I said, in the damn article, “the end result was a fine sword made from some of the purest steel in the ancient world, but the whole process was long and backbreaking”.

“Katanas are specialized at cutting; longswords are good all-rounders,” is not true.

*looks at a katana*

*looks at a longsword*

So, like, have you got another explanation as to why katanas are better at cutting than a longsword, worse at thrusting than a longsword or a rapier, and longswords have half-swording techniques that are not available to either a katana or a rapier?

For gods sake, people. Saying that a sword can’t do a particular thing isn’t the same as saying that a sword isn’t as good at a particular thing than other swords. I know katanas can execute thrusts. I also know that their very design means thrusting is a little more difficult and cutting is a little easier. There is a good reason why the average sword across history looks like a longsword, and not a katana. That design is a a pretty good trade-off in terms of the physics of cut and thrust.

I hope this has been a useful and informative follow-up, and that any fan-boys reading might do me the courtesy of reading what I actually wrote instead of making up some reactionary bullshit and responding as if I’m a five-year-old with ADHD. As always, comments are open but I will remove or edit them as and when I feel like it if I think you’re an asshole.

Edit: comments are no longer open, because I get all my human interaction on Twitter. If you want to say something, go @ me there.