The Wakizashi sword is one of the most important weapons of the samurai warrior. It was the backup sword that was paired with the Katana. By law, only members of the Samurai caste were allowed to carry both swords as a daisho.
Similar to the Katana, the Wakizashi is a classic nihonto with a curved blade and single edge. It was crafted around the same period as the katana, and was used by the Samurai and the Chonin class.
The O-Wakizashi and Ko-Wakizashi
Originally, the length of the Wakizashi’s blade measured thirty to sixty centimeters.
The longer Wakizashi were called O-Wakizashi, and were closer in dimensions to the Katana, whereas the Ko-Wakizashi was a shorter version that was closer to the Tanto size.
The Wakizashi was not necessarily a shorter version of the Katana. It can be differently forged and may feature varying cross sections.
The Wakizashi in Daisho
During the feudal period of Japan, the samurai warriors often wore two swords. This set was called the Daisho which consisted of the Katana and the Wakizashi.
No commoner was allowed to carry the pair since it was a sign that the wielder was a samurai. Anyone who disobeyed this rule would be punished severely.
The Wakizashi’s Employment
The Wakizashi is a sword with a long and rich history. Swordsmiths who crafted these blades made use of similar techniques and methods used for the katana. This included the utilization of multiple blade foldings, differential hardening treatment, and high carbon steel.
The sword was worn as a backup weapon. If the samurai lost his katana, this was when he’d use his Wakizashi. Also, the sword proved to be highly efficient for indoor combat and this is where its true strength lies.
Normally, the wakizashi was only drawn once the katana was damaged or lost during battle. However some techniques shows how to properly use both swords in an efficient way. Some samurai like Miyamoto Musashi even used to dual wielding both blades simultaneously.
The Wakizashi was commonly wielded with just one hand. It required to execute swift and quick strikes combined with lightning-fast footwork. The primary goal of its wielder is to avoid the enemy’s reach.
He should be able to fluidly move around while searching for openings to execute his attack. The wielder should also be able to easily step back and out of reach of the opponent.
The Wakizashi during the Feudal Days
The Wakizashi had other uses aside from being an auxiliary weapon that is effective in close-range battles. The sword was also used for beheading defeated enemies. One of its more known uses was for the ritual suicide called Seppuku.
The term Wakizashi was an abbreviation of the term “wakizashi no katana” or sword thrusting on the side. This was a term used for companion swords of varying sizes, but not until 1638 of Edo period. This was when Japan’s rulers attempted to regulate the different types of social groups and swords.
Over the years, a variety of procedures for forging the wakizashi have been developed. The first swords were made using low-carbon steel. When swordsmithing techniques have improved, high-carbon steel and Tamahagane has been developed; thus increasing the wakizashi’s toughness and durability.
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The Wakizashi, a Popular Blade
The book, “The Japanese Sword”, by Kanzan Sato states that there wasn’t really any need for the Wakizashi. However, it may have gained prominence over the tanto due to being more suitable for indoor battles. Sato mentions the custom of leaving a Katana by the castle’s door or palace upon entering, while keeping the Wakizashi by the samurai’s side.
Though carrying the Katana was limited to the Samurai class, the Ko-Wakizashi and Wakizashi of legal length could be wielded by the chonin. This class included merchants, and was often carried during travels to protect themselves from bandits.
The daisho is a concept that began even before the Katana and the Wakizashi. Originally, the first daisho was made of the Tachi together with a Tanto.
As time passed, the daisho pair consisted of the uchigatana and shorter Tanto. With the advent of the katana, the wakizashi replaced the tanto as the preferred short sword of the samurai warriors.
Nikkari originated from the school of swordsmiths, Aoe. This was from the years 1185 to 1333 of the Kamakura era and was carefully crafted by Sadatsugu.
The original size of Nikkari Aoe’s blade was around two shaku and five sun (~75.8 centimeters). However, it was eventually shortened to the modern-day nagasa which was 1 shaku, 9 sun, and 9 bu ( ~60.3 centimeters).
The process of shortening the blade made the sword the size of an O-Wakizashi; and on its tang, one will find a gold inlaid name of the past owner. Yet due to the process of shortening, portions of the kinzogan-mei have been lost. Despite this, the remaining signature on Nikkari reads the following: “Hashiba Gorouzaemon no Jou Naga”.
Hashiba was the former and self-selected name of Hideyoshi Toyotomi when he was still Oda Nobunaga’s retainer. It is a name that is composed of two characters taken from the most famous generals of Nobunaga – Niwa Nagahide and Shibata Katsuie. Together, the characters would be pronounced as Hashiba.
Combining these names was a very clever tactic used by Hideyoshi. This allowed him to secure the goodwill of the most powerful and prominent leaders during that time.
Utilization of the Wakizashi
When a samurai entered a castle as a guest, he would not bring his katana with him. Instead, he would leave this to a page or a servant; this would be placed on a katana-kake or a rack.
If the weapon rested on the katana-kake, the katana’s tsuka faced left so the sword had to be removed using the samurai’s left hand. After, the sword was passed to the right hand then placed at the samurai’s right, making it difficult to draw to lessen the suspicion of others.
Unlike the katana, the wakizashi was worn at all times. It was considered as the samurai’s sidearm, just like the pistol of a modern soldier. From day to night, the samurai wore the wakizashi; even in sleep, he would keep this next to him or place this under his pillow.
Miyamoto Musashi was an expert swordsman and was known for using both the katana and wakizashi. He fought with these two weapons simultaneously since it allowed for higher advantage in combat.
Musashi, due to his extensive skills, was able to refine and create a two-sword kenjutsu technique. He called the Niten Ichi or “Two Heavens as One”. It was also referred to as the Niten Ichi Ryu and the Nitoichi which means two swords as one. This specific technique allowed the wielder to utilize both a large sword and a companion sword simultaneously – specifically the katana and the wakizashi.
Aside from this, Musashi also knew jutte techniques which was taught to him by his father. The weapon was commonly used in battle and was paired with a sword.
The jutte would neutralize and parry the enemy’s weapon while the sword executed an attack. If not, the user would instead grapple with the opponent. In this day and age, the style of swordsmanship that Musashi created is known as the Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu.
The Wakizashi for Beheading
When beheading an opponent to take their heads as trophies, victorious samurai warriors preferred using their wakizashi instead of their main sword.
During these instances, the executioner would either be alone or with their comrades. They would capture their immobilized opponent and remove his helmet, then behead him with the wakizashi. With a shorter blade, decapitating an enemy single-handedly would be easier. Also, using the katana for this would heighten the risks of damaging its blade.
Seppuku with the Wakizashi
Seppuku, or more widely known by foreigners as harakiri, is a highly ritualized suicide done by disembowelment. It is reserved specifically for the samurai and is the manner of how he regains the honor for his family that is left living. It allows the warrior to die honorably.
The act of seppuku is not really suicide but slightly inflicting fatal injury on oneself. The Kaishakunin is the one responsible for the actual act of killing. His role is to beheading a samurai after he has completed the ritual of seppuku.
Before the Edo period, seppuku was achieved in a less formal manner. It was done with a harsher effect compared to the more subtle and formal ritual during the said period. The samurai would then utilize their tachi, wakizashi, or tanto, to stab his gut before he would slice horizontally through his stomach.
After pulling out the blade, the warrior would stab himself right in the throat. It was also possible for him to fall via standing position while the blade was positioned right against his heart.
The Wakizashi for Swordsmanship
The Wakizashi may not have been as popular as the katana, yet it was still a favored piece. It has a significant value in the history and culture of the Japanese. Although it is not used as a weapon in this day and age, it is still utilized for swordsmanship for martial arts such as iaido, kenjutsu, and kendo.
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