The Nagamaki Sword
One of the least known Nihonto used by the Samurai in the Warring period of Japan is the Nagamaki, The Nagamaki is distinguished by its considerably longer handle that sometimes can match the blade length.
The Nagamaki translates to a long wrapping. It is a kind of nihonto or classically-made sword and as it translated name suggest, its main feature is a very long handle.
This traditional Nihonto was primarily used around the Kamakura, Muromachi, and Nanbokucho eras. On average, its blade measured around 60 to 120 centimeters while the tsuka measured around 45 to 90 centimeters in length.
The Nagamaki’s Exterior & Features
A Nagamaki is known to be a long sword with a blade that could reach around two to four feet, while its handle was usually 2/3 of its blade length.
Commonly, its blade featured a single edge which resembles the naginata’s; however, the difference between these can be seen in the manner of mounting the blade: its tsuka was not a simple wooden shaft and was crafted similarly to that of the katana.
The name of this piece has been utilized due to the traditional handle wrapping of the weapon. Its tsuka is usually covered with silk or leather cords. These are fixed in a criss-cross fashion which is similar to a katana.
The Nagamaki is said to have evolved from the odachi or nodachi swords. These weapons were described in numerous 14th-century pictures and literature.
The Nagamaki was often compared to the naginata even though it was more similar to the tachi. With that, the weapon could be characterized as a tachi on a stick.
The two weapons had a similar sugata or overall form since the Nagamaki blade was often based on that of the tachi. When it comes to the shinobi ana , these were usually found close to the nakago-jiri (tip of the tang). Additionally, the Nagamaki did not feature a hooked curve which was present in the naginata.
The Nagamaki’s Use
Just like many other Japanese swords and weapons from feudal Japan, the Nagamaki required its user to wield it with both hands.
Because of its construction, the Nagamaki was suitable against enemies on horseback. Generally, it was specifically made for the infantry and was designed to fight cavalry units.
The best and proper way to hold the Nagamaki was specific. The wielder needed to hold this in a fixed position just like how they would with a katana.
Compared to the naginata, the position of the wielder’s hand on the Nagamaki does not change. He would have his right hand positioned closest to the blade. This Samurai weapon eventually reached its peak of usage in the years 1336 to 1600 AD. This was the middle of the Muromachi era.
The Nagamaki was specifically designed to execute large slicing and sweeping strokes; it also functioned well as a spear-like weapon. Traditionally, crafting this blade required more materials and time than the naginata or spear. This is why it was not widely spread.
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Measurements of the Nagamaki
The blade of a Nagamaki varies greatly though its nagasa, or blade length, can be categorized under the katana or Tachi profile. Usually, it would start around two shaku which is roughly 2 feet long.
The tsukamaki or hilt wrap is extremely vital when used on the hilt. Its cord aids in improving the hilt’s grip while simultaneously offering structural integrity to its handle made of wood.
As for creating the weapon, there are no specific rules for this. Unlike the Wakizashi, Katana, and the tanto strict measurements, the Nagamaki had varying measurements for its tang, blade, kissaki style, and more.
A Peek in the Past
The time and person who crafted the Nagamaki still remains unknown. However, it is assumed that the weapon appeared around the Kamakura era. By the middle of this period, the Nagamaki became extremely popular; however, its use eventually declined when warriors began favoring other classic nihontos.
It is also possible that this weapon may have been produced in the years 794 to 1185 of the Heian period. Unfortunately, there are no physical samples of the Nagamaki that dates from the mid-Kamakura era.
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It is vital to know that the weapon was greatly unrestricted by the government. And while Japan’s officials placed numerous restrictions on other swords like the Wakizashi, Tanto, and the Katana, no restrictions were set on the Nagamaki. Because of this, a large number of swordsmiths began designing the weapon. This was all based on their own preferences, and without really having to worry about any government-imposed regulations.
The God of War and his Retainers
In the history of Japanese warfare, the name Uesugi Kenshin was very well-known. He was born with the name Nagao Kagetora and was a daimyo who ruled Echigo province in the Sengoku era.
Aside from being known for his excellent skills in battle, Uesugi Kenshin was generally known for leading a group of special troops. All the members of this unit were armed with the Nagamaki which they used for winning various battles. This special troop was made up of a couple of famous generals during that time. These warriors were Kakizaki Kageie and Naoe Kanetsugu.
Kakizaki was a general under Kenshin and was known for being an extremely ferocious warrior. He was among the swordsmen who engaged in three of the battles of Kawanakajima. He also led the God of War’s vanguard force during the 4th battle.
When it comes to Naoe Kanetsgu, he was known as a chief retainer of Kenshin who functioned as a top adviser. Naoe was also regarded as the best logistical tactician of that period, thus, leading most of Uesugi’s success during his career and presence.
A Japanese historian named Arai Hakuseki claims that even the best and well-known warriors of history made use of this sword. Most of them carried these types of swords that were about 4 to 7 feet in length. Oda Nobunaga, a very popular warlord who broke out of the Owari province, armed his soldiers with this type of sword for efficient battling. He believed that the efficiency and strength of the Nagamaki was excellent against his enemies.
Today, a real version of this sword features its blade shortened or reshaped. This is to make the piece suitable for use just like the wakizashi or the katana.
The Nagamaki Jutsu
There are a couple of dojos that teach a variety of sword techniques as well as Nagamaki jutsu to the students. This is specifically relevant to those wanting to master this skill. Even contemporary dojos greatly believe in this piece since it incorporates special moves since the weapon is long.
Most of those who proficiently teach the proper use of this sword are people who have reached higher level dans. This is specifically in different types of martial arts practice.
Some of the best teachers are those who carefully and thoroughly layout step by step processes. This allows even beginners to be able to follow the tips perfectly, allowing the teacher to provide a wider range of techniques on how to adequately utilize the weapon.
Decline of the Nagamaki
The Nagamaki was continuously used in the 15th and 16th centuries. However, when warfare began to prevail due to mass formations in the early 14th and late 15th century, the efficiency and effectiveness of the Nagamaki began to falter. Additionally, due to the sword’s size, measurements, and intended use, the space required to achieve these formations and tactics was generally incompatible.
Despite the limits during those times, it still remained popular, especially during the Sengoku era. It was favored by numerous warrior clans like the Oda and Uesugi who often deployed their soldiers wielding the weapon.
Although it was favored by numerous warlords, the popularity of the blade still continued to decline. Not only that, but a large number of these were cut and refurbished as short and regular swords. The process of restoring the piece was called the Nagamaki naoshi. This was also utilized for the nodachi and the naginata.
Since the cutting down of the blades made the sword more efficient, a lot of these were directly crafted as if they were cut down Nagamakis or naginatas. Because of this, the refurbished swords weren’t necessarily considered as this type of weapon
Modern Nagamaki Swords
Today, the Nagamaki is crafted using high carbon steel that is tempered with a polished exterior. Its length provides excellent leverage to boost the ability to slice and cut. Also, this blade is not merely for display since it is a fine, functional piece used in the past and even in the present.
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