Samurai Swordsmanship authors Masayuki Shimabukuro and Carl E. Long answer the most common questions Black Belt magazine receives about Japanese swords!

From the medieval epics of Akira Kurosawa to the space operas of George Lucas, the samurai have long inspired us with stories of their legendary swords and superhuman skills. Nowadays, when we think of samurai, we imagine invincible warriors like Miyamoto Musashi nimbly wielding super-sharp swords, slicing through ninja and catching blades with their bare hands.


But how much of that is actually true? To test these myths, we asked Samurai Swordsmanship authors Masayuki Shimabukuro and Carl E. Long to answer the most common questions we receive about Japanese swords. Enjoy part one of our series on samurai myths.

Samurai Myth No. 1

A good samurai sword will slice through a silk scarf that’s dropped on the blade.

Fact: The katana and other Japanese swords are designed to slice objects as the blade is pulled across the target. If an object is simply dropped on the blade, it’s very unlikely that any slicing action will occur.

This is why so many exhibitions that involve walking on swords are possible. As long as there’s no sliding action, the blade rarely cuts. If a scarf is allowed to slide across the edge, the material could be cut. This myth has been carried over from a story about a Damascus blade owned by Saladin.

Samurai Myth No. 2

A katana can chop a regular sword in half.

Fact: Any steel sword can break if it’s struck at the wrong angle. Chopping one in half, however, is highly unlikely.

Samurai Myth No. 3

In battle, Japanese swordsmen would use the edge of the blade to block their enemy’s attacks.

Fact: The edge of the blade was often used to block an opponent’s attack. However, most swordsmen would fend off an attack by launching a pre-emptive strike or receiving the attack on the side of the blade. This was preferable to blocking with the ha (cutting edge).

Samurai Myth No. 4

It’s possible to stop a downward sword strike by trapping the blade between your palms.

Fact: This is highly implausible and definitely not recommended.

Samurai Myth No. 5 

Thinking that it’s better to lose an arm than lose his life, a samurai was taught to block a downward slash with his forearm held overhead at a 45-degree angle.

Fact: A katana or tachi is quite capable of slicing through an arm in a single stroke. At that time in history, losing an arm usually meant death.

Samurai Myth No. 6

In ancient Japan, samurai often fought against ninja.

Fact: This is more myth and legend than fact.

Samurai Myth No. 7

A samurai wasn’t allowed to place his sword back into its scabbard without first drawing blood.

Fact: Not true.

Samurai Myth No. 8

The steel in some swords is composed of thousands of folded layers.

Fact: Each time the sword smith folds the steel, the layers are multiplied. It’s not uncommon to have as many as 32,000 layers.

Samurai Myth No. 9

The bo hi (often translated as “blood groove”) is designed to channel blood out of the opponent’s body.

Fact: This is a common misconception. The bo hi is designed to lighten the blade while maintaining a large degree of structural integrity. It was sometimes used to hide flaws in a defective blade.

Samurai Myth No. 10

Thousands of samurai swords were thrown into the ocean when Japan surrendered to the United States at the end of World War II.

Fact: Many blades were destroyed by Allied forces at the end of the war. Some of them may have been cast into the sea from aboard ships, as were many other weapons.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Part 3 here.

SUBSCRIBE TO BLACKBELT MAGAZINE TODAY!
Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

Talks About Being a Smaller Fighter in a Combat Sport Ruled by Giants

At first glance, most people — most martial artists, even — will zero in on the smaller person in any fight and deem him or her to be at a distinct disadvantage. It's a natural tendency to draw this conclusion based on obvious attributes such as height, weight and reach. However, that tendency does not always lead to accurate conclusions.

Keep Reading Show less

The 5A-rated NASKA event is the most recent world martial arts tournament to announce a virtual format amid COVID-19 concerns.

The Pan American Internationals in Miami, Florida is a well-respected North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA) world tour event that is also sanctioned by a variety of other leagues including the World Kenpo Federation (WKF), Southeast Karate Alliance (SKA), National Martial Arts Circuit (NMAC), and more. Promoter Manny Reyes Sr., a Kenpo master and professor, announced Thursday that the 2020 installment of the event will now take place virtually on August 21 and 22.

Keep Reading Show less

Among Native Americans, honoring your ancestors is a long-standing practice. Every powwow, every sacred ceremony and every tribute to the creator — they all begin and end with remembering those who have come before. There's a sharing of the knowledge and comfort that they're up there in the great beyond, pulling for you and finding ways to guide you when you need help.

Native or not, at the very least, we all owe our ancestors a certain amount of respect. After all, it was their love and great determination to thrive that got us where we are today. I, for one, will go out of my way to make sure I remain grateful in remembering these sacrifices — all of them — from 14 different nationalities. Understanding their hardships helps me realize who I am today and what my blood has recorded within my veins.

Keep Reading Show less

Why did you begin teaching the martial arts?
I always wanted to be a teacher, and nothing seemed as rewarding as teaching martial arts. The martial arts combine many different disciplines: history, philosophy, kinesiology, wellness and more.

What is your school name and how did you choose it?
My school name is Rising Phoenix Martial Arts. I chose this name because my students, like the phoenix, ascend from their former conditions and become stronger than before.

Keep Reading Show less
Free Bruce Lee Guide
Have you ever wondered how Bruce Lee’s boxing influenced his jeet kune do techniques? Read all about it in this free guide.
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter