The Katana was the traditional weapon of the Samurai, the noble class of warriors in Feudal Japan, since around 800 AD. The average Katana consisted of a 3 to 4 foot curved blade with an 8-12 inch hilt. Traditionally, a Katana was forged with a matched Wakizashi, a shorter, lighter sword of about a foot and a half in length with little or no curve. Sometimes a Samurai would also carry a third blade, the Tanto knife, in a small scabbard attached to the Saya, the Katana's scabbard. The Katana/Wakizashi pair was more than just weaponry for the Samurai: the pair of swords represented his honor, his glory, and his success. A higher quality, more ornate weapon could only be afforded if the Samurai was paid better by his lord, and thus was thought of as a better warrior than the average. There was a quasi-spiritual relationship between the Samurai and his blades. The Katana and Wakizashi were held in the highest respect by their wielder; After all the blades represented the Samurai's livelihood and literally meant the difference between his life and death.
Because of the high regard it was paid by the Samurai, and by Japanese society as a whole, the art of forging a Katana was one of the most well-studied and perfected arts in Japan. Compared to any counterparts from across the globe, the Katana's construction was centuries ahead of its time (the functional European equivalent was the Bastard Sword, a blade which actually held no edge and was so poorly balanced only the strongest warriors could wield it properly). The Katana was forged from hundreds of infinitesimally thin layers of the purest steel available. This made the Katana far stronger for its weight, because its blade had no impurities, no defects, and no weak points. The length of the blade in relation to its curvature was the focus of countless centuries of study, resulting by around 1200 AD in a blade that has to date never been matched in perfection of balance.
Because of its size, the Katana tended to be a longer-range sword. It's light weight allowed the wielder to make quick, fluid swings which tend to keep an opponent from approaching. The Katana could be held either one- or two- handed, and often one would switch between the two. Wielding the Katana one-handed, allowed one to stand sideways towards one's opponent, extending one's reach and taking away vulnerable targets. Also, the one handed grip made one more agile, allowing more freedom of motion and freeing one's off hand for aide in balance. Two-handed, the Katana could be wielded with devastating strength and speed.
Due to its meticulous construction as described above, the Katana held the sharpest edge of any sword in history. As a result, the typical Samurai wore very little heavy metal armor; for the Katana of an opposing Samurai could with a strong strike penetrate almost any armor. This situation forced Japanese Samurai to train rigorously in the arts of dodging and weaving between opponents, avoiding blows, and predicting their opponents moves, making them by far the most skilful and well-learned warriors of their day.
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