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Ninjatōs or Ninja swords are allegedly the preferred weapon that the Shinobi of feudal Japan carried. It is portrayed by modern ninjutsu practitioners (including Masaaki Hatsumi and Stephen K. Hayes) and is prominently featured in popular culture. Replicas of this weapon are also prominently on display in both the Koka Ninja Village Museum in Kōka, Shiga and the Iga-ryū Ninja Museum in Iga, Mie. Historically, there is no physical evidence for the existence of this “katana-like short sword legendarily used by ninja,” though it is believed that they are based on the design of the wakizashi or chokutō swords.
The Short Sword
The ninjatō is typically depicted as being a short sword, often portrayed as having a straight blade (similar to that of a shikomizue) with a square guard. Usually of a length “less than 60 cm,” the rest of the sword is comparatively “thick, heavy and straight.” Hayes suggests that the typical description of the ninjatō could be due to ninja having to forge their own blades from slabs of steel or iron with the cutting-edge being ground on a stone, with straight blades being easier to form than the much more refined curved traditional Japanese sword. His second possible reason for ninjatō being described as a straight-bladed, rather short sword could be that the ninja were emulating one of the patron Buddhist deities of ninja families, Fudo Myo-oh, who is depicted brandishing a straight-bladed short sword similar to a chokutō. Stephen Turnbull, a historian specializing in the military history of Japan indicates of historical ninja: “The most important ninja weapon was his sword. This was the standard Japanese fighting sword or katana … for convenience the ninja would choose a blade that was shorter and straighter than usual.”
Ninja Swords Usage
Due to the lack of historical evidence regarding the existence of the ninjatō, techniques for usage in a martial context are largely speculative. When used in film and stage, Ninja swords are depicted as being shorter than a katana with a straight blade, but they are used in a “nearly identical” manner as the katana. Books and other written materials have described a number of possible ways to use the sword including “fast draw techniques centered around drawing the sword and cutting as a simultaneous defensive or attacking action,” with “a thrust fencing technique,” and with a “reverse grip.”
The scabbards were often said to have been used for various purposes such as a respiration pipe (snorkel) in underwater activities or for secretly overhearing conversations. The scabbard is also said to have been longer than the blade of the Ninja sword in order to hide various objects such as chemicals used to blind pursuers. The tsuba (hand guard) of the ninjato is often described as being larger than average and square instead of the much more common round tsuba. One theory on the ninjatō tsuba size and shape is that it was used as a tool, the sword would be leaned against a wall and ninja would use the tsuba as a step to extend his normal reach, the sword would then be retrieved by pulling it up by the sageo (saya cord.)