Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Terminology : Katana, Tō, Tsurugi and Ken


         The complexity of Japanese terminology is a constant source of aggravation and wonders... The same Character can very often be pronounced in very different ways (Also 2 different characters may have the same pronounciation...)  When it comes to sword, 2 words come back very often "To" and "Ken"
They are found for example in Junto sono ichi (First waza of the Batto-ho set of MJER) and in Shinmyoken (9th waza of the Tachiuchi no Kurai set of MJER).
However, to make things even more complicated for us poor Gaijin, other words such as Katana and Tachi come up on a regular basis...

Let's try to clarify some of this :

The Character reads Katana in Japanese and Tō in Chinese. It is found in the Japanese words :
  • Bokutō (木刀) : wooden Sword.
  • Iaitō (居合刀) : sword to practice iaidō
  • Nihontō (日本刀) : Japanese swords
  • Battō-jutsu (抜刀術) : art of sword drawing

The Character reads Tsurugi in Japanese and Ken in Chinese. It is found in the Japanese words :
  • Bokken ( 木剣) : wooden sword.
  • Shinken (真⁠剣) : live (sharp) sword.
  • Kendō (剣道) : way of the sword.
  • Kenshi (剣士) : swordsman.

Originally (Chinese Ken; Japanese Tsurugi ) was used to designate a double-edged Sword, and (Chinese Tō; Japanese Katana ) a single-edged one. 

Type of Sword

Naginata - Tsurugi - Tanto - Uchi Katana- Tachi

Although the single-edged curved blade has been used in Japan for over a millennium, the usage of (Chinese tō ; Japanese katana - single edge sword), is much less common in pre-modern Japan (before the 1868 Meiji Restoration)  than the usage of (Chinese ken ; Japanese tsurugi - Double edged straight sword). Thus, in pre-modern Japan, swordsmanship was more often referred to as kenjutsu, kendō, kengi, gekken, and other terms rather than tōjutsu, tōhō, etc.

After the Meiji Restoration, the modernized variants of Japanese swordsmanship have been referred to exclusively with the character (ken ).

The Tsurugi  is the Japanese version of the Chinese Jian Sword - It was originally used in Japan until the Single-edged saber (Katana) was introduced around the 11th century. 

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