The Katana’s Predecessor: The Tachi

In the Calvary

Riding with his cavalry contingent, Reo was a bit nervous. While he had been training as a Samurai for years, he had only recently been allotted a horse.  In the few months since then, he had been practicing as often as he could, but it was so different from fighting on foot. If there were actual combat, he wasn’t sure how well he would perform.

A few hours later, the sun was just starting down from its noonday crest.  The hills, barren of shadows for the moment, would soon begin sporting new ones, perfect hiding places for an ambush.  He heard some voices up ahead and saw three men running down a hill just ahead, their feet kicking up dirt into the dry air.  They were scouts, and from their rush seemed to have some important news...

***

Once the scouts reached us, they told us the news. They had spotted some men up ahead, and, while they were few in number, it was possible they belonged to a larger force nearby.  The scouts assured us that they had not been seen. My commander decided that the few of us on horse had the best chance of catching them, so he dispatched us with one of the scouts to the men’s location, to use the horse's speed to close the gap once we were spotted.

10 minutes later, the scout motioned for quiet and we pulled our horses to a stop. He steadily climbed up the hill, and peeked over it, careful to keep his head down low.  Coming back down, he informed us the men we were looking for were in the valley behind the hill.  Our leader decided we would ride around the base of the hill and catch them on the other side, while our scout would again summit the hill to make sure no one got away.  In anticipation of the coming order to attack, Reo quietly drew his Tachi...

Featured Sword: Tachi

Tachi swords were originally developed around 900 AD and commonly made until about 1600.  Typically 2-3 Shaku in length, they are slightly longer than a Katana, the sword to which they are most often compared.  However, there are other differences between the two. Both the Katana and Tachi are curved, but the curvature of the Tachi is greater.  Additionally, Tachi are worn with the cutting edge down, while Katana are worn with the cutting edge up. Because a swordsmith’s signature would be put on the side of the tang facing outward when worn on the wielder’s left side, this difference in wearing style meant that the swordsmith’s signature on a Tachi and Katana are on opposite sides of the tang.

Because of its greater length than the Katana, the Tachi has been suggested to have been used as more of an open-field weapon.  In combat, the person whose weapon has the greater reach almost always has the advantage, so the Tachi with its longer length would have been preferred  However, it would be less effective in more closed-in spaces. A further suggested use of the Tachi would have been its use on horseback, as longer reach is even more important for calvary, and the cutting edge worn down would seem to fit the needs of a horseman more.  However, we lack early contemporary references to horseback combat, so we don’t know for sure.

A Careful Ambush

My troop carefully trotted around the base of the hill, guiding our horses and keeping them on the firmer, greener grass where the water flowed through between the hills in order to muffle the sound of the horses’ hooves.  Three-quarters of the way around the base of the hill, we heard a shout. We had been spotted! Quickly heeling our horses forward, we pushed our horses to a gallop, quickly spotting the men and adjusting our path to intersect.

50 meters, 40, 30, 20, 10...and we were on them.  Carefully raising my Tachi as I had trained, I aimed at the men, making careful and deliberate swings while I rode past.  I had to be very careful not to hit the horse while keeping my balance - a very difficult feat on a moving horse while swinging at a moving target. One of my swings connected, and one man went down.  I heard a horse bellow behind me. Looking back, I saw one of my comrades' horses had a large gash accross its flank. The man who had made it was quickly cut down by another one of our number, but the horse did not look good.  Wheeling back, I saw all our targets were down. Now we had to decide what to do with the horse...

Fun Fact

Originally worn with a Tanto as the larger weapon in a Daishō (大小, big-little pair), they were eventually replaced several centuries after with the Katana and Wakizashi pair.

Etymology

From the Old Japanese word “Tati” meaning “sever”, the pronunciation changed to “Tatsi”, then eventually to the modern “Tatchi”.  In Kanji, it is written as 大刀, meaning “great/big Katana”.

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