Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Female Samurai - The Onna Bugeisha

Two Leaders

Tomoe Gozen, first captain and wife of Minamoto no Yoshinaka, surveyed the field where the final battle was sure to soon take place.  A warrior first and foremost, she was dressed in full armor and carrying an oversized sword as well as a bow. Her husband Yoshinaka had recently taken Kyoto, the capital, and set himself up as head of the Minamoto clan.  Unfortunately, his cousin Yoritomo couldn’t leave well enough alone and had sent his two brothers with armies after Yoshinaka. Driven out of Kyoto, Tomoe and Yoshinaka had retreated here to Awazu, where would soon begin the battle to decide the leadership of the Minamoto clan, and, because of its status of Japan’s most powerful clan, the entire country.  As first captain, it was her job to lead the soldiers into the part of the battle where the fighting was thickest and ensure the victory.

Hōjō Masako, wife of Minamoto no Yoritomo, sat with her husband in the command tent, helping to manage the affairs of her husband’s armies.  They had been waiting for several days to hear back from Yoritomo’s cousins, who had been sent to chase down Yoshinaka after he decided to split from the rest of the clan and set himself up as effective emperor, taking Kyoto and kidnapping the emperor while burning down the palace in the process.  No stranger to the world of men, Masako had been taught from a young age horseback riding, hunting, and fishing, for she had been been raised among men rather than with her mother and sisters. While she an expert warrier, she was an even better general, and her husband valued her leadership abilities and took her with him on all his military campaigns, where she led to great effect.

The Onna Bugeisha

Both Tomoe Gozen and Hōjō Masako are famous examples of Onna Bugeisha, more commonly known as female Samurai.   Japan’s past is filled with internal and domestic strife, with attacks between villages quite common. Because of this, in ancient Japan, women were trained to defend their villages alongside the men, or without them if the villages lacked male fighters.  After the formation of the Samurai, some of these women became warriors in their own right.

One of the earliest Onna Bugeisha, Empress Jingū is a figure shrouded in legend and is thought not to have existed as a historical figure, however, her story is important as it embodies the very spirit of what it means to be a female samurai.   According to some chronicles, she led Japan after the death of her late husband, the fourteenth emperor until her son was old enough to take the throne. During this time, she not only improved Japan by making influential economic and social changes, but personally led a victorious invasion of Korea over the course of a three-year campaign.

The legacy of the Onna Bugeisha stretches over one and half millenia, from legends to modern history.  While Empress Ji is possibly the earliest, later examples of heroic women include Tomoe Gozen, Hojo Masako, and Nakano Takeko, who lived as late as 1868 and is credited with 172 samurai kills.  Of course, there are innumerable others who are not as well known, or have been lost to the ravages of history.

The Onna Bugeisha used naginata as their primary weapon, specifically the ko-naginata, a special version designed for women.  A naginata is basically a sword on a pole with a curved blade at the top. Because women are usually of smaller stature and have less upper body strength than men, their blades were smaller in order to reduce the weight. The main advantage of the naginata is that, because of its length and thus range, it partially negates the greater reach and strength advantage that men naturally have, allowing for more fair fights.  It was also very useful for dismounting riders in cavalry charges. The naginata eventually became as iconic to the social status of women as the Katana was the to the Samurai.


The battle was fierce.  Gozen mired in the thick of it, She fought soldier after soldier and pressed ever on, encouraging those around her through her example.  She climbed a ridge, and at the top, saw a line of Samurai at the bottom of the valley. Looking up, their eyes widened with recognition when they saw her, then they yelled and charged up the hill.  Calling her retinue to her, Gozen prepared to meet them. The first to fall to her Katana was Uchida Leyoshi. In his haste to capture her, he made a critical misstep that allowed her to step to the side and kill him.  His companion Hatakeyama Shigetada was a much better fighter. Dodging blow after blow, they fought valiantly, though both were tired already from the battle. When a slight respite allowed, Tomoe took stock of the situation and realized that her forces were being outrun. Knowing she was more valuable alive, she took the first opportunity she saw to disengage, and managed to leap on her horse and escape.  Determined to find her husband, she rode like the wind....

Masako noticed a disturbance in the outer camp.  Within a few minutes, a messenger was brought to them.  Her husband asked the messenger for news, and she listened attentively, wondering what changes in the campaign would soon need to be made.  The message was short but important: Yoshinaka and his forces had fallen. His wife Tomoe Gozen had been spotted leading near the front lines, and some of their best Samurai including Uchida Leyoshi and Hatakeyama Shigetada had attempted to capture her.  Unfortunately, she had managed to elude capture, killing Leyoshi in the process.  While no one knew where she went, her body had not been found among the dead. After the messenger left, Masako turned to her husband who was looking at her expectantly. With Yoshinaka out of the way and her husband now the strongest military leader in Japan, she knew her diplomatic talents would be crucial in the coming years. This was only the beginning.  

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Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The Meaning of Bushido - The 47 Rōnin

Bushido is the name given by the West to the virtues the Samurai lived by.  Never formally codified, it was a system of values passed down by tradition, from master to apprentice, from father to son.  It was known, not written. The best way to know Bushido was to live it, or, lacking that, to learn of the deeds of those who did.  The following is a retelling of one of the most famous incidents in Japan that exemplifies in every way what it means to follow Bushido.  While it bears little historical resemblance to what actually happened, it is a cultural staple, and what follows is the traditional narrative.The following are excerpts from a diary composed by one of the fallen.  Some superfluous passages have been omitted, while others have been lost.

...the ramparts of Edo castle came into view as we approached.  We were almost at the end of our yearly journey, which we took for my daimyō [lord] to fulfill his duties to the shōgun [head of the military government].  While it would be another year before we could return home, for my daimyō it was his chance to reunite with his younger brother and adopted heir, for he had no children of his own…

...after one month here, I feel settled in again.  The daily tasks are routine now, and I do them without issue.  My daimyō Asano has been re-appointed as one of the two officials whose duty it is to host the emissaries from the imperial court to the Shogunate, a position he once held 18 years before.  While this would normally be an honor, if a small one, I’m concerned because of the recent tensions between him and Kira Yoshinaka, the head of ceremonial matters…

…It seems my concerns were warranted. Kira had been treating both Asano and Kamei poorly, enraging them both.  While my daimyō bore it well, giving no outward sign, Kamei took it less well and planned to kill Kira. (One of Kamei’s retainers relayed this to me in a recent dinner).  Fortunately for Kamei, his quick-thinking counselors offered Kira a large bribe, which has entreated him to favor Kamei more. However, he still treats Asano poorly, and I fear that even my noble master’s restraint cannot last forever…

...The worst has happened.  After a grave insult, my daimyō could take it no longer and attacked Kira.  While his first dagger strike hit and opened a flesh wound on Kira’s face, the second missed and guards separated them before a third could be made.  While the wound was not serious, it was made in the residence of the shōgun, where drawing any kind of weapon was forbidden, let alone using it. For this, Asano has been ordered to commit seppuku - ritual suicide by disembowelment…

...The walls of my home rose over the horizon.  Oh sad day. For, this time, it was not a triumphal return home as a loyal Samurai, but as a forlorn procession of soon-to-be-rōnin [leaderless Samurai] carrying out the orders of the shōgun to prepare the now-deceased Asano’s lands and property for seizing by government officials.  We had hurried to arrive before the government officials and inform the head chamberlain Ōishi Kuranosuke Yoshio of the news...

...It’s over.  I am now rōnin, and so are over 300 of my fellow Samurai.  Honor demands that we avenge our master, but the shōgun has made it clear that any such attempt is forbidden, and Kira has prepared for it by increasing the guards around his manor, making any such attempt suicide.  However, honor does not depend upon success but merely action, and there is a growing movement among some of the rōnin to make an attack anyway. Ōishi tried to get the Asano estate restored but was unsuccessful and has been quiet lately. However, he has recently called a meeting for some of the loudest discontents.  As one of them, I have been invited as well…

...The sweat continued to fall from my brow and it seemed like the dust stirred up by my broom would never settle.  It was hot in the shop, and I counted out the coins to my customers who were buying some of the pots I had recently sourced from some traders passing by.  It was humiliating work for a former Samurai, but it was for a cause. (I haven’t had much time to write much for the past few months, so I’ll give a short recap of the interim now).  In that fateful meeting, Ōishi laid down a grand plan in which over a period of years we would lull Kira’s suspicions, so he would eventually decrease his guard and we could complete our revenge.  The strategy was simple: we would all abandon our roles as Samurai and become tradesman and monks, positions well below our former status, humiliating us in the process, but giving us the greatest odds of success….

...A few more months have passed.  We have all taken to our new roles, however reluctantly.  Ōishi has fallen the farthest, as as our former leader he naturally attracts the most suspicion, so he has taken to frequenting taverns and brothels in order to cement the illusion.  A few days ago, I received word that he had been attacked by a man so infuriated with this behavior coming from a (former) Samurai, that even though it is forbidden to even touch a Samurai, the man felt justified in kicking and spitting on him…

...The first half of our plan has succeeded.  Kira has finally abandoned his suspicions and has lowered the guard on the castle.  Though it has taken a year and a half, our resolve has never wavered, though we did doubt at times.  For Ōishi, it has been even more difficult. He divorced his beloved and loyal wife shortly after he was assaulted in order to protect her from the fallout of our eventual attack.  He also sent away his two youngest children to live with her parents, though he offered the chance to join us to his eldest son, who has since accepted. Furthermore, he had us bring him a geisha [non-sexual female entertainer] in order to enhance the illusion.  It seems to have worked, though the cost is great. Of course, should we succeed, the cost will be even greater - our very lives…

...It has been another six months, but we are almost ready.   We have managed to use our newfound trades to gain access to Kira’s house, and have not only learned the layout of the place, but have managed to smuggle weapons into Edo.  One of us even married the daughter of the house’s builder in order to obtain the plans. Ōishi should be joining us soon to coordinate the final assault, but first he has to lose his spies in Kyoto…

...The night of the attack has arrived. We have armed ourselves with swords and bows.  We will split into two groups. One, led by Ōishi will attack the front gate, while the other, led by his eldest son will attack the back.  When we succeed in killing Kira, a whistle will sound. We begin at the sound of a drum…

...It’s over, and we’re alive, for now.  The fight was swift but deadly. Ōishi had prepared us well.  First, we sent a small group of four men to silence the guard and other men to warn the neighbors of the impending attack.  Once they learned they were in no danger themselves and that we were only there for Kira, whom most of them hated, they allowed us to continue without hindrance.   Ōishi put some archers on the roof to prevent requests for reinforcements from getting out. Then the drum sounded and we began the final assault.

We managed to swarm the guards inside the house from both directions, though the attack at the front gate was held off for a short while by a large group of retainers.  Coming together, we presented a united front to the remaining retainers rushing in from the barracks on the grounds outside the mansion. After a short skirmish, when they saw that we were too strong, they tried to call for reinforcements, but our archers made swift work of their messengers.  Once the fighting was over, we searched the house. Ōishi had reminded us to only kill combatants and Kira, not innocents. We found many women and children, though Kira remained missing. We determined he was nearby, however, when Ōishi discovered his bed was still warm.  After a thorough search, one of us discovered a secret courtyard behind a concealed entrance, where he was attacked by a lone man with a dagger. Sure this must be Kira, he sounded the whistle and we all gathered. Ōishi positively identified the man as Kira, as his face still bore the scar from Asano’s attack two years before.

Ōishi respectfully addressed Kira as he should to one of higher rank and informed him that we were there to perform our duty to our fallen daimyō . Ōishi offered him an honorable death of suicide by the same dagger Asano had used himself to commit seppuku , and even offered to be his second - the one to behead him afterward - to prevent a painful and lingering death.  Kira refused to answer, so Ōishi, realizing that time was short, had us hold Kira down and performed the beheading himself. We left with the head, extinguishing all fires in the house in order to prevent an out of control blaze that might spread and harm the neighbors….

...Tomorrow, I turn myself in.  Our mission has been completed and our honor restored.  We carried the head we had washed and cleaned to Asano’s tomb, and laid it with the dagger used.  We then went to the temple, and gave the abbot of the temple money for our burial, and asked that he pray for us. This will be my last entry…

The aftermath: With their mission completed, 46 of the 47 rōnin turned themselves in (the 47th was sent to Ako, their home, to report their success to Asano’s widow).  The shōgun faced a quandary: by defying his orders, they deserved death, yet they were well-loved by the populace for acting as true samurai should and avenging their master.  He resolved it by offering to allow each of the rōnin to commit ritual suicide rather than be dishonorably executed, which they all accepted. Ōishi Chikara, the eldest son was only 16 when he died.

They were all buried at Sengaku-ji, in front of their master’s tomb.  The man who assaulted Ōishi went to their graves, begged for forgiveness, committed seppuku, and was buried next to them  The 47th rōnin who served as messenger was pardoned by the shōgun and lived to a ripe-old age of 87 years before being interred with his comrades.  Their graves remain to this day and can be visited, The temple preserves their clothes and arms, which they handmade to prevent discovery.

If one wants to describe Bushido, a story can have much more impact and meaning then a lifeless list of rules.  This tale has remained popular in Japan because it tells of undying loyalty, honor, and long-suffering in pursuit of a just cause - principles that make up the core of Busihdo.   

Historical Note - Seppuko

Seppuko was practiced by Samurai as an honorable way of dying  They used a Japanese dagger - a Tanto - to pierce the abdomen and perform a rapid slash from left to right.  If done deep enough, this could cause a quick death from massive internal bleeding. If not, the death could be long and painful.  Thus, many Samurai would have a “second” standing by, whose job it was cut into the spinal column, thus ensuring a quick death for the performer.

Tantos are ancient, with over a thousand years of history.  Because the swords the Samurai carried represented their identity, and the Samurai were members of the highest social class, their daggers were quite ornate.  

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Friday, 23 November 2018

Sale Now On: BladesPro Black Friday Sale Friday-Monday (Spoiler: Our biggest sale ever)

Now On: Black Friday Sale
Huge Discounts and Free Engraving

It’s here!
 Everything at BladesPro, that’s right, EVERYTHING is now hugely discounted.  As if that weren’t enough, we are also offering FREE engraving on all swords.  

If you’ve ever wanted to say “you matter” to that special person but weren’t sure how, the gift of a sword with their name on it (literally) may be the perfect way.  If you’re here for yourself, we don’t judge; you deserve a treat too!

What makes our swords special?  
They are all hand-made in the same way and using the same forging methods as the Samurai of Feudal Japan or the armies of ancient China.

For those with a love for pop culture, we also carry high-quality replica swords from the the cult-classic film Kill Bill and the Anime Bleach.

As you know, we don’t offer sales very often - and this is the BIGGEST sale we’ve ever done - so don’t miss it.  It's for 4 days only, with free UK delivery.  

No need to enter a discount code* - simply start shopping here

Questions?  See the Sale Conditions and FAQs here, or contact us - but don’t wait until the last minute to send your question, as we cannot extend the sale for any reason.

Shop now! Sale ENDS in:



Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Samurai Sword Traditions - Changed, but not Forgotten

Reo bowed to his opponent, then raised his Shinai (bamboo practice sword).  He rushed toward his opponent, careful to keep his Shinai in guard position.  Using his momentum, he managed to lightly body-slam his opponent out of the ring.  He was awarded one point, then the match reset.

The next time, his opponent was more wary.  Reo prepared to rush again, but more slowly this time.  As he did so, his opponent tried to move out of the way, but Reo had prepared for this and quickly swung around his practice sword.  Their blades crossed, but Reo brought his body weight to bear and pivoted his sword around his opponent’s, careful to keep its edge away, and managed to score another point by pulling his Shinai back and cutting at his opponent.

A Continuous Legacy

Japanese sword traditions are unique in comparison to their European counterparts in that they have remained in practice since they were originally devised. European sword arts were discontinued around the Enlightenment era, as Europe turned its back on its traditions, thinking anything coming out of the Dark Ages was inherently flawed.  While sword use never truly fell away, for a long time it consisted mostly of fencing, and the original arts of the greatswords and longswords were mostly lost.

Japan, on the other hand, reached its “Enlightenment” much later, in the mid 1800s during the Meiji restoration.  While for a time they too turned their backs on the old ways, this time period was relatively short - only about 20 years - before the practice was resumed.  While these traditions have also changed over time, the fact that they use the Katana (or similar weapons such as the bokutō [bokken] and Shinai) and practice their traditions as a martial art rather than a sport, means that their traditions remain closer to what would have been practiced by the Samurai.  In fact, the modern sword traditions practiced in Japan are distillations and simplifications of forms practiced by the Samurai, and a student that practices all of them can get a well-rounded view of what a Samurai once would have learned.

Modern Sword Traditions

Kendo - Descended from Kenjutsu, Kendo (剣道) means “the way of the sword”.  It is a very common martial art practiced in Japan and around the world.  It is useful for learning practical armed fighting techniques, as sparring against live opponents is a large part of the art.  Because using a live Katana could cause injuries, the weapons used during sparring were first changed to a bokutō (wooden practice sword) and later switched to a Shinai (bamboo practice sword). Kendo was originally developed as a way to provide realistic combat experience to martial artists.

Iaido - Meaning “the way of mental presence and immediate reaction”, Iaido (居合道)  is focused on beginning and ending engagements quickly, usually within 1 or 2 strikes.  The art is heavily concerned with quickly drawing the Katana, making 1 or 2 strokes against an opponent, then wiping the blade and re-sheathing it.  While it is practiced using a real Katana, it is not as practical for gaining combat experienced as Kendo because the opponent is imaginary. However, because of the heavy emphasis on precision, it is an excellent way to learn fine control with an actual Katana, making it an excellent supplement to another martial art for the practical fighter.  It also includes Tameshigiri, where one practices cutting with the live blade on inanimate targets.

Toyama-Ryu - created by the Imperial Japanese army for use in combat shortly before WWII, it focuses on teaching the use of the Katana and bayonet for battle.  While it is not nearly as common as Kendo or Iaido, it is still practiced around the world.

Classical Sword Traditions

Iaijutsu - A family of martial arts rather than a singular art like Iaido, Iaijutsu (居合術) meaning “the method/technique/or art of”mental presence/immediate reaction” was developed primarily for self-defense rather than self-betterment.  It is not commonly practiced today, and it is almost impossible to find an authentic Iaijutsu school outside of Japan (though there are many fake schools).  Originally, Iaijutsu was part of Kenjutsu and utilized only standing fighting techniques.

Kenjutsu - the original predesceer of all the others, Kenjitsu means the “method/technique/art of the sword” (剣術) and is directly descended from the Samurai class that existed before the Meiji Restoration. Practiced mostly by families that have kept the traditions intact as cultural treasures (meaning it is almost impossible to learn outside Japan, and rare even inside it) Kenjutsu practitioners usually use a bokutō and practice against an imaginary opponent.

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Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Top 5 Zanpakutō in Bleach

There are many Zanpakutō in Bleach, so many that it feels like a momentous task to come up with a top 5.  However, we feel we owe it to our readers to provide our reasons for why we consider the following swords the best in Bleach.  Of course, this list is subjective, and you may feel differently. That’s ok! But read along for our rationale of why we consider the following 5 Zanpakutō to be the best.

To make it interesting, we will judge using four main criteria.  While power will definitely be one of them, it won’t be the only one. Other criteria include usefulness in various situations, the psychological edge over opponents it creates, and the appearance of the ability (how “cool” it looks).

Special Mention


While not one of the 5, we feel Ichigo Kurosaki’s Zanpakutō Zangetsu deserves an honorable mention. First, while it was never revealed what form its Bankai takes, it was considered so powerful by Yhwach that it was disabled immediately before it could be used.  Second, because it produces energy blasts that can be directed and controlled, it is useful in many situations. Finally, it is one of a few Zanpakutō that remain in a state neither fully-sealed nor fully-unsealed, leaving it with two blades, making it immediately recognizable to opponents and unique.   However, Zangetsu does not make the list because we do not know the full extent of its abilities, and we feel its abilities, while indeed powerful, are overshadowed by the others in this list.



Kisuke Urahara’s Zanpakutō takes #5 on this list.  In its sealed state, Benihime takes the form of a cane rather than a normal Katana.  It is one of the few Zanpakutō with a spirit of the opposite gender as its wielder. Like Ichigo Kurosaki’s blade, its Shikai can fire energy blasts.  However, its Bankai form has a completely different ability, allowing Kisuke to restructure anything he touches with Benihime. While the exact limits of this restructuring are unknown, it is able to restore vision to wounded eyes and manipulate things in Kisuke’s path to remove obstacles.  Its abilities may be limited primarily by Kisuke’s own imagination. Fulfilling all 4 criteria, it makes the list, albeit barely.



Gin Ichimaru’s Zanpakutō comes in next to take the #4 slot on the list.  While simple in form and appearance, Shinsō has the ability to extend up to 100 times its length when released, and much further in its Bankai form (up to kilometers).  However, the length is only a small part of what makes this ability so useful. Shinsō can extend and contract faster than a bullet, allowing Gin to impale his targets with ease and push people out of the way of falling objects.  Its cutting ability is also greatly amplified, making slashing attacks deadly as the Area-of-Effect of the swath is incredible - once literally slashing a town in half while Gin stood some distance away. Furthermore, the sword can turn to ash for a split second when contracting or extending, leaving a piece of itself inside the momentarily impaled and future victim.  From then on, whenever Gin chooses, he can kill his target at will, simply by raising his hand and uttering a few words. The target will then dissolve from the inside out. While perhaps having a bit less utility then #4, the sheer coolness factor of Shinsō’s abilities and the challenge of using them to their fullest potential means we put it a spot above Benihime.



Byakuya Kuchiki’s Zanpakutō is a normal Katana that, when released, separates into a thousand small fragments that move around, directed by Byakuya’s will through the motions of the hilt remaining in his hand.  Each fragment carries the power of a full sword and reflects light in such a way as to resemble a cherry blossom. While perhaps not as powerful as the previous Zanpakutō, Senbonzakura is balanced as much for defense as offense. Any opponent attempting to get close is liable to be cut by the fragments, and only Byakuya himself is immune, as he stays in a “Hurtless Area” where the sword fragments are not allowed to enter.  Its Bankai is even more powerful, instead of a thousand fragments, it has a thousand full swords that he can control. With both abilities, Byakuya can form constructs that can take many shapes using the fragments or swords, which greatly amplifies the abilities’ usefulness. What really takes the cake, however, and gives Senbonzakura the middle-spot on this list is the following. Not only can the Zanpakutō’s power be further increased by combining the fragments back into a single sword with an insane amount of power, but it can also grant Byakuya wings with which he can fly!


Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ryūjin Jakka, the Zanpakutō of Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto, takes the next slot in the list.  In its sealed state, it has the appearance of an unassuming staff, though even in this form most Shinigami are still afraid of it because of its immense power.  Unsealed, it looks like a normal Katana, albeit with flames surrounding it. Genryūsai can burn almost anything to ash just by waving his sword at it, and in this form it is powerful enough to fight the Shikai of two other captains simultaneously.  A very useful feature of the weapon is that when it is resealed, any ability already used against an opponent does not end. Its Bankai form stores the flames inside the blade, causing anything it touches to be reduced to ash, and also removes any water from the surroundings, rendering any ice-type Zanpakutō nearby useless.  Furthermore, Genryūsai can use raise an undead army from the ashes or corpse of anyone he has killed, making him more and more powerful as a battle progresses. The only weakness of this sword is that it is so powerful that it could obliterate soul society if used for a an extended period of time, but because it’s so powerful, it would never be needed to.  With unmatched power, coolness (hotness?), and ability to have its enemies fight for it, Ryūjin Jakka deserves a spot high in this list.

## 1

Finally, the one we’ve all been waiting for  - what we consider the #1 Zanpakutō in Bleach.  This honor we give to Ichibē Hyōsube’s Zanpakutō Ichimonji.  In its sealed state, it appears as a functional calligraphy brush.  In this form, it can be used to draw characters that have the power of their meaning.  When used as a weapon, the brush cuts the name of what it touches, reducing its power accordingly.  When released, it transforms into a short glaive that releases ink as its swung. Whatever this ink touches loses its name and consequently, all its powers.  However, its true power comes from its ability to control black - anything with black on or inside it is vulnerable. This power seems to have no range limit.  Ichibē can use this power to draw black from his surroundings, and, by drinking it, take away all the darkness from an opponent, leaving nothing of his opponent left.  As the first Zanpakutō to achieve Bankai (before the name “Bankai” even existed), Ichimonji has the distinction of being the only Bankai activated with a different word - “Shin’uchi”  In this form, it becomes a long white thread. Anything touched by its Ink can have it named changed, giving it the powers or abilities (or lack of abilities) of the new name. This makes Ichimonji the most powerful, useful, and unique Zanpakutō in existence, as there is practically nothing it can’t do, especially considering that Ichibē himself can determine the true name of everything in existence, and has centuries of experience to draw upon.


Regardless of whether you agree with our ranking or not, one thing we can all agree on is that Zanpakutō are awesome!  We carry many Bleach Swords besides these, including some that may have made your list.

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Wednesday, 10 October 2018

The Ninja vs The Samurai

The Target

Mitsuharu of the Fūma ninja clan crouched under the window, listening with keen ears for any sounds inside.  His coloured cloak, so obvious in the day, now hid him better than black ever could. Hearing nothing but the quiet muffled sounds of people going about their nightly business, he quickly glanced left and right down the alley, then stood up and entered through the window.  This deep into the castle, no one expected intruders, so the windows and doors were usually left unlocked.

The room was simple, as expected of a Samurai.  The few items therein were of high quality. Mitsuharu quickly glanced around the rest of the room, his keen eyes missing nothing.  His target was Hōjō Narinaga, a mid-ranking Samurai moving quickly up the ranks. The Hōjō family, and Narinaga in particular, had thwarted too many carefully laid plans, and for those successes he had received awards, honors, and most dangerously, more power.  Thus, the Hatori clan had decreed that he be assassinated, and Mitsuharu had been chosen for the task.

Seeing nothing in the room indicating that Narinaga would soon return, he turned to leave.  As he raised his foot to step through, he sensed that something wasn’t right. Glancing behind him, he noticed the door, which had been closed before, was now open.  Turning around in a flash, he saw that inside the doorframe stood Narinaga, his target, hand already on the hilt of a Wakizashi…

The Samurai

The Samurai were a noble class in feudal Japan who occupied the upper tier of society just under their lords.  Originally little more than hired mercenaries to protect rich landowners, they became an important part of society with the rise of of the Minamoto clan who seized control of Japan in 1192 and set up a military government.  They would remain an integral part of society for almost seven centuries.

The Samurai were skilled warriors and, contrary to popular belief, were adept at using various weapons including bows and spears.  However, their primary symbol, and mark of their status, were their paired swords - originally a Tachi and Tanto, later evolving into a Katana and Wakizashi.  These swords were worn with their kimono, and marked their identity as Samurai. While the Katana was the longer and thus, primary weapon, only the Wakizashi was allowed to be worn indoors.

The Samurai are well known for their code of honor, which celebrates killing an opponent honorably, often face-to-face, and discourages underhanded attacks or ambushes.  As Samurai were the top tier of society and most of the threats to society came from domestic sources they could expect their opponents - mainly other Samurai - to adhere to the same style of combat.

The Ninja

The Ninja, on the other hand, were commoners.  Generally coming from the lowest tiers of society, Ninjas were basically assassins or spies for hire, willing to do or accomplish any task - for a price.  As they did not enjoy any of society’s protections, they were willing to use whatever means necessary to get the job done, even if those means were considered dishonorable.

While they may have existed as early as the 12th century, the formation of the Ninjas as we know them today occured in the 15th century.  They were most prominent in the Igla provence, and from the clans in that area we derive most of our knowledge of them. Because of the Ninjas’ commoner status, not as much interest was taken in recording them literarily as was taken in recording the Samurai.

However, even with the lack of contemporary sources, or perhaps because of it, legends abound about them.  While many are fanciful, such as stories of them having the ability to levitate or move things around with their minds, others are more likely.  Traditions say they carried a straight sword, unlike the Samurai’s, which was curved. While the Samurai would traditionally dress in a kimono, a bright, loose-fitting garment that leaves the head exposed, the Ninja, according to legend, would wear dark, tight-fitting clothing that covered the head, revealing only the eyes. 

The Escape

...Cursing himself for not hearing the footsteps approaching the door (how had the man snuck up to him?), Mitsuharu  quickly judged the distance between himself and Narinaga.  The room was small, a mere 12 by 15 shaku (approx 4x5 meters), and once Narinaga drew his Wakizashi, there would be even less room to manoeuvre.  Quickly drawing one of his two Tantos, Mitsuharu prepared to throw it. 

Knowing that a trained Samurai with a Wakizashi beats a commoner-wielding Tanto in any fair fight, Mitsuharu knew that he would lose if he didn’t do something quickly to make the fight unfair.  Thus, he hesitated for only a split second before throwing the Tanto and leaping backward through the window into the alley. As he did so, he heard the rasp of steel and saw a corresponding gleam of candlelight on metal as Narinaga drew his sword.

The alley was vacant, so Mitsuharu quickly sprinted to the nearby corner where he had previously noted were some boxes allowing a quick escape onto the roof. He quickly climbed them, and just as he stepped onto the roof, he saw Narinaga rushing out of the alley into the main street.  Mitsuharu flattened himself against the roof, while loosening the straight sword he carried in case he was forced to use it. He was careful to cover the exposed steel to ensure no moonlight would give away his position. Silently cursing for the second time that hour, he vowed he would return one day and finish the job.  After making sure Naringa hadn’t noticed his whereabouts and was heading off, probably to report what had happened to the guards, Mitsuharu quickly dropped down into the alley on the other side, and soon once again melded into the shadows.

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Wednesday, 26 September 2018

The Soul of a Sword - From Iron to Steel

Johnny looked down and pursed his lips as he mulled over everything he had just seen.  Then he looked up as a thought came to him. “You did a great job explaining the types of swords, and even the progression of materials in the earliest blades.  But I notice that while most of the swords here are made from steel, you barely mentioned the progression of materials from iron to steel.”

The shopkeeper brightened.  “That’s because the use of steel in a sword was a complex, though interesting historical development.” He went over to two swords that were arrayed vertically, with one above the other.  Both had distinctive banding patterns on them.

“The first steel swords would have been made about the same time as the first iron swords, because improperly making an iron sword can actually result in a steel one, albeit of very poor quality.  Heating iron with charcoal will introduce carbon into the iron, which is the second ingredient needed to form the steel alloy. However, the key to making steel swords consistently and of high quality requires one to control the carbon content, making sure it is homogeneously spread throughout the entire sword, and to control the tempering and quenching of the steel to a fine degree.  Thus, the first consistent production of high-quality steel was in India around 600BC where later they invented crucible steels, such as Wootz”

“Crucible steels were ingenious in their own way.  See, coal or charcoal fires have two problems - they are usually not hot enough to completely melt the iron, resulting in an uneven carbon distribution and they introduce too much carbon, forming a substance known as pig iron.  Pig iron is too hard and brittle to be used in a sword, but, and - this is key - it has a lower melting point that can be reached by ancient methods. The Indians discovered that by soaking wrought (low-carbon) iron in molten pig iron, the carbon would slowly diffuse from the pig iron into the wrought iron, and thus the carbon content could be controlled (though it was still an imperfect process).”

“Wootz steel was  exported to all of the known world, and, later, the Arabs brought the process to Damascus, resulting in Damascus steel that was made using a process not fully rediscovered today.  Damascus steel is famed for its unique banding pattern, and modern research has revealed the presence of carbon nanotubes in the metallic structure.  Unfortunately, as the process is still lost, only swords that replicate the look can be created today.”

The next sword the shopkeeper came to was curved, and had only one cutting edge.  “In Europe, iron typically came from homogeneous ore that could be cut in blocks from which one or more swords could be made.  However, in Japan they had iron sands, which meant that the iron needed to be homogenized before it could be made into steel. Now, heating up iron ore will naturally remove many of the impurities, but the problem is that the furnaces of the time had a hard time heating the whole quantity of ore to the needed temperature.  Fortunately, many of the impurities in iron have a lower melting point and will flow out of the half-molten iron, but not all of them. However, even with many of the impurities removed the steel was still not high enough quality to make a sword. So the Japanese came up with an ingenious way of homogenizing the steel."

"The process they used was called 'folding', and this worked by hammering the steel flat, folding it, and forge welding it to itself.  This had the advantage of evening out any impurities in the blade and, in addition, could also remove a bit more of them by forcing out the molten impurities using the pressure of the hammer stroke.  The disadvantage of folding is that it reduces the amount of carbon in the steel, turning it back into iron if done for too long. Thus a balance must be struck between removing impurities without losing too much carbon.”

“Japanese swords have a unique aesthetic look, combining the layered look of the folded metal with the swords' distinctly curved blades and single-edges.  The reason for this is that, unlike many European swords which focused on thrusting, Japaneses swords were designed primarily for cutting. The curve was because two different types of steel were combined - one hard and brittle that could hold the sharp edge needed for cutting, and the other tough and flexible that could bend without breaking.  This forging method, however, takes much more labor and skill, increasing the costs of the blades.”

“Today, we have the best of both worlds.  We can import iron ore from anywhere in the world and completely melt it, allowing us to have homogeneous steel with a chosen carbon content.  However, the ancient sword forging methods are not lost, and all the swords here have been hand-produced using traditional methods dating back hundreds of years.  We just have the advantage of using modern sources for the steel - ensuring consistently high quality blades at much more affordable prices.”

“So”, concluded the shopkeeper, “do you have any more questions?”.  John looked up, smiled, and said, “No, you’ve been most informative”.  “I see some Clay Tempered Steel Swords. Can I take a closer look at them?”  "Of course", replied the shopkeeper enthusiastically. “Follow me”.


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