What is a Nagamaki? Katana Sword

Nagamaki: definition

The Nagamaki is a Japanese weapon that was very popular between the 12th and 14th century in Japan. This sword would have been used a lot by the fighting monks and also the horsemen of the Kamakura period.
Nagamaki is similar to naginata. It is said that the nagamaki was originally developed to make the greatsword easier to handle, and differs from the naginata in its shape and the way it is handled. What type of weapon was the nagimaki? Here is a basic knowledge of the nagamaki, as well as its differences with the naginata.

Difference between Nagamaki and Naginata

silhouette samourai et sabre

There is no clear definition of the difference between nagamaki and naginata. There are many theories about the characteristics cited as differences, which are still debated in modern times. The most frequently cited are "the difference in size", "the degree of deformation of the tip", "the presence or absence of yokote", "the difference in koshirae", "the difference in types according to shape" and "the difference in handling methods".

Size differences

The size of a naginata varies according to the period, but the general length of the blade of a naginata used during the Muromachi period (1336-1573) was about 2 shaku (about 60 cm), and the handle about 9 shaku (about 270 cm), which makes the handle longer than the blade.
On the other hand, the length of the blade of a nagamaki is about 3 shaku (about 90 cm) and that of the handle from 3 shaku (about 90 cm) to 4 shaku (about 120 cm), the blade and the handle being almost the same length.

Condition of the curvature of the blade

The naginata has a deep curvature, while the nagamaki has a shallow curvature.

With or without yokote

The yokote is the border line at the bottom of the spearhead (kirisaki).
It is a feature generally found on shinogi-zukuri style swords, naginata swords having no yokote and nagamaki swords having a yokote.

Difference in decoration

The handle of a naginata is rarely decorated, but a nagamaki has a hemp rope or leather wrapped around the handle, hence the name "nagamaki".

Differences according to the form

The three types of naginata are:

  • the Shizukata Naginata, named after Minamoto no Yoshitsune's mistress, Shizuka Gozen 
  • the Tomoe-gata Naginata, named after the mistress of Kiso no Yoshinaka, Tomoe Gozen 
  • Tsukushi Naginata, which was widely used in the Kyushu area.

However, there is only one type of nagamaki.

Differences in handling

Both the nagamaki and the naginata are specialized weapons for wounding people and horses, but they were handled differently. The naginata, with a handle longer than the blade, had a wider spread and was better suited for handling. The nagamaki, on the other hand, had a blade almost the same length as the handle, making it more powerful, but physically more difficult to handle like a naginata.
When the fighting style shifted from cavalry to foot battle and from sword fighting to gun fighting, long-handled weapons like nagamaki gradually fell into disuse.

Nagamaki-naoshi

sabre nature

A nagamaki-naochi is an altered nagamaki. Its shaft (nakago: the part that fits into the handle) of the nagamaki is polished and shaped into a sword such as a batteri or wakizashi.

Even during the Muromachi period (1336-1573), when the Sengoku warlords were active, swords made during the Kamakura period (1192-1333) and the Nanbokucho period (1392-1568) were sometimes polished and reshaped into fighting swords and wakizashi.

There are various theories as to why swords were remade, for example to make them easier to handle and less costly in time and money than making new swords. It is sometimes said that "there are no blunt swords in Nagamakinae". This is because the swords were made by reusing excellent swords that had been used in real battles. In fact, it is said that many existing nagamaki-naoshi are excellent.

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