I had a discussion with a young man yesterday about which sword was superior — the European Longsword or Japanese Katana. It’s a common topic among sword aficionados. Both weapons have their pros and cons, but I certainly have a preference.
I began my foray into sword study with multiple bokkens and a shinai practice sword, graduating to a couple of inexpensive katanas and a ninja-to. I was a child of the 70s and 80s after all. Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris movies were on steady rotation and I devoured books on various martial arts and Japanese Swordsmanship. Then Highlander came along and cemented the deal… Like everyone else, I believed in the superiority of the katana. Books, movies, and television hammered the point home often enough and I bought into the hype.
Despite all that, I was still enamored with the European Longsword and in the early 90s had the opportunity, by pure accident, to watch a demonstration by early Historical Armed Combat Association enthusiasts. This led me into a more thorough examination of the weapon, studying historical fighting manuals and, eventually, crafting my own longsword and training with wasters. I spent a bit of time as a longsword instructor, teaching modified techniques to friends.
Now that my son is older he has taken up the longsword as well and after many years away from serious study, it’s felt good to be back to training.
Anyway, here are my thoughts on these two weapons. These are just my opinions, but having studied and trained with both weapons, I think they have merit.
The katana gets the edge here due to the curvature of the blade. I believe both swords generate plenty of cutting power, but the design of the katana favors cutting.
Again, it’s all about design. The longsword, being a double edged weapon can thrust much deeper than what the single edged katana can.
This is a tricky one, but I think the smaller design in conjunction with the sword’s scabbard and in unison with the overall emphasis on quick draw and definitive single strike maneuvers, this is the katanas wheelhouse.
Guard and Defense: Longsword
No contest. The longsword’s crossguard is far superior to the katana’s tsuba. All things being equal, the longsword’s superior reach is also a crucial factor.
Again, the longsword is the clear champion here. The katana has a singular purpose, with its single hard and sharp edge being a clear and present danger with its cutting prowess. The longsword is the ultimate multitasker, with its double-edged assault, being both a cutting and thrusting dynamo, and the ability for half-swording.
Two equal opponents facing off, one with a katana, the other with a longsword, the clear winner is the longsword. The katana is typically 24-28 inches in length while the longsword ranges from 36-44 inches. I can tell you from experience, even as little as a 6 inch difference in sword lengths is a critical advantage.