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DISCLAIMER: This is the second and final part of the Hiten Encyclopedia entry for the Sakabatou. For full context, please read part 1 before continuing.
Now that we’ve established a couple of things about the nihontou, lets move on to observe what we really came here for: The sakabatou!
The Sakabatou or Sakabatō (逆刃刀, Literally: Reverse-Blade Sword) is the most iconic item in the entire Rurouni Kenshin universe. It is a fictional sword designed by Nobuhiro Watsuki as the non-killing weapon of Himura Kenshin. In universe, it is a great sword forged by Arai Shakkū.
Like an ordinary nihontou, the sakabatou has a hamon along the sharpened edge of it’s blade as indicated by the red arrow, however, as we can see, it’s on the wrong side! This is the easiest and simplest way to identify a sakabatou in the universe of ruroken as well as real life, although you’re not likely to run into a high quality forged sakabatou made of tamahagane unfortunately.
The sakabatou’s largest and most interesting difference from the standard nihontou we’re all used to seeing is at the tip. Watch the second image in the image above closely.
If you payed close attention to the image of Kenshin nearly striking the poor thug in the face, you may have noticed it looks a little different than a normal nihontou. It lacks 2 things of a standard nihontou! It lacks a yokote (the dividing line perpendicular to the center ridge near the tip of the blade) and the shingoi (center ridge of the blade) is closer to the mune (back of the blade).
While curious at first, this is absolute genius that even Watsuki hadn’t thought of it! (Or maybe he did and just decided he liked the yokote to much to get rid of it.) The live action prop department payed close attention to see what manner of katana would suit the sakabato best. They chose very wisely! The reason why is because the shinogiji (the flat, thick part of the blade that supports the mune, divided by the shinogi (also were the HI or grove would be); the other side is the thinner, slanted cut which is what forms the blade edge, is on the bottom of the blade where the HA should be. This helps reinforce the tip so it doesn’t break so easily. The reversed shape of the blade would undoubtably make the tip more vulnerable to breakage, since a yokote usually is what slants the blade into a point and the mune thins out into a point shape to support it.
This style of katana is called “Shobu-Zukuri” and is created because the shinogi runs all the way to the tip of the blade, making it much stronger than the average katana. This shape is ideal for a sakabatou as the sword needs to maintain a lot of blunt trauma, especially the tip which is the optimum striking/cutting edge of any swordsmanship school due to the last 3-5 inches being the sharpest on most blades.
Now, this is the last and most crucial part of this article: how practical IS a sakabatou? Well, the truth is, it’s actually MUCH more cumbersome than a regular katana. That may not sound surprising, but in actuality, it completely alters Hiten Mitsurugi and kenjutsu in general. How?
Because the standard Kenjutsu targets that Hiko so lovingly demonstrated to our Rurouni during the exposition of his Kuzu Ryu Sen drastically change. There are three striking targets, but only one is used for the Kuzu Ryu Sen. Although he seems to execute them perfectly, in reality, unless he has the control of a god, if Kuzu ryu Sen were possible Kenshin would have to omit the main center strike. It’s a charge move, but even a sakabatou’s tip is strong enough to impale with deadly force if one’s not careful. This is why Kenshin rarely (he only does once against Iwanbo 03 in the manga) uses charge moves: It’s because it’s a death blow even with the sakabatou which limits his techniques to only slashing maneuvers.
Arguably, the best target for the sakabatou wielding rurouni is the ribs. Hitting on the back of the head could kill, and joints are hard to hit if the opponent (say like Gein in the film, or Aoshi, in the manga) is efficient, cautious and mobile. The ideal target should be the center of mass which is the rib cage.
The final demonstration of how having a sakabatou changes what you’d normally do with a katana is noto, or “sheathing”. In the film (and the film only; the anime didn’t do this) Kenshin sheathes the sakabatou correctly….but backwards!
Normally, this would be done with the blade edge upward and the mune gliding along the fingers, but Kenshin does the exact opposite. This is notable, because noto has many ways of being done! It can be done with the blade going horizontally a long the hand like so:
This would be cumbersome with a sakabatou due to it’s shape. So vertically is the only logical way he can sheath the famous sakabatou.
That about wraps this up guys! Thank you so much for reading! Stay tuned for more content coming up real soon! Don’t forget to check regularly for updates!!!
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
-Kateviardo for the idea and commissions as well as providing these AMAZING gifs! Thank you so much, I hope to give you more content! <33
-HYRK for reblogging and sponsoring this so that way all you dedicated RuroKen fans such as us can enjoy a hopefully decent read about the stuff in RuroKen we love so much!
-You guys who read and reblogged this!!! Thank you guys so much!
NOTE: I am NOT a martial arts/kendo master nor a physics major. I come from a martial arts family who also studied fight mechanics for a while and is somewhat adept at it. If anyone catches false information, please PM so I can alter it immediately but you MUST BE SOURCED. Whoever corrects me on a mistake will get a special thank you at the end of the respective post.
Another point of Hiten Encyclopedia is to show that Ruroken movie prop department consists of bloody geniuses because, well, even Watsuki couldn’t be bothered with some detailes described here.
In 20th Century after WWII, swords have become easily the most recognizable Japanese artifact to the Western powers. Even those who are completely ignorant to Japanese culture are well aware of the distinct appearance and power of the curved blades of the east: The famous Nihontou, or more commonly known as, the Katana or Samurai Sword.
We RuroKen fans, however, get an even more special weapon wielded by our favorite red-headed non-killing badass, Himura Kenshin! The Sakabatou.
But what exactly makes it so different? Is a sakabatou even possible? Well, let’s find out!
The Sakabatou is a type of katana created by Watsuki as a weapon for Kenshin since he can’t kill but a wooden sword isn’t intimidating enough for the readers to accept. The basic concept, for those of you unaware, is a katana with the cutting edge and the dull edge reversed. It however maintains the basic shape and function of the fearsome blade. To fully understand this, we need to observe a what a katana really is!
While these swords have changed throughout history, they all retain several commonalities. The first is what they’re made of. While the west has tried reproducing several katana with cheap alloys such as carbon steel or tool steel. But true Japanese swords are made of tamahagane. What the hell is tamahagane? Well. It’s a style of steel derived from Iron ores. The steel itself is extremely strong but what makes them truly formidable is the way the sword is forged. Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia!
The swordsmiths will carefully break the kera apart, and separate the various carbon steels. The lowest carbon steel is called hocho-tetsu, which is used for the shingane (translated as “core-steel”) of the blade. The high carbon tamahagane and higher carbon steel, called nabe-gane, will then be forged in alternating layers, using very intricate methods to form the kawagane (or, “skin steel”). The most useful process is the folding, where the metals are forge welded, folded, and welded again, as many as 16 times. The folding removes impurities and helps even out the carbon content, while the alternating layers combine hardness with ductility to greatly enhance the toughness. Currently, tamahagane is only made three or four times a year by Nittoho and Hitachi Metals during winter in a wood building and is only sold to the master swordsmiths to use once it is made.
Yep. Pretty formidable stuff! So, assuming our hero is a complete badass (which he is), we can infer that his sakabatou is made of tamahagane as well. Seems legit. So basically a sakabatou is a katana sharpened backwards. Simple enough……..Only you would be WRONG!
A sakabatou, geometrically, is VERY different from a standard Nihontou! But first, we need to analyze a nihontou in part 1 so we can compare them with the Sakabatou in part 2 as we are doing now. Let’s continue, shall we?
See that squiggly line running along the sharp edge of the blade that’s brighter than the rest of the sword? That’s called the “Hamon” or Temper Line. It runs along the most or the entire edge of the blade. It is caused during the tempering process which the molten hot blade is coated in different amounts of clay so it cools differently. Less or no clay lets the edge cool the fastest, making it harder but more brittle so it’d be easier to sharpen and retain an edge better. This is the most trademark part of the katana, as well as responsible for the aesthetics of the blade (seriously, it’s gorgeous! Just look at it!) and it is the telltale sign of the Sakabatou!
The temperline runs along the back edge of the blade, rather than the front, signifying that it was cooled at a different time, so the back of the blade is weaker than the pseudo-edge of it. Meaning, due to the shape of the sakabatou, realistically, it’d be rather disastrous to the blade to actually cut due to it’s shape. However, that doesn’t stop the master swordsman rurouni we all know and love.
More in Part 2!
HYRK are very excited to present to you this new project called Hiten Encyclopedia. It’s going to focus on technicalities of Kenshin’s trademark fighting style from the point of view of solid science and martial arts. We hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we do ^^x
Yeaaah! Damn right!