Weapon Name: Katana, Samurai Sword
This is black belt Danielle.
And this is her katana.
Description: A sword with a slightly curved, thin blade and a two-handed handle with a small crossguard where they meet. Only one side of the sword is sharp. You want to hold the weapon with one hand just beneath the crosspiece and the other just above the bottom of the hilt.
Where Can You Get One? They originated in feudal Japan, but are still manufactured today for display and martial arts training. Many modern ones are made using updated methods, and you can get one of these from many weapon distributors. Traditional katanas were made with folded steel, which according to this article by a bladesmith, actually kind of sucks. (Seriously, go read it. It’s fascinating.) Ownership is restricted in some countries, so check your area’s laws before buying.
Katanas make for pretty choreography.
Natural Genres: Historical fiction, martial arts stories.
Unnatural Genres: Anything set in the modern day, anything set in scifi or fantasy. There is no legitimate reason for your elf mage to wield a katana in the mythical land of Kophiriszjkoth. Just give them a regular sword, or if you really want something that looks like a katana, a curved sword. But don’t call it a katana.
What’s It For? Slicing things. Particularly body parts.
How Long Can You Fight With It? With both hands on the hilt, a fairly long time. Single-handed, it depends on how beefy your forearm muscles are. But probably not too long.
What Muscles Wear Out First: The wrists/forearms, especially if you’re wielding it one-handed. That gets old real quick.
Lethal: Oh yes.
Can it leave enemy debilitated but alive long enough to deliver a monologue? Yes.
Learning Curve: A very, very long time.
Will You Hurt Yourself With It? You really don’t want to do that, hence the long learning curve. You’ve got to be careful while practicing.
Things Your Characters Can Do With It:
1. Slice across, upward, downward, or diagonally.
2. Stab things.
3. Pose in pretty ways before stabbing things.
4. Pose in a cool tableaux while drawing or sheathing the weapon.
5. Use the butt of the hilt to bludgeon things.
6. Use the sheath as a bonus weapon.
This is just insulting.
7. Swing the weapon in figure eights.
Note how she successfully did not cut off her own arm.
8. Cut pool noodles in half.
Rest in peace.
Things Your Characters Cannot Do With It:
1. Unsheath the weapon perfectly every time. Sometimes they get stuck, and it’s awkward.
2. Block another blade edge to edge repeatedly. This is possible, but it will dull the blade and might even shatter it.
“Are we still capable of slicing each other’s limbs off?”
“I doubt it.”
3. Throw it. Swords are not ranged weapons. Do not throw them.
4. Ignore your other defenses. Just because you’re holding a weapon, doesn’t mean you’re immune to punches, kicks, or dirt being thrown in your eyes. Have your characters use their brains, not just their blades.
“Seriously. Block your face.”
5. Slice people/trees/obstacles in half. Swords are sharp, but objects are sturdy. The blade would probably get stuck somewhere along the way. Also, see #2 about dulling the blade.
6. Swing back and forth wildly and accidentally win a fight. Remember, katanas only have one sharp side. You need to know what you’re doing to use one well.
This is why we don’t block swords with sticks.
(Please note that this is not a real sword. Don’t do this at home. Or anywhere.)
Katanas are cool swords, but there’s nothing in particular that makes them better than other blades of comparable size. Drop the mythos of the katana and just write cool sword fights with the weapons that would be reasonably available in your setting. Katanas are effective for slicing and slashing, but only when used by trained professionals.
This information is provided for assistance in writing fight scenes only, not for real-life application.