The Nodachi was used as the long, two-handed field sword of the Japanese samurai warriors. The blade length of this sword was more than 90cm long, making it one of the longest swords of its time. The soldiers preferred to use these swords in battlefields because of their sheer length and accuracy. However, when compared to the other swords, the nodachi wasn’t used extensively due to various reasons. In this article, we will see some of the fundamental aspects of the Nodachi.
Odachi or Nodachi?
The terms odachi and nodachi were interchangeably used, giving us room to think if these were similar swords. The only difference that could have been between these types is their length. In the Japanese dialect, nodachi meant “wild,” and odachi meant “big.” Therefore, in reality, a nodachi was nothing but a wild, long sword that was used with great efficiency by foot soldiers and against cavalry, on the battlefields. It is believed that the nodachi originated during the Heian Period.
In the earlier days, only the most skilled samurai warriors were given the responsibility of wielding and using the nodachi. This was because it was extremely difficult to draw the long nodachi from one’s back and use it against one’s opponents. Though they were used sparingly due to their size, their performance was top-class. Their cutting accuracy was way beyond the other swords like the katana. It was popularly believed that the nodachi could cut a soldier and his horse in two, with a single blow. The sword’s size made it impossible to use it indoors.
Why was the nodachi used infrequently?
As mentioned above, the abnormal size of the nodachi made it very difficult for swordsmiths to get a proper forging on it. Of all the Japanese samurai swords, the nodachi was the most difficult for forging. It was a huge challenge for the smiths to apply heat treatment and quenching uniformly all through the length of the sword. If the carbon steel used for the swords weren’t evenly spread, it reduced the efficiency of the sword. While most other swords like the katana and wakizashi could be drawn from the waist, the nodachi had to be drawn from the back. Soldiers found it extremely difficult to draw this long sword from their backs, especially during critical times on the battlefield. So they started to hold this sword by hand and combat attacks quickly.
Also, the nodachi required only exceptionally skilled warriors to wield it. While the samurai class of people was very talented, most of them weren’t experts in wielding a sword that had the caliber of a nodachi. Making the nodachi was a very time-consuming and costly process, which is why this sword wasn’t made in large numbers. For the polishing process, this sword had to be hung from the ceiling or kept in a still position. The other small-sized swords could be easily moved over polishing stones to get their polishing done. However, in the case of a nodachi, the sword polisher had to move the sword to complete his work. Over the years, swords that were quite smaller (like the naginata and nagamaki) were introduced. These small swords had reasonable degrees of accuracy, and it was no surprise that they slowly replaced the nodachi.
Where were they used?
We saw in the previous sections that the Nodachi was used in the open battlefields as a long field sword against opponents and cavalry. Apart from this, they were also used for ceremonial purposes, where they made an offering to a particular Shrine. As their practical purpose in battles faded away after a few years, they were mainly used for religious and ceremonial purposes only. In those days, the nodachi or the odachi swords were also used to show off the amazing talent and workmanship of swordsmiths.
After 1615, the nodachi swords weren’t used extensively, because there were not many battles that were conducted post this era. So, all the available records point out to the use of this sword before this period. During the Heian period, there was already another sword that was being used by the court nobles for ceremonial purposes. This sword was called the Gijo-Tachi. Hence, a new name, Nodachi, was given to the long, field swords, so that people could know the difference between the two.
Connection with mythology
Due to their extreme length and weight, the nodachi swords were believed to be used by the Gods during as early as 5th century. People believed that a sword that measured close to 100cm couldn’t have been practically used by a normal human being. To add fuel to these believes, two swords, both measuring about 117cm and 137cm respectively, were unearthed from old mountains in Japan. These swords were believed to have been offered to the Gods during the 5th century, and their visual appeal and gigantic size closely resembled the Nodachi swords. It was believed that the kings made an offering of this sword to the Gods, who then used it to end a battle. Even during the battles, many samurai warriors offered these field swords to their favorite Gods to help them win wars.
Are they use in today?
Though the practical use of Nodachi swords has been stopped today, we can see the use of oversized field swords at same places. In the Chinese martial arts form of Pa Kua Chang, students are trained to wield a long-sized weapon efficiently and use it to attack the opponents. This martial arts technique is heavily impressed by the use of nodachi and other long tachi (swords) forms that were used by the Japanese samurais many centuries ago. In Japan, the Shadow School or the Kage Ryu is the only martial arts school that still practices and trains its students to use the long field swords technique. In their system, these long swords are known as choken, which is nothing but a modern-day adaptation of the century-old Nodachi.
Norimitsu Odachi: Legendary Giant Sword
Originating from Japan, the Norimitsu is an Odachi sword of gigantic proportions. Due to it’s imposing size it’s not at all surprising that several legends and theories have sprung up around it, even going so far as to suggest that the sword was wielded by giants. Specific details are rather scarce as to the origins of the sword, we know it was likely forged during the 15th century, and we know it measures nearly 13 feet in length and weighs in excess of 32 lbs. The rest of the swords history is something of a mystery but we can make educated guesses as to its likely uses given what we know about the culture at the time.
Forging an Odachi
Popular culture means that Japanese swords are well known throughout the western world, with many claiming that Japan has produced some of the finest swordsmiths the world has ever seen. Many sword designs have come out of Japan, but it’s not at all surprising that the Katana is famous of them all, this largely due to its association with the Samurai class. Regardless, there are a multitude of less well-known swords that have come out of Japan over the years, which includes the odachi or nodachi.
Could the Norimitsu Odachi Actually be Used in Combat?
A small number of the population believe that the Norimitso Odachi may have actually been used by a giant race of Japanese Warriors. This theory is of course rather far-fetched and the more believable and likely scenario is that the sword was intended for ceremonial or decorative purposes.
The skill and workmanship required to forge such an exceptionally large sword hint that the sword make have actually been made to demonstrate a particular forges prowess. It’s therefore likely the sword would have been on show in order to advertise the swordsmiths skill. Alternatively, the sword may have been commissioned by a wealthy individual in order to make an offering to the gods. Another large Odachi has found in locations and in circumstances which suggest that they were part of a ritual offering.
What to Look for When Buying an Odachi
As with almost any type of sword, it’s important to consider the steel it’s made out of. While stainless steel is perfectly acceptable for a cheap display only piece, some form of high carbon steel is preferred when looking for a functional sword.