Nagamaki

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The nagamaki (Japanese: ??, literally “long wrapping”) is a Japanese pole weapon with a large and heavy blade, popular between the 12th and 14th centuries. It is very much like a glaive. It was introduced and used primarily during the Kamakura (1192–1333), Nanbokucho (1334–1392) and early Muromachi (1392–1573) periods. It was a long sword with 2–4 feet blade and a haft with 2–3 feet length. The blade was single-edged. It was also beveled along the back edge to reduce its weight. It resembles a traditional naginata, but the main difference was that the handle (tsuka) of the nagamaki was not constructed of wood; it was made more like a katana hilt. Even the name “nagamaki” (“long wrapping”) is given by the tradition of handle wrapping. The nagamaki handle was wrapped with cords in criss-crossed manner, very similar to the wrapping that is made on katana. The nagamaki is considered to be a type of the no-dachi sword, a variation of the long samurai sword.

The way to hold nagamaki was also very specific. It is held with the two hands in a fixed position in the same way a katana is held. Unlike the naginata, the hands do not change when handling the weapon and the right hand was always the closest to the blade. While handling nagamaki fewer sliding actions on the handle are performed than are with the naginata, where the entire length of the shaft is used. The nagamaki was not spread and developed until much later like the naginata. During the middle of the Muromachi period (1336–1600 A.D.) it reached its peak of usage. The nagamaki is considered the favored weapon of General Oda Nobunaga.

The nagamaki is designed for large sweeping and slicing strokes. It also works as a spear. Traditionally, it was used as infantry weapon. Warriors used the weapon against horsemen. Still, it required more time and materials to create a nagamaki than spears or naginata, this is why it was not so widely spread. The closest exemplar of real nagamaki that can be seen today is nagamaki-naoshi. It appears to be like a long katana-shaped halberd, but straighter and thinner, with a very long tsuka. In contrast to it naginata is shorter, wider and more curved to the tip. The nagamaki also resembles the Song Dynasty anti-cavalry weapon, the Zhanmadao.

The nagamaki was developed in the middle of the Muromachi period. Today it is a rare collector’s item, and few martial arts teach its technique.

There are no solid rules governing the aspects of the make of the nagamaki. Unlike wakizashi, tanto, and katana, which have had history of strict measurements regarding the nagasa, and even the tsuka in some cases; the nagamaki varied in nagasa, nakago length (tang), kissaki style, et cetera. Bare nagamaki blades are of katana-length blades with typical katana-size tang (7–10 inches). The nagamaki has a very sharp edge. It is a single-edged blade. Nagamaki is a large sword.[citation needed] This kind presumably could have koshirae in a tachi or katana style, as well as a nagamaki style. However there are examples of nagamaki with rather long nakago (tang), which could be fitted with a longer staff for a haft and effectively function as a naginata. All traditional Japanese swords are fitted preferably very snug and held in place with a mekugi (bamboo peg) which is fit through a mekugi-ana (hole in the tang and hilt). This is actually quite a strong mount when done correctly, and allowed for easy dismount of the bare blade. Katana most commonly had one single mekugi, and nagamaki commonly have been found with two or more mekugi. There are always variances in the mekugi. Having mekugi at all makes it legally a type of bladed samurai weapon in Japan. There are fishing tools used in Japan which would otherwise be like samurai weapons had it not been for the absence of a mekugi-type mount.

The length of blade varies on a nagamaki. However, the nagasa most commonly fits the profile of a tachi or katana blade, which would be a blade of more than 2 shaku (60.6 cm, roughly 2 feet) in length. The tsuka (hilt) seems to average at about 2.5 feet. Generally speaking, the tsuka of this weapon is a bit longer than the blade.[citation needed] Perhaps equal to the saya (scabbard) in length. While nagamaki means “long wrap” they have been found with no ito (cord) at all, which is very much like a long tachi handle. The tsukamaki (hilt wrap) is of even more importance when applied to the tsuka of a nagamaki. The cord helps to strengthen tsuka quite a bit. Nagamaki found without hilt wrap usually had at least metal collars around the hilt where the taint is.