Yari

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Yari (??) is the Japanese term for spear, or more specifically, the straight-headed spear. The martial art of wielding the yari is called sojutsu. Yari measured anywhere from one meter to upwards of six meters (3.3 to 20 feet). The longer versions were called omi no yari while shorter ones were known as mochi yari or tae yari. The longest versions were carried by foot troops (ashigaru), while the samurai usually carried the shorter versions.

Yari were characterized by a straight blade that could be anywhere from several centimeters long, to 3 feet (0.9 meters) or more. The blades were made of the same high-quality steel that the swords and arrow-heads of samurai weapons were forged with, and yari blades were very durable. Over history many variations of the straight yari blade were produced, often with protrusion on a central blade. Yari blades (points) had extremely long tangs which were usually longer than the sharpened portion of the blade. The tang protruded into a hollow portion of the handle. This resulted in a very stiff shaft and made it nearly impossible for the blade to fall or break off.

The shaft (nakae) came in many different lengths, widths and shapes; made of hardwood and covered in lacquered bamboo strips, these came in oval, round, or polygonal cross section. These in turn were often wrapped in metal rings or wire, and affixed with a metal pommel (ishizuki) on the butt end. The yari could be considered a much higher quality weapon than the average spear due to these unique attributes. Yari handles were often decorated with inlays of metal or semiprecious materials such as brass pins, lacquer, or flakes of pearl.

A sheath for the blade called saya was also part of a complete yari.

Various types of yari points or blades existed. The most common blade was a straight, flat, design that resembles a straight-bladed double edged dagger. This type of blade could cut as well as stab and was sharpened like a razor edge. Though yari is a catchall for spear, it is usually distinguished between kama yari, which have additional horizontal blades, and simple su yari (choku-so) or straight spears. Yari can also be distinguished by the types of blade cross section: the triangular sections were called sankaku yari and the diamond sections were called ryo-shinogi yari.

The sankaku yari (???, triangle spear) had a point that resembled a narrow spike with a triangular cross-section. A sankaku yari therefore had no cutting edge, only a sharp point at the end. The sankaku yari was therefore best suited for penetrating armor, even armor made of metal, which a standard yari was not as suited to.

The fukuro yari (??, bag spear or socket spear) sported a more European style fitting of the straight head. Instead of the yari’s traditional very long embedded tang, an entirely metal socket which slipped over the narrowed end of the pole, The unit was forged as a single piece of both socket and blade. This design was rare next to the traditional ‘long-tang’ configuration.

A kuda yari (??, tube spear) was not very different in construction than another simple choku yari. However for this spear, the upper hand gripped a hollow metal tube that allowed the yari to “screw” while being thrust. This style of sojutsu is typified in the school Owari Kan Ryu.

Kikuchi yari (???, spear of Kikuchi) were one of the rarest designs, possessing only a single edge. This created a weapon that could be used for hacking and almost resembled a straight edged naginata.

Yajiri nari yari (???, spade-shaped spear) had a very broad “spade-shaped” head. It often had a pair of holes centering the two ovoid halves.

These spears were very effective weapons though their more complex blade shapes were extremely difficult to properly forge and sharpen; therefore these were far less common than the above types and were often used for ornamental purposes.

Magari yari (??, curved spear), also called jumonji yari (????, cross-shaped spear), looked something similar to a trident or partisan and brandished a pair of curved blades around its central lance. Occasionally called maga yari in modern weaponry texts. In the Koei video game Samurai Warriors, Sanada Yukimura uses one such weapon.

The kama yari (??, sickle spear) gets its name from a peasant weapon called kama (lit. sickle or scythe). However, a kama isn’t a scythe as most Westerners think of it, a giant, curved blade connected at right angles to a two-meter-long wooden handle, but rather a much smaller version, with a less dramatically curved blade and a straight wooden handle approximately two feet long.

The kata kama yari (???, single-sided sickle spear) had a radical weapon design sporting a blade that was two-pronged. Instead of being constructed like a military fork, a straight blade (as in su yari) was intersected just below its midsection by a perpendicular blade. This blade was slightly shorter than the primary, had curved tips making a parallelogram, and was set off center so that only 1/6th of its length extended on the other side. This formed a kind of messy ‘L’ shape.