What is a Nodachi?

by Niklas Feurstein
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Nodachi

The nodachi is a very brutal weapon. Let me introduce you to its main features:

The nodachi is a Japanese sword with a total length of 150 cm and a weight of 2.2 kg. The first nodachi was forged in the 5th century. It has a curved blade and is a feared anti-cavalry weapon. Nodachi translates to “field sword” and can be used interchangeably with Ōdachi.

In the course of this article, you will get to know all the features of this Japanese sword in more detail.

Nodachi Blade

The blade of a nodachi is very long and rather heavy and thus enables delivering heavy blows to your opponent.

You can easily see the strong curvature of such a sword with your bare eyes.

Nodachi were almost always differentially hardened. Furthermore, most of them feature a bo-hi in order to reduce the weight of the blade.

Length of a Nodachi

The blade length of a nodachi is at least 90 cm (3 shaku). Therefore, a typical nodachi (blade + handle) measures around 150 cm (5 shaku). This makes it the longest type of Japanese swords.

As you probably know by now the hilt (tsuka) measures roughly 60 cm (2 shaku).

Due to the enormous length of the blade, it was very expensive and complicated to craft such a sword.

For one heat treatment gets rather complex. Moreover, this type of sword seldom fitted common quenching mediums. Thirdly, it was rather impractical to polish a sword of this size.

That’s enough talk about the size of the nodachi let’s move on to its weight.

Weight of a Nodachi

A regular nodachi with a length of 150 cm weighs approximately 2.2 kg (5 Lbs). A katana on the other hand weighs roughly 1.2 kg (2.6 Lbs).

This huge difference in weight makes blocking a nodachi strike with a katana completely pointless, as the enormous force would blow your katana away.

Here’s a little hint from me: “Better try to dodge”.

Nodachi Usage

The sheer size of the nodachi allows for completely different use-cases than a katana.

On the one hand, horsemen could use this sword against cavalry as it offers various advantages over spears, lances and regular swords (long reach, increased weight and more slashing area).

So in this regard, you can probably compare it with a Chinese Zhanmadao.

On the other hand, the nodachi was mainly used by Japanese foot soldiers. Although the effectiveness of this weapon when fighting infantry is controversial it definitely excels as an anti-cavalry weapon.

A common foot soldier could make use of this weapon to dispose of attacking cavalry units by slicing their horses. For this reason, it was feared amongst mounted troops as an overpowered weapon.

Fighting with a nodachi focuses primarily on heavy downward chops. Altogether its usage is completely different than that of all other Japanese swords.

In a pure infantry battle, this sword offers various advantages and disadvantages and boils down to pure preference. More on that later.

We now discussed the usage of the nodachi in a battle scenario, but let me also show you how this weapon was used/worn when marching.

How to wear a Nodachi?

Nodachi

Let’s make one thing clear from the start, it is completely impossible to carry such a weapon on your waist.

As the sword is so large you would severely decrease your agility and thus regularly bumping into other soldiers or objects.

So there are three main ways to wear a nodachi. Firstly you can mount it on your back. The only problem is that this makes drawing the sword impossible.

Therefore, I highly advise against wearing your nodachi that way right before going to battle 😀

Another option is to carry the sword in your hand. This might tire you down pre-battle7 but definitely allows you to quickly unsheathe your sword.

The third possibility is to have a follower help you with carrying it.

During the Muromachi era, it was common practice for a samurai to have a follower with him, who carries his weapons or at least helps him to draw it.

Invention and History of the Nodachi

The first nodachi was forged in the 5th century AD. This was verified when a 120 cm long and a 140 cm long sword were unearthed in Japan and could be dated back to the 5th century.

In the 15th century, the nodachi became extremely popular as an anti-cavalry weapon.

In the early 17th century the usage of this sword rapidly declined. This was due to the Shogun enacting a law that prohibited the possession of swords over a given length.

For this reason, most nodachi were cut to the shorter legal size. The other nodachi were delivered as offerings to shrines.

Pros of the Nodachi

I’ve already mentioned the most important advantage of the nodachi in this article. That is: Trying to parry a strike from a nodachi is a futile effort.

The monstrous weight and power of such a blow will throw your weapon out of your hands.

When wielding a nodachi you almost always have the range advantage. An enemy with a katana would have to come quite close in order to hit you.

Last but definitely not least, this weapon excels at fighting cavalry units.

Cons of the Nodachi

Due to the nodachi’s length, the weapon is very inflexible and not very agile. It is completely useless when fighting inside a building or in close-quarters. A katana is way better suited for quick combat.

Missing a blow with a nodachi could be a fatal error as the recovery period is rather high. During this time you are completely open for enemy attacks.

As mentioned before using a nodachi requires a completely distinct fighting style. Your skills wielding a katana won’t help you master this weapon at all!

A nodachi is a blade heavy weapon. Hence doing a lot of strikes tires you extremely quickly. For this reason, you would want the fight to be over ASAP.

These were all the pros and cons of the nodachi I could think of. This list doesn’t prove that a nodachi is a better weapon than a katana of course.

It just offers a different use case and fighting style, but in the end, it always comes down to preference and the skill of the samurai.

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