Cool Replicas – Part 5: Himura Kenshins’ Sakabato

Another day, another cool sword. Today, a sword suggested by reader Heero, the Sakabato (Reverse bladed Sword) of Himura Kenshin, key protagonist of the manga and anime series Rurouni Kenshin.

Himura Kenshin, was formerly a highly skilled assassin, called “Hitokiri Battōsai”. Hitokiri literally translates to “manslayer”. And while “Battōsai” has no direct meaning, there is a Japanese art called “Battōjutsu” which teaches the correct technique for drawing, cutting with, and sheathing a sword, much like Iaidō.

However while Iaidō deals primarily with the process of correctly drawing, cutting and sheathing techniques, Battōjutsu takes it a step further and teaches techniques for *multiple cuts* before resheathing. So together, the name “Hitokiri Battōsai” is perhaps one of the most ominous combinations you could ever have.

And the name was not undeserved. During his time as an assassin, Himura Kenshin he was considered an unbeatable warrior, killing many, many people, until one day he decides that he has done enough killing.

He becomes a rurouni, a renegade former assassin, who wanders the countryside helping people in trouble, to atone for his murderous past. Hence the name: Rurouni Kenshin. Once a rurouni, Kenshin meets a renowned Japanese swords smith called Arai Shakku, who has also decided to start making weapons for protection rather than killing, and it is he who gives the Sakabato to Kenshin.

I thought it was a cool, if a little cliched, story. The sword, however differentiates this from similar stories. I present Himura Kenshins Sakabato:

Himura Kenshins Sakabato

Himura Kenshins Sakabato

[click image to view full size]

From the intro pic, you can see that this is a beautiful, though not particularly noteworthy sword, except for one thing. The edge is on the inside of the curve of the blade, as opposed to the outside. This is a symbolic feature, intended to externally show that it’s wielder is a pacifist, and that the sword is not intended for lethal combat.

However the Sakabato poses a rather interesting structural question. The curve on a katana is a result of differential heat treatment, that makes the front edge of the blade hard, but leaves the spine flexible. During the tempering process, the front edge expands, while the spine does not, which results in the signature curve.

Thus a traditionally heat treated Sakabato is technically a rather complex feat. Since only the heat treated edge of a blade will expand, a sword would never curve in the direction of the edge, only away from it. So the only way a sakabato could be traditionally be made would be to forge an exaggerated reverse curve into the blade, *before* heat treating.

The curve would have to be enough to not only compensate for the resulting straightening that would occur during the heat treatment of the edge, but also still have enough curve left over for it to retain it’s signature Katana curve. It would take a very experienced smith to know exactly how much curve to forge into the blade.

Perhaps that was the point. Perhaps successfully pulling off a Sakabato was the signature of a master swordsmith, and made it the ultimate pacifists weapon. Hmm. That’s cool an all, but I could think of better solutions. Like don’t use a sword at all, just use something else. Like a Louisville slugger. Maybe in steel.

But that’s just my practical side speaking.

Anyway, cool plot lines and metallurgical complexities aside, this replica is actually one of the nicer ones I’ve seen in a long while. From the simple black circular tsuba, to the gold accent on the pommel, it is a very accurate, and very well put together, sword.

With quality fittings, real ray skin and cord wrapped tsuka, full tang carbon steel blade with dual mekugi, this is not only very well crafted, but a beautiful and sturdy design, intended to be dismantled and maintained in the traditional fashion:

Sakabato - Tsuka

Sakabato - Tsuka

[click image to view full size]

But while modern metallurgy might allow us to get away with a reverse bladed sword, without any of the mechanical hassles that would be associated with traditional metal working, I still would not advise any careless swinging of such a weapon. You never know, reverse blades may still have anomalous physical properties…

It might cut a hole in the fabric of space and time, and the tip may slice through, come out the other side and whack you in the back of the head. No, seriously, you gotta be careful with these kinds of things. Trust me, I’m a Balrog, I would know.

Hey, don’t roll your eyes at me, I’m just saying… K, fine. Suit yourself. Just make sure you bequeath your Sakabato to me in your will…

Yeah, It’s Phyreblade. P-H-Y-R…


Himura Kenshins Sakabato – [True Swords]

13 Responses to “Cool Replicas – Part 5: Himura Kenshins’ Sakabato”

  1. 1 beanjavert
    October 29, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    I really, really like the design of this sword, but I can think of a whole host of things I’d rather use.

    Maybe it’s just because I’m not a pacifist…

  2. October 30, 2008 at 1:25 am

    Well I think this design kinda goes beyond just being a pacifist. I mean, being the master swordsman that Kenshin was, he could just as easily have used a regular sword, but just refrained from killing people, a-la the Batman. Or he could have used a completely blunt, but normally shaped sword. Or a strong hardwood bokken.

    The reverse edge is really a rather extreme form of symbolism, as if to say, “I shun the edge of my sword so much, that I won’t just get rid of it, I’ll leave it there, but put it where it can never be used, so it will suffer the torture and indignity of being so close to being able to cut something/someone, and yet will never feel the pride of doing so…”

    You know. Like if the edge had feelings and enjoyed it’s job and all that…

    OK, yes. So I realize that last paragraph or two makes me sound like I am not entirely sane.

    I cannot lie. Guilty as charged. 🙂

  3. 3 Heero
    November 12, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    And if you do draw the sword and typically you lean your thumb against the “blunt” (ahem) edge of the sword…well, I hope you’ve got a bandage nearby.

  4. November 13, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    Well, technically your thumb should only be pushing on the tsuba, and not ever touch the spine of the blade. The purpose of the thumb on the tsuba when drawing is to help loosen the habaki from the mouth of the saya, which was traditionally designed to be a tight fit, so the sword would be secure when sheathed.

    So even if it were sharpened, you wouldn’t cut yourself on the spine… Unless you are really clumsy… In which case you probably already have lots of bandages ready… 😉

  5. 5 Jared
    November 18, 2008 at 7:31 am

    Actually if it’s an oil hardened steel they often curve down towards the blade instead of up…so maybe that smith just had access to better steel than the rest of them 🙂

  6. 6 zingowner
    December 4, 2008 at 9:01 am

    I actually saw a clip from a shopping channel with a guy trying to sell a sakabato. He hit the counter with the blunt edge to show how strong it was and the blade snapped. Then the tip flew around and stabbed him in the stomach. I’d say that was the most truthful and informative commercial I’ve ever seen.

  7. December 8, 2008 at 4:47 am

    I wasn’t aware oil hardened steel curved that much differently from any other. The basic tempering principles should remain the same, as i understand it, it is only the speed and nature of the temper that differs depending on the quench method.
    Why would it curve towards the edge?

    Are you sure it was a sakabato? And was it in the stomach? I distinctly remember a similar infomercial with a cheap “battle ready” sword where the presenter did the same thing, and it snapped and got him in the arm…

    But yes, that was an excellent example of truth in advertising… 🙂

  8. 8 MoZZA!
    December 9, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    *mumbles under breath* its possible…. but why would you want a reverse blade katana it would be an awkward cutter shite for thrusts not to mention you would have to alter all the traditional katas forms cuts etc ¬_¬ BAH!

  9. December 9, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    Yeah… It isn’t exactly the ideal weapon… But i guess that was the point…

  10. 10 MoZZA!
    December 10, 2008 at 10:58 am

    unless the point was to not have a point to the idea but that would still be a point …. GAHHHHHHHHHHHHH! CONFUZZLING!

  11. 11 kuu
    August 24, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Balrog or not ur right, a reverse blade is dangerous because it works differently from a normal blade xD, i would like to add, in battle if you swing the blade frontward it will be affected by wind resistance and if you carelessly swing it backwards in preparation for a strike you might add the same amount of force as when you swing it forward and the sharp edge will nullify most air resistance, probably ending up in an ugly self inflicted superficial wound. 😀

    but thats just goofy XD

  12. 12 kuu
    August 24, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    forgot to add, do not forget katanas have a curve, so what im saying is sensitively plausible?

  13. 13 Jacob Fowler
    September 11, 2011 at 4:55 am

    @Zingowner Actually the clip you’re talking about was for a Bud-K sword. Not a Sakabato, or reverse blade sword. As for why the sword was forged with the blade on the reverse side was to remind Kenshin that a man slayer was a man slayer until the day he dies. Sakku Arai told Kenshin that if he still held the foolish ideals when the original broke to come back and see him about a new one. That was when he found that Sakku Arai had made the principal/master forge of the sakabato in order to atone for create blades that kill. The reason the blade is reversed was to point out that the unrealistic ideals of Kenshin. ^_~ just my two cents. Also owning a reverse blade sword myself. Most real sword smiths will laugh at you when you ask them to forge you one. Badger Blades being where I got mine, but I had to custom order it and it cost me a lot of money. Also I had to order the Tsuka from different people because they refused to do the traditional wrapping. As much as I paid I was a little upset by this, but the blade is superb and truly amazing.

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