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Unusual Suspects: Historical Asian Swords

Asia’s history was carved out in large part by fierce warriors. Mongols. Samurai. Shaolin monks. Sikh warriors. Persian Immortals. Tactical mall ninjas — OK, maybe not that last one. But there’s no doubt that this region birthed some of the mightiest military cultures.

So, in a RECOIL first, we’re taking a sharper look at big blades from yesteryear that have been used on the battlefield or been inspired by those that have.

But note that this buyer’s guide isn’t comprehensive. There have been way too many swords crafted by too many civilizations over too many centuries across the biggest continent on Earth to include them all here. This is just a small slice (pun intended!) of the countless cutting instruments created in that continent.

Secondly, we excluded crappy replicas made from questionable materials and sold by shady retailers. Instead, we chose to focus on faithful recreations or innovative swords inspired by Asian themes that come from reputable manufacturers only. Read on to see if there’s a historical edged weapon that makes the cut for you.

RECP-181100-KNIVES-MIZUTORI-LINEUP-03.JPG

Make: Cold Steel
Model: Mizutori (Crane) Katana
OAL: 41.25 inches
Blade Length: 29.75 inches
Blade Material: 1095 high-carbon steel
Weight: 2.7 pounds
MSRP: $770
URL: www.coldsteel.com

411:
Appearing around the 1400s in Japan, the katana was a two-handed, single-edged curved sword that’s now considered by many historians as one of the most respected cutting weapons in military history — not just for its slashing and stabbing capabilities and its durability, but also for the intricate craftsmanship that went into making each one. This Cold Steel model has both the form and function of an ancient katana, but made from top-notch materials using modern technology. It comes with a lacquered wooden scabbard.

Pros:
> High-quality katana that would make Miyamoto Musashi smile.
> Meaning “crane” in Japanese, the Mizutori features an elegant bird motif.
> Incredibly strong, ridiculously sharp, and just plain badass

Cons:
> Some might scoff at the $770 MSRP (though the street price is far lower, which is still way cheaper than the thousands [or tens of thousands] for an authentic made-in-Japan katana).

RECP-181100-KNIVES-AKITO-LINEUP-01.JPG

Make: Boker Magnum
Model: Akito
OAL: 40.2 inches
Blade Length: 28.5 inches
Blade Material: 1045 carbon steel
Weight: 2.47 pounds
MSRP: $182
URL: www.bokerusa.com

411:
The Akito from Boker’s Magnum lineup is a fantastic (and relatively affordable) recreation of the samurai’s weapon of choice. A fully functional sword, it can be used for Iaido (the art of drawing the blade), tameshigiri (the art of test cutting), and for kata (prearranged movements of techniques) practiced in many martial arts. The Akito comes with a lacquered wooden scabbard and features an authentic hamon (the temper line along the side of the blade that’s created during the bladesmithing process).

Pros:
> As a part of Boker’s Magnum lineup of affordable edged weapons, the Akito is a great price.
> The blade is laser sharp, whether you’re swinging, draw cutting, or puncturing.
> Subtle good looks accented with quality furniture.

Cons:
> Our review sample arrived with a loose habaki (or metal collar at the base of the blade above the guard), so the sword can pop out of the scabbard when we’re not careful.

RECP-181100-KNIVES-KUNGFU-LINEUP-03.JPG

Make: Dragon King
Model: Kungfu Jian
OAL: 39 inches
Blade Length: 28.5 inches
Blade Material: 3Cr13 stainless steel
Weight: 1.63 pounds
MSRP: $309
URL: www.casiberia.com

411:
Distributed in the states by CAS Iberia, the Kungfu Jian kinda has a misleading name. Jian refers to the double-edged straight sword from China that dates back 2,500 years — and not necessarily that it’s used only by kung-fu practitioners. It’s often depicted in classic novels and films as “the gentleman of weapons.” Unlike the laughably bendable jian that wushu athletes use for flashy exhibitions (but not combat applications), the Kungfu Jian is a flexible but realistic replica with solid construction.

Pros:
> Light-years better in quality than the “wall-hangers” we find in various Chinatowns or flea markets.
> Handle feels good in hand, and blade feels well balanced.
> Composite scabbard looks like wood but will last longer.

Cons:
> It’s unsharpened, which is a shame because it has the qualities and materials of what would have been a reliable working sword.

RECP-181100-KNIVES-KOUGA-LINEUP-01.JPG

Make: Hanwei Forge
Model: Kouga Ninja-To
OAL: 33.5 inches
Blade Length: 22 inches
Blade Material: 1566 carbon steel
Weight: 2.19 pounds
MSRP: $510
URL: www.casiberia.com

411:
As the ancient equivalent to today’s special operation forces, the ninja served as spies, bodyguards, saboteurs, guerillas, and sometimes assassins. According to Japanese lore, two schools originated the art of ninjutsu: Koga-ryu and Iga-ryu. Though spelled differently, the Kouga Ninja-To from Hanwei Forge is a tribute to the former school. (U.S. wholesaler CAS Iberia also offers Hanwei’s Iga Ninja-To.) Despite being constructed in China, the sword is sturdy, well made, and attractive.

Pros:
> The iron handguard (or tsuba) and 1566 high-carbon steel blade are surprisingly robust.
> Balanced for both a one- or two-handed grip.
> If you’re a kid of the ’80s (Revenge of the Ninja, anyone?), you’ll love the sword’s movie-inspired aesthetics.

Cons:
> Could this ninjato lop off a tyrannical shogun’s head? Sure, but its edge wasn’t as razor sharp out of the box like some of the other blades in this buyer’s guide.

RECP-181100-KNIVES-DYNASTY-LINEUP-03.JPG

Make: Condor Tool & Knife
Model: Dynasty Dadao
OAL: 31.6 inches
Blade Length: 20.72 inches
Blade Material: 1075 high-carbon steel
Weight: 3.4 pounds
MSRP: $150
URL: www.condortk.com

411:
Don’t mistake the dadao for a machete. It was created centuries ago for one purpose: hack off heads and limbs. Though the literal translation is “big knife,” it’s more appropriately interpreted as “war sword” or “grand saber.” It became (in)famous during World War II when Chinese soldiers used them against the invading Japanese. Condor’s Dynasty Dadao is unexpectedly not made in China, but rather in El Salvador. Condor specializes in shovels, machetes, and other hard-use tools, so this dadao will hold up.

Pros:
> Need to intimidate a Grizzly or fight off an undead horde? This’ll do the job.
> Thanks to its thick blade and balanced weight, this is a beastly chopper.
> Great value for the price

Cons:
> The guard and ring have 90-degree edges that could result in hot spots on your hand after prolonged use.
> Our test cutting surprisingly scuffed up the 1075 carbon steel blade.

RECP-181100-KNIVES-BANYAL-LINEUP-03.JPG

Make: Traditional Filipino Weapons
Model: Banyal
OAL: 24.5 inches
Blade Length: 18.5 inches
Blade Material: Blend of 5160 steel and D2 tool steel
Weight: 2.25 pounds
MSRP: $245
URL: www.traditionalfilipinoweapons.com

411:
Students of kali, escrima, or other similar Filipino martial arts might mistake this for the ginunting (the official sword of the Philippine Marines), but this TFW sword is actually a modern reproduction of the banyal, which like the barong comes from the Moros of the Southern Philippines. The forward-weighted banyal was meant to be a light and fast hacker, but with an effective tip for thrusting. It comes with an ornately designed scabbard and, like all of TFW’s edged weapons, a blade made from a blend of 5160 and D2.

Pros:
> It chops like an ax, cuts like a laser, and stabs like a dagger.
> The combo of 5160 and D2 steels gives the blade a balance of strength, toughness, wear resistance, and edge retention.
> Perfectly balanced for fast one-handed techniques

Cons:
> The scabbard’s spring lock, which holds the blade in place, arrived covered in rust — a not-so-friendly reminder that the Philippines is a really humid place.

RECP-181100-KNIVES-BARONG-LINEUP-01.JPG

Make: Traditional Filipino Weapons
Model: Barong
OAL: 21.5 inches
Blade Length: 15 inches
Blade Material: Blend of 5160 steel and D2 tool steel
Weight: 1.06 pounds
MSRP: $245
URL: www.traditionalfilipinoweapons.com

411:
This leaf-shaped blade is one of the most distinctive weapons of Filipino warrior culture … and one of the most feared. Popularized by the Moros of the Southern Philippines, the barong can chop, slash, and stab with tremendous force. And its curved handle is great for striking, trapping, and retention. Though based in Connecticut, TFW has preserved this short sword’s classic looks and deadliness by having it handmade in the Philippines from a modern blend of 5160 steel and D2 tool steel.

Pros:
> TFW owner Ron Kosakowski is a martial arts master — and it shows in the quality and authenticity of his products, including this barong.
> Crazy sharp cutting edge
> Blade remains tough and resilient after our test cuts.

Cons:
> Scabbard lacks reliable retention, using only friction to keep the blade in place.
> There’s a small gap in the seam between the wood planks that make up the scabbard, which could let in moisture and debris over time.


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