A Katana is a single bladed two handed curved sword originating from Japan. A Longsword or Bastard Sword is a double bladed two handed straight sword originating from various European countries.

Many of the static stances used for the two weapons appear similar at least on a superficial level. Can anyone here comment on the actual differences in learning Longsword from ancient manuals and the living styles still practiced in Japan such as Kendo or Tenshi Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu?

3 Answers 3


To answer your question straight and simple: yes, they are traditionally used differently.

But to answer it with a bit more detail: yes, but it depends on a lot of things not necessarily related to the fact that you are comparing katanas and longswords per se.

Keep in mind that there are many traditions of Japanese swordsmanship (including ones with historical records) with different philosophies and goals as well as many historically recorded traditions of European longsword. To get a more accurate answer, you need to specify which traditions of both you are comparing. It's very difficult to put this simply, but there is a surprising amount of variety even within the respective traditions for the two weapons even if their stances on the surface look similar to each other. Just to illustrate the point, here's two images of a small sampling of stances from two different European longsword traditions:

Fiore dei Liberi: enter image description here

Paulus Hector Mair: enter image description here

Notice how some stances that are superficially similar to one another have slight differences. Porta di Ferro Mezana while superficially identical to Alber, has some differences like how retracted Fiore likes to hold that guard vs. how Mair likes to lean forward and put it out in front. In addition, Fiore treats Porta di Ferro Mezana as a variant of the Iron Gate stance which includes an alternate variant called Tutta Porta di Ferro while Mair categorizes Alber as a completely separate stance from the rest in his system. In addition, some stances are missing from each others' systems like how Fiore doesn't technically have a guard identical to the Vom Tag in Mair's longsword and how Mair doesn't have a guard like the two Posta di Donna's in Fiore's longsword. These differences are important since they highlight a different mindset to using the stances between these two schools of longsword.

Now lets look at two different traditions of Japanese swordsmanship's kamae:

Kendo Kamae:

enter image description here

Katori Shinto Ryu Kamae:

enter image description here

Notice again that while some stances are superficially similar and even share the same names, there are differences. The feet in Kendo's Jodan no Kamae are much closer together with the back heel lifted and the body facing forward vs. Katori Shinto Ryu's Jodan which has the body more turned sideways and the feet wide apart but firmly planted. Again, some stances are missing in each others' systems like no Tori kamae variants in Kendo and no edge up variant of Waki Kamae in Katori Shinto Ryu and other kamae that are kind of similar are shuffled around or named differently. Again, these differences are a result of differences in mindset regarding how the sword is to be used in these different schools of Japanese swordsmanship.

It may be tempting to look at stances and superficially draw similarities between them and assume they are used in the same way:

enter image description here

But you have to keep in mind that these are static comparisons while swordsmanship is an activity that is in motion. It's very difficult to give generalities about how using a longsword is different vs. using a katana without more specifics about which styles you are comparing since there's a staggering amount of variety of subtle differences even within the same weapon type.

With that said, if we must talk generalities, we will have to look at the weapons themselves and point at the differences we can observe between them and assume these differences will lead to differences in use. In theory, just by pure physical differences in the weapons, there are some things that you can fundamentally do with a katana that you cannot with a longsword and vice versa.


For example, the "German grip" as seen in the Lichtenauer tradition and shown by Skallagrim here is generally impossible to do with a katana since traditionally katanas have a tsuba/disc guard that gets in the way of such a grip.

enter image description here

However, I must caveat that not all traditions of longsword use the German grip (e.g. Fiore and Italian traditions don't seem to use it as often) and there are some longsword designs that wouldn't allow an easy German grip:

enter image description here

Plus there are niche styles of katana that could theoretically allow a thumb grip: enter image description here And there are some unconventional, but similar grips shown in Japanese artwork depicting swords that involve fingering the blade in some way:

enter image description here


Another difference that seems apparent is the number of edges of the swords and blade design. The katana is curved and the longsword is straight which to some may indicate that a katana is a better cutter and the longsword is a better thruster and that you should optimally use one type of attack more on one than the other. There is some truth to this, but realistically both the katana and longsword are cut-and-thrust swords and traditions from both show both cuts and thrusts being used and the amount of what attack to use will depend on the tradition:

A longsword cutting: enter image description here

A katana thrusting: enter image description here

With that said, the curvature on a katana does somewhat off-put the angle at which thrusts can be performed vs. the straighter blade of the longsword which is more intuitive to thrust with. In addition, most longsword designs tend to have highly tapering blades which can be used to pierce mail armor more easily.

enter image description here

Contrast that with katana blades which are generally quite thick and stiff blades with wide hatchet points which are good for cutting. Plus, the curvature does aid in extracting the blade from a target more easily during a cut.

enter image description here

The curve in addition to aiding cuts can sort of act like a weird shield since the curvature covers a wider line of attack when compared to the linear blade of the longsword when trying to parry a cut or can even act to passively displace a blade sideways when thrusting.

It has to be mentioned though that not all katanas are curved enough to have the above benefits/disadvantages of curvature since some can be almost straight: enter image description here

And the katana's ancient predecessor, the chokuto (which in Japanese means straight katana) was straight:

enter image description here

Plus, there exists some longsword designs with almost no thrusting capacity whatsoever and are designed to purely be cutters. enter image description here

And there are katana blades which are clearly designed to be pointy thrusters. enter image description here


The double-edged blade of the longsword allows false edge cuts to be performed by flicking the hand upward vs. a single-edged blade which can only cut with the true edge and requires flipping the sword around to perform similar rising cuts. Certain techniques however that involve touching the blade may be more risky to perform with a double-edged sword. Iaijutsu/Iaido are a bit more risky to do with a conventional longsword since the two edges could lead to cutting oneself if done in the traditional fashion shown in iai here since it involves placing the spine of the blade against the hand and sliding it across the skin.

enter image description here

With that said though, yes people did historically grip sharp longsword blades with their bare hands and it could be possible to perform some blade-touching techniques like iai if you're very careful: enter image description here And, there were double-edge katanas historically: enter image description here And single-edge "longswords" (if you play a little loose with the semantics of what a "longsword" is and count langesmesser and kriegsmesser as "longswords"): enter image description here And people have come up with ways of sheathing double-edged katanas in modern practice


Another difference some may state is that the way that the katana is worn traditionally (i.e. edge up in an obi) does provide some benefits vs how a longsword is worn since the obi does hold the sword very securely and comfortably to your core and allows easy manipulation of the scabbard through the belt for iaijutsu/iaido vs. a longsword which traditionally is worn from a belted suspension system:

enter image description here

With that said, the katana's predecessor and look-alike, the tachi, was worn like a longsword: enter image description here In addition, it's not impossible for a person to quick-draw a longsword like a katana with a suspension system. Plus there's nothing stopping you from sticking a longsword in an obi as long as the fittings don't get in the way of saya-biki, it just wouldn't be traditional.

Another thing to consider regarding obi wear vs. suspension wear is that it is generally easier to carry larger swords from a suspension system since there is more space available to draw a longer blade since the sword hangs beneath the waist while obi wear tends to put the sword at or above the waist. However, it must be mentioned you can still draw and use really large swords even if wearing a sword from the obi.


One other seemingly obvious difference is that most longswords have a large crossguard or variant of that which in theory provides more hand protection. In actuality though you need to actively intercept cuts with a crossguard by positioning the sword so that the guard gets in the way of a cut and denies the line of attack to the fingers which is something that you don't need to do as much if you have a round disc guard above the hand since it passively covers the top of the hand pretty evenly all around. Really though, relying on the crossguard, let alone any guard, by itself can be quite unreliable hand protection without addition of side-rings or other extensive furniture on your guard which means your fingers are still quite vulnerable to being hit with a traditional longsword. That's why HEMA longsworders wear these in competitions and don't just rely on the crossguard to protect themselves from cuts: enter image description here If you ignore "traditional longswords" though you do get swords with generally more hand protection than katanas which allow more point forward guards without presenting as much of a risk to your hand getting hit. enter image description here However, historical Japanese disc guards can reach rather large sizes that would be more than sufficient to protect the hands; up to 4 inches in diameter or more in some examples and there are historical examples of katana/tachi with guard extensions that could potentially protect the hand sort of like a crossguard: enter image description here Plus there are longswords with minimal disc-shaped guards like katanas: enter image description here

With all that said though, it should be obvious that all these examples of niche longswords and katanas are NOT "traditional" and if you are mainly focusing on the "traditional" forms of both these weapons, it will ultimately depend on what traditions of longsword or katana in question you are comparing. But I hope the above ramble has highlighted some generalities of how the two are used differently depending on their "iconic" forms and how "non-traditional" versions of those respective weapons could lead to both swords being used in more or less a similar manner at times!

  • 1
    +1, but with a nit-pick: the image of a sword which doesn't allow a "german-style" grip appears to be a fully two handed sword, considered by some to be outside the class of "longsword." Side rings (and nagels) do interfere with this grip, the pictured sword may just be a poor example.
    – PipperChip
    Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 18:22

I won't pretend expertise, but I have some HEMA experience, admittedly in parallel to SCA fighting, which has some different techniques due to different rules. My Kenjutsu credentials are slightlier shabbier, in that I did my training in informal classes at work, admittedly from someone who had proper accreditation with the local schools. I actually found my prior experience was a bit of a hindrance because of the difference in styles. I'll provide my input, in advance of more experienced people offering help.

A lot of it comes down to the sword

Other than the length, being edged weapons, and generally being wielded with two hands, the swords have several differences.

  • The katana has a single edge while European longswords generally has two.
  • The katana is traditionally curved, and more tapering while longswords are straight and tend to be the same width for most of the blade.
  • The katana is sharp along the entire length while the longsword generally has a dull part at the bottom.
  • The katana has a more abbreviated hand-guard, an oval guard, compared to a European longsword which will range from a simple cross-guard (arming sword) to a more comprehensive basket hilt.
  • Katana generally do not have a pommel and have a longer hilt
  • A katana is a bit less tip-heavy.

The first two qualities of the katana basically come down to one major issue, that Japan did not have access to high-quality iron. As a result, they used a folding process to create the katana, which resulted in a better quality of steel compared to what they started with, but still relatively brittle. Thus, the blade was blunt on side, to reinforce it, and the blade was curved to distribute the blow over a longer amount of time.

You don't chop with a katana... for long

Because the katana is more fragile, you really don't so much swing it into your target like a bat so much as that you make contact, and then you move the sword to slice your target. It takes a lot of technique to do this properly, and at higher levels, especially against a stationary target, it does look like a chop because you're doing one fluid movement where the slicing is done in conjunction with the contact.

This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the armor situation. Again, there was a lack of good iron in Japan, which meant that armor moved towards a lamellar design of multiple laced scales, often of leather, rather than the broader plates of metal favored by European medieval warriors. Part of European swordwork involved heavier blows because it was the only way to damage someone through heavy plate, striking them hard enough to dent the plate or to cause internal trauma.

You have a flat side on the katana to brace with

Admittedly, this is also something done in European longsword when you have gauntlets and vambraces, but it is more common in Kenjutsu for some techniques to use a free hand or forearm to brace your blade or to move it in a situation where you've become into too close of quarters. It does also mean that you also have to consider which direction you're cutting with.

Katana do more deflection than they do direct opposition

Again, down to fragility and differences of weight, there is a stronger emphasis on deflection with the katana rather than blocking with the edge (an exception is made here, of course, where you can arrange to block an unarmed strike with your edge). With the longsword, I was taught to block with the edge because the cross-section of the sword was strongest in that direction. With the katana, I was told a direct block would significantly chip, and weaken, the blade.

As more aspects come to mind, I will add them.

  • 3
    Yes. The stabbing is a bit different as a result, too, requiring kind of a curving motion when going in. The whole "folded steel is superior" thing is, I think, a way that all of that effort was used to justify the process. It does produce a method that moves the carbon evenly throughout the blade, but it's a lot of effort for the result. I probably ought to add a caveat that there are a number of people who state that the curve being part of the slicing effectiveness is more legend, and it has to do with the quenching process. Like I said, I was an amateur at both styles. Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 2:56
  • 1
    I'm seeing a lot of interest in ricasso work with longswords. (Apparently, use in armored context was limited, but don't quote me on that!) Ricasso allows grip with unarmored hand, and appears to have been mainly used for leverage against polearms, which makes obvious sense. I personally don't like gripping that blade in that context against another blade without steel gauntlets. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the bracing motion for katana similar to Chinese saber, applied such that the bracing arm or hand is not exposed? Very different from gripping the ricasso.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Aug 18, 2021 at 1:21
  • 1
    I don't like bracing the blade like a single-edged with a steel gauntlet much either, even if the gauntlet should protect the hand. I have a 4lb Chinese two handed longsword, and that is a broad bladed beast, insanely sturdy, with most of the weight in the blade. But the HEMA sparers I've handled, and the historical designs they're based on, are a bit lighter and have much narrower blades, such that I wouldn't be confident the stress pressing like that can put on it.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Aug 18, 2021 at 1:39
  • 1
    @JohnP I wouldn't be so bold as to say European longswords were more clubbing than cutting. Knights were deployed against many types of foes, from very lightly armored peasants to other knights. I imagine cutting happened more against lightly armored peasants, but very little bashing against armored opponents. Seems like every armored fighting treatise encourages stabbing through the gaps or using the sword as a lever over techniques like mordhau.
    – PipperChip
    Commented Jul 12, 2022 at 17:36
  • 1
    Two minor points as I recently looked a lot into this stuff: a) blocking head-on is frowned upon in most HEMA manuals as well, mainly because of the same reasons you don't block with a Katana head-on: it will destroy your edge pretty fast and may snap your blade. b) European medieval steel used to suffer from similar weaknesses, even if not to the same extent. They used to pull the hot steel, fold it together, and twist the two halves into one body of steel repeatedly instead of the Japanese form of folding, but reason, technique, and outcome (distribution of impurities) are similar. Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 8:33

One key is the shape of the blades. A curved blade naturally slides more across a target, making it easier to slice. A straight sword doesn't stay in contact as long unless you draw it across the surface. Naturally, then, the cutting technique has to be quite different. Straight swords make thrusting easier, while curved swords make cutting easier. The katana is less curved than some other cutting swords, perhaps to give more balance between cutting and thrusting, but it's more for cutting. The European swords were generally more for thrusting.

The stances might look similar because weapons in general have similar ways of wielding. For example, standing with your weapon in front of you, pointed at your opponents eyes, makes sense for many weapons, because it a) puts something between you and your opponent, and b) makes it harder to judge the exact length when it's pointed right at their eyes. It works for staves as well as blades.

  • 1
    Extending this further: biomechanics of humans necessarily limits the number of reasonable stances and strikes which provide stability, speed, and strength, further limited by weapons' weight and size. These weapons are similar enough (compared to, say, bows, muskets, or spears) that the general layout of strikes and stances look very similar.
    – PipperChip
    Commented Jul 12, 2022 at 17:29

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.