It’s well-known that the Japanese swords come of high quality, as well as the Samurais are known to be highly skilled in mastering them but it is known to rare people that hand spears were popular in old Japan. A spear has always been the weapon of the Samurai to threaten enemies. Japanese spears have their own niche in the history of martial arts and the global arsenal of the polearms.
A warrior who could skillfully handle the spear was of great respect. Moreover, there was the title (Ichiban-yari-no-komyo) to mean the “first spear” that was given to the warrior who was the first to attack the enemy with the spear in hand.
In view of more increasing level of spear battle technique in the middle of the epoch of Muromachi (1336-1568), the yari became the crucial weapon in the armament of the samurai and the special kind of the individual martial arts appeared called so-jutsu.
So-jutsu was one of the compulsory aspects of the overall samurai training as long as the personal combat, sword fencing, verse composing, study of the ceremonial of the court and the etiquette.
The art of so-jutsu yari fencing presumed using chops, jabs and slashes associated with the various ties and representation of the opponent counter. Enemy-oriented battle procedures were developed to defeat the one armed with the poleaxe or a sword. As a rule, so-jutsu used lightened and shorter poles that were advantageous in the ease of manoeuvre to the warrior as compared with the military heavier analogues.
A yari considerably pressed the naginata in the epoch of Edo (1603-1867), since it was one of the most conventional weapons in samurais. The yari battle procedures are trained in most martial arts schools learning so-jutsu and this is due to the high regard of the yari. Like any Japanese weapon, the yari are all of high quality and the extent of finishing to astonish again. For all the versatile kinds of Japanese yari, they have some elements in common.
A classic Japanese spear is made from two major parts: a point (the blade) – (go) and the tang (nakago). The point is inserted in the center of the upper shaft end. The blade is fastened with the special disks (seppa) and brass socket (habaki), placed over the guard (tsuba). Such a point fastening system provided the strength of the upper yari tip.
The tips of the Japanese yari were multiplex, the blade edge was called shinogi, the back edge — mune. The blade itself was called hosaki or yari-saki. All the Japanese yari are made with the special saya and cases made of cloth that protected the shinogi in the humid Japanese climate. Taking into account the variety of all types of blade, the gunsmiths in Japan could have faced difficulties in creating the scabbard. The must was the owner’s emblem (yari-jurusi) printed onto the scabbard as the heraldic sign (mon). Yari-jurusi was given as the sign of honor and adherence to the particular clan on the march.
The shaft of the yari (nagaye or ebu) conventionally came made from oak or any other hardwood. The shaft was usually rounded, though eight-faced shafts were also available. The upper part of the shaft was wrapped in metal wire or rings (sen-dan-maki) and lacquered to make the shaft point more durable. The clusters-sword knots, or so-called tidome, were fastened to the yari below the point; the tidome was made from the horse hair or yarn. Being in different colors, these tidomes were signs of honor for warriors (like yari-jirusi). The tidome of white color was called haguna. Sometimes the tidome was replaced by the small guidon with the image of the owner’s coat of arms (so-ki). Besides, the sword knots were intended to absorb the enemy’s blood draining down the point which prevented from sliding hands during the battle. The lower part of the shaft was never lacquered but polished to exclude the spear gliding in hands of the warrior. With the purpose to make the yari more durable, the shaft surface was trimmed with several tightening metal loops (semagone). The shaft, as a rule, ended in metal pommel – ishizuki, which were the additional striking element and the balancing part of the yari.
Considering the variety of Japanese yari, it is reasonable to classify them in the major parameters.
• By height:
o common tactical spears (yari) of two to four meters total length;
o spears of four to six and a half meters length (na-gane-no-yari), intended to control the attacking horse troops in the first line of the dismount warriors order;
o spears witht eh shortened shaft of up to two meters long (te-yari or teboko).
Te yari or hand spears were intended to arm the foot-mobile warriors and the cavalry.
• By the type of the pommel:
o with the straight blade (su-yari or tekuso), a bamboo leaf-shaped blade (sasaho), willow leaf-shaped blade (yanagi-gyta-su-yari) or with the wide blade and rounded peak;
o with one or several cross martial tails, sickle spear or kama yari).
• Su yari, or sugu yari, was divided, in its turn, into:
o yari with the point with the double-wedge sectioned blade (ryo-shinogi-yari);
o yari with the triangle section (sankaku-yari). With all the three edges of the blade are equal in width, the point was called shanaku-yari; with two edges of the blade equal in width, the yari was called hira-sankaku-yari);
o ito-gata-yari – a spear with the point with the wide point of the rounded point.
• By the type of tip fastening to the shaft: o classic yari with the points fastened to the shaft with the help of the butt (nakago);
o fukuro-yari – a spear with the point that has the metal funnelled bell instead of the butt called the crown dressed onto the shaft. All the points listed above were of 15 to 40 cm long. However, there were spears with the point of up to 0.9 m long. Such spears prolonged due to the point were called omi-yari.
• There are several varieties among the kama-yari:
o jumonji-yari or magari-yari spears that have the central straight blade and two cross lateral blade tails (eda) of equal length with slightly curved ends;
o “katakama-yari” spears that have the straight central blade and one or several cross tails. Usually these tails were curved upwards. If the tails looked down, such constructions were called ending in sitakumo. So, sitakumo-katakama-yari or sitakumo-jumonji-yari;
o kagi-yari spears, with the upper hook curved upwards to block the enemy’s striking and holding the weapon while battling;
o bishamon-yari spears, equipped with the lateral tails of the blade, moon-shaped.
Jumonji-yari usually had double-edged blades though there were spears with one of the lateral tails of the unilateral grind.
Usi-juno-jumonji-yari and jumonji-yari lateral tails of the blade remain the bull horns, and the lateral blades of the tsuki-gata-jumonji-yari are moon-shaped. Unlike the previous ones, the lateral tails of the kari-gata-jumonji-yari are curved to the central blade. Kagi-hidjusi-jumonji-yari (too rare variety) and jumonji-yari with the lateral tails of the blade to fold, if necessary. This group of weapons include the exotic variety of the Japanese spear– te-tigai-jumonji-yari and jumonji-yari with the central blade curved 90° towards the lateral tails.
Among the spears used in the Medieval Japan, there should be mentioned the weapons that are difficult to classify. The point is that various clans would use spears of different height and length of the construction differences. The rare variety of this weapon is kikuchi-yari called to honor the Kikuchi family living in the epoch of Nambokutyo (1336 – 1392). Kikuchi-yari look as the short knife-like weapon (tanto) sat onto the shaft.
Samurais and legendary Ninja warriors used syakudze-yari to perform various secret missions as the spear camouflaged as the common stick of Japanese pilgrims (begging monks– yamabushi). This resembled a plain stick ending in rings, though the blade was concealed inside driven with the secret spring.
Take-yari or bamboo spear is the weapon with the front end cut in sharp angle creating the point. More lightened spears also existed to missile called nage-yari or naguya. They had the typically tapering shaft to the end.
During the peacetime the spears were stored at the special support (yari-sasi).
It is appropriate to mention that use of Japanese weapons was mentioned even during the World War II. When Japanese warriors struggled with the American soldiers blocked at islands, they were left without food and drink to survive; they just attacked the enemy with hand-made bamboo spears (take-yari).
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