Dec 18, 2011

Weapons & Warriors: The Kanabō of the Samurai

Art by TL Jeffcoat
Although the Katana and other smaller blades were the most famous and most common weapons a Samurai used, they weren’t the only weapons in his arsenal. The Kanabō was probably the heaviest of the weapons a Samurai trained in. This two handed monster varied in actual length and weight, but there were those made that were the length of a man and were heavy enough that when swung down in a chopping motion they were powerful enough to destroy what they hit.

The thick club-like shaft was usually made with a very strong heavy wood, and sometimes with iron. Then one end was studded with iron spheres. The studs were inserted in rows along the length of each side of the shaft. Once completed it looked like a giant baseball bat with iron balls lined along its length.

There is a saying in Japan that goes “Like giving a Kanabō to an Oni.” What is an Oni you ask? It is basically a mythological Japanese demon that was supposed to be very strong. Strong enough that artistic depictions of them often had them wielding the Kanabō with only one hand. So the saying basically means giving someone an advantage while they already had the best chance; never a good idea.

On the show the Deadliest Warrior they test weapons to discover how deadly, durable and fast they can be. They tested a heavy Kanabō on a fake arm made with the same consistency as human bone and protected by a wooden shield. Not only was the shield broken, so was the bone underneath. That test shows the power of the Kanabō, but in reality, a shield is held less rigid and would have moved when struck to protect the warrior and his arm. This made the Kanabō a much less effective weapon against anyone using a shield, something the show was completely wrong about.

The Samurai were said to actually use this more against cavalry than anything. They could shatter a horse’s knee or knock a rider clear off his mount. Another use was against heavily armored enemies, such as other Samurai who wore steel plates from head to toe. The impact from a Kanabō could crush the steel and break the bones underneath. The only defense that I am aware of that was able to withstand a blow from this armor breaker was the Spartan Aspis. Believe it or not, this was tested in the Deadliest Warrior episode of Spartan vs. Samurai. The result of this test pretty much surprised everyone, including the Samurai experts. The Spartan arm was no more than bruised and the shield remained intact, other than a few dents.

The only real negative to a weapon like this was the time to recover after a strike. If the Samurai missed his target, he would be left very vulnerable while he the momentum of the huge bat left him defenseless for a few seconds, which is a long time in a fight to the death. Especially if the blow was bouncing off of a shield.

I like to thank Thrand for pointing out the mistake in the Deadliest Warrior show tests. Check out his website for more interesting weapon tests and information.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.


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  3. Watch this Video on youtube about the results on Deadliest Warrior.It is retested and the results on Deadliest Warrior appear to be inaccurate as being done incorrectly.
    Deadliest Warrior : Thrand Test Kanabo(Tetsubo) Against Viking Shield - The Final Word

    1. That is excellent material, and I will definitely revise (probably remove) the mention of the Deadliest Warrior test. I had not even thought about the way the shield would have been held in reality. I guess that's why it wasn't used much against shielded opponents. Thank you.

  4. Date of when the kanabo was founded please?