*Reprinted from the Toyama Ryu Batto Jutsu Tai Kai 2000 program, with kind permission of the event organizers.
In 660 BC Jimmu Tenno, the semi-legendary descendant of the Sun Goddess, became emperor of Japan and founded the Imperial Family. Over a thousand years later, during the Heian Period (782-1185), the Fujiwara clan rose to become the true power behind the Imperial government. As centuries passed, other factions grew to power, the most prominent of which were the Taira and Minamoto families. As the Fujiwara declined during the latter part of the 12th century, disorder arose and the Taira and Minamoto factions began openly to battle for power. It was this half-century of continual military conflict between the two families that gave rise to the Samurai as a distinct class in Japanese society.
At the beginning of the Kamakura Period (1185-1388) Yoritomo led the Minamoto family to victory over the Taira clan and established a government based on the Samurai feudal code of loyalty and service. He appointed loyal vassals to high offices. This rise of the warrior caste stimulated improvements in the art of sword making. Some years later Minamoto Mitsungka developed large-scale iron mining on his lands and cultivated the art of swordsmithing, raising these artisans to a status akin to priesthood. During this period the main sword of the Samurai was the tachi, a long, deeply curved sword worn slung from the left side, edge down.
As centuries passed, Japan became increasingly immersed in warfare as various families vied for power. This ultimately led to the Sengoku or "Warring States" Period during the 15th Century. This time of incessant warfare was a propitious time for the Samurai caste and gave rise to numerous schools and styles of swordsmanship. At this time two events occurred that played important roles in the development of the Japanese Sword arts as we know them today.
In 1549 Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto no Shigenobu was born to a samurai family. Years later, after his father was killed in a duel, Hayashizaki entered the local Shinto shrine, determined to avenge his death. There he spent 100 days in prayer and sword practice, developing the technique of drawing and cutting in a single motion. This was the beginning of what we now call iaijutsu. Also during this period, the most significant development in the Japanese sword took place. The design of the sword blade began to change to be more suitable to the infantry. The blade became shorter, slightly straighter, and was worn thrust through the sash, edge out. This allowed the Samurai to draw and cut forward in one rapid movement. This new sword was called katana or daito and is what is most commonly known as the "Samurai sword."