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View Full Version : The hole(s) on a tsuba



Fred27
27th March 2006, 09:55
On 99% of all tsuba I've seen online, both ancient and new ones, there have been at least one hole near the center of the tsuba, like this one: Tozando tsuba (http://iaido.tozando.com/image/t017.gif) I'm guessing they aren't there for decoration but rather they serve, (or at least did serve), some kind of purpose. What was the original intent with these holes?

I tried doing a forum search for it but I don't really know what keywords to use other than tsuba.

Andy Watson
27th March 2006, 11:04
From what I know, which ain't a lot, the hole is more recently there to allow the sword to be tied into the saya with the sageo.

I believe this is reasonably recent though as sageo haven't always been attached to swords and some swords have a retaining catch.

If my memory serves me right, one of the holes is called the namako (the slug) and I can't remember what the other one is.

Hyakutake will probably know the full details.

Regards

hyaku
27th March 2006, 12:25
On 99% of all tsuba I've seen online, both ancient and new ones, there have been at least one hole near the center of the tsuba, like this one: Tozando tsuba (http://iaido.tozando.com/image/t017.gif) I'm guessing they aren't there for decoration but rather they serve, (or at least did serve), some kind of purpose. What was the original intent with these holes?

I tried doing a forum search for it but I don't really know what keywords to use other than tsuba.

http://www.hi-net.zaq.ne.jp/osaru/e_kosirae.htm

yoj
27th March 2006, 12:38
Damn, thats what I thought it was but decided not to say anything to avoid proving i was dumb, yet again ;-) the question is of course how do you do Iai, with bits poking through the tsuba?

Fred27
27th March 2006, 14:36
Kougai is a portable comb. They comb up their hair

A dagger and a comb attached to the saya...like an early version of a swiss army knife. :) :p

Anyways, the Kougai and Koduka must have been very popular. I've seen plenty edo-period tsuba with the same type of holes..Hell, even my iaito has em too :D Thx for the info, excellent site. :)

Steve Delaney
27th March 2006, 14:55
Damn, thats what I thought it was but decided not to say anything to avoid proving i was dumb, yet again ;-) the question is of course how do you do Iai, with bits poking through the tsuba?


Elementary my dear Jimbo, you adapt. ;)

After using iaito for many years I bought a shinken that has these and it took a bit of time to get used to. Another reason why you shouldn't grip the sword too near the fuchigane.

Brian Owens
2nd April 2006, 07:28
...the question is of course how do you do Iai, with bits poking through the tsuba?
As far as I know, the kogai and kozuka shouldn't project through the holes in the tsuba (at least not by much) when all are fully sheathed; the holes are to give a path through which to push the implements from their places of rest without having to unsheath the sword.

BTW, another item sometimes carried instead of the kogai (skewer) was a pair of metal chopsticks shaped like a split kogai. There was a superstition that breaking ones hashi before a battle was a sign of impending doom; metal hashi prevented this.

M. Marchionni
5th April 2006, 15:03
Hello, you can find at http://home.earthlink.net/~steinrl/tsuba.htm what you are looking for.
Is: Kozuka Hitsu-ana; Kogai Hitsu-ana and Udenuki-ana (ana means hole) and you can find other type of holes (silhouette) who represent some thing called Sukashi, those could be positive or negative.
Regards,
Máximo

kdlarman
5th April 2006, 15:12
FWIW the kogai and kogatana will protrude somewhat. Not a lot, but at least up into the fuchi a bit on a properly mounted sword.

Now, for the bonus round. What is the purpose of the udenuki-ana? The two holes roughly at the bottom of some tsuba.

yoj
5th April 2006, 15:26
FWIW the kogai and kogatana will protrude somewhat. Not a lot, but at least up into the fuchi a bit on a properly mounted sword.

Now, for the bonus round. What is the purpose of the udenuki-ana? The two holes roughly at the bottom of some tsuba.


to tie the sword to the wrist ;-) (and yes i did know it, not just the power of google ;-)

kdlarman
5th April 2006, 15:32
Well, that's one of the right answers... ;)

kdlarman
5th April 2006, 15:36
to tie the sword to the wrist ;-) (and yes i did know it, not just the power of google ;-)

And by the way, I've always wondered how often that *really* happened when folk used these for real. Just visualize attaching a blade like that to your wrist. And now likely it would be that you'd lose body parts due to you having the flying, wobbling, helicopter rotor sword attached to you... Yikes.

yoj
5th April 2006, 15:42
1 is a high score for me ;-)

I can see it now, you lose your grip on the sword, and by way of thanks it spins around and lops your arm off, ace! Or even better the blade breaks, and instead of picking up another weapon off of the field of battle and carrying on, you're stood there, tongue stuck out the side of your mouth picking at the knot as it's gone tight and is slippery, eventually you ask your opponent if he'll have a go since he "has nails".....

Kendoguy9
5th April 2006, 15:59
Dear Mr. Larman and all,

I would be interested in speaking about the udenuki-ana off list or in PM with anyone. I am in the early stages of writing a short paper/article on them. I believe they have "spiritual" protective powers, and have little to do with wrist straps. At the very least the wrist strap may have been an after thought. I'm looking for sources on these ana now that might support my idea.

My email address is in my profile.

kdlarman
5th April 2006, 16:30
This isn't an area of great debate historically.

And I don't know of any sources that would support anything "spiritual" about it.

Udenuki (udenukio) were originally straps or "tassels" that attached to the sarute on tachi mounts (the ring that hangs on the end of the kashira, same as on gunto mounts). It could indicate rank or importance.

Udenuki literally means something along the lines of cord for bracing to the arm. Udenuki-ana then are the holes (ana) for attaching the cord for bracing to the arm (udenuki). Whether they were *actually* used for that purpose is another thing entirely...

At some point later in history (post tachi) the udenuki-ana (holes for the udenuki) began to appear on some tsuba for katana style wearing. They are very common on Satsuma mounts. Vastly less common in other regions and styles.

Some accounts of some sword styles (southern mostly) had the udenuki used for tying the tsuba to the kurikata with rolled up paper "string" to hold the blade in place in the saya. Some say to give the swordsman a reminder about only drawing the sword if necessary and not out of anger. That seems somewhat apocraphal to me, but those crazy Satsuma fellas did a lot of interesting things.

Some styles say they are for attaching to the arm (per the literal translation). I'm not so convinced that's a smart move (I'd jump away like a scared 5-year-old girl if I dropped a sharp sword) but attitudes vary of course.

Any "spiritual" idea is something I've never heard before. Doesn't mean it ain't possible, but like many things in the Japanese sword world there are all sorts of regional variations, stories, mythologies, styles, etc. that all impact questions like "what" something is for. Depends who you ask and in what context. FWIW in my experience most of those sorts of explanations usually turn out to be ad hoc. We tend to read things into them that were simply never there. The explanation may "fit" in a sense, but that doesn't mean it is correct.

And I wouldn't be surprised if they were not used 99% of the time. In other words they were there simply because they were there in that style. Just like color choices some styles did things to simply set themselves off a bit from everyone else. Or something that is sort of a "trademark" of a certain style. Satsuma swords also often have a very distinctive "door stop" style "obi hook" on the saya. Again, something very distinctive of satsuma style. Satsuma styles also had a very particular "look" to them that set them apart. So I have little trouble believing the udenuki-ana were also part of that stylistic flair.

Heck, in general the other ana on katana tsuba were often installed simply because the "design" had them. The mounts never had kogai and kogatana installed but the holes were there in the tsuba because "that's" how the tsuba of that design is "supposed" to look. The fact that the holes are there does not mean they were there for a functional or any other reason beyond the simple "that's the way it is supposed to be".

As an aside I have heard a few people call them representative of the sun and moon. That version has always seemed *really* ad hoc to me.

ScottUK
5th April 2006, 17:02
Here's a pic, courtesy of Guy Power's website:

http://www.webdiva4hire.com/kenshinkan/img/udenuki_ana.gif

Kendoguy9
5th April 2006, 18:10
Dear Mr. Larman and Mr. Halls,

Thank you both for your replies and the picture of the strap in use. I would be very interested in seeing a period historical example of a wrist strap being thread through the udenukiana either on a tachi or a later koshirae. Also if anyone knows of any period paintings showing the use of the wrist strap I would be very interested as well. I certainly don't doubt it may have been used for this purpose, but don't know of any surviving ryu that uses it for this purpose (I am no expert though). That is why I am looking for any sources about these features.

Hanging tassels on the sarute is very different then hanging them off of the tsuba. I am somewhat familiar with Satsuma koshirae and the fact that it was still commonly employed by the Satsuma samurai into the peaceful Edo era will lend to my argument, I think. I honestly believe that the sun and the moon reference is much more significant then ad hoc explanation.

I have no doubt that later generations left them on because "that's they way it's done" attitude many traditions have. I just think originally they were more then strap holes. When I get a draft done I'll post it for feedback (don't hold your breath, btw).

hyaku
5th April 2006, 23:24
Scott, Don't forget with this tsuba you can poke your finger through to do sasen!

http://www.shadowofleaves.com/musashi%20tsuba.jpg

ScottUK
5th April 2006, 23:36
Hehe, indeed.

Will PM you on this...

Brian Owens
6th April 2006, 05:10
Here's a pic, courtesy of Guy Power's website...
That's different than the way I was shown. Stylistic differences, purhaps.

The way I was shown was to loop the loop over your thumb, across the back of the hand, then up along the palm side so the loop was pinned against the tsuka.

In that method the cord gave a little extra support to the grip, reducing the risk of the sword leaving ones hand in the heat of battle, yet could be quickly discarded if need be.

Whether that method has historical precedence, or was "rediscovered" (AKA completely made up) I cannot say.

EdwardMason
7th April 2006, 16:05
I may be a little late getting in on this string but I was just looking through my SwordStore.com catalogue and found on page 27 a suggestion that the warriors would tie a string from their hand to their sword while sleeping.

Perhaps this is a viable answer? :rolleyes:

Sincerely,
E. Mason :

kdlarman
7th April 2006, 19:21
Man I love this craft... Honestly I really don't know why they're there. My honest suspicion is that they're more about a design element and style than practical. But I wouldn't be surprised if some of those hard-core fellas in some styles would tie themselves to their swords. The reality is that asking about "purpose" of things is usually unanswerable outside the context of a time, place, style, history, etc. It reminds me of the arguments about menuki placement. There are lots of correct placements that make sense given certain "flows of tradition". Gyaku-te mounting is popular here in the US with a large number of groups, but those groups were heavily influenced by one group in particular. But they still call it gyaku which should be a hint that it is considered reversed... That doesn't mean incorrect, just that there are many ways to do it and that particular method really isn't the "common" one. There isn't a universally correct answer to the question of functional reason for the existence of menuki. Just a lot of explanations about how they're considered in various contexts.

As a tangent, one day a fella who I know that's into knives explained that he was talking to this american knife maker who explained to him how he had come up with the name "Tanto" for short swords. At this point I was already turning my head sideways in confusion, but I let the story continue. He told me it was because he figured Americans could remember "tanto" from the old Lone Ranger radio and TV show. Slowly I realized "holy crap, this guy believed the story!".

Now you *know* this knife maker was having fun with this guy telling him this line of BS, but he really believed it. And this somewhat naive fella had in turn told a lot of people this same story about how the word "tanto" came to mean short sword in Japanese style blades. And I must admit I couldn't find it in myself to even try to correct him. The poor guy never realized that tanto was the correct name going back 1000 years. The original maker was just "yanking his chain" good naturedly. Probably thinking the fella knew better all along.

Anyway, I always wonder how many things we know today about things no longer practiced came about roughly the same way.

"Hey, dude, see the new guy Yoshio over there? Let's mess with him..."

"Hey, Yosh, why don't you tie your sword to your arm tonight in case someone tries to steal it while you're sleeping... And don't forget to unsheath your tanto ("Hi ho Silver!") and keep it under your pillow..."

"Aw, man, did you see that? He actually DID IT! What a freakin' idiot..."

Then decades later old man yoshio (who is one-armed and missing an ear) tells his grandchildren about why there are holes in some tsuba... And why they stopped sleeping with knives named after indian sidekicks under their pillows...

rottunpunk
9th April 2006, 11:57
best person to ask is tsuba guru jim gilbert. you can contact him through his website
http://home.earthlink.net/~jggilbert/tsuba.htm

you wouldnt be refering to the udenuki ana perchance would you?
a lot of the holes in tsuba are just for decoration apart from the 3 necessary ones of course.

in the west, (in the napoleonic wars etc.) cavalry would wrap cord around their wrists (attatched to the sword hilt) so that they would not loose it if the enemy knocked the sword out of their hands.

:p

Brian Owens
9th April 2006, 12:41
...you wouldnt be refering to the udenuki ana perchance would you?
Hi, Deborah,

Let's see...


...Kozuka Hitsu-ana; Kogai Hitsu-ana and Udenuki-ana (ana means hole) and you can find other type of holes (silhouette)...

...Now, for the bonus round. What is the purpose of the udenuki-ana? The two holes roughly at the bottom of some tsuba.

to tie the sword to the wrist ;-) (and yes i did know it, not just the power of google ;-)

...I would be interested in speaking about the udenuki-ana off list or in PM with anyone.

...Udenuki-ana then are the holes (ana) for attaching the cord for bracing to the arm (udenuki).

Yeah, I think we were talking about the udenuki ana. :p

ZealUK
9th April 2006, 13:22
As mentioned above many tsuba from Satsuma koshirae have two small holes for tying a paper chord to the kurikata. This prevented the owner from drawing the sword uneccesarily.

I have seen many examples of this kind of tsuba both at the Kagoshima Reimeikan, the Jigen Ryu Shiryokan and also in books regarding Satsuma koshirae.

rottunpunk
9th April 2006, 14:31
hehe.
sorry mr brian.
i have a short attention span and read some but not all of the posts.
i count my wristy hereby slappedied
:p

ScottUK
9th April 2006, 14:35
Hehe, hat off to Mr Owens for written sarcasm...! :D