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Swords, Cutting and Military History

A quick look at the kusarigama – sickle and chain

A quick look at the kusarigama – sickle and chain

photo by Katie

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A staple in many ninja movies, the kusarigama — known as the sickle and chain, though historically rope was often used — consists of the kama, or sickle, with a length of rope  or chain attached and a heavy weight on the end.  While modern fiction has assigned this weapon to the ninja, who did use it, it was also a weapon popular with many warriors.

The weighted rope or chain would be used to defend against incoming attacks, to trip, entangle or to tie up enemies, or — by using the weighted end as a flail, to hit an attacker.  Meanwhile, the sickle could be used to both block and strike.

The kusarigama came into use in the late Muromachi Period (1337 – 1573).  The late Muromachi Period contains a time, just over a century in length (1467 – 1573) which is known as the Sengoku (Warring States) Period;  during this time of great social upheaval, there was almost continual warfare as great lords fought free of the Ashikaga Shogunate, and then fought each other for dominance.

Given this, it is perhaps unsurprising that unusual weapons made their appearance.  That an apparently peasant-based weapon would become popular amongst the warriors of the time shouldn’t be surprising, as there were many ashigaru — lightly armed and armoured foot soldiers — in the armies of the time, many of whom would have a peasant background.  Various history texts also mention the weapon was popular with the militant monks of the time (Secrets of the Samurai, p. 347).

From a Darwinian view of  weapon evolution,  a weapon which proves effective or superior on the battlefield would propagate;  other warriors would adopt it. This is exactly what seems to have happened over the period of a century or so.

Some of the oldest existing schools of martial arts in Japan, including Kashima Shin-ryū, founded in the early 16th century, included specialized training in defending against the kusarigama (Legacies of the Sword, p 123)

A number of museums include authentic kusarigama among their collections, such as the set on display at Iwakuni Castle


Kusarigama: sickle and chain

via Wikipedia


Use of the kusarigama in battle was often integrated with unarmed martial arts, allowing the fighter to quickly switch tactics as need or opportunity arose.  Some of the best examples of modern applications of the kusarigama are seen in the videos below.  The first video shows slowed-motion, full-speed movements:



While this video display more of a classroom kata view, though still very dramatic.




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