Formalized martial arts schools were founded by samurai who had transcendental experiences at religious sites like shrines and temples. Immersing themselves deep in nature, they found inspiration in the world around them – in the movements of animals, the trees gently bending in the breeze, or crashing waterfalls eroding the hardest of rocks. Legends of long nosed demons called tengu instructing warriors on secret techniques, swallows being slashed in two mid-flight, and other fantastical stories pervaded adding a layer of mystery and the supernatural.
The samurai intended to make movements that were efficient, effective, and graceful. The martial arts of the samurai were a system of education for a warrior class, intended to create better human beings and model citizens. As a result, all traditional schools frowned on wanton killing, and in the many writings left behind by the samurai one thread remains clear – that sword are not to be brandished in anger.
Practice of the sword was intended more than anything to cultivate the mind. Through intense practice and extreme concentration, the samurai hoped to attain the state of munen-muso, free from attachment, preconception, and able to respond instantly in any situation.
The sword represented the embodiment of the samurai’s soul, his status in society, and his beliefs and philosophy. The scabbard in which it rested and the fittings encasing the razor-sharp blade were decorated with motifs from nature, plants and animals with deep and special meanings.
Masterfully crafted artworks, the sword of the samurai sits on the knife edge between art and war. At once a deadly weapon ready to be drawn at any time, and at the same time a constant reminder of the owner’s moral obligation to society and his lord.
Satsuma swords have several unique properties that distinguish them from the swords carried by the samurai of other provinces. One feature of note are two small holes often found in the sword guard. These holes were used to tie the sword firmly into its sheath and prevent it from ever being drawn in anger.