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September 29, 2011 Comments (0) Blades & Tools

CAS Hanwei’s Tactical Katana and Tactical Wakizashi

It was a hot summer day at the Pittsburgh Woods Monkey testing facility when I first laid my eyes on the pair of swords that would, minutes later, be
saving me from a fate worse than death.   Little did I know, an ancient evil was lurking just around the corner, waiting to fill my soul with hate once again; but I’m getting ahead of myself.

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I have thoroughly enjoyed my exposure to the many offerings from CAS Hanewai, and was genuinely looking forward to having this pair in my hands.  The Tactical Katana and Wakizashi are fine examples of functional, well made weapons even the budget conscious can afford.  This line of inexpensive, kick-it-around swords has a wicked look to it.  Both are constructed of 5160 high carbon steel and have full tang construction.  To add a modern, ruggedized touch, the steel is plasma coated to add corrosion resistance.  A black fiberglass scabbard encases the weapons when not in use, and matching knurled Kraton handle and paracord lanyard complete the presentation.  Finally, paracord is also used on the scabbard in place of a traditional sageo.  The look is something that an alternate reality author would come up with – an unholy love child of a German engineer and a Japanese Samurai evoke a subtle bad-ass feeling.  A slightly narrower-than-traditional tsuba is less in the way for day to day use than a traditional oval one would be.   I experimented with the placement of the lanyards, and found them more suited to my liking when I moved them from the end positions to the holes at the mid-point of the handles.  This allowed me to assume a more traditional grip, and interfered much less when swinging.

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The Tactical Katana is a respectable 39 ½ inches long and 2 pounds in weight.  With a handle length of 10 ½ inches, it more than accommodated my hand position changes (I have freakishly large hands and typically scoff at XL gloves).  One thing I noticed on the very first swing was the confidence I felt with regard to the grip.  My previous experiences with non-wrapped Asian style sword have been less than positive.  The much faster techniques that make Asian style sword play enjoyable to watch require a different type of control than European styles.  The long sweeping arcs, sudden direction shifts and thrusts require the practitioner to have blade control that will, after a very short time, tire out the hands.  As the song goes “one slip, and down the hole we fall.”  Having witnessed quite a few lost grips (but thankfully no serious injuries), I was very comfortable with the knurls imprinted into the Kraton grip scales.  Tip heavy by design, I felt confident that this blade could be used for a weapons form demonstration at a testing event without worry of being accidentally run through by a sweaty-palmed student.  And at the reasonable MSRP of $239.00, this weapon would be a great choice for a testing weapon.  I still have my dojo Katana (his name is Kenny), but I would have gotten much more use out of one of these due to the practicality.  Little did I know this would be put to the test shortly, for it was at that moment my foe appeared…

While calmly performing some test swings, our esteemed Executive Editor brought forth… the watermelon!  Now I know I’m in a minority here, but I despise nearly every member of the family Cucurbitaceae.  Pumpkins are in my opinion, only good for lanterns and air cannon ammunition.  But the most rotten lump on the vine is my arch-nemesis Citrullus lanatus!  This thing called ‘watermelon’ is neither fruit nor vegetable, but pure gourd-shaped evil! Honestly, the artificial flavor has no resemblance to the actual taste because it’s horrible!  So when one was placed on the chopping block, I knew I had the right tool to release my pent up frustration.

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Now, you might think that the Tactical Katana would be my first choice to cleave my foe.  The heavier weight and longer length equate to a stronger stroke at distance, keeping me safe from the vile watermelon juices.  Well, this would not be the case.  I have always valued speed over force in my weapon choices, so I intended to use the Tactical Katana only on water filled milk jugs.  If you have ever used a sword on a water filled plastic milk jug, you know that they are the chickens of blade testing.  Yielding their heads easily, thrashing about as their fluids spray, they are my ideal choice for a good chopping target.  But this foul melon required a quick demise, one the Tactical Wakizashi was well poised to deliver.

In feudal Japan, the Katana was the Samurai’s weapon of honor.  Used only against foes of a similar social standing, the Katana was often left at the entrance of a building, like a Brit leaves an umbrella, but with more panache.   It was the Wakizashi that stayed on the samurai’s person and was used when words failed to provide an acceptable conclusion.  While the Katana held the highest favor, it was the Wakizashi that did most of the work.  There was no way I was going to honor the likes of this fruit-thing with a ride to eternity in a luxury car, so I reached for the pick-up truck!

One test swing and I knew I found the diamond in the rough.  Let me be perfectly clear at this point – if you have been trained in Asian sword techniques, you MUST own one of these!  The first thing you note is the density of the weapon.  At a petite 31 inches total, the 1 pound 14 ounces makes this blade unexpectedly heavy, but in a good way.  The handle is only slightly shorter than the Tactical Katana, coming in around 8 ½ inches.  With the full tang design, the balance is sleek and makes for a fast sword.  As with the Tactical Katana, the blade geometry mimics those used in the Raptor line also from CAS Hanewei, and what you are left holding is less a sword and more of an extension of your body.  This feeling usually only comes after months of practice for me, but in this case I felt it immediately. At an MSRP of $169.00, this is a must have.

To get the feel of contact during an actual swing, we brought out the plastic chickens again.  As expected, the Tactical Wakizashi performed amazingly, and in my opinion outperformed the Tactical Katana on the ‘wow-is-this-fun’ scale.  For some video of our escapades, please look at the Woods Monkey YouTube site.

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So having practiced with the weapon of choice, I was ready to deal swift justice to the foe. But as if out of some bad dream, our Executive Editor jumps in and states that the Tactical Katana is the sword he would like to get images of, and that I should use it to cleave the melon.  Blasphemy!  No melon deserves such respect, it should be happy I’m not going to lay into it with an axe. (Oh, is that foreshadowing of a future article?) Then I remembered that these blades are not designed for an Akira Kurosawa film, these are made to be used by modern men for modern purposes.  This was reinforced when, after the testing, I strapped the Tactical Wakizashi to the side of my backpack to see how it felt.  The light fiberglass scabbard added little weight to the rig, and I noted the drain hole at the bottom would help to keep standing water off of the steel should it begin to rain while I was out.  Also the low profile tsuba was nice as it was well out of the way of my neck and shoulders, something a traditional tsuba design would have most certainly hampered.  The cherry on the ice cream came in the form of a purely psychological response to the fact that I was able to back draw the weapon with ease!

If you have ever watched any of the Hollywood hack and slash movies, you know that the most dramatic way to carry and draw a sword is to sling it over your back in a full sheath scabbard, and draw it dramatically over your head to kill your enemy, causing the lamentation of their women /sheep /melons.  And if you have ever owned a full sheath sword, you have tried to do this yourself.  Unless you have arms that reach almost to the floor, the result was you spinning around in circles trying not to cut your own head off with half the blade out and the other half at best wedged in place, or at worst merrily cutting its way through the scabbard. The Tactical Wakizashi is the perfect blade for such a maneuver though, and I was able to draw it off the pack with room to spare.  These are tools; the merging of sword and plow-shear, and were up to the task at hand.

So reminded of the true nature of these weapons, I sought out my foe.   The swing of the Tactical Katana was as great as I expected; a good arcing slash intended to slice through hardened leather armor.  It very neatly cut through the resistant rind on the top of the watermelon, and only an unstable platform made a reset necessary.  The second swing produced a wonderful cut, cleaving the evil thing in half.  Again the blade slid effortlessly through the skin with barely a note of resistance, a credit to both the factory edge and the blade geometry.

As the watermelon was consumed by those who do not share my aversions, I reflected on the utility of owning these blades.  If you’re looking for an affordable entry into the world of the samurai sword, or if you’re already a practitioner and need an everyday tool with style, you can’t go wrong with these weapons.   I could easily see myself taking the Tactical Wakizashi with me into the woods, right beside my favorite kukri.  As for the Tactical Katana, aside from being an ideal practice piece, I can’t think of a better sword to have in hand during the zombie apocalypse.  I bet zombies are made when people eat too many watermelons…

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