The dai·shō (大小, lit.
"big and small") are the traditional weapons of the samurai,
composed of the katana (刀:かたな) and the wakizashi (脇差:わきざし). The
etymology of this word becomes apparent when the terms daitō
(大刀:だいとう), meaning big sword, and shōtō (小刀:しょうとう), meaning small
sword, are used; daitō + shōtō = daishō. The katana, the longer of
the two swords, was typically employed in man-to-man combat. The
wakizashi made an effective main-gauche or close-combat weapon.
The daishō were limited exclusively to the samurai class and were a
symbol of their rank. They came into fashion during the Muromachi
Period. Prior to this, the bow and horse were considered marks of
the samurai class and the sword of lesser consequence. It was during
this period, too, that the katana switched from a slung weapon with
blade down (known as a tachi) to one thrust into the sash with the
blade up. This change allowed for a much faster overhead draw while
In addition to the pair suggesting status, they were occasionally
used in tandem. Miyamoto Musashi, author of The Book of Five Rings,
became one of the more well-known founders of a two-sword style.
Musashi's Niten-ryū, or "Two Heavens School" (Often known as "Nitō-ryū",
or "Two Sword School"), used the daishō in combination. Nitō-ryu is
currently employed in modern kendo as a variant style of fighting.
While seemingly highly effective, the use of only one hand on each
blade reduces speed, and forces the swordsman to compensate through
technique and strength training. Nitō-ryū was and is an uncommon
form of swordfighting.
Additionally, the daishō was not normally worn on the battle field,
the wakizashi being replaced by the shorter and more practical tantō
dagger when the samurai wore armor.
In sum, the daishō were little more than a symbol worn by members of
the samurai class. The use of the weapons individually or in tandem
was a matter of individual taste and training.