If you're familiar with Japanese martial arts, you've probably heard of kenjutsu. Encompassing all sword- and blade-based styles of traditional Japanese swordsmanship, kenjutsu is one of the most well-known styles of Japanese martial arts. However, it includes several smaller, lesser known styles of martial arts, including tantojutsu.
What Is Tantojutsu?
Tantojutsu is a style of kenjutsu that involves fighting with a small knife, specifically a tanto. The tanto, of course, is a traditional Japanese knife that was invented during the region's Heian period. Along with the katana, is one of two weapons carried by samurai warriors. Samurai warriors typically carried the katana as their primary weapon and the tanto as their backup weapon. If they lose their katana or found themselves in a close-quarter combat, they could quickly unsheathe their tanto to defend themselves.
The tanto's design has evolved over the years, with some Japanese bladesmiths using different metals, hilt designs and blade shapes. Traditionally, though, the tanto has featured a single-edged or slightly curved blade, with a total length -- including the hilt -- of about 12 inches. This small size made if an effective backup weapon for samurai warriors.
Overview of Tantojutsu
To effectively use the tanto, however, samurai warriors had to practice with it. This led to the development of a new style of martial arts that specifically involved the tanto. Known as tantojutsu, it paired two or more practitioners against each other as they attempt to strike their opponent and defend themselves from attacks.
Tantojutsu practitioners typically didn't use a real tanto with a live blade, however. They used a special training type of tanto that featured a wooden blade. This allowed practitioners to learn the concepts of attacking and defending with a tanto but without exposing themselves to accidental injury.
Tantojutsu wasn't performed solely by samurai warriors. During feudal Japan, laws prevents citizens from owning long-bladed swords. Because the tanto featured a short blade, though, citizens were allowed to own them. This led many citizens to practice tantojutsu so that they come better and more proficient at using the tanto. Normally, these citizens used a special version of the tanto, known as the kaiken, that was shorter than the standard tanto.
Tantojutsu has largely faded over time, but there some martial schools that still teach it today. It's a fun style that introduces participants to the concepts of fighting with the tanto.