The daishō (大小), literally "long short", is a Japanese term referring to the traditional pair of edged weapons of the samurai. A daisho is typically depicted as a matching uchigatana and wakizashi. The katana/wakizashi pairing is not the only daisho combination; generally, any longer sword paired with a shorter sword or knife is considered a daisho. A perfect match in fittings and blade style with the katana/wakizashi pairing was in fact uncommon, as it would have been more expensive for a samurai.
The etymology of this word becomes apparent when the terms daitō, meaning long sword, and shōtō, meaning short sword, are used; daitō + shōtō = daishō. The daitō, the longer of the two swords, was typically employed in man-to-man combat. The shōtō made an effective defensive dagger or indoors combat weapon. Also, the daisho allows the fighter to have a longer or more widespread fighting range when both weapons are employed.
The daishō were limited exclusively to the samurai class and were a symbol of their rank. They came into fashion during the Muromachi period (1336 to 1392). 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 edge down (known as a tachi) to one thrust into the sash with the edge up. This change allowed for a much faster draw while on foot.
In addition to the pair suggesting status, they were occasionally used in tandem. Miyamoto Musashi, author of The Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho), became one of the more well-known founders of a two-sword style. Musashi's Niten ichi ryū, or "Two Sword, One Heaven School", used the daishō in combination. Nitō-ryu, a term used to describe using a daisho together, is currently employed in the modern Japanese sport of kendo as a variant style of fighting. While seemingly highly effective, the use of only one hand on each blade decreases control and is thought to reduce tip speed due to the inability to use both hands to create a levering action, and forces the swordsman to compensate through technique and strength training. Nitō-ryū was and remains an uncommon form of swordfighting.
The daishō was not normally worn on the battle field, where a wakizashi was replaced by the shorter and more practical tantō (dagger) when the samurai wore armor. The daishō was worn as a symbol by members of the samurai class. The use of the weapons individually or in tandem was a matter of individual taste and training.
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