Yari

several yari, including one hafted with a simple crossbar
several yari, including one hafted with a simple crossbar
straight yari head with saya
straight yari head with saya
Jumonji yari head
Jumonji yari head
use of yari in mock combat
use of yari in mock combat

Yari (槍) is the Japanese term for spear, or more specifically, the straight-headed spear. The martial art of wielding the yari is called sōjutsu or (somewhat incorrectly) yarijutsu. Yari measured anywhere from one meter to upwards of six meters (3.3 to 20 feet). The longer versions were called omi no yari while shorter ones were known as mochi- or tae yari. The longest versions were carried by foot troops (ashigaru), while the samurai usually carried the shorter versions.

Yari were characterized by a straight blade that could be anywhere from several centimeters long, to 0.9 meters (3 feet) or more. The blades were made of the same high-quality steel that the swords and arrow-heads of samurai weapons were forged with, and yari blades were very durable. Over history many variations of the straight yari blade were produced, often with protrusion on a central blade. Yari blades (points) had extremely long tangs which were usually longer than the sharpened portion of the blade. The tang protruded into a hollow portion of the handle. This resulted in a very stiff shaft and made it nearly impossible for the blade to fall or break off.

The shaft came in many different lengths, widths and shapes; made of hardwood (nakae) and covered in lacquered bamboo strips, these came in oval, round, or polygonal cross section. These in turn were often wrapped in metal rings or wire, and affixed with a metal pommel (ishizuki) on the butt end. The yari could be considered a much higher quality weapon than the average spear due to these unique attributes. Yari handles were often decorated with inlays of metal or semiprecious materials such as brass pins, lacquer, or flakes of mother-of-pearl.

A sheath for the blade called saya was also part of a complete yari.

Various types of Yari points or blades existed. The most common blade was a straight, flat, design that resembles a straight-bladed double edged dagger. This type of blade could cut as well as stab and was sharpened like a razor edge. Though yari is a catchall for spear it is usually distinguished between kama yari which have additional horizontal blades and simple su yari(choku-so). Also yari can be distinguished by the types of blade cross section: the triangular sections were called sankaku-yari and the diamond sections were called ryo-shinogi-yari.

Su Yari (素槍, simple spear)

The sankaku yari (三角槍, triangle spear) had a point that resembled a narrow spike with a triangular cross-section. A sankaku yari therefore had no cutting edge, only a sharp point at the end. The sankaku yari was therefore best suited for penetrating armor, even armor made of metal, which a standard yari was not as suited to.

The fukuro yari (袋槍, bag spear or socket spear) sported a more European style fitting of the straight head. Instead of the yari's traditional very long embedded tang, an entirely metal socket which slipped over the narrowed end of the pole. The unit was forged as a single piece of both socket and blade. This design was rare next to the traditional 'long-tang' configuration.

A kuda yari (管槍, tube spear) was not very different in construction than another simple choku yari. However for this spear, the upper hand gripped a hollow metal tube that allowed the yari to 'screw' while being thrust. This style of sojutsu is typified in the school Owari Kan Ryu.

Kikuchi yari (菊地槍, spear of Kikuchi) were one of the rarest designs, possessing only a single edge. This created a weapon that could be used for hacking and almost resembled a straight edged naginata.

Yajiri nari yari (鏃形槍, spade-shaped spear) had a very broad 'spade' shaped head. It often had a pair of holes centering the two ovoid halves.

Kama Yari (鎌槍, sickled spear)

These spears were very effective weapons though their more complex blade shapes were extremely difficult to properly forge and sharpen; therefore these were far less common than the above types and were often used for ornamental purposes.

Magari-yari (十文字槍, cross-shaped spear) also called a Jumonji-yari looked something similar to a trident or partisan and brandished a pair of curved blades around its central lance. Occasionally called a Maga-yari in modern weaponry texts.

The kama yari (鎌槍, sickle spear) was the reverse of the jumonji yari. While it also had two protrusions shooting off of the base of a main spear tip, in yari the offshoots were hooked back downward.

The kama yari can also describe a short pick-like weapon, similar to the warhammer, but without the hammer head. It is simply a dagger blade set at a right angle to a one-handed metal shaft. Compare to zaghnal, crowbill

The katakama (片鎌槍, single-sided sickle spear) had a radical weapon design sporting a blade that was two pronged. Instead of being constructed like a military fork ,a straight blade (as in a su yari) was intersected just below its midsection by a perpendicular blade. This blade was slightly shorter than the primary, had curved tips making a parallelogram, and was set off center so that only 1/6th of its length extended on the other side. This formed a kind of mess 'L' shape.

The tsuki nari yari (月形槍, moon-shaped spear) barely looked like a 'spear' at all. A polearm that had a crescent blade for a head, this could be used for slashing and hooking.

A kagi yari (鉤槍, hook spear) had a long blade with a side hook much like that found on a fauchard. This could be used to catch another weapon, or even dismount a rider on horseback.

Bishamon-yari (曲槍, curved spear) possessed some of the most ornate designs for any spear. Running parallel to the long central blade were two 'crescent moon' shaped blades facing outwards. They were attached in two locations by short cross bars.

History

Yari are believed to have been derived from Chinese spears, and while they were present in early Japan's history they did not become popular until the 13th century. The original warfare of the Bushi was not a thing for 'commoners'; it was a ritualized combat usually between two warriors who would challenge each other via horseback archery and sword duels. However the invasions of Mongols in 1274 and 1281 changed Japanese warfare and weaponry. The Mongol-employed Chinese and Korean footmen wielded long pikes, fought in tight formation, and moved in large units to stave off cavalry. Polearms (inlcuding naginata and yari) were of much greater military use than swords, due to their much greater range, their lesser weight per unit length (though overall a polearm would be fairly hefty), and their great piercing ability. Swords in a full battle situation were therefore relegated to emergency sidearm status from the Heian through the Muromachi periods.

Yari overtook the popularity of the daikyu for the samurai, and foot troops (ashigaru) used them extensively as well. But by the Edo period the yari had fallen into disuse: with the greater emphasis on small-scale close quarters combat and the convenience of swords (as opposed to long battlefield weapons), polearms and even archery lost their practical value. However, during the peace time of the Edo, yari were still produced, sometimes even by good swordsmiths. They existed as a ceremonial weapon for most of this era.

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