The best Japanese sword for a beginner would have to be both:
Luckily, in recent years sword makers have taken the Katana to whole new levels of durability that no historical original could ever dream of - simply by "Monotempering" them - i.e. they have no hamon temper line (at least not a real one), but are the same hardness all the way through.
And these swords have gained tremendous popularity, both in the dojo and the backyard for simply being TOUGH..
And affordable - as almost no standard length model is over $400 US (though some of the oversized O-Katana, Nagimaki, etc can be just a little over $400, but for the most part - you can pick up some of the toughest Katana in the world for less than $300!)
When they first hit the market in early 2000 or so, most were laughed off by traditionalists as merely sharpened Katana shaped crowbars at best. And to be fair, some were (and still are) poorly designed or balanced.
But at many more progressive dojos started to see the benefits of a tough 'begginer friendly' dojo grade sword, Monotempeted
swords began to gain acceptance, started to evolve - and now are in a league of their own (in terms of raw toughness and durability, when properly monotempered, nothing more than three or four hundred dollars is all you need to pick out a sword that is stronger than any traditional sword could ever hope to be!).
The first swords to hit the market using this progressive design concept came from a forge in China called the "Huano" forge owned by Fred Chen, and his forge made the first through hardened blades for Cold Steel and Dynasty Forge from Monotempered 1060 Carbon Steel..
Dynasty Forge isn't really around much these days, and their swords while still good value are now above the $300 price point we aim for and availability is sporadic.
On the other hand. the Cold Steel Warrior Series certainly is still quite widely
available, and while many would balk at calling them the best Japanese
sword in this category, the old adage that they "handle like a crowbar,
cut like a lightsaber" certainly appeals to enough people to have kept them
in production all these years.. But again, they are priced just ABOVE $300 (actually they are priced a lot more than that usually, but we are talking about the best Japanese sword prices around, not the MSRP)
For a while, they had the "Monotempered Beater" market to themselves. But all of this changed in 2005 when Cheness Cutlery decided to try and make some Japanese swords for serious JSA (Japanese Sword Art) Practitioners on a budget - and were followed a few years later by Hanwei's dramatic entrance with the Raptor series..
Developed by Shihan James Williams from the Bugei Trading company, the Raptor series are a range of tough, no nonsense 5160 spring steel blades that represent 5 of the main types of Japanese sword geometries.
While the blades are great, many people complain about the fittings (most notably, the blocky axe like handles), and as such the Raptor series swords are commonly used as the foundation for a DIY custom sword project.
Cheness Cutleries first attempts to crack the market were not all that amazing. Their first line were 1060 carbon steel blades with cheap fittings that they sold at a lower price than what cold steel or Dynasty forge did.
But things changed dramatically when they started experimenting with 9260 Spring Steel, a silicon alloy steel usually used in fencing foils but when used to make a Katana confirmed suspicions that it would add a new element of strength and durability.
Combine this with big, beefy blades with plenty of hira niku and their swords soon established a reputation for solid durability that is very hard to beat, a reputation that I have tested many times and found to be true..
While, the fittings are admittedly very basic and the blades often cosmetically somewhat lacking, they are solid entry level swords that have sold consistently since 2005 and offer some great bang for your buck with several unique designs on offer.
I would not say they
are the best Japanese sword for under $300, but they are pretty darned
close. Take a look at some of our hands on reviews and you will see
But even great sword makers have their off key moments.. This next one, probably not their best Japanese sword...
Now while Cheness were making quite a splash, another company, also started in 2005 (it was a pivotal year for the sword industry, SBG itself was also started in 2005!) had been quietly refining the Monotempered beater.
After all, the best Japanese sword is only as good as its weakest point, and their goal - to make the very best Japanese sword for the dojo and the backyard for under $300 without cutting any corners..
Ronin Katana have always done things a little differently.
earliest model swords were 1045 carbon steel Dojo line blades, made
from the most basic functional steel possible. But they put the money
into getting them hand forged and expertly tempered, and when it came to
the fittings, went the whole hog and used the best raw materials and
This was impressive enough. But on top of this, they had a little secret..
They used a type of blade that may be the best Japanese sword geometry for a monotempered steel Katana - a savage style of no-nonsense, cutting blade known as the Torso Cutter - The Dōtanuki (pronounced, Doooor-tah nu key) with a unique blade style and geometry that was renowned for durability on the field of battle (and in times of peace, actually banned by the Shogunate because they were TOO effective!).
However, when they stepped up and started producing a range of tougher steel 1060 carbon steel versions called the Dojo Pro series - we just had to test them out the only way we know how.. By subjecting them to all manner of harsh cutting tests and abuse.
Video: Ronin Katana Testing Compilation
The relentless cutting power of these blades has to be seen to be believed
To say they passed is an understatement, and as you will see soon enough, for under $300 they are an absolute bargain - and our top recommendation for readily available monotempered beaters...
Don't just take my word for it though. Here are some second opinion reviews, starting with one by Marc Ridgeway, the iconoclastic gentleman who discovered the somewhat legendary "Bamboo" Katana who takes a closer look at two of their blades (the Dojo Pro line are all basically the same blades, the only difference is the tsuba and the style/coloring of the fittings)..
In summary, which of these is the best Japanese sword for backyard cutting or the dojo?
Naturally, best is a personal thing - all of the swords here are good (we don't bother to review bad swords usually and no one willingly buys a bad one) but here is a quick brand overview:
And the end of the day, it boils down to personal preference, and hopefully after reading all the reviews you will have an idea of what best suits your own style and preferences to get the best Japanese sword you can.
Many of the swords here in this section are truly up SBGs alley as it were. They are tough, sub $300 and perfect for beginners. As such, over the years we have been impressed enough with what they have to offer new sword buyers that the swords listed here are made readily available at our very own SBG Sword Store
But don't let your search for the best Japanese sword end there. The sword market is always changing, new boutique players come and go every year - and while the swords listed above are bedrock and have withstood the test of time - you just never know what you will uncover if you look hard enough.
Just remember, Monotempered (sometimes called through hardened) blades above 1045 carbon steel with fittings strong enough to hold up to what the blade can do and you can have some serious backyard cutting fun!
I hope this information on the best Japanese sword types for beginners has been helpful. To return to A Beginners Guide to Authentic Japanese Swords from The Best Japanese Sword for Under $300 is MONOTEMPERED, click here