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Katana vs O-Katana: Differences and Combat Comparison

Written By: David Mickov
Published On: January 11, 2024
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

NO AI USED This Article has been written and edited by our team with no help of the AI

The iconic katana is slightly shorter than its counterpart, the o-katana, which follows the same traditional design but offers more opportunities in terms of offense and defense. Immensely popular today in American and European markets, we explore both the katana and the o-katana, examining their differences, similarities, historical significance, and contemporary value. We will also try to determine the victor between the two swords.

The o prefix, translated to greater, signifies that the o-katana is a larger sword than the katana.
The o-katana and katana have similar blade characteristics, including the curvature and forging process. However, the longer blade of the o-katana contributes to its unique combat attributes.
Having emerged during the Muromachi Period due to requirements in battle, the o-katana was more popular until the peaceful Edo Period, where longer swords were forbidden, leading to its conversion into shorter alternatives.
O Katana Comparison
Katana Comparison
Japan – 14/15th century
Japan – 14th century
Average Length
50 inches (127 cm)
39 inches (99 cm)
2.64 to 3.3 lbs (1.2 to 1.5 kg)
1.98 to 2.86 lbs (0.9 to 1.3 kg)
Blade Type
Single-Edge / Curved
Single-Edge / Curved
High Carbon Steel
High Carbon Steel
$250 – $350
$80 – $5000
Where to Buy?

Terms, Characteristics, and Design Differences

O Katana and Katana Characteristics
The difference in size between the o-katana and katana swords

The term katana simply translates to sword. Today, it generally refers to the secondary sidearm that was once used by soldiers and samurai in feudal Japan. 

The prefix o translates to great or large in Japanese. Therefore, o-katana refers to a traditionally built katana with slightly larger proportions. 


O Katana Blade
The blade of an o-Katana is identical to the Katana, just longer – Credits: Cold Steel

The katana and o-katana’s blades have the same traits but differ in length. A traditional katana blade length is 29 inches (74 cm), while the o-katana blade is longer by an additional 8-10 inches (20-25 cm).

These single-edged blades are slightly curved, mainly designed for cutting, and can have varying types of kissaki (blade tips). The blades are traditionally forged from Japanese tamahagane steel folded in a tatara

During the forging process, clay tempering helps to harden the edge of the blades, allowing them to retain their sharpness while maintaining a flexible spine. This differential hardening process also results in the appearance of a hamon (temper line). The optional bohi (groove) helps decrease the sword’s overall weight and is often seen in the larger o-katana.


2 Hira Nami Koshirae Katana Hande Made Tsuba Tsuka
A two-handed tsuka (hilt) of the “Hira Nami Koshirae Katana

The katana and o-katana have similar koshirae (fittings and mountings) and wooden hilts. The tang of the blade is secured to the hilt using a mekugi (peg) before it is covered by rough samegawa (ray skin) held in place by a tsuka ito (cord wrap). The art or style of wrapping the ito is referred to as tsukamaki. 

While the katana traditionally features one or two mekugi (peg), the longer o-katana usually has two for added stability. The average length for a katana handle is 10 inches (25 cm), while the o-katana’s can reach 14 inches (35 cm).

Size and Weight

Katana and O Katana Size Difference
The difference in length between the katana and o-katana is distinct when unsheathing them – Credits: Matthew Jensen

As the larger sword, the o-katana measures 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) more than the traditional 39-inch (99 cm) katana. However, it is rarely over 55 inches (140 cm) long.

In terms of weight, the o-katana can reach up to 3.3 lbs (1.5 kg), while a katana is around 1.98 to 2.86 lbs (0.9 to 1.3 kg) 

Historical Significance

O Katana and Katana in History
Art depicting the use of  larger swords in battle, especially during the Kamakura and Muromachi periods – Credits: Heiji Monogatari Emaki – Warriors

The katana was a secondary sidearm that evolved from the shorter uchigatana during the tumultuous Muromachi Period (14th – 16th century).

During this time, swordsmiths made daito (large) or shoto (small) katana swords based on their needs. This was especially true during the wars of the Sengoku Period (1467-1615) when larger swords were produced to meet individual preferences and battle requirements.

Compared to the o-katana designed for individuals around 63 to 67 inches (1.6 to 1.7 m) in height, the o-dachi or nodachi were larger versions of the earlier tachi with a stronger curve. They were nicknamed field swords due to their massive size. 

During the Edo Period (1603-1868), larger swords like the o-katana were forbidden and converted into shorter blades such as the wakizashi, tanto, or regular-sized katana.

The katana was a beloved and reliable sidearm for the samurai. Meanwhile, the o-katana was effective as a sidearm or primary weapon. Produced during the Muromachi Period, the larger o-katana was more popular. However, larger swords like the o-katana were converted into shorter katana during the Edo Period.

O-Katana vs Katana: Combat and Training Preference

O Katana
Using the o-katana in practice

The o-katana and katana were versatile two-handed swords. Being slightly larger and heavier, the o-katana offered more range and impact behind each strike. Thanks to their design, both were lethal against unarmored opponents as they excelled in slashing, thrusting, and slipping through gaps in armor. 

The katana was the ideal sidearm to be used alongside the samurai’s primary weapon, which could be anything from a yari spear, naginata polearm, yumi bow, or firearm. 

Although the katana is a daito (long sword) and can be used similarly to the European longsword, it is fairly short as it was designed for a  5.4 feet (1.65 m) user, limiting its range. For this reason, martial arts practitioners with an average height of 5.7 to 5.9 feet (1.75 to 1.8 m) used an o-katana to reach their full potential.

O-Katana vs Katana (Duel Winner)
The katana and o-katana are some of the most effective blades in history, thanks to their design that capitalizes on speed, precision, and slashing ability. Since a greater reach has the advantage in a duel, the o-katana’s longer blade, without being significantly heavier, makes it more likely to be the victor in a battle between the two. 
Sources Cited
  1. Turnbull, S. (2021, June 24). Weapons of the Samurai. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  2. Cunningham, D. (2012, August 21). Samurai Weapons. Tuttle Publishing.
  3. Turnbull, S. R., & Boxall, M. (1997, January 1). Samurai Warfare. Arms & Armour.
  4. Turnbull, S. (2022, March 17). War in Japan. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  5. Yoshida, K. (2012, August 21). The Samurai Sword: Spirit * Strategy * Techniques.
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