The ninjatō is typically depicted as being a short sword, often portrayed as having a straight blade (similar to that of a shikomizue with a square guard. Usually of a length "less than 60 cm", the rest of the sword is comparatively "thick, heavy and straight". Hayes suggests that the typical description of the ninjatō could be due to ninja having to forge their own blades from slabs of steel or iron with the cutting edge being ground on a stone, with straight blades being easier to form than the much more refined curved traditional Japanese sword. The ninjatō also is described as a straight-bladed, rather short sword could be that the ninja were emulating one of the patron Buddhist deities of ninja families, Fudo Myo-oh, who is depicted brandishing a straight-bladed short sword similar to a chokutō. Stephen Turnbull, a historian specializing in the military history of Japan indicates of historical ninja: "The most important ninja weapon was his sword. This was the standard Japanese fighting sword or katana ... for convenience the ninja would choose a blade that was shorter and straighter than usual."
The scabbards were often said to have been used for various purposes such as a respiration pipe (snorkel) in underwater activities or for secretly overhearing conversations. The scabbard is also said to have been longer than the blade of the ninjatō in order to hide various objects such as chemicals used to blind pursuers. The tsuba (hand guard) of the ninjato is often described as being larger than average and square instead of the much more common round tsuba. One theory on the ninjatō tsuba size and shape is that it was used as a tool, the sword would be leaned against a wall and ninja would use the tsuba as a step to extend his normal reach, the sword would then be retrieved by pulling it up by the sageo (saya cord).
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More about Ninja Swords
There are a few distinctions about the ninja sword that should be mentioned. The edge of the ninja sword blade was not like that of the samurai sword. A samurai sword was double-bladed and designed with the strict intention that it would be used to kill an opponent in combat. Unlike the ninja sword, which was used as a tool more often than for combat, the samurai sword was not suitable for carving out wood, making holes, or scraping wood.
The authentic ninja sword was similar to a scythe in that it was single-edged, instead of double-edged. Occasionally, this sword was called the Mountain sword [Yamagatana] because it was designed for multiple uses like cutting wood (which was often done by ninja when in disguise as commoners). The ninja sword’s blade was straight, unlike the curved samurai sword, which made it strong enough so the ninja could use it as a step for climbing high places such as mansion walls.
They also used their sword to carve wooden devices, rope, and cloth. The knotted rope [Sageo] which connected the sheath to the sword was nine feet long, which was much longer than the rope used for other kinds of swords. The long connecting rope was thrown up over the wall until it caught securely on the top of the wall and used as an anchor to then pull themselves up. The sword guard, called the Tsuba, was much stronger and wider than the samurai sword so it too could be used as a step for climbing. When they got up to the top of the wall, the long rope attached was draw in the sheath.
Since ninja blended into the their surroundings as commoners, merchants, monks, and farmers, they concealed their weapons when traveling. Carrying a long curved samurai sword around that was made for combat would not have been easy to explain if they disguised as a monk or farmer. The shorter and straighter ninja sword was much easier to conceal in a bundle of wood or looked like a regular “tool” a tradesmen would use for work.