And there are European reports of samurai (ronin, really) who had managed to smuggle themselves out of Japan on European ships and had managed to make their way to the mainland or stayed on ships as crew as being impressively, incomparably fast on the draw. The assumption that fights start with both weapons drawn is poor one. In a formal, prearranged duel of individual combat where both parties enter with weapons drawn, yes, the katana as you describe it is a weaker, non optimized weapon with some serious shortcomings against one that is optimized for that purpose. That said, the formal, prearranged duel is a completely contrived situation. There are two broad categories into which sword usage can be divided. When two guys have decided to kill each other or on the field of battle. The first context, that of a fight between two individuals, can be broken down into two further categories - A.) you can arrange to meet later in a formalized, ritual contest befitting your cultural practices and more OR B.) just throw down right then and there. Let's think about that for a minute. Outside of arranging to meet behind the gym when you were in junior high school, when was the last time you had a physical confrontation with someone where you both agreed to fight later? In the second context, if you and I decided to fight right then and there, the small guard, the short blade, the long hilt are all advantages. Let's say you're a Spanish sailor with a rapier and I am a samurai with brace of swords and we meet somewhere in the streets of Singapore. If you want me to get out of the way and I tell you to fuck off, there's a moment when both parties know that you are going to throw down. I have a katana and you have a rapier. Who dies here? You do, almost every time. Here's why. Where are the weapons? In their scabbards. After all, why would either of us be walking around town with our swords drawn? So who has the advantage here? Obviously the first guy to get his sword out and deployed does. If I have cleared my sheath and have already begun my attack (the moment the blade clears wood, the first stroke commences) while your rapier is still halfway in the sheath or not drawn at all (more likely), you have a serious fucking problem. But not for long, anyway. Now, close your eyes. Touch your left knee with your right hand. With eyes still closed, (read all of this first, obv.) touch your right elbow with your left hand. Now clap. Unless there is something neurologically wrong with you, your body knows where its other body parts are. Your right hand can always find the left hand, regardless of level of stress, clothing, weather, lighting, so on. Corollary to this is that the further away from the body an object is, the less instinctive locational spatial awareness you have of it. The first step in drawing a weapon is usually to locate and fix the position of the scabbard so you know where your hilt is. Only then can you begin the actual act of drawing your weapon. Where do you wear your rapier? Or for that matter, most Europeans throughout history? In dangling scabbard, sometimes in a fancy multi belt rig and sometimes on a simple loop. One thing this ensures is that the scabbard is not in a fixed position. Moment to moment, you don't know the exact position and alignment of your own sword. On the other hand, a samurai effectively wears his swords strapped to the side of his body, fairly high on the torso. The hilt is almost directly under his left armpit and he has multiple points of contact between scabbard. Who will fix the position of his scabbard and have his hand on his hilt first? I will, every time because my left hand will never miss the scabbard. The right hand, at the same time is coming to meet the left hand, The only thing between them is a small metal disc guard. There is nothing in the way of the hand to obstruct it gaining a firm grip on the hilt. By the time this happens, you might be lucky to have even found the scabbard, much less trying to find the opening in the guard of a rapier so you can actually draw. This is harder for you because of the dangling and the fact that your hand position on the rapier is actually some distance away from your left hand. Let's say we both clear our sheaths at the same time. Advantage me. Your weapon is pointed in the wrong direction. Mine is beginning its attack. Who wins this one? Me. What the modern katana critic (such as Matt Easton or Skallagrim) and the legion of unbelievers doesn't understand is that they have the context for the usage of the katana wrong. Much as in MMA, the fight doesn't start on the ground, it starts standing up. Doesn't matter if you're Roger Gracie. You gotta get the fight to the ground. In the samurai's way of thinking, the fight doesn't start when both swords are drawn and at the ready, the fight starts when he has decided to kill you. The baring of weapons is a part of the fight, not a part of the escalation to a fight. That's why of the dozen or so surviving ryus of combat that were founded in the 16th century both before and following the establishment of the long peace of the Shogunate, two or three specialize in iai, or cutting on the first draw. The katana is actually unequalled by a large margin and no other sword or sword like weapon is in the same league in terms of efficacy for its optimization - killing on the first strike. This is also true in the battlefield context, only with small differences, but I will start and finish that post later when I have time because this post has become overly long.