We love competition! After all, this website is about preparedness and survival. Since you became interested in bladed tools and weapons, I bet you started running scenarios in your mind. Which sword is the best? Can a longsword beat a Japanese katana? … The Turkish kilij vs katana is going to be a tough match, but let’s see which weapon is superior. Which sword is better for fighting, defending, or cutting?
To understand samurai sword basics, check out our beginner’s guide, in which I also reviewed some of the top-rated katanas on the market today.
Which Is the Best Cutting Blade?
Katanas are amazing cutting weapons, optimized for that purpose. By design, they are curbed and the edge forms a perfect triangular drop (no secondary bevel to slow down the cut). They are, without a doubt, the sharpest swords ever made.
Katanas are also stiff, which means that when you hit a target, it won’t wobble and bend on impact. So, you can cut straight and effectively, without your motion being hindered by the blade oscillating.
Good-quality hard steel for the edge makes sure the Japanese blades stay sharp. Centuries of improvement and craftsmanship lead to a better understanding of how to forge the perfect katana.
But are they the best cutting swords?
Warfare is a constant of human civilization. And making sure you win the next battle could mean the difference between life and death. So, there is no lack of competition in creating the best weapons of war.
Which blade is a worthy contender for the best cutting sword ever made? Our main competitor is the Turkish tulwar (or kilij). So, let’s see who wins this battle, kilij vs katana.
A Short History of the Kilij
This ancient Turkic kilij is the grandfather of all modern and pre-modern Middle-Eastern curbed swords. The first civilization who wielded it were the Turkic warriors, in the 8th and 9th centuries.
At that time, other Middle-Eastern cultures (Arabs) fought with straight swords. But after witnessing the effectiveness of the curbed sword in the hands of their Turkic mercenaries, they were impressed and adopted the style as well.
The Persians were slower to innovate, and perhaps that is why they were eventually conquered by the Turks in the 16th and 17th centuries, who introduced the Persians to new weaponry and upgraded their military.
Arguably, the Turks had the most oriented mindset towards weaponry and warfare innovation, in the Middle-East. They constantly sought to improve their blacksmithing and weapons forging techniques. Military strategy was also a big concern, which they constantly expanded.
I truly believe that is the reason they were so effective in their conquest of the Middle-East. Since Turks were mostly horseback fighters, that speed and momentum amplified the cutting power of the kilij. Just imagine yourself standing in the middle of a battle-field with a swarm of raging scimitars galloping towards you… Shredding everything in their wake!
The Turkish bow was effectively deployed in combination with light cavalry, and they could fire it at a constant rate. So, if you charged forward, they would retreat and rain down on your army a cascade of arrows. Then they would charge again and decimate the survivors with their swords, on horseback.
How do you pronounce the word “kilij”? The ‘i’ is a short and silent ‘e’ vowel, as in “marker”. The ‘j’ sounds a lot like the ‘ch’ in the word “beach”. So, they pronounced kilij almost like “kill each”, but with much shorter vowel sounds.
What are the Differences Between a Kilij and a Katana?
How are these swords different? What are the major discrepancies between the katana and the kilij? And how are they similar? Let us take a closer look at each one, separately.
What makes them unique? How are they made, what purpose do they serve? Do they bring an advantage in certain situations?
Sword Category and Type
From a technical perspective, a katana is just a two-handed, single-edge saber, with a long handle, and a minimal, round guard.
The kilij is a long, one-handed saber with a single edge and a flat spine. It has a T-shaped hilt-guard for hand protection.
Origins and History
It is of Japanese origin, although the first blade-smiths drew inspiration from the contemporary Chinese swords, which followed a straight design.
This blade is of Turkic origins. Due to its brilliant applicability and effective use in combat, it was adopted by Arabs, Persians, Europeans, and Indians.
Application in Combat
The katana is meant for one-on-one combat and duel, against infantry and unmounted opponents. Cannot be used from horseback!
This Middle-Eastern blade is specialized for cavalry, mostly against infantry. But it can be a highly-effective weapon for foot-soldiers.
The katana blade length measures around 60-70 cm (27-30 inches) and it weighs between 1 and 1.2 kg (around 2.5 pounds). Same weight as the kilij.
Its kilij blade is longer, at around 70-80 cm (30-34 inches). And it weighs between 0.9 and 1.2 kg (around 2.5 pounds).
Although it is a one-handed weapon, the kilij is very long. Even longer than the katana.
Folded steel layers of different strengths, as far as authentic Japanese swords go.
However, most market katanas are mono-steel. Usually high-carbon, spring or tool steels for top-quality samurai swords.
The thing that stands out about the katana is its decorative finish quality.
Damascus steel (only for the high-quality kilij). The strength and hardness of this type of steel are highly dependent on the forging process and materials used.
Practically, however, most kilij blades were not of quality steel. But they did their job well.
Blade Design and Construction
The samurai sword has a thicker spine and a sharper edge than most other blades. The outer shell (sides and the edge) are made of high carbon steel, while the middle is low / medium carbon.
A katana is designed to cut clean and slice effectively. That is its purpose, so it had to be forged in a certain way: stiff but nimble blade. These qualities come at a price: less resistance to impact.
Much more curved than the katana, the kilij features an extreme curvature, which makes it difficult to thrust directly, especially through armor or plate. However, that allows warriors to use it in a dangerous and unpredictable way:
If the opponent has a shield, then you can thrust the kilij from under his shield, upwards, in the belly or chest. These kinds of trusts are difficult to predict or block. The sword is so curbed, it can go around the shield.
Cutting Power, Durability & Abilities
Good cutting power and speed. Clean slashes and cuts.
Very maneuverable. Much simpler to cut with and wield than the kilij. You can use the drawing motion to unsheath and slash simultaneously. Or you can lever a straight chop down!
The katana is slightly less durable than the kilij, in terms of resistance to shock and impact.
To be effective with a katana, you deliver straight attacks, very linearly. As opposed to the kilij, which you have to keep in a fluent swinging motion.
The kilij offers more cutting power, and about the same speed. Its mass of center shifted towards the tip. That gives it extra centrifugal force, increasing the blade’s cutting ability. However, the cost is less control and less maneuverability over your blade.
Not as maneuverable as the katana. It is a one-handed weapon, but very long while weighing the same as a samurai sword. You can’t control its motion with just one hand holding its short hilt. The centrifugal force makes it even harder to guide your blade.
It is more durable than the katana and more effective against armor, but not when stabbing.
Which is Better, Kilij vs Katana?
The kilij is a one-handed saber, designed for horseback warriors, to provide them with the ability to hack and slash their way through enemy infantry. A katana cannot be used this way since it is a two-handed blade, but it is suitable for dueling.
Which is the better cutter? Mid-duel, the katana offers about the same speed as the kilij, but less cutting power and more maneuverability. While the katana is more balanced, with its mass distributed more towards the center, the kilij weighs more towards the tip. This adds more centrifugal force to each swing, for more powerful and less controlled blows.
Here is a cool demo of what I mean, this video proves how effective of a cutter the kilij is. The guy severs a pig carcass in half with just one strike. A skilled katana wielder could accomplish the same result because he would add a slight draw to his swing.
In terms of cutting prowess, the kilij can deliver a more powerful hit. Do you recall from physics about the mechanics of motion? The centrifugal force adds to your own force. Both swords weigh about the same, but the kilij has an offset in the center of gravity (towards the tip), which increases the centrifuge effect. So, momentum, force, and energy are on the side of the kilij.
Which blade has better handling? The katana delivers less punch, but it is more maneuverable. Being two-handed means that you can use the strength of both arms to move the same amount of mass. That directly translates into having more control over the blade’s motion.
With the katana, you can push down the handle with your forward hand while pulling up with the other hand – effectively exerting a leverage force (good for swift, short, controlled chops). You can stop the katana’s movement more effectively, or you can change its course in an instant, as opposed to being subjected to the swinging direction of the kilij.
As you may see in the image, the kilij is supposed to be rotating and swinging most of the time, to take advantage of its centrifugal momentum. But that will sacrifice the control and handling over the sword.
Which sword has better steel? Highly pure folded steel for the real katana, vs Damascus steel of excellent quality for the best kilij.
Damascus steel is not that hard, unless it is good quality, because the kilij doesn’t need to be as sharp as the katana, to make nice, clean cuts. Rather, it is adapted for hack and slash, which it does well! So, the kilij edge doesn’t need to be razor-sharp. On the plus side, that means softer steel, more flexibility, and more durability.
Katanas are less durable on impact. They are less effective against armored or plated opponents and more likely to break, compared to the kilij. Although you can thrust a katana directly through armor. Straight trusting is harder to do with a kilij since it is so curbed. Also, a samurai sword is more likely to be damaged when parrying against another blade, if they aggressively intercept and strike each other at full force.
How is do you fight with a kilij? The fact that this Turkish curbed sword is so heavily balanced towards the tip, means that it must be constantly swinging and moving while engaged in combat. The centrifugal force will keep it in motion, and you can redirect its trajectory. Sort of like spinning a heavy object tied to a string. Just swing it towards the target:
Notice: Even at distance, when they are not attacking each other, these guys keep swinging their swords!
This is typical of any cavalry sword. If you are fighting horseback, then you won’t be elegantly sparing with another opponent. Instead, you will be running through enemy infantry, hacking left and right.
If you pause from swinging the kilij while engaged in a fight, that will give your opponents enough time to close in with a short, swift strike. To be effective against another swordsman, you need to continually perform a fluid, sweeping movement, but in a way that doesn’t drain you of energy too quickly. Even though that type of continual motion is expensive to your stamina.
One area in which a kilij is better than a katana is parrying. Intercepting or blocking a sword strike with your own. The kilij is superior in terms of physical resistance to shock because it can absorb it better. It can hit armor and steel and not suffer too much damage.
A Japanese blade is much more sensitive to physical stress. If you were to strike these two swords against one the other with full force, nothing will happen. But after repeating the experiment several times, I believe the kilij would win most of the times. I think it is because the kilij has a deeper blade with more mass in the cutting plane (when viewed from the side). The katana is thicker, but it is more nimble, and thus, less resistant.
Who Would Win, Samurai or Turkish Warrior?
The Ottoman Empire had an elaborate war-machine with several layers of complexity: the common soldiers (footmen or horsemen) and the military “combat experts”, the elite Janissaries. These were young children taken as slaves from conquered lands, to be forcefully inducted into the military. Their lives were dedicated to the sole purpose of fighting, so they trained constantly from a very early age. Suffice to say they had a lot of combat experience.
The samurai were experts in all-things-military: swordsmanship, horseback riding, and bow and arrow. They were especially good at dueling and one-to-one combat.
But, I wanted to compare the best Japanese warrior against the best Ottoman combatant, at the same timeframe with regards to technological weapons innovations. What this means is: while Janissaries eventually became riflemen, it would be unfair to match a samurai sword against a firearm.
Regarding a one-to-one scenario against a common Turkish soldier, a samurai would certainly win. So, right from the start, I would have to go with the Samurai. But not because I am biased, I tried to put my biases aside.
Now, a highly-trained janissary would present quite a challenge, even to a samurai. In the early period, the janissaries were schooled in the Turcik horseback, nomadic fighting style.
So, we have a seasoned janissary swinging a deadly kilij (one of the best military sabers ever made) against an elite samurai, wielding a katana. To me, this fight seems equally balanced.
The outcome wouldn’t depend solely on the better sword, kilij vs katana, but also on the interplay between two different fighting styles. Most likely they would be incompatible in some way, but I cannot predict how! Here is a glimpse of what samurai sword fighting looks like:
Keep in mind, this is not actually how samurais fought. An actual battle didn’t last more than 2-4 moves. Usually, a samurai would wait for the opponent to make the first move and then jab, cut, or slash in a quick counter-attack. Samurai fights were very quick and deadly, lasting no more than a quarter of a minute (maybe even a couple of seconds).
So, neither fighter would know what to expect from their opponent, given that they aren’t mutually accustomed with the fighting system (which they may experience for the first time).
The samurai won’t know how to deal with a spinning kilij. He won’t be very competent at dodging the blade or getting close enough to deal some damage. The Turkish janissary won’t know what to expect either. He will try to go it for the kill, only to be slashed or stabbed after he makes his move. Most likely the outcome would be by chance.
But then again, the swinging, flailing motion of a kilij is more effective from horseback, against infantry. I think the samurai might have an advantage in a duel, one-to-one combat!
Keep in mind, in the later historical setting, janissaries mostly used firearms and gunpowder, giving up bladed-weapons. So, it is pointless to compare the two at that point in time.
A Verdict on Katana vs Kilij: Which is the Better Sword?
I will be judging based on maneuverability, purpose, durability, and cutting power. Before you read any further, listen to this guy’s opinion:
Skill and Maneuverability. The katana definitely scores a win here! It is easier to cut with, more maneuverable, and it can draw and slash in straight lines. The kilij falls in terms of maneuverability short because it requires a constant, fluid motion which is difficult to control. But since the kilij is a one-handed sword, a fighter can pack a shield. So, that is a plus.
Purpose. If you want to survive a zombie apocalypse, then a machete is a good option. A kilij is an even better one! You don’t need a lot of skill against zombies since they cannot fight back. You just need a powerful blade that is highly durable. It doesn’t even need to be super-sharp to crack undead skulls.
A katana is optimal for duels because it is more maneuverable. It has a better balance, and it requires less aggression.
Durability. This win goes to the kilij! Obviously, there is great variation between swods, but generally, the katana is just not strong enough against impact since it has a nimble cutting plane. It can break or chip when you parry against a sword strike or when you hit a shield or a piece of armor. The kilij is more forgiving.
Cutting power. This win also goes to the Turkish sword. The katana is sharper, very effective as a slashing weapon, and it does give much cleaner cuts than the kilij. But as far as cutting goes, I must give this prize to the kilij. The fact that it has a heavier tip, means you can use centrifugal force to add more energy to your cut.
Because the kilij is one-handed, you can widen the swinging arc – giving the blade a longer trajectory to accelerate, increasing its kinetic energy. Physics: force equals mass times acceleration, which adds to cutting power.
Subjectively at least, I made my verdict on which is the better blade. I must go with the kilij on this one! The katana is good at many things, but if you want a good hacking weapon, then go with the Turkish kilij. In a one-to-one kilij vs katana contest, the kilij wins in cutting power and durability. But the katana overthrows it regarding handling, balance, and maneuverability.
If I had to choose between the two for a duel, I still think I would go for the katana. In terms of fighter versus fighter, I would say it comes down to chance, and it heavily depends on circumstances, training, and fighting accessories.
I hope you found this article helpful, I was fun researching and getting a glimpse into Middle-Eastern history. Hope to see you soon!