The kusarigama is a traditional Japanese weapon that consists of kama (the Japanese equivalent of a sickle) on a metal chain (manriki) with a heavy iron weight at the end.
Though the kusarigama is derived from a farmer’s scythe, and though the sickle was often carried as a weapon by farmers during the feudal era of Japan, these farmers did not carry kusarigama. Its purpose as a weapon was very obvious, so unlike a sickle, it could not be carried openly. The art of handling the kusarigama is called Kusarigamajutsu.
According to some accounts, the kusarigama is a weapon that is well-suited against swords and spears. Records show that the kusarigama was extremely popular in feudal Japan, with many schools teaching it, from about the 12th to 17th Century. Usage of the kusarigama is taught in Kohga Ha Kurokawa-Ryu.
A notable example of the use and misuse of the weapon is the story of the great 17th Century kusarigama teacher Yamada Shinryukan. Shinryukan was known to have killed many swordsmen with his weapon, until he was lured into a bamboo grove by Araki Mataemon. There, because of the terrain he was unable to swing the chain and trap Mataemon’s sword, and was thus killed.
But, perhaps one of the most famous historical users of the kusarigama is Shishido Baiken. A swordsman of great skill, he was proficient with the kusarigama, but was killed by the legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi when he used a throwing knife to cause a non-fatal injury from outside the radius of the chain, and then moved in for the killing blow with his sword, unsuccessfully.
Attacking with this weapon usually entailed swinging the weighted chain in a large circle over one’s head, and then whipping it forward to entangle an opponent’s spear, sword, or other weapon, or immobilizing his arms or legs. This allows the kusarigama user to easily rush forward and strike with the sickle.
A kusarigama wielder might also strike with the spinning weighted end of the chain directly, causing serious or deadly injury to his opponent while still outside the range of the opponent’s sword or spear.
Kusarigama have also been employed as anti-siege weapons, with the chain allowing the weapon to be retrieved after it was thrown downwards at an attacking force.
Many fictional accounts of kusarigama sometimes show fighters swinging the sickle with the chain, rather than the weighted end. Though entertaining, this is usually not a proper use of the weapon, as the sickle is likely to bounce off a target without causing much injury.