The dragon-head katana is the iconic weapon of Highlander: The Series, and is the preferred weapon of Duncan MacLeod. This priceless Japanese sword was given to him by his mentor, the samurai, Hideo Koto, in 1778.
History and AcquisitionEdit
According to Hideo Koto, the dragonhead katana was forged in 1592 (the year of Duncan's birth) by the great sword smith Masahiro, whom he called "the finest swordmaker in Japan." It was already nearly 200 years old when MacLeod first met Hideo in 1778.
That year, MacLeod was shipwrecked on the Japanese shore. Investigating the wreckage, a samurai warrior, Koto, was then attacked by armored samurai on horseback. Duncan had revived by that time, and aided Koto in the skirmish. After defeating their attackers, Hideo took Duncan into his home, where he would train him in martial arts in the weeks to come, as well as bushido, the samurai code of ethics. This would both instill and reinforce the strong sense of honor and justice that the Highlander would devoutly live by.
Ordered by his shogun to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) for harboring a gaijin (barbarian), Hideo requested Duncan be his kaishaku (assistant), to end the pain of self-disembowelment with decapitation. Unable to convince Hideo to reconsider taking his own life in the name of honor, even revealing his Immortality to Hideo, Duncan made a vow to protect the Koto family for as long as he lived. In return, Hideo gave Duncan his treasured dragonhead katana as a token of friendship and loyalty.
Use Over the CenturiesEdit
From that point on, the katana appeared almost exclusively in Duncan MacLeod's Watcher Chronicles. Duncan battled and defeated several of his deadliest enemies with the katana, including Slan Quince, Grayson, Xavier St. Cloud, Antonius Kalas, Roland Kantos, Kronos, and Jacob Kell. Duncan would also live up to his oath to the Koto family and protect Hideo's descendant Midori Koto from her abusive Immortal husband, Michael Kent, using the heirloom katana against him.The dragonhead katana was notable for its beauty, as well as its strength and sharpness; as seen in duels with MacLeod when it proved the stronger blade, breaking a Masamune katana wielded by Felicia Martins and the hand-and-a-half bastard sword Antonius Kalas had stolen from Auberon. During their initial encounter, Koto had also destroyed Duncan's cutlass with it.
Duncan told Hideo that he considered the katana to be a work of art; centuries later, Methos would also comment on the katana, noting it was "quite a blade." Caleb Cole would attempt to take the sword for himself while holding Duncan's lover Tessa Noel hostage. According to Duncan's Watcher profile, Charles Anthony had longed for an up-close analysis of the katana, but could only get the name of the sword's maker and date of its creation, courtesy of Joe Dawson.
In 1997, Duncan's best friend and student, Richie Ryan, was tragically killed by Duncan with the katana when mistaken as the evil Zoroastrian demon Ahriman, whom Duncan was chosen to fight and defeat. Duncan abandoned the sword immediately thereafter, seeing it as the murder weapon responsible for Richie's senseless death. Upon the defeat of Ahriman, however, Joe Dawson convinced MacLeod to reclaim the katana, stating that he avenged Richie's death, and he was still Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod.
Duncan attempted to abstain from bloodshed for a brief period after reclaiming the sword; he initially used empty-handed martial arts and nonlethal weapons to defend himself against other Immortals, holding back his katana in safekeeping. As time went on, however, he realized that he could not retreat from The Game forever, and took up the dragonhead katana once more.
In 2004, Duncan and his kinsman, Connor MacLeod, were struggling against an old friend-turned-enemy from Connor's past, the evil Immortal Jacob Kell. Neither Highlander could defeat Kell alone; Connor knew this and sacrificed himself so that Duncan would have the strength to stop Kell once and for all. Using the dragonhead katana, along with the skills taught to him by Connor and Hideo, Duncan faced-off against Kell and won.
Details and CharacteristicsEdit
Duncan MacLeod's dragonhead katana was very similar to Connor MacLeod's ivory-handled katana given to him by Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez, although there are several notable differences between the two. Duncan's sword appeared to be longer in both blade and handle; it also featured a distinctively different dragon's head and guard.
The sword's two-handed tsuka (hilt) is made of ivory, with six small individual Japanese portraits intricately carved into it, ending in a fierce dragon's head at the pommel. According to Duncan MacLeod's Watcher profile, the design of the ivory hilt cleverly disguises the mekugi (bamboo retaining peg) holding the sword together.
Towards Season Six of Highlander: The Series and the movies Highlander: Endgame and Highlander: The Source, the grip featured a bronze "collar" along the neckline of the dragon-head pommel. The katana's bronze tsuba (guard) sported a lovely motif of two roosters with intertwining tail feathers. The saya (sheath) was lacquered in a glossy black finish, with silver Japanese maple leaves embossed upon it. The blade was razor-sharp and contained no fuller; its hamon (temper line) pattern was "gunome" (saw-tooth) in Seasons 1 and 2, and "notare" (short waves) in its remaining appearances.
- The hilt of the original katana used in Season 1 and most of Season 2 was designed by Richard Cook and Steve Geaghan. It was built by the late prop master Sal D'Aquila.
- Initially, steel blades were used for the katana props, but were deemed much too dangerous by sword-masters Bob Anderson and F. Braun McAsh. Jewel aluminum stunt-blades that were manufactured by the production crew were substituted for the steel, although they were quite fragile, and bent/broke easily. They also helped the sword fight scenes move faster on camera. According to F. Braun McAsh, stainless steel blades were still used for a "beauty sword"/hero prop (for close-ups, production photos, or scenes where the sword wasn't being used in combat). The Marto Sword of the Dragon featured a rat-tail tang with a hexagonal nut within its fittings, which allowed the damaged/broken aluminum blades to be quickly switched over with fresh ones in between takes. Production Designer Steve Geaghan reported that "[two] or [three] katanas were used per sword fight," and perhaps even hundreds of aluminum katana blades were made in the first four seasons alone!
- In Season 1's "Free Fall," Duncan explained to Felicia Martins that his katana was given to him "by a fellow Immortal, a clansman" and that the katana had survived with him for 400 years. Initially, this strongly hinted at Connor MacLeod passing on his ivory-handled katana to him, and would explain why Christopher Lambert is seen using Marto of Spain's Rosewood Tachi in the pilot episode "The Gathering" instead of the iconic katana featured in the movie series. This origin story, however, was abrogated in Season Three's "The Samurai", and as seen in Highlander: Endgame, Duncan and Connor's ivory-handled katana are confirmed to be two separate and completely different swords.
- In Season 1, the dragon-head katana originally featured a tachi blade, giving the sword a deeper curve. A tachi sheath with a red-gold lacquer and white wrapping was also used in "The Gathering" (seen briefly in Duncan's hand with the katana encased in it at the beginning, and later on under the coffee table while celebrating Tessa's birthday). The Season 1 "Behind the Scenes" promo video briefly shows that this sheath went with Marto's Rosewood Tachi, used by Christopher Lambert in that same episode.
- Late in Season Two (during the episode "Warmonger"), the studio signed a deal with Marto of Spain to create and license the katana for the TV series, released as "The Sword of the Dragon." This would be the sword used for the remainder of the series, and the following movies afterwards.
- The bronze "neck-collar" featured on the hilt at the end of Season Five/beginning of Season Six, and the movies Endgame and The Source, was added for structural support by Marto of Spain due to frequent customer complaints of the dragon's head (apparently affixed to the handle by some form of glue) easily coming off, and the blade coming loose at the tang (rat-tailed and screwed to the bottom of the hilt with a hexagonal nut, as mentioned above). The neck collar was noticeably painted over white to match the ivory during Seasons 3-5 before regularly appearing naturally-bronze on the katana after the Season Five finale.
- Marto of Spain would also release another katana as "The Official Sword of Duncan MacLeod." This sword would feature a dramatically different hilt design consisting of an ivory dragon with its tail wrapped around the entirety of the handle, as well as a gold guard with a dragon-motif (as opposed to the bronze rooster-motif) and a glossy red scabbard with gold highlights (similar to Ramirez's in the original 1986 film). According to rumor, Adrian Paul tried out the sword during the series production, but found it to be uncomfortable to wield. This katana was featured on one of the posters for Highlander: Endgame in Duncan's hand, although it does not appear in the movie itself, having been replaced by Marto's more familiar Sword of the Dragon.
- The carved pictorals on the sword's ivory hilt are as follows (from the dragonhead pommel downwards): A kabuki performance; depicting a supernatural character narrating a story. A tea ceremony; symbolizing nobility and a path to enlightenment. A pilgrimage to a Shinto shrine, in which a practitioner is cleansing his hands before entering; symbolizing purity. A group of people fishing; symbolizing happiness and freedom. A dragon; representing "yang energy" with good fortune. A tiger; representing "yin energy" with courage and patience.