Length: Varies between long and short
Distance: Long range
The yari dominated the battlefield due to its long reach from the middle ages onward. If we remove projectiles from the equation, the yari is the top weapon for dealing with an opponent from a distance. There are 4 major types of yari: Suyari “Straight spear” (used in Ōshima ryū, Fūden ryū, Taneda ryū, etc.) Jūmonji yari “Cross/Figure 10 spear¹” (used in Hōzōin ryū, Anegawa ryū etc.) Kagi yari “Hook spear” (used in Saburi ryū, Kashihara ryū, Honshin Kyōchi ryū, etc.), Kuda yari “Tube spear” (used in Kan ryū, Isshi ryū, etc.). On top of this, the type of yari is separated further depending on how long it is to the following: sangen yari “3-span spear²”, niken yari “2-span spear³”, ichijo yari “1-unit spear⁴”, kujaku yari “9-length spear⁵”, hachishaku yari “8-length spear⁶”, nanashaku yari “7-length spear⁷”, ikken yari “1-span spear⁸”, and Makura yari “pillow spear”.
The spear techniques we know today are mostly from Shinto ryu. In the late 15th century a man by the name of Iizasa Choisa founded Shinto ryū. Being versed with the spear for the battle field, Choisa developed the foundation of sōjutsu (spearmanship) by devising structured rules and forms, followed by a systematic approach in teaching the necessary techniques. As time moved onto a peaceful era in the Edo period, warriors trained in sōjutsu as much as they did in kenjutsu. Looking at the writings warriors from the Edo period left, you’ll learn that sōjutsu was not viewed as inferior to kenjutsu, and that they partook in wandering around in Japan on training expeditions to improve their spear techniques. Since the spear is usually led with the left, one would be fitted with protective gear only on the left side of the body.
Many high-ranking bushi enjoyed training in spear techniques. So much that there was a case where this training was only permitted to high-ranking bushi. As an example, this sort of practice was followed and put into practice as was done by those in Sekishu⁹ of the Tsuwano domain.
An assumption regarding going up against a yari is that the opposition would take up a polearm as well, which would usually turn into yari vs yari, or yari vs naginata. When the yari is pitted up against the naginata during training, the result is “iremi – tsukimi no shiai¹⁰”, where the naginata wielder gains advantage (or wins) if they can get in close to the yari wielder, while the yari wielder is at advantage (or win) if they can keep the naginata wielder out with thrusts and prevent them from getting close. The yari user does not wear any bōgu (padded body armor), while the naginata user wears a face and chest guard due to receiving thrusts from the yari straight on.
With the new reign of the Meiji era, the yari lost its use as a portable weapon due to the abolishment of the warrior class in Meiji Era, as well as the change in how warfare is conducted. If you look at the performance program for the Dai Nihon Butoku Kai before WWII, you will notice that only Saburi ryū of Hiroshima and Kan ryū of Nagoya took part in this every year, while no other schools got involved.
1) In Japanese, the character for the number 10 looks similar to a cross.
2) Measures to about 5.45 meters
3) Measures to about 3.63 meters
4) Measures to 3.03 meters
5) Measures to about 2.72 meters
6) Measures to about 2.42 meters
7) Measures to about 2.12 meters
8) Measures to about 1.81 meters
9) Presently known as Shimane Prefecture
10) Competitive battle of one person getting in close while another person keeps them out of range