The elements of a Japanese sword were intended to be seen both as functional and as works of art. The most prominent Japanese sword element is the tsuba, the disk-shaped metal guard that separates the base of the blade from the grip.
The tsuba (鍔, or 鐔) guard at the end of the grip of bladed weapons, like the katana and its various variations, tachi, wakizashi, tantō, naginata etc. Tsuba prevents the hand from sliding onto the blade during thrusts as opposed to protecting from an opponent's blade. Tsuba contributes to the balance of the weapon and to the protection of the hand. The average katana tsuba is 7.5–8 centimeters (3.0–3.1 in), wakizashi tsuba is 6.2–6.6 cm (2.4–2.6 in), and tantō tsuba is 4.5–6 cm (1.8–2.4 in).
Tsuba were made by whole dynasties of craftsmen whose only craft was making tsuba. They were usually lavishly decorated, passing from one generation to the next. Japanese families with samurai roots sometimes have their family crest (mon) crafted onto a tsuba.
During the Muromachi period (1333–1573) and the Momoyama period (1573–1603) Tsuba were more for functionality than for decoration, being made of stronger metals and designs. During the Edo period (1603–1868) there was peace in Japan so tsuba became more ornamental and made of less practical metals such as gold.
In a duel, two participants may lock their katana together at the point of the tsuba and push, trying to gain a better position from which to strike the other down. This is known as tsubazeriai (鍔迫り合い), lit. pushing tsuba against each other. Tsubazeriai is a common sight in modern kendō. In modern Japanese, tsubazeriai (鍔迫り合い) has also come to mean "to be in fierce competition."