In light of the many questions that I get in regards to longer tsuka, I have been acquiring pictures of Samurai from the very late Edo period who have longer tsuka than are used in most of the modern Japanese martial arts. Photos were first taken in Japan in the late 1850's so these are from a very narrow time frame before the Meiji restoration and the subsequent abolishment of the Samurai class and the outlawing of the wearing of swords. Even though this was not a time of war, as in the old days, there was a great deal of social turmoil and fighting taking place.
It is unfortunate that we do not have photographs from earlier times. Many drawings from these times however depict the longer tsuka in use. Notice also that in these photographs the longer tsuka are not on O-gatana like those used by the Kage ryu. It must also be noted that the average height of these men was substantially shorter than the modern westerner so keep that in mind when you look at handle proportion. Remember that photography was in its infancy so many of these photos are not of very high quality. I do have a few more photos and am constantly looking to acquire more so we will post them as they become available.
To answer some frequently asked questions:
Q. Does the longer handle make it difficult to use the sword one handed?
A. In my experience the longer handle actually makes it easier to use the blade one handed. There are two primary reasons for this. One is that the longer handle changes the balance point of the blade bringing it back closer to the hand. The other is that the tsuka can be brought against the forearm if a cut needs to be stopped quickly.
Q. Does the longer handle make it harder to do Iai-do/Iai-jutsu.
A. Iai, both the Do and the Jutsu forms, is an ill defined art running a wide gamut of techniques and intent. I personally practice Iai jutsu from two different ryuha on a daily basis and see no drawback with the longer tsuka. Kuroda Tetsuzan sensei used one of my swords with a 14 inch tsuka when doing a 4 day seminar at my dojo. While his personal sword has a shorter tsuka he used mine with complete ease and incredible speed.