Dragons in oriental art do not have wings nor do they necessarily breathe fire, although flames erupt from their limbs. They are not creatures of earth, but rather combine elements of the air and water, equally at home in the ocean or the clouds. Although strength and power are represented, the dragon above all is a reconciliation of opposites, a combination of yin and yang.
Also unlike the western dragon, the Oriental dragon is not a cunningly malevolent beast. Instead it is strength combined with wisdom and is benevolent. Like other Japanese tattoos, the choice of a dragon is sometimes an aspiration to these same qualities of wholeness and wisdom. It is one of the more popular Japanese style tattoos and they are depicted with great variety in terms of body position, degree of hostility in aggressive or passive position of the claws and jaws, and in their environment.
Fittingly, the sword is a symbol of the warrior but principally a warrior of virtue, even righteousness and justice. It has long been a symbol of power, especially in heraldry, and in some cultures skill with the sword was considered an art form.
In myth, swords are often times the gift of the gods to special individuals or magical in some way, as in Excalibur, the legendary sword of King Arthur. In tattoo artwork, it is not uncommon to see them done in fairly elaborate designs, perhaps jeweled with ornate handles, and even specific to a certain culture.
Interestingly, this tattoo design does not make use of the katana, or Japanese sabre, the weapon of choice among samurai. Instead, the beautiful and highly detailed vertical thrust of this sword provides a counterpoint to the curving body of the dragon. A katana could not have worked in quite the same way, for this particular composition, since the katana is curved.