Calibre of Swords

Discussion in 'Japanese Swords and Sword Arts' started by Supra Vijai, Dec 5, 2010.

  1. Supra Vijai

    Supra Vijai Black Belt

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    Hi all,

    I have a possibly controversial question, one that I started to ask my Sensei about but we went off topic and I didn't manage to get a full reply.

    In a thread on here, it was mentioned that a katana by a classically trained swordsmith such as Gassan can cost $50,000.00+.... In the same thread it was noted that no katana will maintain a perfect edge with use etc

    If a katana that costs $50,000+ requires the same upkeep as say one that is in the $500 - $1000 mark, what makes it so special? I understand that different metals may be used and what not but aside from that?

    Thanks in advance
     
  2. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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    That's not a controversial question at all, Supra, it's a most reasonable one.

    "Quality costs" is a simple truth. "'Badge' reputation costs" is another. "Exclusivity costs" is a final note to this short tune :).

    If a sword is made to the highest standards by a celebrated smith who doesn't make many blades then the cost is going to be correspondingly high.

    If this sword sees use in such acticity as tamashagiri (test cutting), then it will resist the stresses of such activity better and longer than a cheap blade. Not so much as to justify the huge gulf in price in pure practical terms, however.

    If you were to wield such a sword in 'battle', though, it would be a different story. A cheap blade is much more likely to break or bend than a top-flgiht one. Of course, sword fights are not the ordinary fare in war these days but the principle lingers on.

    A simple precis of the matter is to bring it into the car world, an analogy that might be easier for everyone to grasp.

    Fiat Punto versus Bugatti Veyron. Both are perfectly capable of getting you from A to B and keeping the rain off your head, yet one costs astronomically more than the other.

    Quality. Badge. Exclusivity.
     
  3. Supra Vijai

    Supra Vijai Black Belt

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    Thanks for that Sukerkin... the rarity factor was not one that I had considered. The reason I mentioned that it may have been controversial was because there seems to be very strict rules governing swords and swordsmanship and the practice of Kenjutsu (like other JMA) itself seems to be seen by many as a sign of exclusitivity.

    As for "wear and tear", I was referring to use in tamashagiri rather than a duel because as you said, the chances of getting into one of those in this day and age are slight indeed :)

    When you mention quality, do you mean the metals used to create the alloy or the craftsmanship/intricacy of the blade itself?
     
  4. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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    Materials and manufacture are interwoven with a blade made by traditional methods. Working the metals to get the different qualaties you need in different parts of the blade is a key part of the smithing process.

    I'll scout up some links for you on the smithing process if I can. I don't know how much you know about the topic (so forgive me if I am telling you things you already are aware of) but a katana is a hugely complicated blade.
     
  5. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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    [yt]JfJn3r_-HuE[/yt]

    [yt]rwQqtf86qOc[/yt]

    These should be a good springboard for link-surfing about :D.
     
  6. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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    Oh and just to show that even things on the Discovery Channel should never be taken just at face value:

    [yt]fxYvwEnKRjA[/yt]

    A group of experts clearly enamoured of the myth of the superiority of the Japanese blade conclude that the katana is better than the broadsword? Well, that's a surprise :lol:. The one comment that makes my teeth ache in this clip is the continuation of the lie that Western swordsman relied on brute strength rather than skill :rasp:.

    The making of a katana is beautiful, involved and skillful. So is the forging of one of the myriad types of 'Western' swords. I'm a big fan-boy of the English Longsword myself - just as beautiful and deadly as the Katana.
     
  7. Ken Morgan

    Ken Morgan Senior Master

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    The Norse, (as well as other cultures), were making swords similar to the Japanese pre 1000AD. They were/are not unique in that regard.

    Where they are unique is the fact that the Japanese had a poor source of iron ore. No one in their right mind would have used Tamahagane had more homogeneous steels been available at the time. The folding, the pounding, the adding of carbon was to get rid of the impurities and infuse carbon into the steel.

    A brand new Japanese sword by a well respected smith is indeed priced beyond what most people can pay. However if you can find a newer smith, you can probably get a sword from them in the $5-7K range, including a basic polish and basic fittings. As he gains in reputation, that price will rise. The sword may indeed be as “good” as the one made by the more well known and respected smith, but it was not made by him.

    I can name off the top of my head a couple of dozen famous artists, whose painting sell in the multi millions of dollars. Why are they anymore famous then their contemporaries? What makes a Van Gogh worth more then a piece by peer equally as talented? Its what people are willing to pay for it.
     
  8. Brian R. VanCise

    Brian R. VanCise MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Sukerkin is very spot on in that you are paying for a badge or a specific artisans skill set. Many of the current modern (non japanese) models of katana out there can perform well. Some possibly even better ie. Howard Clark swords. (possibly) However, if one wants truly top of the line shinken you will get one from Japan. Why? First off the blade will made in the traditional manner and will be sharp and yet flexible. Yet, even more important is the fittings and the feel of the finished product. I have held many non-nihongi blades and most have felt slightly off for one reason or another. My nihongi iaito and shinken however feel just right or simply exceptional. Now I practice with my iaito all the time. However with my shinken it gets practiced with while doing iaido but rarely do I utilize it with tameshigiri. No instead I usually use an inferior modern katana which believe it or not performs quite well! Why would I do that? Because the nihongi shinken is not just a tool but also a piece of art and costly. So while it is absolutely okay to utilize it with iaito and tameshigiri every now and then I do not utilize it with tameshigiri all the time! [​IMG]

    If you are interested in a modern katana then www.bugei.com has some decent chinese manufactured ones. There are several places where you can get authentic hihongi shinken www.tozando.com swordstore has a good reputation but there are others!
     
  9. Supra Vijai

    Supra Vijai Black Belt

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    Thanks for all the advice and insights. I guess it's a whole different perspective on how you look at swords. Sukerkin I was only aware of very few details such as clay cooling parts of the blade which give a katana it's curve, nothing too specific though so that's really helped.

    Brian, the art reference makes total sense! Same sort of reason that a "painting" made by an elephant knocking over a paint can sells for $50,000+ while if I knock over a paint can I get told to clean it up and pay for the paint :p

    Could you explain what you mean by the fittings?
     
  10. David43515

    David43515 Master Black Belt

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    In the case of a Japanese style sword which is made of many parts and later carefully assembled, the fittings probably reffer to peices other than the blade. (The hand guard, the collar connecting the blade and handguard, the handle, the menuki that cover the peg holding the handle onto the tang, the endcap covering the base of the handle, the scabard, etc.) Sometimes this is also called the "furniture".

    It was fairly common for the same blade to be placed in different furniture. Change the scabard, or change the handle, etc.

    In custom knives the term fit and finish is used alot. There "fit" usually just means how tighly differnt parts fit together. Is there a noticeable gap where the handle and guard meet for example.
     
  11. Brian R. VanCise

    Brian R. VanCise MT Moderator Staff Member

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    The fittings on nihongi made blades are fantastic! From the same to the sageo to the menuki, saya, etc., etc. The people in Japan who work on each of these are master's at their trade. Meaning they are simply true artisans and the finished product represents at the highest level. Unfortunately non-nihongi blades simply almost invariably fail in these areas unless someone with these special skills works on them. So beyond just the quality of a blade the fittings are equally important! Hope that helps! [​IMG]
     
  12. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

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    The best blade ever created is no good, if the handle falls apart, if the guard comes off, etc.

    If the scabbard doesn't fit properly the blade and/or the scabbard could be damaged when drawing, the blade won't be properly protected during storage, the sword could slip out of the scabbard and be damaged when dropped, etc.

    A good sword of any kind is much more than the blade itself. Everything about the hilt and the scabbard are also very important to keep the blade in good condition and to make it useable.
     
  13. Bruno@MT

    Bruno@MT Senior Master

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    Aside from the answers you already got: The edge of a high quality shinken will last longer than the edge of a 500$ blade. Better quality steel, higher hardness and near perfect heat treatment.

    On the flip side, you probably don't want to polish the edge of a real shinken yourself. As a Japanese expert once told me: more blades have been destroyed by inept polishing and sharpening, than by use in battle. Sending the blade off to a qualified polisher is going to cost money too, whereas with a 500$ blade I would sharpen it myself, on the basis that the blade has no artistical or monetary value in the first place.
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2010
  14. Supra Vijai

    Supra Vijai Black Belt

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    My first reaction to this is to ask how one polishes the blade but to be honest, as someone who doesn't own a blade at present - Iaito or Shinken - the knowledge would be kind of useless. I will be sure to speak to all of you though for any other advise if I do end up getting a katana, as well as my Sensei obviously. State laws where I live are quite strict and I would need to apply for and be approved for a restricted weapons permit before I even think of looking at any weapons that aren't specifically for training (bokken, staff weapons etc).
     
  15. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    Step one in polishing a sword is to take it to a qualified professional. Step two is to pick it up after they have finished.

    The polishing process is rather involved, with gradiating types of stones used on the metal, eventually getting down to very fine stones covering the tips of the polishers fingers (really little more than specks or flakes). There is a rather awkward "seat" used as well, making it a process best left to the professionals. Oh, and even they regularly cut themselves from most reports, so leave it to them. I'll bring you a book about it tomorrow night (as well as other aspects of Japanese sword manufacture, it should help you "get" the terminology that is used here).
     
  16. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Master Black Belt

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    Indeed. I've wasted a couple of hours on the comments to that video combating the weeaboos. The big "tell" in the video is the term "broadsword". What they show is an arming sword. A broadsword is a basket-hilted blade from about 400 years later (think Rob Roy, not knights). The fact that they can't get their terminology right (they might as well have called the arming sword a rapier) shows they likely haven't done even the most rudimentary of research. Two minutes on google will get you the right terminology.

    I posted a clip from ARMA's website as a reply showing a longsword in action. Brute strength my ***.

    Oh well, you can lead a man to knowledge, but you can't make him think.

    Best regards,

    -Mark
     
  17. Bruno@MT

    Bruno@MT Senior Master

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    Polishing and sharpening basically refer to the same process. The only difference is that one is used to describe the stages where actual metal is visibly removed, and the other (polishing) to describe the process of refining the edge and polishing the ha (the surface near the edge).

    I cannot stress enough that for a shinken, polishing and sharpening are indeed a 2 step process. You bring it to the polisher, and you pick it up afterwards. Trying to do anything yourself is going to end in tears. Learning this craft is a serious study followed by a 10 year apprenticeship.

    My skills with sharpening and polishing are pretty well developed, and I have a nice collection of stones (incl the Japanese stones relevant to this topic) but under no circumstance would I try this myself, except if the blade was essentially worthless to begin with.

    A good book I can recommend is this:
    http://www.amazon.com/Art-Japanese-...=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1291658976&sr=8-1

    I am not even remotely knowledgeable about swords from other countries, but I do know that early Western European blades made by master smiths were similar to Japanese swords: folded steel, and different segments.
     
  18. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Master Black Belt

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    One of the finest examples is the Bamburgh sword, which can be seen here:

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_PjMVCKQDV...00-h/bamburgh+sword+7th+century+6+pattern.jpg

    In its glory, it looked like this:

    http://www.bamburghcastle.com/images/sword_thumb2.jpg
    http://www.bamburghcastle.com/images/sword_thumb1.jpg
    http://www.bamburghcastle.com/phpmedia/timeline/cropped/m_3164f8d8e3d1a8337d756ab89ad3c071.jpg

    State of the art technology at the time... 6 strand iron core with a steel edge welded around it. There are very few like it in the world.

    Best regards,

    -Mark
     
  19. Supra Vijai

    Supra Vijai Black Belt

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    Sensei,

    Thanks for that, I'll have your DVD back for you in class as well. I have a couple of quick questions about it so will speak to you tonight if you have time.

    Bruno - Thanks for that, I didn't realise polishing was the same as sharpening. Obviously there would be other things to do with sword care that you can/should do at home like keeping the blade oiled etc though? I think the term used was Choji (sp?)?

    Langenschwert - I love the intricacy of the pattern seen in
    http://www.bamburghcastle.com/images/sword_thumb1.jpg !

    What are western swords like these worth generally? Do they tend to be as pricey as the Japanese blades depending on the smith who made them?

    I was recently invited to a militaria exhibition by my Sensei who offered to show a couple of us what to look for with swords and how to roughly appraise them to know what we should be paying. Unfortunately I had to work that day and could not make it so am not a whole lot wiser on the subject :(
     
  20. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Master Black Belt

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    Something that old and intricate is priceless... it's a national treasure of epic proportions.

    A "regular" antique in good shape from the middle ages is quite pricey... certainly $50,000 or more. Think of it as buying a Guarneri violin.

    Part of the rarity of the Bamburgh is the obsolescence of the production technique. One the blast furnace was invented in Europe (1150-ish), pattern welding was abandoned... superior blades could be produced without such intricate forging techniques. I've handled quite a few antiques... one was an arming sword from the middle ages (I'd guess about 1200-ish, in a private collection) and was covered in rust with the wooden part of the grip missing IIRC, about as blunt as a butter knife due to rust. Even then, the balance was incredible and it still cut 4-litre plastic water bottles (!) like a laser. It was like the things was alive... the later smiths certainly lost pattern welding, but their knowledge of mass distribution has yet to be equalled even today.

    With regards to Japanese swords, some of the modern blades, even high end ones lack the heft of their historical counterparts. There's not enough "niku" (meat) to them. I hope that's the right term and spelling. There should be more "blade presence" than say a type XVa longsword. They're not epees or Italian duelling sabres... they should have some heft. :)

    Best regards,

    -Mark123
     

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