Where can I buy a good quality katana?

Discussion in 'Japanese Swords and Sword Arts' started by Tarrycat, Oct 10, 2017.

  1. Tarrycat

    Tarrycat Green Belt

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    I'm not certain if a thread like this has been created, if so, could you please refer me to it? I can't find anything... I don't want people to have to post about it again as to avoid any inconvenience. :rolleyes:

    My birthday is coming up & I'm looking at purchasing myself a katana. I have no knowledge of what a good/bad quality katana is, I have never owned one. I'm located in South Africa, hence it will need to be exported. I've browsed eBay & Amazon so far with a lot of caution, as I'm not certain if those are the best platforms to purchase katanas from. Please feel free to share your knowledge, expertise, & opinions.

    Every piece of advice will be greatly appreciated. :)

    Thank you in advance for your time* :happy: x
     
  2. BrendanF

    BrendanF Yellow Belt

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    Hi Tarrycat

    Sword blades, and particularly Japanese swords, due to the romanticism and pop culture fascination, have become a large industry catering to a huge variety of customers.

    They are typically grouped into broad categories, labelled according to value, cost or production quality/method. Which you would want is entirely dependent on the intended purpose. As you've said you have no knowledge, I'm assuming that you're not training in a Japanese sword art? If that's the case, I'd imagine that you'd want one either to simply hang on the wall (funnily enough one of the categories I referred to earlier is 'wallhanger'), or just to do some backyard cutting?

    Wallhangers come in many shapes, sizes and materials - but are characteristically cheap, often stainless steel (not a good steel for sword blades) and poorly/cheaply finished. Typically the hamon (often mistakenly called a 'temper line') is artifically etched on the blade, and they often feature gaudy, shiny fittings and can be visually quite dramatic, as the intended purpose is to simply look flash hanging up on the wall. NOT to be used to actually cut anything.

    A wallhanger:

    [​IMG]


    Another popular category are Chinese forged blades - slightly more expensive (typically) than wallhangers, they are being pumped out of forges/factories in Longquan. Wildly variable in quality, these blades may sometimes be appropriate for light backyard cutting, but also.. may not be. One of the more highly regarded of these is 'Huawei swords' who sell on ebay and alibaba. While the fittings are not much of a step up from wallhanger level, the blades are T10 (also called W1 - high carbon tool steel.. much more appropriate for swords), differentially hardened and therefore can be used.. with great care.

    A huawei:

    [​IMG]

    Beyond production blades, you may contract a bladesmith to forge you a sword. A bare blade made by a Japanese smith from tamahagane, in the traditional manner, will start at several thousand dollars. There are western smiths like Howard Clark who forge swords from modern steels like 1084 and L6 - one of his bare blades starts around 3k and has a couple of year wait list IIRC. Of course, these bare blades then need to have tsuba, tsuka, saya and koshirae built to fit.. another several thousand minimum. Fully finished, 10k is cheap in this category.

    There are forums out there aimed at sword purchasers - they may provide more specific info. Whatever you end up doing - please take great care in handling any sharp sword.

    Phew... that got pretty long.. I hope it helps
     
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  3. Tarrycat

    Tarrycat Green Belt

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    That helped a lot. Thank you so much for the much needed information! :)



    I'm actually looking for something practical & good quality. However, 10k in Dollar terms is a lot for us South Africans. It's about 140k in Rand terms. However, I understand the reasoning behind it 100%.



    In my case, I'd rather save up for a qood quality katana, than spend money on something that cannot really serve the purpose of what it was crafted for initially.



    I will definitely take care in handling it. I will consult my teacher first before I remove it from its saya.



    I think that perhaps I need more sword training before I decide to handle it. We don't do a lot of sword training, unfortunately. We do a lot of bo training, though.



    Will a Kendo school be able to help me with sword training? What would you recommend? :shamefullyembarrased:
     
  4. BrendanF

    BrendanF Yellow Belt

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    You're very welcome. I completely understand re "practical and good quality" - I suppose that rules out the wallhangers, and the cost precludes custom build. That leaves you with production line swords, which as I mentioned vary drastically, and of course much of the assessment of them is subjective - balance, aesthetic etc. What is not subjective is the quality of the steel and more critically the heat treat.

    Japanese sword arts, like the swords, can be grouped broadly into a few different categories. There are modern amalgam arts, like Kendo and Iaido, which are essentially distilled/standardised from older koryu. And then there are the koryu (old schools) which remain extant. And beside these there are countless modern, non-Japanese inventions couched as koryu. Not knowing you personally, or your interests and priorities, I wouldn't want to recommend a specific art.

    I think Kendo is a fantastic art - but I haven't studied it. I have some friends who have, and it clearly informs their practice. Some criticism has been aimed at the one dimensional nature of the art; critics often point out that Kendo folks 'hit' each other with bamboo, rather than actually using the shinai in the manner a live sword would be used. However the intensity of the training can't be questioned. Hyoho on this forum knows (so much) more about it than I do, so I'll leave any further posting on it to him.

    There are many informative websites re Iaido and the koryu - if you have an interest in JSA I would recommend researching and reading as much as you can, before making a decision. Visit every legitimate JSA school you can, and see which appeals to you. Some of the more sensible advice I've seen on these forums is.. the teacher and group you join is at least as important as the art. And check with someone who knows regarding the authenticity of the school.. as I mentioned above, there are more fakes than the real thing these days.

    Have a look at different arts on youtube, check the google machine, talk to people who have practiced different arts, and try to determine what interests you. All the best - I hope you find JSA as rewarding as I have.
     
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  5. Hyoho

    Hyoho Black Belt

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    Hello. There have been lots of threads like this one and the answer is aways the same from us seasoned guys that have had a lifetime of practice and teaching in the various facets of swordsmanship.

    First and foremost what do you want one for? Batto Jutsu, Iaido? Blades do vary depending on what you use them for.

    But............... the main thing is you yourself dont know what will suit you, how long or heavy it should be etc. So it's simple. Get a qualified instructor of these sharp pointy things to teach you one of these arts. Then let him tell you when you are ready to buy and use one.

    No doubt other people will post to back me up in this advice.
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2017 at 8:08 AM
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  6. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert 3rd Black Belt

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    If you want to learn swordsmanship, find a good instructor and get your gear recommendations from them. If your school "doesn't do much sword", then you're likely not learning authentic swordsmanship there. That's fine if you just want a shallow degree of knowledge, but if you want to actually study it, go to a credible source. Then you'll know what to get, and when.

    Like any other martial art, sword arts require dedication. You will never get to the end of it as long as you live.

    If you let us know your general area, we can point to towards a good dojo where you can get the training you need. Or at the very least, we can tell you where NOT to go.
     
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  7. gpseymour

    gpseymour Grandmaster

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    Good post, Brendan. I've been considering upgrading my "wallhanger" (actually "bookcase topper") to what I call a "practical wallhanger" (something that could probably be used in a pinch, and probably never will be), and those Chinese versions might fit the bill. I couldn't find them on eBay, though.
     
  8. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

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    If you ever come to San Francisco, let me know. A few years ago I picked up a couple of them on a whim, and honestly have no need for them. I would be willing to let them go for cheap, you handle the shipping. Musashi brand.
     
  9. gpseymour

    gpseymour Grandmaster

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    I'll keep that in mind! I do make it out that way from time to time, though less often than I used to (heck, I haven't even made it to KY in the last year, a trip I used to make a couple of times a year).
     
  10. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

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    Send me a note the next time you plan to be in the area. Would be happy to get together, and you can take a look at them and see if you like one/them.
     
  11. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master Black Belt

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    This is the only part of your postings that I have a minor quibble with Brendan. With modern steel being as inexpensive as it is, the steel quality and heat treating is pretty simple to control. As long as the sword is not stainless steel, which is very difficult to harden properly without it becoming too brittle in a sword length, then as long as you get it from a known forge such as Huawei or Paul Chen's Hanwei forge, then the blade should be fine. (even though it may balance like a sharpened crow bar). The biggest problem I have seen with the Chinese made swords is that their quality control is all over the map. I have seen horribly put together swords that were totally unsafe for actual use for anything, as well as reasonably well made swords that I would have no problem with allowing in the dojo. These swords were the same model, from the same vendor, and arrived in the same shipment of swords from said vendor.

    If someone doesn't have the knowledge to inspect it carefully themselves, then I urge people to buy from someone knowledgeable that will inspect them prior to selling them. It can cost a little bit more that way, but is infinitely safer.

    They have an ebay shop ... huaweiswords

    The next level above that is Hanwei. I trust theirs more than Huawei as they've got a better track record. The best way to purchase a Chinese made Japanese style sword is to purchase from someone that you trust to check them out first, and who will readily replace them if a defect is found after your purchase. I recommend www.nihonzashi.com since the owners are quite knowledgeable and actually run a Toyama ryu dojo in Florida.
     
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  12. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

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    What are your thoughts on overall quality and consistency of Musashi brand?
     
  13. Tarrycat

    Tarrycat Green Belt

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    Thank you so much for the information. I really appreciate the time you've put in to help me out! :)

    I never knew Kendo was very one-dimensional... The first time I saw it in person, was at the Japanese festival last Sunday. Thank you for pointing that out! :D

    I also think that the best way for me to decide on a katana, is by doing some thorough research into different schools, arts, & katanas, so that I know exactly what I want. As of now, I'm still a bit undecided, hence my lack of knowledge regarding the art.

    Hyoho made a very wise comment, similar to yours, highlighting that the specs of the katana such as its weight in relation to my capability, also plays a significant role. I didn't even consider it, & it's very important. I can't buy something that I can't handle.

    Thanks again* :)
     
  14. Tarrycat

    Tarrycat Green Belt

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    Ahhh!!! :facepalm:... I apologise for the repetition. You must be frustrated with this question by now? :shamefullyembarrased:

    You gave me some excellent pointers, in fact, things I have not considered, so I'm very appreciative of your wisdom. :)

    I want one for practical purposes; one with the stealth & ability to cut through most things (I'm not sure what quality katana you would consider that as; I'm not knowledgeable enough to know what katanas are capable of cutting through; it would be interesting to know? :D).

    Also, we live in a crime-driven country where it may come in handy, you never know. I'm not talking about carrying it around (legal issues); I'm talking about when/if our house gets broken into (given that I have a chance to do something about it - if not, I won't risk my life).

    I'm a Ninjutsu student; we don't train much with the katanas, we train Rokushaku a lot more (not as much as I'd like, though). We're (I take it) a To-Shin-Do school, so we tend to focus more on modern kata than the traditional arts.

    My experience with this specific training is quite poor. I've only learned how to hold it properly with a few movements in-between. :hilarious:

    May I ask you which art you would recommend for someone like me? (from your experience).

    I will definitely look out for a school, as I think that's the starting point of my journey to finding the right sword for me.

    Thank you SO much for your time* :)
     
  15. Tarrycat

    Tarrycat Green Belt

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    Thank you for your input, it's greatly appreciated! :)

    I'm situated in Gauteng, South Africa. Preferably a school in Pretoria. Johannesburg is too far from where I live. I just can't deal with our highways this side. It's like driving to your grave. :nailbiting: - it's a good hour-hour & a half away from where I am.

    ...excluding the hijackings, of course. o_O:D
     
  16. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master Black Belt

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    Hey Michael,
    Musashi brand is the bottom tier of Chinese swords that are still useable (somewhat). They generally need to be inspected carefully as they cut a lot of corners in able to reach their price point. Here's an example; most of the less expensive sword makers make a standard size handle blank, then insert shims to tighten the handle sufficiently when it is installed on the sword. The Musashi brand makes a standard sized handle blank that's a little smaller than the normal tang on their swords, and then hammers it on to the tang. If there's any flaw in the wood of the handle, then it will develop cracks which will lead to a loose handle if it is used. Also, their sword models run from less than $100 to several hundred, so there can be a lot of difference between the different models. Many of their swords are fine, many aren't so good, they have to be looked at individually. If used for decorative purposes, I would class them as the least expensive decorative sword that's still considered actually useable. I personally would not trust them to hold up to every day practice though, even the better built ones.

    There is a school in Pretoria that practices Nakamura ryu and Mugai ryu under the International Battodo Federation. I don't remember its name at the moment, but I remember someone mentioning them. You'll have to Google them up. Although kendo is a one dimensional art, it is very good at teaching a prospective swordsman how to create and exploit openings. That is its purpose in life as one of the "wheels of the cart" or "legs of the tripod" (I've heard it both ways. :) ) Even if you don't want to practice kendo, they can still probably put you in contact with any legitimate sword arts instructors in the area. We tend to be familiar with those around us. :)
     
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  17. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

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    Thanks. Without knowing those details I had still figured about as much.
     
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  18. Hyoho

    Hyoho Black Belt

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    I now live mostly in a third world country with high crime and a drug problem.

    Its 2017. A sword is not the answer. CCTV, good dogs, guns and a taser are the answer. Here they shoot at you (preferably wait for you to leave home) and throw hand grenades.
     
  19. Tarrycat

    Tarrycat Green Belt

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    Jeezzzz! Where do you live if I may ask? :eek:

    Obviously it's not only as protection, hence the arrival of modern weapons, making the use of the sword invalid. I want to learn the art because of my love & passion for history, as well as the martial arts. :smug:
     
  20. Tarrycat

    Tarrycat Green Belt

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    I really appreciate the extent of your effort! :)

    I will look into those schools, & I will ask around. I should find the right one eventually. :D

    I was actually looking at a specific man's set of katanas on eBay made by himself. The word "Tamahagane" caught my eye, as I've read that the Samurai used to produce swords using this method. Please do correct me if I am wrong. As for it's quality? I have no idea... :rolleyes:

    Please do have a look at his swords & let me know what you think about the quality of his katanas? I know it's difficult to judge based only on what is visible to the eye, & not to the other senses, but you guys do have more experience, & I believe that you have bought enough katanas to know what is good quality & what isn't. :)

    Here are the links:

    SOLD MH220 3A Tamahagane Katana Japanese Sword Clay Tempered Hadori Sashikomi | eBay

    MH212 5A Tamahagane Katana Japanese Sword Clay Tempered Hadori Sashikomi Simon's | eBay



    MH263 5A Tamahagane(III Katana Japanese Sword Clay Tempered Hadori Kesho Simon's | eBay



    SOLD MH220 3A Tamahagane Katana Japanese Sword Clay Tempered Hadori Sashikomi | eBay
     

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