Choosing a sword

SahBumNimRush

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Okay, I'd like to start off by saying, I know next to NOTHING about swords or swordmanship. Although I have always wanted to learn. I have been searching for a proper blade (not a practice one).

My question is A. is http://www.zanshinironworks.com/ a good source?

and B. are there prices typical of the level of craftmanship?
 

MBuzzy

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I would strongly suggest that particularly if you don't have any sword training that you first look at some saegums or kagums (Korean sword terms meaning practice sword, unsharpened). In my sword style (Haidong Gumdo, a traditional Korean style), students are not allowed to have their own jingum or sharpened sword until black belt (Cho Dan). They get a practice sword around green belt and at that point may start practicing with it (cutting seminars, etc).

Having been involved in sword for about 3 years (a great deal less than many here), I would STRONGLY advise against going directly to a live blade. I still practice with a mokgum (wooden sword) most of the time. It is way too easy to hurt yourself and with a real jingum....you can cut something off with no problem.

If it is for display, you really don't need to spend $2000 on a real sword....

I would look at www.jingum.com they sell both Korean and Japanese style swords.
 

Sukerkin

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Aye, good advice indeed there.

It cannot be repeated often enough that, lovely as they are, swords are first and foremost designed to be dangerous. It is their reason to exist and what is not often understood is that the skill required to handle and use them, without losing any of your own or other peoples body parts, is considerable.

All of us who are practitioners of the Japanese Sword (or related) arts will have personal tales of near-misses whilst learning and I am pretty sure that all of us will have cut ourselves at some point too.

So if you are not planning to seek out an instructor and begin training seriously then the true advice that any swordsman will give you is "Don't buy a live blade".

It's a boring thing to say, I know but better bored with ten fingers than excited with nine :lol:.
 
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SahBumNimRush

SahBumNimRush

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Very good advice! I guess, I should've made my intentions clear. I would LOVE to learn how to properly use the sword, but I would not use a live blade to start with. I guess it's just that I've always wanted a "real" one from an aesthetic point of craftsmanship, art and beauty.

Because I wish to learn, and I would hope to someday have the skill to use it, I was curious what people thought of zanshin ironworks as far as quality and price.

But since we are on the subject, other than the wooden versions, where would one acquire a "practice" blade? Albeit a mute point probably, as I live in the sticks and no one around here teaches such an art.
 

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As to the site that you posted, I have no experience with them, so I can't vouch for quality. But the prices are indicative of most "entry level" swords. For a basic "cutting blade," you're looking at between $300 and $2,000. Depending on the quality, customization that you want, and what you want to cut. I got my Samgakdo (for cutting straw (tatami)) for around $300. It is from a Chinese forge and considered a "beater" sword. Just good enough to cut and be safe, but nothing pretty or special. The sword that I WANT is a Yukgakdo (for bamboo cutting (what you would consider a true live combat blade)) and it will cost closer to $2000. When you get above that, you're talking about some serious steel. I've heard of and seen sword upwards of $10,000. Up there, you're talking about swords that can cut concrete without a problem.

As to where to get a good practice blade - the one that I have experience with and can strongly suggest is the site that I posted. On that site, you're looking for the steel kagums under the Korean section. I don't know a whole lot abotu Japanese swords, but Sukerkin could probably translate the Japanese on the Japanese site of that site. (Under Korean swords, go to Steel Kagums) They will also customize those.

The swords you will find there are made EXACTLY as a live blade would be. With the same materials and all. Weights are the same, the only part that is lacking is the final heat treatment and sharpening. So if you buy one of those, it is as close as you can get without slicing off a finger. :) Plus, the forge is of GREAT quality.

Sukerkin, if I'm not mistaken, if he wants a Japanese sword, he should look at Iaitos (for a non sharpened sword), correct?
 
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SahBumNimRush

SahBumNimRush

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Thanks MBuzzy, I guess I could/should do more research before posting.. . But I figure better to ask those on here that know vastly more than me about these things. It's always been something I've been interested in, but know next to nothing about.

I appreciate the suggestions! I am also very ignorant on the differences between japanese and korean swords. I was under the impression that the Japanese samurai sword (katana?) was the holy grail of swords.. . If the korean swords are of equal power, I would much rather look into the Korean swords since I practice a Korean Martial Art. Again, I mean no disrespect, my questions come from ignorance.. .
 

Ken Morgan

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There is not really much difference, if any at all, between a Japanese sword and a Korean sword.

I practiced iaido for 6 years before I bought a shinken, (real sword), before that I used an iaito, and before that just a bokken. They all have there purposes and uses.

I know of practitioners of the Sword arts who only have ever used an iaito 20 years on. I took a stone to my shinken a few years back and dulled it down to a sharp knife from a razor. This is a hobby, why would I jeopardize my fingers for a hobby?

What you are looking for, (if I may?), is an iaito, its looks and feels like a sword, but is made from an aluminum alloy and has no edge on it.

My sensei has been making wooden weapons and selling everything else for 20 years. Many people here know him and have bought items from him. Obviously its where Ive bought all my stuff, but by all means shop around and see whats out there.

He has a section for iaito and shinken, take a look see. http://sdksupplies.netfirms.com/

Where are you in the states?

Good luck with your search.
 

Sukerkin

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Sukerkin, if I'm not mistaken, if he wants a Japanese sword, he should look at Iaitos (for a non sharpened sword), correct?

Quite so. A quality Iaito from a decent Japanese maker will probably set you back $1000 or more (only guessing here as I don't know what the exhange rates are like at present). Those are the ones that are balanced and configured so as to precisely match a shinken of the same size and weight. You can get much cheaper ones but largely you get what you pay for in a sword.

I always recommend Tozando when this type of question comes up. I have used one of their top end blades for something like five years now and the ito (wrapping on the hilt) hasn't budged a hair (unlike the 瞿250 blade I had from Paul Chen). A thing to consider with Japanese made Iaito is that they will be a duralim alloy rather than steel (it's a legal issue with Japanese sword making) - of course, that means that you don't have to deal with rust issues :lol:. Of course, you could always buy the real thing ... and send it to me ... :angel: (a genuine antique blade costs ... welll ... pretty much what you'd expect :D).
 

Brian R. VanCise

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As Sukerkin suggests Tozando is very reputable though there are of course other dealer's. Be very, very careful as the amount of junk out there is staggering and as they say a fool is soon parted from his money. You would be surprised at how many $1,000 to $2,000 junk blades are out there. Instead seek instruction as your instructor will probably steer you in the right direction and guide you in your purchase based on his or her experience.
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Still when beginning purchase an iaito and then work from there.
 

MBuzzy

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Thanks MBuzzy, I guess I could/should do more research before posting.. . But I figure better to ask those on here that know vastly more than me about these things. It's always been something I've been interested in, but know next to nothing about.

I appreciate the suggestions! I am also very ignorant on the differences between japanese and korean swords. I was under the impression that the Japanese samurai sword (katana?) was the holy grail of swords.. . If the korean swords are of equal power, I would much rather look into the Korean swords since I practice a Korean Martial Art. Again, I mean no disrespect, my questions come from ignorance.. .

I'm with you. I decided to stick with Korean all the way. I really didn't want to learn to read and write Japanese, so it is just easier. There are very few differences, although I can tell you that the Japanese style bokken are a big larger (heavier and larger diameter) than the Korean mokgum. The sword that I purchased was intended to be a Japanese sword, but they are basically interchangeable. If you truly want a Korean sword, it is all about the forge. I use www.jingum.com because I know that they specialize in Korean swords (Japanese as well, but I've spoken to the owner and he has a great knowledge of Korean blades). They purchase their swords from a Forge in South Korea, so I have confidence that they are forged properly from a Korean standpoint. Although, looking at geography alone.....how different can they really be? :)
 

Ken Morgan

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I really didn't want to learn to read and write Japanese,

Huh???

I've been involved in JSA for almost 11 years, and I know next to no Japanese. 95% of the people I know in the JSA have the same level of Japanese language skills.

What would that be important at all?
 

Chris Parker

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Hi,

I'm going to attempt to cover most of this thread at once here, so let's see how we go....

SahBumNimRush, the first reply you got here was spot on, what are you using it for? You have mentioned that you train in a Korean art (also shown in your handle), so I'm assuming either Tae Kwon Do or Hapkido (as those are the most prominent, I haven't checked your profile yet), and are interested in swordsmanship. From there, we have gone immediately into Japanese and Korean blades rather than Chinese, Western, or any other. But as that seems to be what you are after, all good. But what you get will be determined by your needs and uses. We'll get to that.

As mentioned, there is very little difference between Korean and Japanese blades. While the Japanese blade is often considered "unique", this may seem a little odd. I personally believe that the origins of Korean swordsmanship (as it exists today) comes from remnants of a number of ill-fated conquests of Korea by the Japanese, including ones from Oda Nobunaga and Takeda Shingen (these gave us famous weapons such as the Kata Kama Yari, said to have been used by Kito Kiyomasa when he would go hunting for tigers in Korea. I mention this to show that the sword is not really the weapon of the battlefield samurai as many believe, it's prominence came later. But enough on that...). As the Japanese left, some would stay behind, and the conquests themselves left their mark quite deeply on the Korean psyche. It is a big reason that there is such animosity between the Koreans and Japanese. So a part of what was left was the Japanese sword, and it's use.

That said, I am not aware of the Koreans using the same (or similar) forging methods as the Japanese, although the design and shape is certainly highly evocative of the Japanese original. So if you are going to study Korean swordsmanship (Kumdo), use a Korean sword. If you are going to study a Japanese sword art (Kenjutsu/Iai/Batto/many many many other names...), I recommend a Japanese blade. Of course, that is very expensive to get a genuine traditionally forged one ($10,000 US and up, typically).

So that brings us back to what you are wanting to do with it. As said, I would stick with the weapon of the art you are learning. But follow the advice of your instructor. For example, in studying with us, you would use a safe training sword (fukuro shinai, a leather covered bamboo sword) for pretty much everything in class. I then recommend for home training that a student gets a bokken, and later a suburito (wooden sword, and a very large wooden sword respectively. Suburito I have heard translated as "air-shaking sword") for conditioning their grip and forearms. If they are interested in Iai, then we look at saya (scabbards) for their bokken, and later move up to an Iaito (which is, as said, a metal bladed training sword, with the blade made from an aluminium/zinc alloy, making the blade well balanced and weighted, but too soft to take a cutting edge, and if used for impact can be damaged fairly easily). A relatively safe alternative to a live blade is what is refered to as a Mogito. This is a real sword, with a real blade, but not sharpened. Some companies, such as Furuyama Forge, sell Mogito under the name Iaito to avoid confusion. These blades can take an edge, and stand up to impact a fair bit better. Lastly, is a Shinken, or live blade. This is for the experienced practitioner or a dedicated cutting practitioner.

You stated that you are interested in a Japanese sword as it is the "holy grail" of swords. Now, I love Japanese swords, but that is a very subjective topic. Some may say that the Damascus blades are the best ever seen, and they have the higher value as the technology to recreate them has been lost to the ages (what is called Damascus steel today is named for it's looks rather than it's metalurgical properties). So it is personal preference (for the record, I'm with you there!). You then state that it is for aesthetics. Well, while the best swords are certainly beautiful works of art in and of themselves, pretty does not a sword make. I have owned a number of bokken that are quite beautiful themselves, in fact there have been a number of bokken made that are considered display and collectors items themselves. So aesthetics are again rather subjective. But I will say that aesthetics will only be a primary concern if it is a display sword only. If it is going to be used for anything else, there are much bigger concerns. First off, talk to your instructor about what they recommend, and follow what they say. And if you don't have an instructor and aren't getting one, and wish to use the sword, don't. Just don't. But if it's for display, get what you think is pretty...

Oh, and Ken, learning Japanese is not such a big thing if you are learning from an instructor in the West, and are taking all your information from them and English language sources. But if you are going to travel to the country of origin, or research independantly in a variety of places, I would say the language is certainly handy to know! At the very least, I expect you are familiar with the Japanese terms and names for the different parts of a sword, the fittings, the kamae, the cuts and thrusts etc, yeah?
 

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You stated that you are interested in a Japanese sword as it is the "holy grail" of swords. Now, I love Japanese swords, but that is a very subjective topic. Some may say that the Damascus blades are the best ever seen, and they have the higher value as the technology to recreate them has been lost to the ages (what is called Damascus steel today is named for it's looks rather than it's metalurgical properties).

Almost :)

What is called damascus steel today is pattern welded steel: 2 types of steel hammered together, folded, hammered, etc. After working the steel, the item is etched. The 2 different types of steel will etch differently, causing a pattern to appear. The folding methods and the grinding geometry determine the resulting pattern.

Ancient damascus steel was created by smelting ore in a crucible and letting it slowly cool to allow the forming of dendrite structures that cause the patterns and mettalurigcal properties. This technique was lost because it depended on a specific type of ore with the right combination of trace elements. It is presumed that the smiths of old didn't know -why- the ore was so important; just that it was. Making this steel required 3 important things: the right ore, the right smelting techniques, the right smithing and heat treatment techniques. When the ore ran out, the other knowledge was no longer passed on and lost a generation later.

However, research has regained this knowledge. Today this type of steel is known as 'wootz' and it is hideously expensive. It is comparable with today's supersteels, and outperforms everything else in cutting tests. The reason is that the dendritic structures are extremely hard, and wear less quickly than the surrounding steel. As a result, the cutting surface is littered with micro serrations that act like the teeth of a sawblade.

Wootz patterns are totally unlike modern damascus patterns though, if you know what to look for. The first pic is a blade that I made from pattern welded steel. The second blade was ground by another razor maker for the master smith who could get the wootz steel. For such a razor, you're basically paying in the 2000$ range. Pattern welded blades otoh start as low as 200$.

1106.Elegance.JPG


6259d1202444226-my-first-ivory-razor-wootz-razor-no-1-web.jpg


Oh, and Ken, learning Japanese is not such a big thing if you are learning from an instructor in the West, and are taking all your information from them and English language sources. But if you are going to travel to the country of origin, or research independantly in a variety of places, I would say the language is certainly handy to know! At the very least, I expect you are familiar with the Japanese terms and names for the different parts of a sword, the fittings, the kamae, the cuts and thrusts etc, yeah?

If you can find a teacher near you, then learning Japanese is not an impossible task. Not dramatically harder than learning another language that has its own character set. Once you can read and write the hiragana and katakana character sets, it becomes a matter of grammar and vocuabulary, just like when learning Greek or Latin.
 

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First point, Let's not limit ourselves strictly to Kumdo. While the letters K and G are the same character in Hangul, for some reason, many different arts have evolved around the Korean Korean sword which have similar names. Kumdo, Haidong Gumdo, Daehan Gumdo, among others. There are also a few Korean styles that don't even have the word k/gumdo in the name. Believe it or not, Korean sword styles are just as prolific as Japanese, although I would agree with you that the Korean got their sword making technology and the basis for their techniques from the Japanese in one way or another.

The rub about going out and buying your own sword is that if you ever DO find an instructor, they are more than likely going to ask you not to use yours and to only use the blades and swords that they recommend. I know that my styles won't let you test or compete with any "non-approved" sword. There are PLENTY of cheap swords out there that will fall apart and send pieces flying, which as you can imagine is a bad thing.

As to forging methods, if there was at one time a difference in methods, I doubt that it exists today. Mainly because many of the forges that you buy "Korean" swords from also sell Katana. I'm just guessing here though.

Huh???

I've been involved in JSA for almost 11 years, and I know next to no Japanese. 95% of the people I know in the JSA have the same level of Japanese language skills.

What would that be important at all?

That's just me. Certainly not necessary. When I got serious about Korean Martial arts, I lived in Korea and I learned the language. To me, it is a way to learn more about the style and get more depth while also paying homage to the culture that created the style. Plus, honestly, I can't tell you how useful reading and speaking Korean has been in my study of Korean martial arts....even since I'm not there any more. You would be surprised how many Americans have NO IDEA whatsoever what they are saying. In general, Pronunciation is terrible, word usage is all word, the honorifics are messed up.....to me, it almost gets to an insulting level with some people. Plus, do you know how many 4th Dans and above have tried to correct me about Korean language and pronunciation? When told that I speak the language and lived there for a year, even when confirmed by other Koreans, many refuse to accept that they have been wrong for 20 years.
 

Ken Morgan

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Absolutely, learning/speaking Japanese would help clarify instruction from unilingual Japanese instructors, but in the west, its really not necessary. We have amazing highly ranked English speaking instructors.

I know the basics of the Japanese language, (enough to order a beer and get my face slapped :)), and one day, I may make an attempt to learn more, but unless Im in a position to use those skills, my newfound abilities will slip away very quickly.
 

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Absolutely, learning/speaking Japanese would help clarify instruction from unilingual Japanese instructors, but in the west, its really not necessary. We have amazing highly ranked English speaking instructors.

I know the basics of the Japanese language, (enough to order a beer and get my face slapped :)), and one day, I may make an attempt to learn more, but unless Im in a position to use those skills, my newfound abilities will slip away very quickly.

Not to pull this further off topic, but you are right, there are plenty of instructors who speak English. The problem that I have run into with the KMA instructors who speak english is that they have no idea what they are saying and are often mis-speaking. Plus, I have learned more than I could ever learn here by reading Hangul texts.
 
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SahBumNimRush

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Although this has got a bit off topic here, I do have some thoughts on the matter.

MBuzzy, how correct you are about Americans butchering the Korean Language. When I started, in 1985, the first terminology I learned was "attention." Keep in mind my instructor trained directly under our Kwan Jang Nim, a Korean Master. And even still, he pronounced it "shaw-root!" There was one black belt in our school, that always pronounced things differently (turns out he was an intelligence interpreter during the Vietnam War and spoke nearly every asian language). I latched on to his pronounciation early on, and when I was in Chiropractic School in Chicago, there were 8 Koreans that were in my class. I siezed this opportunity to learn more about Hangul and pronounciation, which has helped me tremendously.

Although I am certain I would be lost in Korea, I know I speak the terminology correctly, and can write it out. But the finer points of knowing how to change prounciation depending on syntax and grammer still escape me. As does the proper usage of formalities in some instances and when to use sino-korean vs. native korean.

But atleast I know that Sino-korean isn't an ordinal number! I see so many that insist 일 (il) is 1st, not 1.. . When I ask them what 제일 (che-il) is then? They give me deer in the headlights looks, haha.. .

I agree that it is not imperative to know the Korean language to understand the art, but, personally, I wish to honor the culture by not butchering the language. All commands in my dojang are in Korean (well, in butchered Korean). Most of the students have a hard time understanding me, because I do not pronounciate like the other instructors.. . But I know I'm atleast closer to the true pronounciation than the others.
 

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