Practice Notes for Sunday, Dec 15, 2019

We covered a lot of material in Sunday’s rapier class. For your benefit, I’ve taken the time to writing up some notes and posting them in our new website.’Ange/p/Main/t/commentary

The new sections are:

Chapter 4: How You Shall Recognize the Near and Wide Measure
Chapter 5: About the Movement of the Body
Chapter 6: How You Shall Approach
Chapter 7: How You Shall Lunge
* Lunge in Quarta
* Lunge in Tertia

There are also some old videos on this site. We intend to refilm them using the new knowledge that we’ve gained over the last couple of months.

Speaking of the new website, it is now setup so that you can use it to take notes. Once you login, you can go to the page for the play we’re studying and hit “Add Commentary”. There is a box for private notes and one for public commentary that others can see.


In sword and buckler we worked on Manciolino Alta Play 3. Josh and I are planning to make a video based on what we learned next week. Once that’s ready I’ll also add my commentary on the play.

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New Gorget Done

It only took me a decade to get off my ass and finish strapping this, but we’ve got one more gorget for the loaner kit.

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Antique Sparring Longsword

There are only a couple dozen antique sparring longswords left in the world. This is one of the three that are in North America.



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Is the edge or back of a blade stronger?

Well of course it depends on the blade. But if we’re talking about Japanese swords, we have an excellent source with both historic and scientific information.

Just to make things interesting, let me translate an account by another Japanese swordsman. This passage appears in a book by ISHIGAKI Yasuzô, whose father and grandfather both were headmasters of one of the main lineages of the Jikishinkageryû. This tradition rose to prominence during the late Tokugawa period, and many of its students became involved in the duels, revolutionary and counter-revolutionary activities of that time. As a result, members of that school emphasized the importance of owning a properly fitted sword. Ishikagi’s book is titled: Jikishinkageryû gokui denkai (Revealing the Pivotal Points of the Jikishinkage Style of Swordsmanship; 1992, revised 2001).

Again, this translation is NOT presented as the gospel truth. I do not accept Ishigaki one hundred per cent. Nonetheless, since views similar to his are commonly voiced in Japan, I believe they are worth our consideration and comment.


Ishigaki writes:

This concludes my explanation of the gokui (pivotal points) and kuden (oral initiations) regarding the Jikishinkageryû’s “Tachi seisaku kokoroe” (Sword Fabrication Conventions), none of which have ever before been revealed to the public.

Before ending this section, though, I must emphasize that no matter how much care one might exercise in assembling one’s sword furniture, no matter how excellent the quality of the sword furniture used, it is totally pointless unless one fits them to a reliable sword blade that is free from flaws. A trained swordsman must select a wazamono (good cutting sword) that is balanced, free from defects, and properly forged from quality steel so that it will not easily bend or break.

Avoid striking with the back of the blade (mune uchi).

In chanbara (sword play) movies and television shows frequently depict scenes in which the hero flips his sword around and strikes with the back of the blade. Supposedly he does so to indicate that he has no intention of cutting (i.e., killing) human beings, but [in reality] he could never have sufficient numbers of blades to do so. Because swords are weapons designed for cutting, they are forged so that their strength lies in the cutting edge of the blades. The backs of sword blades are their weakest points.

The book Ten buyôron (Treatise on Swords for Military Applications) by the famous shin-shintô (New-New Sword Period; i.e., post ca. 1781) swordsmith, Suishinshi Masahide, describes numerous incidents when a sword broke from being struck on its back. I will briefly mention a few of them.

[Note: Suishinshi Masahide (a.k.a. Kawabe Masahide, 1750–1825) almost single-handedly began the New New Sword movement through his exhaustive investigation of and revival of Old Sword manufacturing techniques. He trained over a hundred disciples, many of whom became noted smiths.—W.B.]

(1) There was a man named Terada who lived in the same Akimoto Domain as Suishinshi. One night while at home Terada used the back of his sword blade to strike a burglar. The sword broke in half and the tip flew into the next-door neighbor’s house. It was a sword made by Mizuda Kunishige with a very wavy (ô midare) edge pattern.

(2) An underling in the same Akimoto Domain struck a dog with the back of his wakizashi. The wakizashi broke in half and the dog ran away. The sword was an unsigned blade with a very wavy edge pattern.

(3) One of Suishinshi’s disciples, a man named Kobayashi Masaoki, was talking to a retainer (i.e., samurai) named Motoyama from the Awa Domain when he happened to mention that long shintô (New Swords; i.e., blades manufactured between ca. 1570 and 1780) break very easily. Thereupon, Motoyama said, “If that is so, then here, take my katana and try to break it,” and presented Kobayashi with his sword. When Kobayashi struck the back of the blade against one of the stones in the garden, it snapped like an icicle.

(4) The Awa Domain retainer named Motoyama had tested the cutting ability of swords produced by various smiths, but he had never tested them for durability. Acting under orders from his lord, he proceeded to test a wide variety of swords, including ones that had been made by Inoue Kunisada, Echigo-no-kami Kanesada, Osafune Sukesada, Suishinshi Masahide, and many others. When the back of blades were struck against one another (i.e., mune to mune), all of the long swords broke and almost all of the short swords cracked along their cutting edges.

(5) A porter in the Okayama Domain used the back of his sword to strike a thief. The sword blade broke in half. Thereupon, the porter picked up a bamboo pole and used it to knock the thief off of his feet. The porter tied up the thief, and inspected him for injuries. The thief had a big bruise where he had been struck by the bamboo, but no mark could be seen where he had been hit by the back of the sword blade.

(6) A warrior named Nagai in Kôzuke Province tried to test his sword by striking the back of the blade against the side of his house. With the first blow the sword broke into three pieces. It was a long sword made by Kawauch-no-kami Kunisuke.

The above incidents relate eye-witness accounts of swords breaking when struck on their backs. In addition, there is the well known story of Araki Mataemon of the Yagyû Shinkageryû. In 1634 when Araki and his brother-in-law, Watanabe Kazuma, were attacked by Kawai Matagorô and Sakurai Hanbei, Araki’s sword broke in half as a result of being struck on its backside. The sword was a wazamono that measured 2.77 shaku (about 84 cm) made by Rai Kanemichi.

During the war years durability tests were conducted on military swords. In 1943 I witnessed a public demonstration of these tests outside a department store near Ueno Park in Tokyo. The test consisted of dropping a iron ball about 50 cm in diameter and weighing about three kanme (about 11 kg) onto the center of a sword blade to see if it would bend or break. The results of this test showed that if the weight was dropped on the cutting edge of the sword, hardly any damage could be observed. But the sword broke easily when the weight was dropped on its back even if only from a height of 15 cm. It demonstrated just how weak the back of a sword blade is.

Students of kenjutsu should know that even if they select a wazamono that is balanced, free from defects, and properly forged from quality steel so that it will not easily bend or break, that the back of the blade still is its weakest point and that, therefore, they must not imitate the actors in movies and television shows.


The end of Ishigaki’s remarks.


William Bodiford
Dept. of Asian Languages & Cultures



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Blacksmiths Slate

When making something to a specific size, you often have to follow a pattern. But a normal paper pattern will catch on fire. So you need a slate.

Any piece of rusty sheet metal 10-12″ a side will work for most patterns. Put chalk dust on the back of your pattern, then trace the pattern onto the slate with a blunt pencil. The rust acts as a dark background for the light chalk.

Note that I said rusty, so no aluminum (won’t rust), stainless (shouldn’t rust), or galvanized (will poison you if it gets too hot).


Now like a bone head I forgot to wet my fresh metal and now I don’t have time before class. So I’m using gun blue instead. The metal is already clean, so I just need to apply it.

Make sure you dry and oil it afterwards so it doesn’t rust… um well I guess that doesn’t matter in this case.

Next I docked the sharp corners using my trusty old harbor freight shear.

It’s a bit floppy, so I used brake to bend up one edge. (Could do two or even all four, but even one helps a lot.)

Then I closed the seam with a small anvil and brass mallet. I want it nice and tight so my metal will lie flat on the slate.

The corners still bug me, so belt sander time. (Files would work too.)

Cool. Now I just need to blue it again because I scratched it all up with the anvil. Next time, bluing goes last.

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Thibault on Reach with Shoulder vs Wrist Cuts

In this illustration from Thibault (chapter 1, figure F) you can see the difference in reach between a wrist cut and a cut from the shoulder.


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Class Outline for Sunday, Jan 6

This is a tentative outline. Due to the rain, we may have to cancel tomorrow’s class.

2 PM: Directed Sparring

April it out of town, so in lieu we’ll have some light sparring to get the blood pumping. Intensity will vary by the participant’s skill and comfort level.

2:30 PM: dall’Agocchie: Parries from Coda Lunga Stretta (Sidesword)

This begins a comprehensive look at the defensive actions you can use when standing in Coda Lunga Stretta. As you go through these drills in class, think about how you would apply these techniques to other guards.

Handouts will be provided.

3:30 PM: L’Ange Rapier Chapters 4 thru 7

As promised, this is a repeat of the foundational techniques we discussed just before our winter break.

Time permitting, we’ll add a disengage and attack on the outside.

4:30 PM: Meyer Dagger Second Parry from Oberhut

For those wanting a little more exercise, we will continue our introduction to the rondel dagger.

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