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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Class Outline for Sunday, Dec 16

I’ve been asked that we offer more structure to our classes. With that in mind, I’ve prepared a formal lesson plan for tomorrow. Participation in this lesson plan is optional. There will be four sections, and you are welcome attend as few or as many as you wish. And anyone not participating in this lesson plan is free to work on whatever other material they are interested in.

Handouts will be provided for all 4 sections.

2 PM: Mair Short Staff 1

Since there are no Pilates today, we will warmup with some staff exercises. This begins promptly at 2 so try not to be late.

Then for our play we will look at the “The First Two Upper Bindings from the Right Side”. In this exercise we look at how Fülen (feeling) works with crossed staves.


2:30 PM: Fiore Longsword First Remedy Master

We’ll begin with cuts with an offline step. The emphasis will be on foot placement and stability.

Then we’ll look at the offline parry with careful attention to the wrist. We’ll also look at parries that are high on the blade vs those that meet in the middle.

Though the word Fülen is German, it still exists in the Italian systems as well. So we’ll see how Fiore introduces the concept in the First Remedy Master. In conjunction with this, well see a basic dui-tempi (two time or two action) parry and cut, which mutates into a thrust. (This was taught to me by Mr. Stokes, so I will endeavor to do it justice.)

We’ll also look at a Zucken (Pulling or Twitching) cut to the other side.

Time permitting, we’ll add in a little Zucken trick from Meyer that fits with this overall play.

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

In L’Ange we’ll begin our exploration of the rapier by discussing measure and how to safely gain it. As with the offline parry we saw in Fiore, we’ll be gaining control of the opponent’s blade by taking the point slightly offline. This needs to be done in a manner that allows us to quickly bring the point back online for a thrust.

The book chapters are 4 Near and Wide Measure, 4/5 Gaining the Sword, and 7a, the first thrust in Quarta.

[This lesson is foundational will be repeated next week.]

4:30 PM: Meyer Dagger First Parry from Oberhut

For our last half hour we return to the offline parry we saw in Fiore, only modified for the use of daggers. Again we’ll be focusing more on the structure of the body than the parry itself.


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