The Sensei's Sword Reveals: The Secrets of the Martial Arts Masters in Selecting a Samurai Sword
"This book should become the standard for sourcing the correct sword".
David Ansell, Kyoshi 7th Dan;
Instructor: Muso Shinden Ryu / Kendo
The Japanese Sword is an object like no other; at once an incredibly deadly and efficient weapon and a stunning work of art in one. It is nothing less than lethal beauty.
You want to own a samurai sword.
It may be because you study a traditional Japanese Sword Art like Iaido. It may be because you're involved in a more modern discipline like Aikido or the Bujinkan or perhaps you're interested in the Backyard Cutting Groups. Regardless of the why, you want a samurai sword - but there's a problem....
How do you know what the right sword is for you?
How can you tell if a sword made by Paul Chen, Hanwei, Ronin Katana, Cold Steel, RyanSwords, Huawei and any number of dealers and manufacturers is right for you?
- Can you spot a fake from the real sword that will stand up to rigorous dojo use and practice?
- How do you determine the correct length for your sword?
- What is the right grip - how long should the handle be?
- What's the correct tsuba type and size?
- How curved should your sword be and what tip style will keep you safe and which will slice open your hand?
These are just the most common questions asked online in hundreds of sword forums everyday by those seeking to buy their first Japanese style sword. But it's the questions that you don't know to ask that are the most important....
Today we live in a wonderful age as enthusiasts of Japanese swordsmanship; the arts are growing in popularity, and those who would never have had the opportunity to train in authentic koryū sword arts are finding teachers and dojos increasingly accessible. With this increase in interest there is a danger, particularly during the start of a popular movement, that sword enthusiasts and practitioners of Iai will be limited, not just by the lack of sufficiently trained teachers, but due to a more practical problem – lack of the proper tools.
Simply put, there weren't always that many swords out there.
During the 1980s this was a serious concern. Those interested in studying swordsmanship in the Japanese tradition only had the option of purchasing antique or 1940s' mass-produced blades. Many of these were obviously unsuitable for Iai practice, and those that remained were extremely pricey. And while there are certain advantages to a well-made, named sword, it would be almost a desecration of the art and cultural value of such a sword for it to be used in the rigours of hard, daily Iai practice.
This left most practitioners in the position of putting their hands on cheap, unmarked blades and that's not always a bad thing. However, one other concern remained...
A sword is a very personal tool, both from a spiritual connection, if you choose to include such dimensions in your art, but more so from a practical point of view. The length of the blade and the length of the tsuka (handle) must match the body of the iaidoka. As such, many early western enthusiasts of Iai and other sword arts were left with blades that were unsuitable for them, with little to no idea of how a sword should feel.
Today, as I say, we are lucky. Many (perhaps too many) manufacturers, the majority based in Longquan, China, offer a vast variety of blades for the Japanese sword enthusiast. A new forge opens now nearly every two months, and thus a highly competitive market has opened up – giving us great choice in the appearance, length and style of blades. There is a sword out there to cater to every taste, every budget and nearly every desire.
For the most part these are pre-cut blanks, which are then tailored at expense. A basic full tang blade with acid-etched hamon can cost as little as $100. I wouldn't recommend them but they are available. The more features of the sword, the more it costs. Want a hand-folded mono-steel blade...$300? Want one clay-quenched for differential hardening…$500? Want real same (ray skin) on the tsuka… $100? Cotton, silk, leather wraps...the price goes up...
You can get a really nice iaitō custom made with every feasible add-on for about $2,500. Some off-the-rack forges like Paul Chen and Hanwei make deluxe shinken (or "live blades") and mogitō with models ranging from $1,700–$4,000. Many of these higher-end pieces are not only beautiful to look at, they also handle well...
Or at least that's how it seems at first....
Why Should You Listen To Me?
Today I'm a sandan (third degree black belt) and instructor in Musō Jikiden Eishin Ryū Iai - a very old style of Japanese Swordsmanship. In addition to this, I've been a collector of Japanese swords from a range of price points and a variety of forges for over 12 years now, and in that time I've put a great deal of care and thought into examining these blades – from cheap rat-tail tang wall hangers to the highest quality blades from Paul Chen, Hanwei, Ronin Katana and more. I've written lengthy, in-depth reviews of these blades (you can check them out here – http://www.way-of-the-samurai.com/Sword-Reviews.html).
I'm proud to say these are considered the best reviews in the industry.
I certainly know which swords and which manufacturers are my favourites, and why.
I've even lectured at Dublin City University and on behalf of University College Dublin in the history, construction and development of these blades and...
But there's been a problem with these swords....
The blades I've been reviewing have been reviewed and used from the perspective of the industry standards. Some are poor, some are great, and I've made those distinctions on the quality of the blade's construction and cutting ability, etc. Not once have I thought to judge them by the actual standards of the ryū I'm studying...mostly because I didn't know there was such a thing...
…But there is!
Each year, new students are excited to discover a love of the Japanese sword and the martial arts teaching its correct use. And every year they ask questions – the most common of which is...
"What sort of sword should I get?"
The usual answer on an Internet forum is "Ask your sensei." But this isn't always possible, and what if, as is quite common, the sensei doesn't fully know?
I've spent years looking at swords and training in their use, and I've seen the near infinite back and forth over what type of sword I should get on the dozens of Internet forums out there. There has never been a consolidated report or examination of the various recommendations and resources. This is something I wish to correct.
My answer is the, "The Sensei's Sword: The Complete Guide to Choosing the Right Samurai Sword". Over 14o pages of detailed analysis covering every aspect of the Japanese Samurai Sword. With simple explanations to satisfy the complete beginner to detailed analysis and discussion to captivate the high ranking martial artist.
What you have here is that definitive answer....
…This book should become the standard for sourcing the correct sword…
…belongs in the collection of every self respecting Japanese sword enthusiast…
…A must read if you want to get it right…
I've written this guide for both beginners, new to the sword arts, and advanced practitioners looking for clarification and consolidation of the various reports out there. The material here is laid out in a step-by-step progression.
I've managed to acquire a number of antique texts relating to the teachings of both the techniques, but also the oral teachings, inner teachings and histories of the style. These documents take a great deal of time to translate – but from these and from handling a large number of blades over the years, I've reached one inescapable conclusion:
About 90% of all the swords out there are wrong for you!
This is a problem.
To demonstrate this I've done an exhaustive inventory of all my blades – that's over 60 in total and I'll share with you the results.
But so that you can grasp the extent of the problem...
- Bo-hi: A long groove carved into the blade, often mistakenly referred to as a blood groove. It's not. Do you know what it's really for and if you need one. Get this wrong and your sword could bend break and snap in half! - The Answers on pages 44-47
- Is that nice carving hiding a fatal flaw in your sword? Why Bonji may mean disaster for your blade! Find out on page 47
- The Hamon is the crystalline structure which forms along the cutting edge of a blade as a result of the hardening process. There are MANY different pattern hamon's pick the right one and you'll have a strong blade that could cut through steel pipe - get it wrong and your beautiful new sword could fracture into pieces!
- Here's a tip - the Kissaki, the tip of the blade comes in different styles. Pick the right one and you'll have a safe sword you can draw quickly...pick the wrong one and you'll slice your hand off and cut through your scabbard. I'll tell you the traditional choice for samurai sword success on pages 35-38.
- How thick should your sword be - this affects not just your cuts, but can prevent tendinitis of the elbow! Answers on pages 51-53
- The back of the blade contains the secrets of a strong or weak spine. Learn to tell the difference in an instant.
- What do you know of Nagasa? The blade length; measured from the tip to the mune-machi is a CRUCIAL part of sword selection. Get this wrong and your Iai will suffer. Specific schools have different advice to calculate your blade length. I'll discuss these and suggest my recommendations on pages 38-43.
- And what of the Nakago: The tang of a blade - did you know it's' length and butt end dictates your grip. Choose the wrong one and grip it the wrong way and you'll break the handle of the sword!
- The Secrets of Sakihaba: The width of the blade at the yokote is important as different blades and different schools dictate which is right and wrong for you. Another point to consider...
- Shinogi: The ridge line that that runs from the yokote to the end of the nakago. Some Ryū teach you to block with the shinogi as such its selection and style is a point to consider before purchase. I'll provide more detail later on page 60-64
- Don't be Sori about the curve of your blade.... there are many types of curvature and it's another CRUCIAL aspect of sword selection. If your blade is too curved or not curved enough it won't work for the style you practice. I'll give you the recommendations of masters later on pages 54-57
- What's the correct overall shape of the blade - the secret of Sugata revealed
- The truth about the dividing line known as Yokote: This is a key aspect for martial artists to consider on their swords - in fact it is VITAL for certain little known techniques ion Iai that's I'll talk about in detail later on page 37.
As you can see there are a lot of serious issues that need to be addressed and these are JUST some of the issues with the blade alone!
But swords aren't blades alone - they are mounted in a variety of fittings and furniture's that determine the swords suitability for use, the style and even - the legality of the sword...just take a look at some of the aspects you NEED TO KNOW before buying a Japanese Samurai Sword....
Your Fittings May Destroy Your Sword!
- Could the Kaeshizuno / Kaeri zuno (返し角) - a hook shaped fitting used to lock the saya to the obi while drawing destroy you Iai? Find out on pages 73-75
- Correctly Choose Your Kashira (頭) - The kashira is a butt cap (or pommel) on the end of the tsuka (sword handle)....different martial arts schools have different choices...I explain the reasons why and how each affects your grip and use of the sword on pages 121-124.
- Where do you put your hair spike on your sword? Should you have one and if so where would it go and why?
- Buffalo horn or Metal? How to correctly fit the mouth of your saya....check chapter on the Saya for the answer...
- Speaking of Saya...Do you want to Stand out with your Saya? - The saya is a wooden scabbard for the blade; traditionally done in lacquered wood. The colour and style of your saya is important depending on which Ryū (school) of swordsmanship you're in. Wear the wrong one and you could be signalling you're a gang member! I'm not joking. I'll explain all soon. 😉
- Where's your utility knife? Find out on page 73.
- Are you Wrapped for Battle? The Tsuka-maki, - the art of wrapping the tsuka, is really important to your sword selection for both grip and use...and battle wrap IS NOT BATTLE WRAP. I'll share with the facts...
- Your Menuki (ornaments on the tsuka) position determines not only your styles of swordsmanship but how you use the sword and if it is SAFE for cutting practice! There's a HUGE deal of confusion about the placement of these depending on style and I'll examine this in the most detailed discussion of menuki placement published in pages 107-113.
- Do you have the right spiritual and physical connection? The sageo should not be overlooked - this is FAR more important that most JSA practitioners seem to acknowledge and I'll take the time to discuss this in some detail in pages 76-79.
- Same-hada (鮫肌) - literally the pattern of the ray skin - did you know some styles were outlawed? I'll tell you why
- Same-kawa (samegawa) (鮫皮) is the ray or shark skin wrapping of the tsuka (handle/hilt). There are 3 different types....one will save your sword...one is very common on off the shelf swords - I'll tell you know it isn't the same one. I'll show you how to instantly spot the difference and show you what you need to know about this important safety feature....
- Sugar...what about the Shitodome ? - an accent on the kurikata for aesthetic purposes; often done in gold-ish metal in modern reproductions. (Some styles recommend removing these, I'll tell you which).
- Safe Tsuba Selection?- The tsuba is a hand guard - again these are more than just a stylistic art piece - these are CRUCIAL to selecting the right blade for you and your school.
- Do you have the chops for a real sword? Seriously...do you know where the chopsticks go and why? I'll reveal this little known titbit on page 74
- The Truth about your Tsuka - The tsuka is the hilt or handle; made of wood and wrapped in samegawa. By far one of the MOST controversial aspects discussed today – what tsuka length is right for your style? It’s a BIG difference….I’ll cover this in great detail in pages 90-97.
In this Ebook You Will Discover...
I have read this book with great interest and found the information in it exhaustive and informative.David Ansell, 7th Dan Kyoshi
If you are a practitioner of Musō Jikiden Eishin Ryū I think this book will be invaluable and if you practice another style of swordsmanship I feel that there are more than enough insights to help you choose a sword that is right for you.
If you are picking an iaito or commissioning a shinken then a lot of the in-depth information contained in these two volumes would prove essential. The research has been done very well and I am extremely happy to recommend this book to each and every student not only of Musō Jikiden Eishin Ryū but, to all practitioners of Koryu and Gendai arts. This book should become the standard for sourcing the correct sword.
I fully endorse what Batman O'Brien has done here and I hope this book is treated with the respect it deserves.
I would recommend this book to anyone studying a Japanese Martial Art or anyone simply curious of Japanese Swords. It is concise, well written and easy enough to understand and refer back too...it answered some questions I hadn't been able to figure out myself!Joseph Kennedy
Instructor: Katori Shinto Ryu / Aikido
OK, so you practice a sword art and you are about you select your new sword. You change the tsuba to what you like and the sageo is now your favourite colour.Darren Waghorne
STOP RIGHT THERE!
You know you could be wrong.
Batman O’Brian has produced a simple and very informative guide on how to choose/order your sword. Not just the blade but everything you ever thought of and more.
A must read if you want to get it right. Aimed at the beginner and experienced practitioner alike, I will be recommending this book to all.
It’s rare to find such honest advice in such an accessible format. This book will surely be a classic...and belongs in the collection of every self respecting Japanese sword enthusiast. It is the missing link, and picks up where SBG leaves off! O’Brien cuts straight to the chase on what you need to do to make the most of your sword selection/purchase.Paul Southern
Founder of the Sword Buyers Guide
There's a GREAT deal to explore in each of these aspects and I'll cover these aspects in great detail. Further I'll discuss these attributes of Japanese swords in way no one has done before....within the context of specific martial arts ryū and practical application.
The Japanese sword, as you'll see, is not a fixed entity. It is a changing animal, shifting and reflecting each period of Japanese history and of the individual wielder. I'll present a brief overview of the Japanese blade through its transition in history, unique in it's regard for modern day blade selection for martial arts study.
I will highlight the discussion of the key aspects of the Japanese blade itself, and then in volume two, examine the ryū-specific recommendations for the koshirae (mountings) of the blade. Each of these will include reflections and discussions of the various sources, and commentaries of key figures in Iai and their recommendations and I'll share with you some of the rare and secret techniques of my Ryu and reveal what they teach us about specific attributes of the Japanese Sword. These details alone have NEVER been collected and published in an English language manual...
Finally I'll present a consolidated conclusion as to the ideal blade specifications for Iai and Tameshigiri )test cutting) as well as the results of my own blade inventory examination. 😉
If you want to own a Japanese Sword...if you want to train with in Japanese Swordsmanship ...if you want to practice cutting techniques in the safest manner possible...if you want to avoid being ripped off by dodgy dealers and end up with a dangerous wall hanger....
You need the Sensei's Sword.
Your Ebook will be available for instant download after payment
Paul 'Batman' O'Brien
3rd Dan Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu
Instructor MJER and Niten Ichi Ryu, Kenseikai Dojo Dublin.
P.S. This 2 Volume edition contains unrivalled details on Japanese Samurai Swords for practical use....if you want to make sure you have what you need, then you need this manual...and it's less than 1% of the price of genuine Japanese Blade...
P.P.S. A sword is a serious investment...they can be pretty expensive - make sure you know what you're doing and save yourself time, hassle and a lot of money!