Posts Tagged ‘Japanese’

A Black Shikomizue for a Blind Swordsman…

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Anyone who is into classical Japanese sword flicks will know about Zatoichi, the blind wandering swordsman masseuse, whose skill with the sword was unparalleled. Those of you who know, will also remember that Zatoichi carried with him a shikomizue, or sword cane, which he used to great effect, as he wandered from village to village, helping those in need.

Those of you who are long time readers might know that I love shikomizue. They are the embodiment of simplicity of sword design. They may not be the best functional design, but as swords go, I just love the clean lines of a well constructed shikomizue. Add to that the fact that I love stick fighting, and that a shikomizue is basically a stick with a blade in it, and I probably don’t need to explain any further why I like them.

But until recently I didn’t think there was anything more I could possibly want out of a shikomizue until I saw this one:

Handmade Zatoichi Cane Sword Nodachi Shikomizue - Black Damascus

Handmade Zatoichi Cane Sword Nodachi Shikomizue - Black Damascus

This, ladies and gentlemen, is, in all honesty, the most beautiful shikomuze I have ever seen. 40+” of shiny, jet black lacquered straight cane saya, concealing over 28″ of mildly tapering black damascus blade showing an amazing deep, orange red damascus pattern. A single accent is visible when unsheathed, a gold habaki, sitting atop the tsuka. It is absolutely breathtaking.

Now I realize that I may be a little biased, but this combination is just.. I have no words. A shikomizue, in black, with a black damascus blade…

I think I know what’s going on my Christmas list this year… 😀

Handmade Zatoichi Cane Sword Nodachi – Black Damascus – [True Swords]

Traditional Ninja Weapon Design – Part 2: Shuko

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Today, I thought I’d move on to part two of my series on traditional Ninja weapon design, featuring the work of Matthew Wright of Nine Directions. And the topic of today’s post will be the infamous Ninja Shuko or “Tiger Claws”:

Ninja Shuko

Ninja Shuko

Ninja Shuko, which I posted a little bit about before, are interesting weapons. Or more accurately, interesting tools. Although they can be used as weapons, much like the Kunai I posted about last week, and are most commonly used as climbing tools, some believe that shuko were also descended from farm implements. As Matthew suggests on his site, there are those who believe that shuko were originally created by farmers to ease carrying hay bales and such.

However there is little evidence to either support that hypothesis. And given the difficulty and cost of constructing shuko, I highly doubt the hay bale carrier theory, since the Japanese were much more the practical field expediency type back then, and I think it would have been easier to just use more rope to carry those bales around, than to fashion something as relatively complex as shuko… 🙂 But I digress.

Again, Matthew has employed a very traditional shuko design; a large oval steel hoop, with spikes embedded in it, connected to a large steel arm ring using a leather strap. At the hoop end, the strap is riveted above the spikes, covering the base of the spikes, protecting the hand, and providing a relatively soft internal surface for the hand.

Ninja Shuko - Hand Claws

Ninja Shuko - Hand Claws

The leather strap is also riveted to the very traditional a large steel arm ring, instead of the modern day nylon webbing and velcro wrist strap versions that are floating about all over the place. Now to be honest, while the traditional design works, I tend to favor the modern designs when it comes to practicality. Not necessarily how the spikes and claws are set up, but rather in the overall ergonomics of the arm/wrist hoop design.

Shuko - Steel Hoop

Shuko - Steel Hoop

For one thing, as a climbing device, having an adjustable wrist/arm retention system seems like it would be better than a fixed size steel hoop. So if I were designing something like this, that leather strap riveted to the spike band would be connected to another leather strap that went around the wrist, and was fastened using a buckle, or other similarly secure fastener that could be adjusted and tightened.

To some degree, I think this design would allow you to rest some your weight on the wrist strap during climbing, which could allow temporary stress relief on the muscles of the hand during extensive climbing exercises. But it would really depend on your climbing technique. The mechanical characteristics of shuko suggest that it would require a lot of hand and wrist strength to use, so the benefits of that design modification would vary from person to person.

Shuko - Grip

Shuko - Grip

And another thing is that, it is generally easier to grip something that is not the full width of your hand. If you can wrap your fingers around it, it is much easier to get a firm grip. As you can see from the pic above, this design unfortunately does not let you do that. This is not a problem with modern day designs, which are much narrower and fit the hand much closer.

It is, however very much in keeping with traditional design, which as I mentioned in the previous ninja weapon post, does seem to rely on overly large hoops and very thick components, primarily, I believe, to counteract the low quality of the materials traditionally used. So from a traditional standpoint, these are a quite accurate, functional and beautiful design. Definitely a collectors item.

And since he hand-makes these, I’m sure, if you asked nicely, you could convince Matthew to make a pair to whatever specifications you’d like… 😀

Traditional Ninja Shuko – [Nine Directions]

A Fan for the Flames of War…

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

The Japanese have more than their fair share of interesting weapons. Probably because throughout their feud-ridden, battle laden, history they have often found the need to hide their weapons just as much as use them. As a result, they got pretty creative about hiding weapons in plain sight. And turning otherwise innocuous items into weapons.

However some of the most deadliest innocuous weapons in the Japanese arsenal were never actually weapons at all. Take, for instance, this rather innocent looking Japanese fan:

Japanese War Fan (Gunbai-Dansen)

Japanese War Fan (Gunbai-Dansen)

Looks like a regular fan no? Except that it’s not. This particular fan is made of metal. And while it could easily have been used for close quarters defense, (on account of it’s metal construction), It’s real power came from what it was used for. It was actually a military communications device. This is a replica of the Japanese War Fan, aka Gunbai-Dansen, used by generals to signal troop movements on the battlefield.

Imagine that. All that power. All in a little metal fan. A wave here, an soldiers rushed into battle. Another little wave, and the enemy was surrounded. Pull the Queens wave, and you could probably have entire villages crying uncle, without ever spilling a drop of blood. Heh. Must have been good to be a Japanese Warlord back in the day…

And of course I’m sure it was also an excellent tool for smacking incompetent lieutenants upside the head in a pinch. Oh don’t look at me like that. They did too smack people upside the head in Feudal Japan. What? You prefer seppukku or beheading? Wait what?

Sheesh… You bloodthirsty barbarian…

Japanese War fan (Gunbai-Dansen) – [eBladeStore]

Cool Replicas – Part 5: Himura Kenshins’ Sakabato

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

Another day, another cool sword. Today, a sword suggested by reader Heero, the Sakabato (Reverse bladed Sword) of Himura Kenshin, key protagonist of the manga and anime series Rurouni Kenshin.

Himura Kenshin, was formerly a highly skilled assassin, called “Hitokiri Battōsai”. Hitokiri literally translates to “manslayer”. And while “Battōsai” has no direct meaning, there is a Japanese art called “Battōjutsu” which teaches the correct technique for drawing, cutting with, and sheathing a sword, much like Iaidō.

However while Iaidō deals primarily with the process of correctly drawing, cutting and sheathing techniques, Battōjutsu takes it a step further and teaches techniques for *multiple cuts* before resheathing. So together, the name “Hitokiri Battōsai” is perhaps one of the most ominous combinations you could ever have.

And the name was not undeserved. During his time as an assassin, Himura Kenshin he was considered an unbeatable warrior, killing many, many people, until one day he decides that he has done enough killing.

He becomes a rurouni, a renegade former assassin, who wanders the countryside helping people in trouble, to atone for his murderous past. Hence the name: Rurouni Kenshin. Once a rurouni, Kenshin meets a renowned Japanese swords smith called Arai Shakku, who has also decided to start making weapons for protection rather than killing, and it is he who gives the Sakabato to Kenshin.

I thought it was a cool, if a little cliched, story. The sword, however differentiates this from similar stories. I present Himura Kenshins Sakabato:

Himura Kenshins Sakabato

Himura Kenshins Sakabato

[click image to view full size]

From the intro pic, you can see that this is a beautiful, though not particularly noteworthy sword, except for one thing. The edge is on the inside of the curve of the blade, as opposed to the outside. This is a symbolic feature, intended to externally show that it’s wielder is a pacifist, and that the sword is not intended for lethal combat.

However the Sakabato poses a rather interesting structural question. The curve on a katana is a result of differential heat treatment, that makes the front edge of the blade hard, but leaves the spine flexible. During the tempering process, the front edge expands, while the spine does not, which results in the signature curve.

Thus a traditionally heat treated Sakabato is technically a rather complex feat. Since only the heat treated edge of a blade will expand, a sword would never curve in the direction of the edge, only away from it. So the only way a sakabato could be traditionally be made would be to forge an exaggerated reverse curve into the blade, *before* heat treating.

The curve would have to be enough to not only compensate for the resulting straightening that would occur during the heat treatment of the edge, but also still have enough curve left over for it to retain it’s signature Katana curve. It would take a very experienced smith to know exactly how much curve to forge into the blade.

Perhaps that was the point. Perhaps successfully pulling off a Sakabato was the signature of a master swordsmith, and made it the ultimate pacifists weapon. Hmm. That’s cool an all, but I could think of better solutions. Like don’t use a sword at all, just use something else. Like a Louisville slugger. Maybe in steel.

But that’s just my practical side speaking.

Anyway, cool plot lines and metallurgical complexities aside, this replica is actually one of the nicer ones I’ve seen in a long while. From the simple black circular tsuba, to the gold accent on the pommel, it is a very accurate, and very well put together, sword.

With quality fittings, real ray skin and cord wrapped tsuka, full tang carbon steel blade with dual mekugi, this is not only very well crafted, but a beautiful and sturdy design, intended to be dismantled and maintained in the traditional fashion:

Sakabato - Tsuka

Sakabato - Tsuka

[click image to view full size]

But while modern metallurgy might allow us to get away with a reverse bladed sword, without any of the mechanical hassles that would be associated with traditional metal working, I still would not advise any careless swinging of such a weapon. You never know, reverse blades may still have anomalous physical properties…

It might cut a hole in the fabric of space and time, and the tip may slice through, come out the other side and whack you in the back of the head. No, seriously, you gotta be careful with these kinds of things. Trust me, I’m a Balrog, I would know.

Hey, don’t roll your eyes at me, I’m just saying… K, fine. Suit yourself. Just make sure you bequeath your Sakabato to me in your will…

Yeah, It’s Phyreblade. P-H-Y-R…

What?

Himura Kenshins Sakabato – [True Swords]

Cool Replicas – Part 4: Sandai Kitetstu

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

Today, we continue my temporary departure from the usual practice of lamenting the tendency for mediocrity that is often displayed by the collectors cultery industry, (wow that was a mouthful!!) to look at another rather nicely reproduced anime weapon.

Sandai Kitetsu - Third Generation Demon Splitter

Sandai Kitetsu - Third Generation Demon Splitter

[Click to view full size]

This is the Sandai Kitetsu, third Generation Demon splitter, and one of the swords wielded by the sword happy protagonist Roronoa Zolo (AKA Zoro) from the anime One Piece. I can only assume he got that name because the creators of the series thought it would be fitting, given his skill with the sword, to name him after the legendary Zorro.

You know. The legendary Mexican sword freedom fighter with the gay *cough* blade… Gay, in this instance, meaning lively, quick, flashy, etc… Yeah. Just thought I’d clarify. Oh, no, no, no, you’re welcome. Things have certainly changed a lot since the 1980s. But I digress…

Anyway, this Zoro is a pirate. Though he was formerly a bounty hunter, and is an honorable man, with exceptional sword fighting skills, who just happened to fall into an unfortunate situation. He generally carries three swords with him.

However this one I found particularly interesting because, first and foremost, it has a black blade (of course!). But it also just so happens to be a Kitetsu, a cursed blade, that is said will eventually bring a horrible death to it’s wielder. Though you can kind of tell, just by looking at it, it’s a rather mean sword. With a mind of it’s own. Zoro, however, does not seem to mind. My kind of guy… 🙂

Physically, this sword is actually of a fairly standard design, no really unique features, beyond the black on stainless steel blade. However it’s real beauty lies in the details:

Sandai Kitetsu - Tsuba

Sandai Kitetsu - Tsuba

[click image to view full size]

You can see from the detail of the tsuba, the quality of the fit and finish on this sword is very good. Certainly better than some I have seen that cost a lot more. And then theres the Tsuka:

Sandai Kitetsu - Tsuka

Sandai Kitetsu - Tsuka/Saya

[click image to view full size]

An interesting variation of the standard design. Instead of the fully cord wrapped grip, we have a grip that is covered, top and bottom, the same way the saya is, with what appears to be a laquered wood sections. In the middle we have the traditional black cord over rayskin wrapping, with metal bands transitioning between the two.

Another interesting departure from the norm is the design of the kashira, sporting a loop set into the traditional pommel cap. It is depicted similarly in the anime and is certainly an unusual feature. The saya is also fairly simple, the standard black lacquer, adorned with one metal band at the opening, and two more, each a little ways from each end. The tip is also is capped in ornate metal.

Sandai Kitetsu - Demon Splitter Extraordinaire

Sandai Kitetsu - Demon Splitter Extraordinaire

[Click image to view full size]

Overall, this is actually a well done replica. Certainly it does not have the quality or strength of a hand made, sword by any means, so I wouldn’t go sword fighting with it, but for a mass produced replica weapon, it is actually very nicely put together. This one made my white list simply for it’s clean lines, and fairly close attention to detail.

My verdict?

Win.

Just can’t say no to a cursed black sword… 🙂

Roronoa Zolos’ Sandai Kitetsu – [True Swords]

Roronoa Zolos’ Sandai Kitetsu – [SouthWest Blades]

Roronoa Zolos’ Sandai Kitetsu – [Swords Swords]

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