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Mini Kantei Challenge

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#31 seattle1


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Posted 29 June 2017 - 11:51 PM


 Upon further reflection on the significance of focus on yakiba and its hamon as a primary directional assist in kantei as can be inferred from Miyano sensei's talk,  vs. following a line where the direction is determined by the jigane/jihada, perhaps a little history about the order might help or might raised other questions. We all realize that both hada and hamon play a role so that need not be argued.

 If we go back to the early writers of the post-war era, such as B. W. Robinson, Inami Hakusui and Albert Yamanaka, the order they employed in blade discussion  was hamon before hada. The NBTHK, coming along slightly later as an instructive source, reverses that order in their discussions of blades, ji before hamon, and they do so today. Markus Sesko's many translations of their blade discussion order will quickly show that. The same order is seen in the Connoisseur's Book.

 The rationale for the switch is unknown to me and all I could speculate is that the hamon then hada order is connected with the Hon'ami tradition, and the NBTHK may have preferred, for their own reasons, the opposite, but why? Does anyone know?

 Arnold F.

#32 Peter Bleed

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Posted 30 June 2017 - 05:02 PM

I have found this thread both intriguing AND challenging. It certainly has been interesting, too.

I have never been especially lucky with koto swords. My interest has been in the social and historically knowable swords of the shinto era. Koto have been a mystery and I have not been either eager - or able - to learn the details of koto kantei. Basically, kantei is a game that requires 1) careful study and 2) faith in modern experts. It assumes regularity among and within swordsmiths' schools. To play kantei you have to learn to see and recognize these regularities. And then you have to have faith in expert assessment of such patterns.

This thread has gotten us thinking about details and specifics and good swords. Thank you Michael, Ray, Arnold et al. Still, I have to say that I hate to see sword collecting as a  system of arcane pigeon holes.


Peter Bleed

#33 BIG


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Posted 30 June 2017 - 07:19 PM

Hi Arnold, here is your opinion...


don't know the orginal quote...without forging a good hada, you can't create a supreme hamon..

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Peter Reusch

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#34 seattle1


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Posted 01 July 2017 - 01:34 PM


 Yes Peter I recall. I am less interested, for the purpose of this thread, about the relation between hada and a good forging outcome than I am curious about the inversion of the order "first examine yakiba, then hada" which seemed to prevail in the early post war era as exemplified by B. W. Robinson, Inami Hakusui, and Albert Yamanaka, to the order hada then yakiba as seen in the NBTHK writings of the mid and continuing post WWI era, and which currently seems to be reversed again by Miyano sensei. If the issue is which route provides the most likely good kantei outcome, I imagine a kind of controlled experiment could be set up to text the optimality of each route.

 However I am more curious as to why Yamanaka went one way and the NBTHK another. I believe Albert Yamanaka was a student of Hon'ami Koson and B. W. Robinson explicitly mentions that connection in his terrific Primer, written in 1955. Was it only politics? Some NMB participants more closely connected to that history in Japan might know.

 Arnold F.

#35 seanyx11


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Posted 02 July 2017 - 06:52 AM

Not to make light of my ignorance or anything...but I feel like a kid sitting at the kid's table at Thanksgiving (or any big holiday dinner) listening to the adults talk and having no idea what they are talking about ;) 


I guess its not so much that I don't know what you guys are talking about, I do understand WHAT you guys were trying to do, but I still have so much to learn in order to figure out HOW Ray came to the conclusion he did.  Being able to spot a specific smith's work from examing the differences in hada and hamon, blade shape, geometry, etc, is just awesome.  I've got my work cut out for me.

Sean P.


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#36 paulb


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Posted 02 July 2017 - 09:11 AM


It takes time and commitment, like most other things that are worthwhile. The advice is always the same (because it's right) take the oportunity to see as many good swords as you can by visiting exhibitions, shows and clubs/socieities, talk and listen to other enthusiasts. The more you do this the easier it will be to identify the features that you often see described here.

The internet offers unparalleled access to images and information about really good swords and is a great help however it is not a substitute for hands on study in the company of knowledgeable people. The truth is we need both

Don't be too hard on yourself, everyone here started where you are now, albeit in some cases a very long time ago! keep looking and asking questions and you will be surprised at how soon things start to fall in to place.

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#37 Darcy


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Posted 02 July 2017 - 10:20 AM

I am behind, wish I was in front. Fill with chikei it is easy to go to Soshu and related schools.


My instant thought was Shizu but the hamon is not doing much enough.


I disagree with Naoe Shizu in spite of it being right in the context of matching the papers. I don't find Naoe Shizu goes more quiet and with this low hamon but there is a related smith who does, which is Kinju. That's where I went with it. He also made big bodied blades.


Good sword for whoever has it.


Kinju reference to see where I'm getting at. The oshigata compared to the photo of the sword has exaggerated the ups and downs in the Naoe Shizu. Something to always remember about oshigata is it's always an interpretation. 



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#38 Darcy


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Posted 02 July 2017 - 10:26 AM

For me when I look at a blade I look at the jihada first because that tells me the quality of the smith who made it. 


Hamon can be simple in which case your average US buyer goes bleeehhhhhhhhhh be better if it had more activity but that was not the smith's thoughts when he made it, and many smiths can have a wide range of what they can do (c.f. Aoe Tsugunao, and Shintogo Kunimitsu). 


Jihada quality though reflects the ability of the smith to make good steel so I start here and I can weed out the also-rans by gray dead steel, and I can enter the top guys by highly refined, beautiful, clear jigane and/or with chikei or ji nie. I don't rely on the patterns because the books promote patterns that are only in archetypes and 90% of swords do not meet archetypes. 


Quality though is quality.


After that, I go to hamon and the quality and patterns of hamon will further point the finger.


I don't involve sugata unless it is an archetype. Super wide blade with massive kissaki yes, we all know it's Nanbokucho but if it is an average looking blade for dimensions I don't get bent out of shape with sori and assigning to a period or school. 


Usually if you just focus on quality and can absorb the style impression you can go right to the maker or pretty close. Jihada though is the easiest way of separating the best from the worst so if you can eliminate 90% of choices by glancing at the jihada that is the thing to do. 


I think the Naoe Shizu was misjudged above and it is a Kinju but I wouldn't fight long and hard about it because they are close in rank and identical in time period and two ways of saying the same thing. But Naoe Shizu should be thinking of a degraded Shizu for quality, and a more quiet Shizu you should think Kinju. In my opinion. Some Shizu are a bit quiet but I'm not sure if those are misjudged as well and should be Kinju. Rabbit hole is deep.

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#39 paulb


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Posted 02 July 2017 - 11:30 AM

In support of Darcy's comments and remembering discussions with Michael Hagenbusch in the past my own take is that the jigane is key. If the quality of the jihada is good then everything else is possible. A bright and clear hamon with complex activity can only be achieved if the foundation is laid in the raw material and they way it is put together. So going back to the original concepts of kantei


1. Is it a good sword?


2. who made it?


it makes good sense to start at the quality of the steel

The only other point I would make is while I agree that shape does not necessarily tell you age it can add in the assessment in quality. I have and will continue to argue that you do not see a good sword with a bad shape. (but also note that just because it has a good shape doesnt automatically mean it is a good sword)

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#40 Katsujinken


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Posted 02 July 2017 - 05:13 PM

Darcy, your analysis is super interesting – thanks for jumping in!

I had never considered Kinju, but in context it makes sense!

The fun / beguiling aspect of these old Koto blades is that (as you have said many times) these attributions are guesses in a way and really more of a metaphorical measuring stick whereby quality is assigned based on relative positions we have assigned the smiths and schools.

I've wondered if perhaps the "Naoe Shizu" is a lesser work of Kaneuji given its similarities to the Kaneuji from your site (http://www.nihonto.ca/shizu-3/), but Kinju is a whole new path to consider. Considering they're both part of the Masamune no Juttetsu, the blade only becomes more interesting now.

The rabbit hole is deep indeed.


#41 Jean



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Posted 02 July 2017 - 05:28 PM

Let's say that Naoe Shizu is to Shizu what Tametsugu is to Norishige...:)
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#42 Brian



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Posted 21 July 2017 - 06:57 PM

The following post was lost in the database restore, and is important enough to quote here. It was posted by Darcy:

There is no way to know if it is lesser work of Shizu or not because there is no time machine. Shizu is a classification of quality as well as workmanship. 

This kind of style + the best quality = Shizu. This kind of style + 2nd grade quality = Naoe Shizu. This is the logic. Kinju exists between Shizu and Naoe Shizu but closer to Naoe Shizu.  

Many Shizu have passed Tokubetsu Juyo, Juyo Bijutsuhin, Juyo Bunkazai, but Naoe Shizu and Kinju almost none. Those that did pass at high levels tend to be signed. Because if the mumei were that good in that style it would be attributed to Shizu.  

Case in point: the only Naoe Shizu Juyo Token that passed Tokuju got reattributed to Shizu when it passed Tokuju. Absolutely rightfully so. This can happen if the Juyo was early session and the blade came with some history, sometimes Honma sensei put into the setsumei that the attribution needs further study but will be accepted for now.  

Oshigata of this one is attached. I think it is very clearly above the Naoe Shizu general designation and the graceful shape is more likely to be found in a late Kamakura blade than a mid to late Nanbokucho blade.




On the subject of flaws in blades:

1395 it is early Muromachi and people say don't get it, mumei Muromachi you can get something better.

1385 it is ubu Nanbokucho, rare as anything, grab that deal.  


Do we know for sure which 10 years plus or minus it was made? Nope. It shouldn't matter as much for stuff from the first half of Oei as it does. Not so many Muromachi blades made at 82cm. So, some actual thinking needs to be applied in these cases about what someone means when they say Muromachi and Nanbokucho and you should not be tied directly to labels if you understand the subject matter well. 

The flaws are nothing, the blade is not top quality but the price is not top dollar. It is more than fair.  

Another side note, this kind of blade if photographed with traditional techniques becomes a nightmare because the small roughness in the hada catches and reflects the light so stands out as hotspots. The scanner technique used by Aoe makes those more subdued as the light is coming head on. So the angled shots make the jihada look a lot worse than the profile scans.  

If you see one first before the other, your brain makes a conclusion differently than it otherwise would. First impressions and all.  

Now it is difficult in the $6k range to buy great art that will stand with the best of things, and one should be in my opinion looking at one's budget and buying few things, but the best things you can buy. If $6k is the highest you would ever spend and you will end up with 3-4 swords in your collection, there is no problem with buying this particular sword.  


If you intend one day on owning a $20k sword then you keep the $6k in your pocket and you don't buy these. You buy 1-4 $20k swords in your life in that case.  


Those I think are the ways of making yourself the best collection. If you end up in the situation where you own 3 $20k swords and one $6k sword, the $6k sword has to be something that you really lucked out on and has the same interest level as the more expensive blades. If it doesn't, it becomes an orphan within your collection. Candidate for pruning.  


I tell people that there are a lot of pretty girls in the bar, but that doesn't make them all candidates for dating, and even fewer for marrying (preferably no more than one, divorce is expensive sometimes). Some things are better for looking at and flirting with than actually getting involved with.  

Primarily you need to keep in mind that for everyone, this is true: what distracts your interest should be *below* the level required to take your money. Some people get involved in spending their money on everything that distracts their interest, and you end up in a state of mediocrity that way. Your spending band has to be firmly set above the level of things that interest you and below the level of things you dream about but preferably as close to the top end of that band as is financially possible. 


If you do that you will never run out of satisfaction with your own items. Nor will others.  

This blade to me is interesting because it is quite large and ubu. The attribution is one of these also-ran buckets that means third or fourth tier quality koto so you can't get too much into looking up the school and assigning the period with 100% certainty from that.  

Ubu is one thing that is hard to restore to a blade via polish.  


Always keep in mind that health is not from rough or rugged or unsophisticated country style forging. Health is from brightness of hamon which indicates a good deal of martensite on the blade and a clear distinction between a softer more resilient pearlite based ji. Brightness of hamon tells you then that you can put a good edge on it, and the rest of it will resist bending and breaking.  

Health then relates directly to how effective this thing is as a weapon. When a blade is tired, it has lost its effectiveness as a weapon: there is not enough hard steel left on the edge to take and retain sharpness and/or it is questionable that there is enough left to it that it won't bend or break.  

There are Tokuju and Juyo Bunkazai that a lot of westerners would say it's not healthy, but it is just a cosmetic state to the jihada that is either part of the construction method or it is a cosmetic state that a talented polisher can resolve. Unlike ubu, which nobody can resolve. 


I am not saying rush out to buy this particular sword, I am just laying down parts of the thought process.  

When you spend $6,000 there is a large and confusing array of things that you can get with it. If you were spending $60k actually your choices diminish rapidly and it becomes a lot easier. With $6k you have more flexibility to get what you like and worry less about other things though.  

The answer to the initial question is, no, the condition is not something that makes this a bad purchase. However, yes, at $6k there are many options available to you, some of which you may like more, and long term as I said, consider and plan your goals for your collecting and spend within that plan. If this fits, it's fine, if it doesn't fit, it's not.

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#43 SwordGuyJoe



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Posted 21 July 2017 - 07:23 PM

That was a Great read. Thanks Darcy (and Brian for saving it)

#44 Prewar70


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Posted 21 July 2017 - 09:12 PM

I would love to see a jihada pictorial showing good, better, best, superior. Maybe someone already has and can point me in a direction or folks could post a picture of a small section of blade showing good detail. Hada being different depending on the time period. Also does good jihada Imply no flaws or openings in the grain, aside from bad or over polishing? I would assume yes, if you have very good steel you should have no rough grain.

James Friedrichs

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