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andym

Polisher Apprenticeship

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Greetings all.

 

After a lot of reading on this forum and elsewhere I see a lot of good arguments for only getting nihonto polished by someone who has completed their apprenticeship in Japan.  No argument from me since the potential to permanently damage a blade via a combination of hubris and ignorance is high.  The same general preference for Japanese trained craftsmen seems apparent in other areas like the production of koshirae.  Again, given the rich history and many nuances of the craft I concur.

 

But the obvious supply and demand gap for blade polishers, as evidenced by the long waiting times, makes me wonder.  Is a western polisher who has completed a Japanese apprenticeship qualified to take on their own apprentice?  Would that apprentice then become as qualified as if they had done their apprenticeship in Japan?

 

Sorry if this has been brought up already.

 

Andrew

 

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Bob Benson is a togi here in Hawaii who was trained in Japan, & his deshi, Woody Hall was trained by him, to my knowledge.  Woody has won the same awards in Japan that his teacher did.  Does that help?

 

Ken

 

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I think its a great question Andy. One iv,e wondered about myself. There is %100 no doubt that only a fully trained person should ever polish real Nihonto. It would be great if there was more of them around to lower waiting lists.

Are you considering persuing a possible apprenticeship for yourself? All the best.

 

Greg

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Heh, no.  Although while I have come to a phase in my life where I do question if I want to sit behind this desk until I retire, I can't imagine my better half would approve me going off for years to be an apprentice.

 

It just seemed to me that there is a large togi vacuum outside Japan that seemed odd.  Normally these things tend to correct (or even over-correct) themselves fairly quickly given an open market.  I was wondering whether a craftsman trained outside Japan by another westerner would have ... preconceived perceptions ... to overcome.

 

If Woody Hall is doing alright then my question is answered.

 

Andrew

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It just seemed to me that there is a large togi vacuum outside Japan that seemed odd.  Normally these things tend to correct (or even over-correct) themselves fairly quickly given an open market.

 

Andrew

 

Heyas,

 

It is a very long and tough appreniceship, out of the (increasingly) few who start it, many do not finish, or so I am sure I have heard without finding my references for it at this time.

 

This brilliant film of some 50-ish minutes follows a master polisher and his 2 apprentices through everyday life and is well worth watching. It has been posted here before but here it is again:

 

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Woody is doing very well, Andrew.  He recently polished a Kamakura-era wakizashi for me, & I was astounded at how much better my blade looked!  He also does most of the Juto polishes for Bob.

 

Ken

 

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Bob is an excellent polisher I hear, but I think he also did not complete a full Japanese apprenticeship. In his case, I think experience has covered that anyways. But my point is that there are VERY few fully trained and qualified Western polishers. You might want to ask Andew Ickeringill in Australia how difficult it is to finish. He's one of the few fully trained Westerners that I know of.
http://touken-togishi.com/

 

 

My training in Japan was under a master togishi named Sasaki Takushi, a student of Nagayama Koukan who was ranked a living national treasure of Japan (Ningen Kokuho). My training was in the form of a traditional style apprenticeship which lasted over 6 years, entering into this type of training is like living in a completely different world, a different time.

Our school of togishi are part of the Honami tradition, which has existed for over 7 centuries, making it the oldest surviving school of Nihonto scholars in history.

My schedule was 7 days a week, 8 – 12 hours a day, and that was just the training, not including the chores and other responsibilities that came with being a full-time apprentice (uchideshi). In fact, come to think of it, perhaps ‘uchideshi’ would be better translated as ‘disciple’ rather than ‘apprentice’.

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Should I be a much younger man, and had a yearning to pursue this highly technical craft. I would have to seek out the best western polisher, wherever he resided.

Why? Simply because of the language barrier, unless fluent in Japanese, and not just at a conversation level, but also able to understand all the nuances of the technical aspects of the craft.

I would also need a great deal of sword knowledge, to appreciate what different profiles blades had, from different era's and smiths.

So even starting to master, the two latter subjects at a young age, it would be as a much older man, that a polishing apprenticeship could be considered.

Sword polishing is a Japanese craft, and as such presents barriers to non Japanese persons. This will go a long way to discourage entry to the craft. 

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Besides what Denis said (plus being able to read and write Japanese as well), there are more physical and mental difficulties to overcome in an apprenticeship for Westerners.

Japanese people (as well as other Asians) have a longer upper body and shorter legs in relation to Westerners, plus they are well trained to sit cross-legged. This makes it much easier for them to endure a polisher's working position. A Westerner may be able to hold this position for a while after some training (but not for many hours per day) but it soon becomes a pain in the ahhhh.....legs! Remember, it takes about 120 hours to polish a KATANA!

Combined with this rather basic problem is that of mental endurance. Many Japanese people are able to accept the role of a disciple for a very long time; they are modest in their aspirations except for intense learning. They don't get easily bored by simple and repetitive mechanical work because they can hold good concentration and are highly committed. In general, learning by repetition is not considered boring in Asia.

I don't think Westerners have genetically inferior conditions for a polisher's job, but I believe many Japanese may have an easier approach to it.  

And even if one can finish the long apprenticeship in the Japanese way, it is questionable if one wants to do it for the rest of his life.....  

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Hi Brian, I had the chance to see a shinshinto blade just finished by Andew Ickeringill he was able to bring out the grain on a Mujitetsu blade so you could see the detail that was invisible before and IMHO  he is way ahead. I have seen a few done by Bob, good work but in IMHO even some of the Japanese don’t match his work. This is a quote from our conversation about that blade,

(The jigane came up well , as you say it's not mujitetsu, but it is very fine and tight. I spent a lot of time bringing it out and I think most polisher's wouldn't have bothered and just said it's shinshinto so should be muji... but it shouldn't be, under natural and fluro light it shows up very nice and even has quite a bit of chikei.) The boshi was not far off Ichimai  and they are sometimes a bit hard to get right but it was very well presented and IMHO I think in time he will be one of the leading lights outside of Japan.  PS. It was not my blade :)
 

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Don't go getting on some pc high horse Peter. Read what he said. None of it was an insult, and personally I agree with him.

Maybe genetically, maybe culturally is a better word. But the end result is the same.

 

Brian

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GENETICALLY INFERIOR ??? :bang:

Sorry, Peter,

 

maybe I expressed myself a little clumsily. I was referring to physical data in comparison, and to some mental differences, very generalized. Westerners are used to working upright, and many (myself included) are having a hard time staying seated on the floor for a while, also in meditation. Genetically, Asian people don't have these problems.

 

Is that better? 

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Steel and stone....done well it is beautiful beyond mere functionality; done poorly it ruins the geometry designed by the maker.  A high degree of knowledge and hand-eye coordination is required; all else is cultural baggage in my opinion. Traditional apprenticeships were more an economic arrangement to gain some recompense for the investment spent in passing on knowledge, than the time necessary to pass on the knowledge.

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Steve,

polishing is not just knowledge but mainly experience, and that takes time and commitment. There are indeed a lot of facts to learn but besides this you have to get a feeling of what is 'good' or beautiful in NIHON TO, as you wrote correctly. This was nicely illustrated in the SASAKI video.

Teaching traditional crafts in Japan is mainly a possibility for the student to gain experience. He is guided by the SENSEI, but not taught in the way we Westerners are used to. That is the reason why even SASAKI-SENSEI confessed that he would probably never be as good as his teacher NAGAYAMA KOKAN.

It is a lifetime learning process, and the results depend more on the personality of the polisher and how he was trained than on his knowledge I think. 

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A lot of valid and qualified opinions here.

 

I wouldn't mind responding on Jean's comments with another question (with a long intro).

 

I'm not sure I agree with the notion that Japanese people are somehow gifted with longer attention spans (and shorter legs) than westerners.  In my experience every culture on the planet has its share of lazy people with small intellects that crave instant gratification via an easy path.  Likewise every culture has people that get joy in persisting with a calling until they master it.  That's the variable nature of humanity and examples are readily visible across the globe both historically and now.  Likewise if the ergonomic attributes of the Asian physique were the dominant factor then we'd see a bunch of Japanese trained Chinese, Taiwanese, etc etc polishers popping up.  Of course, given their Japanese training we'd all fall over each other to get our blades polished by a Chinese togi at half the price of getting it done in Japan.  Right?  Right?  (listens to the silence)

 

This is (slightly) beside the point however.

 

The point behind my original question was to explore the idea of there being some undefined (or possibly imagined) quality of Japanese expertise that is diluted by every degree of separation from its source.  I had always thought that the idea behind an apprenticeship was for the student to learn enough to eventually become a master themselves.  The sensei in the video confirms this when he states his hopes that his students grow to become better than even his own sensei.  That's what it's all about; otherwise there can only be a continual loss of knowledge.  To be a master at anything does not simply mean doing what your predecessors have done by rote but rather bringing your own understanding to the craft and making it your own.  This is how this knowledge was accumulated in the first place.  I see no validity in the argument that a westerner is somehow less capable of doing this than anyone else.  If a qualified western polisher figures he can achieve the same or better result using a raised work platform he can sit or stand at with his excessively long western legs then perhaps that's his contribution to the craft.

 

So, if a Japanese trained western polisher took on an apprentice who then went out on their own and took on an apprentice who then went out on their own, how many here would consider them fully qualified to remove metal from a prized blade now that their knowledge of a Japanese craft is essentially third hand?  If your answer is a big “nope” then what is it about the Japanese culture/mindset that makes their training superior given that the process of learning that’s been done for centuries in Japan is essentially the same  as my example?  Are we, as westerners (apologies to any non westerners reading this), imagining romantic attributes that don’t exist?

 

I’m just as guilty as anyone of romanticising foreign cultures but I do like to occasionally self-reflect to at least attempt to legitimise my attitudes.  Apologies if my brain dump offends in any way.

 

Andrew

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Short answer, no.

To argue the point or try and fit logic into neat little boxes ignores the fact that the Japanese DO NOT work the same as westerners, and simply do not have the same attitudes.
Westerners try and find a better way. Argue all day that something can be improved. Modern stones, modern techniques, why don't we do this or this or this....

The Japanese looks at it, say that it has been working fine for 1000 years, and teach the same traditional methods down to the next generation.

You think Nihonto couldn't be improved with electronic measuring equipment and modern tatara in an industrial controlled environment? Westerners would have a factory turning it out already. The Japanese do it the same way they did 800 years ago.

Even this question we are debating is a Western concept. Ask Ford about the traditional Japanese master/student relationship and see how the Western world questions everything.

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Well, Brian, I wish I could agree that the Japanese tosho are creating blades the same way they did 800 years ago -- then we could all own Kamakura-quality swords!  But at least they try to do things the same way, & have been trying since the end of Muromachi.  But we Westerners aren't going to do any better....

 

Ken

 

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* waits for someone to start protesting about power hammers and modern tools *

 

:popcorn:

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My neighbors were making mochi this past weekend, & invited me to help.  I thought I was in pretty good shape from swinging katana, kodachi, bokken, & jo at martial arts, but swinging that heavy mallet had me panting in 10 minutes!  So just think of what good shape each tosho's deshi must have been in to swing their hammers for hours at a time!

 

Ken

 

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Ah Brian, I fear you may have misinterpreted my question.  I was not advocating the changing of centuries old traditions and methods at the hands of westerners.  Quite the opposite actually.  I went off on a tangent that made my post rather rambling.  I tend to do that.

 

My question was more about our perceptions of quality of qualification.  It does seem that, with all else being equal, we add perceived value to a craftsman's qualifications simply by virtue of the nationality of their sensei.

 

Of course this is not simply restricted to polishers.  Can a western smith make a true nihonto outside Japan if they are trained in Japan and adhere to traditional methods and materials?  What about their apprentices?

 

Something about this makes me uncomfortable.  Perhaps if I don't want to see what's in the room I shouldn't peek through the keyhole.

 

 

Andrew

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Dear Andrew,

 

Your question has been posed and discussed (to death) many times here and elsewhere.  Of course, that doesn't mean you don't have a right to think about it, but you should probably do some more searching and reading on your own before rehashing this theme here.  As someone who has worked in Japan for many years, it seems apparent to me that you don't really have much experience in Japan or you would not hold some of the incorrect (in my opinion) assumptions about the Japanese and how they work.  For the record, I believe that dedicated Westerners could pass along traditional training (originating in Japan for the first Westerner) and keep or even improve the art; however, on balance, it would be much more difficult for Westerners than the Japanese to accomplish it (for many reasons).

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And even more difficult for the Japanese to accept it.

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Thanks George for your reply.  Your assumption about me having limited experience with Japanese people is correct, although the few I've worked with in the past seemed just like everyone else I've ever met.  Did I miss something?  Not particularly relevant here anyway since this question was about our western preconceptions.  The whole point of the discussion was to highlight our/my assumptions.

 

I did a search before my first post as you suggested.  If this has been thrashed out before then I'm afraid my search skills have failed me. Can anyone provide links to the relevant topics or at least the search terms to find them?

 

Andrew

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Ofcause, Anybody who mastered sword making, he can produce the sword anywhere.
So does a polisher, he could polish the sword anywhere in the world.
However, It depend on how much the student observed the technique and knowledge from his master.
The minimum condition is that the master must give 100% and the student observe 100% to keep the quality of the products.
Maybe it become "tradition". that is why people care who is the teacher(master) and schools. 
 
Someone who studied under great master and if he observe only 80% from his master, and become independent, He has to develop his work from there, and when start to teach someone. How much can he pass its tradition or secret technique ?
or
some students observe(mastered) 100% from his master, then develop from there to 110% to next generation. and goes on.
 
so, I think that it really depend on each craftsman(polisher) and his master and its school...
 
in fact, the most of craftsmen are keep trying to develop their work (since beginning), still today. 
 
The point is 守破離 (Shu Ha Ri)
Description of Shu,Ha,Ri in Wikipedia in English said "Shuhari (Kanji: 守破離 Hiragana: しゅはり) is a Japanese martial art concept"
Japanese description said "the concept of Chado(tea ceremony), Budo and art".
 
It is very important that the student master the basic (守/Shu) and finding a right master. It may be the most important part,  It really depend on whom you study from and how.
 
However, the responsibility of the quality of work is on owner/receiver/customer's side. 
If the owner of the sword can not recognize high quality polish, there will be no polisher who does the level.
 
It is easy to degrade its quality and tradition.
The collectors also need to learn 守破離 Shu Ha Ri.
I believe that the level of workman ship is depend on collector/owner's demand.
 
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