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Hello

Anyone ever heard or thought of when and how the sharpness ranking came into play ?

Just has me thinking since I have just had wakizashi papered to Bizen Hidemitsu and he is rated Seijo-Owazamono. (highest cutting ability). And the blade is dated Eitoku 1381-84

 

Peter

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No big battles going on, so where was the need for swords? This way, at least there was some new interest in owning a premier blade.

 

Also, remember that all of the sword-making skills from Kamakura, & even Nambokucho, were lost by then, so the older Koto blades really were much better than what tosho were making in the early 1800s.

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I know sword geometry and skill level in forging contributed to the sharpness angle, but how would one correct for polish state (condition of edge) on these tests? A fresh forged, fresh polished edged sword made around the test time may well cut better than a superior sword, in a somewhat less than ideal state edge wise. Just thinking out loud.

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No big battles going on, so where was the need for swords? This way, at least there was some new interest in owning a premier blade.

 

Also, remember that all of the sword-making skills from Kamakura, & even Nambokucho, were lost by then, so the older Koto blades really were much better than what tosho were making in the early 1800s.

Off topic but worth another thread on what you said Ken and I have heard many times.

 

I can see how something can be lost when it is not used, but it's not like swords were not made for 100-200 years, techniques lost, then sword making was re-started. Some family names go from long ago to late eras. I see this said a lot, but no real depth to the concept. Maybe steel that was used changed and thus could not replicate earlier forging works, but that's not really the same thing. Would love more discussion on this.

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I know sword geometry and skill level in forging contributed to the sharpness angle, but how would one correct for polish state (condition of edge) on these tests? A fresh forged, fresh polished edged sword made around the test time may well cut better than a superior sword, in a somewhat less than ideal state edge wise. Just thinking out loud.

Even older swords would have a polish from time to time, so it was possible to have a koto sword that was properly polished and sword testers had their own methods of fine-tuning a blade's edge beyond that produced by the polisher (Markus Sesko on tameshigiri). Also, presumably there was some incentive to check that a narrower and thinner sword wasn't going to let the user down when needed? Or maybe it was just the case that the prisons had got a bit crowded and it would be fun to check whether Great Grandad's famous sword was all it was cracked up to be. 

 

Another factor would be marketing: if you have a system for testing swords and the endorsement of a family of sword testers that a modern sword was equal in cutting ability to an old proven blade, the it's easier to sell swords. There was a close link between one famous smith (can't remember the name offhand) and the Yamada family who tested a number of his blades and one of Kubikiri Asaemon's own swords was by him.

 

As regards sword making techniques - utsuri, a fairly common feature in koto blades, especially Bizen swords was pretty much non-existent in the shinto and shin shinto period - the Ishido school were pretty much the only ones producing it with any regularity. So some of the finer forging techniques had gone missing. There's some interesting related articles on Danny Massey's website - the Suishinshi Masahide one highlights durability issues with shinto and shinshinto blades. 

 

http://www.nihontocraft.com/Suishinshi_Masahide.html

 

http://www.nihontocraft.com/Aratameshi_Nihonto.html

 

http://www.nihontocraft.com/Nihonto_cold_weather.html

 

Also, Markus Sesko's book on tameshigiri is well worth a read.

 

Best,

John

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Quote:

"I can see how something can be lost when it is not used, but it's not like swords were not made for 100-200 years, techniques lost, then sword making was re-started. Some family names go from long ago to late eras. I see this said a lot, but no real depth to the concept. Maybe steel that was used changed and thus could not replicate earlier forging works, but that's not really the same thing. Would love more discussion on this."

(sorry I cant seemto make the quote function work properly)

 

A number of factors came into play at the end of the Muromachi period which resulted in  features and the methodology to produce them being lost.

One of the main causes was the move to mass production in both Bizen and Mino. The demand for swords was high and both these groups starting producing functional but rather "bland" swords (with some notable exceptions). Alongside or just after this much iron and steel production was centralised and all schools were basically using an identical raw material. Small characteristics which were the result of slight differences in steel composition between schools disappeared. Also there was a strong market effect. in the Edo period and perhaps because the steel used produced a pretty uniform jigane Schools had to find ways to differentiate themselves from the crowd and focus moved to the creation of complex and exuberant hamon.

Only when the market shifted again and people wanted to have swords with all the subtle nuances in the steel that they saw in older work did smiths start to experiment with the composition of their steel (some smelting their own or combining different materials from other sources) to try and find ways of recreating the features seen in Kamakura blades.

John has already mentioned Utsuri. The Ishido smiths were only partially successful in trying to recreate this and it really didn't come too close until some of the Shin-Shinto makers worked long and hard to do it. Likewise many activities based around ji-nie have never been fully realised in later work. They didn't have the same material to start with and haven't found a way to use what they have to create the same effect.

As one very learned student once said to me "The skill levels may have been the same but the material was different"

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I can see how something can be lost when it is not used, but it's not like swords were not made for 100-200 years, techniques lost, then sword making was re-started. Some family names go from long ago to late eras. I see this said a lot, but no real depth to the concept. Maybe steel that was used changed and thus could not replicate earlier forging works, but that's not really the same thing. Would love more discussion on this.

This has been covered before, but Paul hit on part of it. Think about hundreds of years of battle, Peter, specifically the Sengoku Jidai when, for 100 years, constant battles were going on all over Japan. Every swordsmith who could build a sword was ordered by his Daimyo to build, build, build. There's actually a term called Kazuuchimono that is used to denote those bundles of mediocre, mass-produced swords, & very few quality blades were made. And this went on for year after year, generation after generation. And since ALL of the secret/proprietary techniques for sword-making were passed down via word-of-mouth by each family & den, by the time the battles stopped, & tosho were able to think about making Kamakura-quality blades once again, there was nothing for them to refer to. There was simply too wide a gap in knowledge to recover those techniques.

 

Does that help?

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Thank you gentlemen for your insights,I think John view possibly pointed directly to a reason why the cut test where performed when they where as a way of reintroducing an interest in having a sword even though at that time there where no battles to be fought and perhaps also sparking this collecting bug we now have in their beauty rather than their life taking or life saving abilities.

Peter

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Like any proper testing you need a large pool of results, I believe Wazamono ratings were roughly given based on a certain amount of blades tested by one smith, if a certain number performed well in the tests a corresponding Wazamono rating was given.

 

I think there will always be much research and testing on a weapons ability to kill even if there are now wars or situations that it will be used. We still test and use swords today to see how well they will kill (to quote Doug Marceida) and it's the exact same for firearms or other weapons, you need to know how far you can push them and how they will perform at the critical moment, even if you will probably never be in that situation.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I see the list of Wazamono as the Edo era equivalent of all those "top 10 guns" or "Best cars of the year" type things you see in magazines or online today.

 

Chopping corpses to figure out which sword cuts best is not particularly scientific so it probably isn't the best way to judge which swords are actually best. Don't forget brand name "panache" was a big thing for swordsmen back then too...

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Yes Jason, it's not like there was any practical reason these tests were done in an age where swords were still used to kill people. As for not scientific I would have to disagree, at the time it was quite a scientific matter, performing a large volume of tests, collating the results and drawing conclusions from these results. Is that not science?

 

"Science: the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment."

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Yes Jason, it's not like there was any practical reason these tests were done in an age where swords were still used to kill people. As for not scientific I would have to disagree, at the time it was quite a scientific matter, performing a large volume of tests, collating the results and drawing conclusions from these results. Is that not science?

 

"Science: the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment."

 

Not anymore scientific than driving different cars around and comparing their performance to each other, which includes raw data (0-60 time, horsepower, braking distance) and subjective data (this seat feels more comfortable, this car feels higher/lower quality, ect.) and then ranking which cars are the "best". If you want to do Science, you have to follow the scientific method, and that ain't exactly the Scientific Method. There are so many unaccounted for variables that can effect blade performance that it would be impossible to definitively verify which swords cut best simply by cutting up criminals. It's ultimately an artificial scenario that is not all that similar to real-life when you think about it; when swords were actually used in battle they were often subject to stresses unrelated to just cutting naked flesh and also had to perform under harsh conditions, variable weather/temperatures and less than ideal maintenance. 

 

Besides, by the time Yamada Asaemon put the list together in the early 1800's, Japan had been at peace for 200+ years and swords were more symbolic than practical weapons of war. Smiths had essentially forgotten how to make blades like those from the times of the Sengoku Jidai and before... that's why we distinguish between Koto and Shinto Nihonto, after all. 

 

Not saying it's totally useless information (just like car tests/reviews), it's not the "be all, end all" to determine which swords are "best". It's still cool to have a sword from a smith that was rated Saijo o wazamono and it certainly vastly increases a blade's value in today's market. 

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Please provide a more thorough and comprehensive body of work in this matter that has had over 200 years of testing, that has been widely accepted and been backed up by numerous high ranking papers and expert opinions over the decades.

 

Until then the Wazamono index is the accepted body of work in judging a Japanese blades cutting prowess on human bodies.

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