Tuesday, 9 March 2010

My New Sword

Alright guys, I'm afraid that this next post has about as much to do with travel as it does with particle physics.  I'm hijacking my blog to use more as a journal today because I'm very excited about what I got in the mail last night.  I'll start with a little bit of background.  This will be old news to some of you, so please bear with me.

One of the martial arts that I study is Iaido, a Japanese sword art that focuses largely on drawing the sword from it's scabbard and cutting your opponent in a single motion.  In order to properly train we need something that feels very much like a real sword, and to that end we use Iaito, a sword built specifically for training in Iaido.  The swords are generally made from a lighter material (often an Aluminum-Zinc alloy) and left unsharpened for safety purposes.  Aside from that they feel very much like the real thing, which makes them ideal for training in something that is a subtle and precise as Iaido.

Well, a little over 2 years ago my Iaito suffered some minor damage.  Not enough to make it unusable, but the sword was already getting a bit too light for me, and so I took the damage as an excuse to order a new sword.  I ordered one from Japan to be custom-made to my specs, which was an exciting prospect.  Unfortunately there's been a great deal of confusion in getting the sword made, resulting in a number of delays.  However, after the long wait I've finally got my sword!  My friend and Kenjitsu instructor Brahmjot was in Japan recently and was able to make the arrangements to finalize construction of the sword and get it shipped to me.

My sword is noticeably heavier than my old one, which is a good thing in this case.  It means that I'll have to go very slowly with it at first as I get used to the added weight.  The potential for injury when swinging a heavier sword than you're used to is alarming.  Aside from that the balance is perfect, as expected from the master smiths who forged.

The fittings on the sword are all based on a old Samurai General, Naoe Kanetsugu (1560 - 1620) who was famous for his leadership in battles on behalf of the Uesugi daimyo.  In Japan they play annual dramas on TV depicting historical events in a highly dramatized fashion.  Last year's drama "Tenchijin" focused on Kanetsugu and so having your sword match his is apparently quite popular in Japan right now.  His armour is still around today, in a museum somewhere in Japan.  I pilfered this photo from Wikipedia:

I'll show some pictures of my sword shortly and you'll be able to see the thematic similarities, particularly regarding the large Kanji symbol that adorns Kanetsugu's helmet.  That symbol translates as "Ai" in Japanese, or "Love" in English.  You'll see it in a few places on the fittings of my sword.

So, without further ado, I present to you my newest Iaito.

The handle, done in a deep navy blue.  I absolutely love it!

The base of the handle (Kashira) featuring the previously-mentioned "Ai" Kanji.

It's traditional to have a decorative piece underneath the handle wrap.

The metal collar that's always found between the handle and the guard.

A shot of the sword's scabbard.  The scabbard is a lustrous black, and the cord that you use to tie it to your belt is in gold, which is very striking.

The metal collar that surrounds the blade just above the guard (Habaki) is interestingly patterned on this sword.  Also, it's interesting to note that the groove in the blade (Hi) runs right into the Habaki, which is usually only done on live blades.  A live blade, or "Shinken" (literally "True Sword") would be made of steel and meant to take an edge.  My Sensei actually commented that they've done everything possible to make this look like a Shinken, and that only close inspection of the blade reveals it's true nature.  I thought that was pretty awesome.

One last shot of the blade.

Okay, I think that's enough showing off for me for one day.  Obviously I'm pretty excited about this.  With any luck I'll have calmed down enough by next week to write about something else.

Have an excellent week everyone.  See you next Tuesday.


Jabbles said...

Congrats on the new sword, have fun with it. Just be sure to have a shinken around for the zombie apocalypse.

Aunt J. said...

Looks fabulous but please tell me that it's unsharpened!

Colin Young said...

Come on Jay, you KNOW I'm well prepared with Shinken for the coming zombie invasion!

Don't worry Auntie J, there's no edge to that one. I've got plenty of edged ones if I need something for cutting practice, but I never use them for Iaido, I'm just not at that level yet. I know very few people who practice with a live blade, and many of them have suffered some minor injury while attempting it. It's a dangerous business, and it's sobering to think that even after I've studied this art for years I'm too nervous to practice it with a live blade. Meanwhile there were people 400 years ago who would have put on a sword every morning before leaving the house, and done so with the knowledge that they may have to use it in defense of their own lives. It's a hard thing to imagine.

Aunt J. said...

Yes they were very barbaric in those days weren't they.