For those interested in the Japanese Sword

Discussion in 'Weapon Resources' started by Dave Humm, Jan 3, 2006.

  1. Dave Humm

    Dave Humm Serving Queen and Country

    Japanese Swords, ownership, care and responsibility. ​

    I’d like to begin by explaining I am by no means an ‘expert’ or considered an ‘authority’ on any aspect of Nihonto (Japanese Sword) however, I am a student of Iaido and as such own and have been correctly taught how to care for, and act responsibly with swords of my own.

    As an instructor within an aikido dojo, I incorporate a large portion of sword technique into everyday study, it isn’t uncommon therefore to see a minimum of three or four Nihonto within the dojo. I have been asked by students various questions relating to Nihonto which, has prompted this short article. I hope you find it informative and written from a grass roots perspective.

    Important distinction: There are on the open market today ‘Japanese swords’ which are nothing more than wall hanging ornaments. Whilst they vaguely resemble a Japanese Sword, they are little more than a waste of money if one buys something of this low quality and expects to be able to use it for martial arts study. A blade made of 440 stainless steel is NOT suitable in any respect for Iai. In regards to this article, a “Nihonto” is a sword manufactured in Japan and is either of forged steel (Shinken) or it is an Iaito specifically manufactured for the study of Iaido. (These blades are made of Zink Alloy construction and do not carry a live edge)

    For me personally the ownership of a Japanese sword is something very special on a number of differing levels. Superficially, the purchase of such an item can be an expensive investment however, it is an investment and should be considered as such; they will rarely devalue. If one is prepared to buy a hand made blade, rest assured it will be something you will always revere and treasure. On a deeper level, the sword embodies the very essence of Budo (the martial ways) and represents to me, one of the reasons for my study.

    The decision to buy a Japanese sword should be thought through and discussed with someone with experience, several aspects will influence what you buy and should be considered before you make your purchase. With respect to the Japanese sword, cost is probably the least important issue. What is important is getting the right sword for you as an individual and, that it fits your needs perfectly. The following list isn’t intended to be exhaustive however it does cover the essential aspects:

    Are you going to be using the sword on a very regular basis?
    Are you studying or will you at some point practice Tameshigiri? (test cutting)
    Do you study Iaido or some other sword related/influence art?
    Do you wish to buy a Nihonto purely for aesthetic purposes?

    Do I need a steel blade with a live edge or a blunt Iaito?
    What is the correct blade length for me personally?
    What blade weight will suit me?
    Do I require a flat blade (Shinogi) or grooved glade (Hi-Iri)?
    Do I have a preference toward the fittings and sword furniture?

    Where will I receive my sword training, does my Sensei have any set standard or guideline with regard to type of sword I should purchase?

    What is my budget?

    The answers to those fairly straight forward questions greatly influence the sword you purchase. Indeed the nature of your training will additionally add to that decision.

    Assuming you now own a Japanese sword, what about the legal implications of having a 60-70cm blade in your possession?

    Under Section 1 of the Crime Act 1953 it is illegal to carry in a public place any item which is made,adapted or intended to cause injury; however, providing a student acts responsibly in the transportation of a Japanese sword (or any edged weapon) to and from their place of training and their home, a Police Officer questioning the carrying of one’s sword should determine no offence has been broken and that you have lawful possession of said weapon.

    The carrying of one’s sword should be facilitated as follows:

    · The sword should be placed it its Murusaki (cloth bag) and the tape tied around the Tsuka

    · It should then be placed inside a dedicated Sword carry bag and the zip fully closed.

    · The sword should then be transported in the boot of one’s car. Although transportation by public means isn’t ruled out, I don’t advocate carrying one’s Japanese sword by this method if it can be avoided.

    · Make sure you always carry your membership/association hand book which clearly indicates your study of a martial art.

    · The emphasis is very much on not being able to draw or use the sword, indeed you are demonstrating that it isn’t being carried with such intent.

    If a Police Officer believes you do not have Lawful Possession or, the purpose for carrying the sword is anything other than legitimate, they have the obvious powers of confiscation and arrest. Don’t short cut these simple rules.

    Earlier in this article I mentioned that one can buy swords with a live edge, and that one can also buy ‘Iaito’. Iaito are constructed out of Zink-Alloy specifically so they cannot hold a sharp edge, as such they are entirely unsuitable for tameshigiri however, they are ideal for solo Iaido kata practice. Although Iaito are not subject to the same oxidisation suffered by steel, they should still be cared for in exactly the same way; as such, any further description about care and maintenance of a Japanese sword will not differentiate between the two.

    A traditionally made Japanese sword has a ‘polished’ surface, indeed it is this polishing which contributes to the cutting edge of the blade however; It is a common misunderstanding that Japanese Swords have a mirror finish, this is not true. Although the blade will be cleanly polished it will still have a ‘greyness’ to it’s sheen and a visible unique pattern embedded into its body, this is created through the folding and forging process involved in its creation. In essence, although the blade is polished it is largely unprotected to the influences of our environment. Get it wet and it will rust !! With this in mind it is important to ensure discipline when it come to maintaining one’s sword.

    Through the kata of Iaido our hands and fingers will briefly come into contact with areas of our blade, the minerals naturally secreted through our hands and fingers also act as an oxidant on the steel so, regular cleaning must be part of one’s training ritual. Cleaning a Japanese sword isn’t a difficult process however because it is a practical aspect of one’s training the specifics are not covered in this article.

    Responsibility and training with Japanese swords. Although the instructor has a duty of care in respect of his teaching and to his/her students, each student is equally responsible for the safe handling and operation of their sword within the dojo. One must ALWAYS remember what the sword was created for: To Kill… As such the potential for injury (and serious injury at that) is always present once a sword has been drawn from it’s scabbard. Always train with due care for yourself and others around you The following guidelines highlight good dojo practices (they are in no particular order):

    · Never draw your sword unless it is under the direction of your instructor.

    · Consider the location of other students in relation to yourself.


    · Never rest your sword (or other weapons) vertically against a wall

    · Never leave your sword (or other weapons) on the floor where people my walk


    · Operate your sword with control and understanding – Stop and ask if unsure

    · If you’re not using your sword ALWAYS re-sheath it, or in long periods of inactivity ideally remove it from your belt.


    · NEVER CONSUME ALCOHOL, MEDICATION or OTHER DRUGS before training which might influence your ability

    · Never loose your temper in any respect within the dojo

    · Never step over a sword resting on the floor or, to the side of a student.

    · Avoid clashing one’s scabbard against another, this is know as “Saya Ate” and is considered to be highly rude, ignorant and possibly a challenge of skills (a duel)


    From the instructor’s perspective, an assessment carried out identifies potential risk areas and those are carefully managed. As far as the HSE are concerned, all accidents are preventable. Act with care and responsibility with you Japanese Sword.

    Always ALWAYS remember that a sword is deadly even in the hands of fools​

    Last edited: Jan 3, 2006
  2. Kogusoku

    Kogusoku 髭また伸びた! Supporter

    Great post Dave!
  3. Anth

    Anth Daft. Supporter

    There is one word that describes posts this good...

    ...Stuck :D
  4. Dave Humm

    Dave Humm Serving Queen and Country

  5. Anth

    Anth Daft. Supporter

    Ladies and gents, if you have any comments on this thread please get them posted by the end of this week.

    This thread is going to Weapons Resources on Sunday :D

    If I remember :p

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