For several years Chris Scoggin from Ronin Katana has been working with two highly skilled Master Smiths based in China to produce his line of 'Ronin Elite' swords. But in late 2011, after working with Chris myself for several years, a project was put on the drawing board - to create the very best quality Katana that could be made by these Master Smiths at a reasonable price point.
The end result of this collabation is called Project X - and is basically a very special, limited availability run of Master Smith forged Katana that is able to be either reserved and pre-ordered several times a year or purchased for a brief moment when they are in stock.
You see, one of the main problems with Ronin's elite line was that they rarely stayed in stock long enough to give everyone who wanted one a fair chance to actually purchase one. But we solved this problem with project X - and added in some serious upgrades, such as for each sword pre-ordered it not only guaranteed you one when they were completed - but pre-ordered swords would be available at a discounted price AND be the pick of the litter.. A true reward to those who were willing to wait for their sword to come in.
As such, we think we solved a major issue for the serious collector of high quality Japanese swords - but to fully explain what this project is, and why it is so special, we need to explain the backstory in full. So make yourself comfortable as we explore the world of exactly what a real Master Smith is (as it is a term baldy abused within the industry), how the sword making industry in China has evolved over the years and exactly what the fuss about Project X is all about..
Over the years I have seen a lot of Japanese styled swords made in China.
Most have been ok, some pretty solid and dependable, but many more just left me shaking my head wondering ‘what WERE they thinking when they made this piece of crap’. I’m sure if you have been collecting for a while, you know what I mean. From stainless steel, one screw holding it together, rat tail tang horrors to carbon steel blades that just felt WRONG and the geometry was so messed up they couldn’t cut their way out of a paper bag..
In 2005 when SBG started, you had to look pretty hard to find good swords. It was pretty much just the PPK, Cheness (which had just started in earnest), Last Legend and the occasional diamond in the rough like the legendary Masahiro Bamboo discovered by Marc Ridgeway on SFI.
By 2008, there were new swords and sword makers popping up all over the place.
Ebay swords and going direct with the Chinese forges saw something of a revolution. Some people got some really amazing stuff. Others, got ripped off (an unfortunate side-effect – hey, it’s the interwebz!). Others got something in between.
It was a free for all, the luck of the draw..
Personally, I didn’t really like this so much. So I decided to try my hand and design a few swords and work with some people to see what could be done. The end result was the SBG custom Katana and the Proswords collaboration.
While the swords I made with Proswords were well received and quite impressive, the business itself suffered when it branched off from SBG and is only just now getting back on its feet. On the other hand, despite some delays with some batches running like, at the time I write this the SBG custom Katana is up to batch 19, with the next one literally about to open up any day now. The problem was though, as good as they are – these swords are ALWAYS held back by the final price point we had to aim for. We achieved a lot, like alternating ito, real boshi, a clearer (but not 100% geometric) yokote, etc but when you are trying to keep the price low $300 – there are a lot of options you have to leave on the table.
Take, for example, laminated blades. Cheness tried this with the Higo, and while the product was good, they had to trash too many swords each time they did a production run, and it just got too expensive, because it is not the kind of process blue collar workers can consistently perform.
Ideally, you needed a master smith to do it.
The word ‘Master Smith’ has been BADLY abused by sword marketers over the years.
Who can forget this classic:
“Ryumon Swords are hand Forged and by master craftsman with years of experience from Longquan.
These master sword smiths combine modern knowledge with traditional secrets to produce superior quality handmade Samurai Swords with enhanced durability, sharpness, and exquisite craftsmanship. Each Ryumon Sword is a fully functional, battle ready Samurai Sword” – all yours for only $180..
The closest the market ever got to something like this was the Musashi swords Wind Katana (pictured right) which was supervised by apprentices of Master Smith Chris Zhou – but was canned by Mr. Zhou because he thought it was being sold TOO cheaply.
This was definitely an impressive sword.
But it certainly wasn’t MADE by a master smith.
Master smiths almost always only make one off custom work, or small runs at the most. These guys are few in number, university educated, and extremely PROUD.
The swords made in quantities that are hand made around the $300 are churned out by semi-skilled laborers. The end result at best is a pretty solid, munitions grade sword.
Anyway, it was during these heady days that I had my own first encounter with the kind of work these master smiths can do in the form of a Chinese Dao..
I’ve never reviewed this Dao, because it’s not a production piece – and I consider it to be a personal sword. But it is incredibly fast, felt totally solid and is actually my favourite sword in my collection..
Cutting with it is a dream . Even though it is a single handed sword it cuts better than ANY of the Katana I have ever reviewed at SBG. So it begged the question, what would one of these smiths Katana be like!?
Imagine being able to offer swords like this to the SBG community! Because while they would not be for everyone, I was often asked the same question..
On the SBG Japanese swords page there is a ‘caveat and disclaimer’ – i.e. you can’t get a Ferrari for the Price of a Pinto. And for those who wanted to, I’d make up a suggestion to save up and spend more – at least $1,000.
But the next logical question is, what are you supposed to buy for that $1,000?
You see, spending more money is not a guarantee of getting a great sword. And it certainly wasn’t a guarantee of getting one that was made by a master smith. I really didn’t have a good answer except to do some research at sites like SFI, etc.
The market for that big next step up from entry level was a murky one too.. But one product was widely gaining recognition, swords made for Ronin Katana by the master smiths, his Ronin Elite line..
Chris Scoggin from Ronin Katana had been working with some of the qualified, bona-fide Master smiths, recognized officially by Longquan province for some time to create his Ronin Elite line.
Chances are, you have probably heard of these extremely popular swords or perhaps read Marc Ridgeways review. If you haven’t I STRONGLY recommend you do to get an idea of what we are talking about here – it will give you a much clearer idea of what these swords are like, how and why THEY came about, and an insight into how the sword industry and master smiths in China operate.. (seriously, have a read – I’ll wait for you).
Anyway, the blades of these swords are exceptional - Soshu Kitae, which is an extremely complex laminate that maximizes the swords cutting edge and creates a truly flexible spine that is further enhanced by claying and differential hardening.
The problem is, only so many are made each run – and they sell to fast so are almost impossible to get hold of.
But it came to pass that in late 2011, Chris asked me a question that would change all of that..
Chris said he asked me if I was interested in partnering with him to create a product similar the Elite line – but pulling out ALL the stops. The goal was to create a Katana line that was as close as possible to a Japanese made Shinken, but at around a quarter of the price..
Needless to say, we started making plans to implement this exciting project. This third official SBG project did away with the limitations price had imposed on our previous projects – and most importantly, we knew that the forge and the smiths were tried and true and could actually deliver what we wanted and make it with pride.
This third project, which we have called Project X – truly started to take shape.
Originally, as we quickly worked out what we wanted and were excited to get it off the ground as soon as possible, we aimed for the first swords from project X to be available in Jan/Feb 2012. But the timing for the launch was not right, and even though the basic designs were simple enough – the few additional tweaks needed a prototype or two so we could get the weight, balance, etc.
These swords had it ALL – a carefully hand crafted Soshu Kitae laminated blade with real hamon and much nicer fittings, with exclusive iron sukashi tsuba that Chris and I selected from hundreds of actual edo era antiques, topped off with Buffalo horn saya, Premium quality full wrap rayskin, Black iron fuchi/kashira, Premium black silk ito, (alternating, with hishigami triangles to ensure perfect shaping).
You name it. They have it..
While the first lot of each Katana line can be pre-ordered, they cannot be customized. Why?
To quote Chris:
"Project X is a production run of swords using elite blades but with only two different fitting sets. They are made to specs decided upon by Paul and I, and include more bells and whistles. Like the elite line, there are no options for customization. Working with ranked master smiths is very expensive, as these are highly educated and respected individuals. Because Ronin is a large company, I was able to negotiate a set rate per master per day, not per piece."
So how does it work?
Basically, for every sword pre-ordered we will finance a second sword to be made at the same time. And when the swords come in approx. 3-5 months later, we will go over each one with a fine tooth comb, looking for the smallest flaws – dividing the swords into categories and sending the BEST ones to those who pre-ordered (which incidentally, will be at the lowest price).
Then, once all the pre-order have been delivered and our customers confirm they are happy - we will list the stocked swords for sale, those that are as good as the pre-ordered ones at the usual retail price and others with the most minor of flaws at a scratch and dent discount.
So how much will all of this cost?
Just $1,000 – or $899.99 for the premium pre-order batch!
Yes, at this price these swords are not for everyone. But for those who are looking to take their Katana collecting to the next level and have concerns about spending a large chunk of cash, this project is for you.
Because this project is really quite exclusive (these swords are ONLY available from SBG, and due to the price and the need for patience while they are made, I don't want every man and his dog ordering unless they know what they are commiting to because we are VERY serious about maintining the integrity of the project) - you will ONLY find them listed below in one of 3 formats:
And that about wraps it up!
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me - otherwise, check below for the current status.
August 17, 2012 - Pre-orders have commenced! Products listed in the store here
August 30, 2012 - Pre-orders closed - production to commence.
September 26, 2012 - Visit to the forge to inspect production and meet the master smiths personally.
January 3, 2013 - Shipment lands, swords inspected and shipping to pre-order customers commences. In stock orders undergoing inspection and preparing to take orders in late January/early February.
January 29, 2013 - In Stock Order sale begins.
PROJECT X CHINESE
April 17, 2013 - We take a new and exciting direction with the launch of the Jian of Marquis Yi, a truly worldclass, heirloom quality Chinese Gim based on an ancient antique and brought to life by the brothers Xiaolong.
30th June, 2014 - after much anticipation, the second Project X Chinese Sword, the Dragon Dao, is made available for pre-order.
Feb 4th-17th, 2015 - Pre-orders commence for a new round of Project X Japanese, including a re-release of model #001 and a new all black styled model #003.
18th May, 2015 - Some pictures from the forge, blades now in the final polishing phase by certified master polishers!
20th July 2015 - Project X Japanese swords clear customs in the USA and are sent to pre-order customers. Landed stock sells out within 24 hours to members of the Project X mailing list..
30th August 2015 - Project X Japanese is offered one last round of pre-orders until September the 24th.
24th March 2016 - Project X launches pre-orders on 3 new Japanese blades (and an upgraded version of the Chinese Dragon Dao) due to arrive late June 2016.
1st July 2016 - Project X branches out with a series of semi custom and made on demand models of Japanese and Chinese blades made by the same team with Forge Direct!
Project X ALWAYS has something new we are planning, but we only release the info to our subscribers.
Sign up to our exclusive Project X Newsletter below to stay up to date on the project: