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Sword Buyers Digest - July 2012
July 01, 2012
This month’s issue is a BIG UN – especially for lovers of the Japanese Katana..
First off, lots of site news to report, plus the SBG Katana batch 20 and Project X gearing up to launch this month.
But I’ve also written a feature article for Katana enthusiasts about the evolution of Chinese made Katana over the last few years, where we are at currently, and the full deal on exactly what Project X and Chinese Master Smiths (an oft abused term) is all about!
Hope you enjoy it!
1. From the Desk of Paul Southren
June was definitely quite a fun month.
The newly rejuvenated facebook page has been quite lively, I’m still getting the hang of it and probably not using it anywhere near it’s full potential. So at this stage I’ve pretty much just been posting various interesting links and SBG news there – including a revelation that one of my all time favourite comedians – Robin Williams – also turns out to be a sword collector, plus some cool youtube videos, local events and articles that I feel are worth reading and of interest to the general sword community. If you get a spare moment, feel free to check it out (you don’t have to be a facebook member to read it).
Additionally, I spent a fair amount of the month updating several old pages and blogs, most notably our own collection of sword buying horror stories, that now has it’s own dedicated page to keep vendors honest (sadly, increasingly necessary in this poor economy) and a complete overhaul of the SBG Sword Store News Blog and SBG Custom Katana Blog.
I quite like the way they turned out, and added a few features to the store such as a readable ‘window’ to the store blog so you can read it without leaving the site (though it does look better if you open it in a new window).
But of course, the most exciting stuff isn’t really how these blogs LOOK – it is what they are talking about, namely that JULY is going to be a very BIG and EXCITING month!
First off, it looks like Batch 19 of the SBG custom Katana is as of this moment starting to ship from the forge and we are on target for our July 20 deadline. So of course this means that we are only DAYS away from opening up on a new batch of orders so that the forge isn’t just sitting there twiddling their thumbs.
So if you have been waiting for batch 20 to open, you shouldn’t have to wait much longer!
But even more exciting, our collaboration with Ronin Katana and the Master Smiths who produce his Ronin Elite range – Project X – is due to start taking pre-orders within the next couple of weeks!
As anyone who has been following Project X will know, this is going to be HUGE – so to this end a goodly portion of this months newsletter is devoted to explaining exactly what it is, how much it is going to cost, and most importantly, why it is needed and what ‘missing link’ it is designed to bridge.
Finally, if all this wasn’t enough, on a personal note from this month I will start formal studies of the Japanese language (written and spoken) here in Osaka. It’s only 3 or 4 hours a day, but I have committed myself to studying it formally until this time next year – both for personal reasons but also to make some inroads into the closed world of Shinken here in Japan (I’ve come to realize that I can only go so far with rudimentary, colloquial Japanese and a smattering of Kanji – to take things to the next level here, I need to master the written and spoken language. One heck of a task, but I’m on the right track. And then things will get REALLY interesting!).
It’s not going to damage what I do at SBG any, indeed I think you’ll find that as my studies progress it is going to seriously enhance my own personal understanding of Japanese swords. I like to keep myself busy, that is for sure!
Evolution of the Chinese made Japanese sword market
From Blue Collar to Master Smiths. And Project X…
- By Paul Southren, Osaka, Japan
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.We wish..
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 Pinto for the Price of a Ferrari. 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 Masahiro Bamboo 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.
The first prototypes will be coming in now within the next few weeks, and they will have 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) – you name it. They have it..
Once the prototypes have been weighed, measured and some photos taken we will accept the first pre-orders on the first two designs, but with a twist.
For every sword pre-ordered, we will finance a second sword to accompany it. And when the swords come in approx. 3 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 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.
With the prototypes landing in the next few weeks, things are going to start moving VERY quickly, very soon – and of course, there will be limitations on how many swords the master smiths can make within the relatively short turn around time. So when it is time to order, chances are that the premium spots will fill up pretty fast and it will be 3 months before the stocked items come in. So IF this project speaks to you, I have created a form on our news page HERE that will allow you to sign up to a special notification list.
Exciting times ahead, so stay tuned guys – this is going to be BIG…
I guess this months video of the month is kind of related to last months video with two Japanese sword artists demonstrating two person kata – and superimposed lightsabers.
Many people emailed me saying it actually made the movements a LOT easier to follow. But there was also considerable interest in the weapons themselves, after all – the lightsaber is without a question the ULTIMATE SWORD and has many of the attributes wrongly attributed to the Katana, i.e. it can cut through anything but another lightsaber (as we all know, traditional Katana are only optimized to cut human flesh and bone, any other target can prove problematic).
So in this 3 part video, Dr. Michio Kaku takes a theoretical look at HOW a lightsaber might actually be constructed..!
Many things that start as science fiction do indeed one day become science fact – and if a lightsaber could ever actually be made, it would no doubt revive the spirit of the swordsman that we all admire and love so much..
And if so, I guess we will make lighsaber-buyers-guide.com to review the various sub 300 credit that would no doubt flood the market! :-P
This month MRL has some exceptional specials for lovers of medieval swords in their last chance section, of particular note three discontinued swords from the Robin Hood Movie. Whatever you may think of the movie, these fine carbon steel swords with ornate and attractive fittings plus a wall plaque for mounting are closing out from between $150 to $160 each (10% LESS when you use the SBG Discount code – ‘sbgweb’!).
From left to right:
But that’s not all that is there – check out the New Coustille, The Renaissance Hunting sword and other bargains in the LAST CHANCE SECTION here.
With batch 20 of the SBG Custom Katana just around the corner, and upcoming pre-orders on Project X set to start this month (not to mention the long awaited Ronin Katana Dojo Pro and Cheness Cutlery restock) July will be a month with a lot of options for Katana lovers.
The price on these babies has fluctuated quite a lot since they came out a couple of years ago or so. From around $300 down to a crazy overstocked price of two for $269! But now they have kind of stabilized again at $275 or so. However we were able to secure one last special offer - $229.99 for the Katana and $184.99 for the Wakizashi. These prices (especially when you factor in the fact that shipping is FREE) are slightly below what will be the WHOLESALE price, and with the way prices are rising across the board, I would be VERY surprised if any offer like this was to come up again..
All are brand new and fully backed by Hanwei’s superior 1 year Warranty, so if you want a bargain on a solid cutter – shipped extra fast and fully guaranteed, this has got to be it.
Check them both out in the HOT SPECIALS section of the store (sorry, as these are shipped direct from the manufacturer we can ONLY ship these to USA addresses).
Offer valid until the end of July or until sold out.
That’s all for now folks, lots going on so hope to see you around the place somewhere before the next issue!
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