I must admit, I was guilty of not taking Ryumon Katana very seriously in the past.
When these swords first hit the market sometime in 2005 (which was really the start of the whole entry level Chinese made Katana craze), I unconsciously and dismissively bought into the whole 'Ryumon swords are crap' vibe that was popular on certain Sword Forums at the time, and as new manufacturers started literally churning out swords by the truckload, somehow I kind of ended up putting them to the bottom of my 'check it out for myself' list...
But as is often the case with forums, no one who commented on them had actually bought one - it was all based on assumption, and in retrospect, was really more of a case of automatic sword snobbery and casual dismissal than on anything concrete...
But as it turned out, they may well have been an undiscovered jewel in the junk that, several years late perhaps, was really worth a much closer look...
Review by SBG Editor in Chief, Paul Southren
The first thing that struck me when my Ryumon order came in was the size of the box.
Considering that its a Katana, the first cardboard box made me think that there were at least 2-3 swords in there! After removing the cardboard box and polystyrene packing, I was confronted with a solid, and very heavy and wide solid pine sword case with a prominent Ryumon symbol.
Being quite thick, strong and padded internally, the box was an excellent means of protection during transit. On the downside, it meant that I was paying a decent portion of my $220 or thereabouts FOR the box and the extra weight it would cost me when shipping (once from China, and once again from the warehouse to me)..
I hoped there would be some money left that went into the sword inside..!
I gingerly lifted the lid
straight off and tried to figure out why this box was so wide. The main
reason was that the generic cleaning kit in there was positioned
sideways at one end- which is silly really. But inside, I found quite a few extras (which again, I had effectively paid for - further reducing the money that went into the sword) and did a search for the sword (I hope they had remembered to put one in there!)
Ok, so time to search through all this stuff..
There was a rather mysterious looking scroll and a so called 'Reference Guide'. The first words of the reference guide made me cringe..
I resisted the urge to vomit into the box, regained my composure, and flipped through the booklet. In truth, it wasn't a bad guide..
Inside was information on sheathing and unsheathing the sword, complete instructions on how to use the cleaning kit, storage information, a glossary of Japanese sword terminology, how to disassemble the sword and more! Great for a beginner and not a bad touch.
Ignoring the magic scroll for now, especially as I had got so distracted
by the booklet, it was time to check out this Ryumon Katana itself. Yes, there was a sword in there!
My first impressions of the sword were, on the whole, actually quite favorable.
The ito was quite tight cotton, with very even diamonds reinforced with a dragon themed fuchi and kashira. And a little mould..
I'll come to that in a moment.
Underneath the ito, was a wrapping of white same (ray skin), and while the nodules were tiny (almost microscopic at times) and a little roughly finished where the two mekugi pins inserted into the handle were situated, it was at least real same.
The two long menuki (ornaments) under the wrap were (and still are) indistinct, and I can't move to ito enough to figure out what the heck they are supposed to be. But never mind, they looked ok, and so far I was pretty impressed.
One thing that is important to note in some of the early posts on the various Sword Fora when this sword first came out and the main reason that I did not look at them seriously, was because the general consensus was that the tsuka core of Ryumon swords was made of lightweight and useless plastic, relegating it to display purposes only..
However a cursory inspection revealed that it is indeed wooden, and that these observations are quite baseless...
But there was something that I did not feel matched the description.. The tsuba and other fittings are described as iron..
Now I don't know about you, but that's not iron.. At best it is copper, at worst - alloy. I still don't know (but suspect they used alloy - paying for the box and shipping and all)...
So far - good ito, good looking fittings (though made from what I suspect is a substandard metal - it's NOT iron), wooden core (not plastic) and some mould. Interesting.
Time to draw the blade..
Through the oil on the sword I straight away noticed something was amiss. A new sword should not have a bronzy sheen on it.
I powdered it with the uchiko ball in the cleaning kit to soak it up, cleared it off and sprayed it with some WD40 before wiping that clear to see what was going on...
While the steel itself looked to be of excellent quality (very even looking surface with an excellent finish), it was obvious to me that it had been sitting in that saya for a looong time...
Here and there, the blade was discoloured, and certain pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place. There was some rust on the staples in the book, a little mould on the Kashira, and now it was clear that much of the oil had almost completely dried up, leaving behind an odd bronzy sheen and a few unsightly ring shaped surface discolorations here and there...
While the majority of the blade was in great condition, the few flaws were definitely quite noticeable on close inspection..
To really see what kind of blade was under this gunk, I took out some Metal Glo polish and restored it back to as good as new...
Time to unveil the magic scroll, which I knew would answer all my
questions.. Because the scroll, which contained the details of the
sword, revealed that it was made in FEB 2006 so it had been sitting idle on the shelves of the distributors warehouse for nearly 2 and ½ years by the time I got it..
If this was new - no mould and no discolorations on the blade, so far it was actually a pretty decent sword, but due to some bad forum press it had been glossed over by the sword community and left to rot on a shelf somewhere..
But if it was new, I don't know - the hamon was natural and quite clear to the naked eye. Though the claying was rather poorly applied - one side was decent, but on the other the edge came dangerously close to edge but luckily did not actually run off (a hamon than runs OFF the edge is considered to be a FATAL FLAW).
In some ways, it was all over the place. But it did have one redeeming feature..
Pick this sword up in your hands and it feels almost weightless.
At 2lbs 4oz with a Point of Balance at around 5" from the tsuba it feels like it is floating..
If you like your swords fast and sharp, this Ryumon is a must have!
Lightened by a bo-hi (fuller), it really does feel like a natural
extension of your arms. It handles like a motorcycle, changing direction
mid cut without a seconds hesitation, flowing effortlessly from one
movement to another. And yet, it doesn't feel wimpy or without some
presence - the weight and balance of this sword is excellent.
The Tachi Kaze (sword wind sound) of this Ryumon sword is also particularly impressive. Even the shortest cut delivers a very satisfying and very clear whooshing sound as it slices the air.
But it gets even better. Because when you combine this swords weight and balance with the blades keen edge (still super sharp after 2 and ½ years sitting idle in its box) you get some VERY impressive results.
After 2 and ½ years in the box, I almost got a feeling that this sword was kind of happy to finally be facing some targets...
And the results of my first few cuts certainly suggested that it had been waiting a while to impress me!
For my first cuts, I took the Ryumon to a couple of water filled buddy bottles. Now as you know, these targets are tough the skin surface of the PET plastic is very tight and quite a hard barrier. And if youve ever hit one with a sword that isnt sharp enough, youll know that the impact is seriously jarring.
But the Ryumon Dragon loved them.
The first cut, I somehow glanced the first target and sliced the other one cleanly, before finishing off the first one. Each time, I was rewarded by what I would have to say is the CLEANEST cut I have been able to perform on a buddy bottle target, as you can see from the pictures below.
For a bit of a change of pace, I tested the Dragon on a pool noodle. The results did not surprise me, with such a well balanced and clearly sharp blade, each slice went through very smoothly with zero resistance.
So far so good, but now it was time to test it on the real deal some Mugen Dachi Tatami Mats.
I started off on a half mat, the best indication for the swords cutting velocity. Slowly starting to learn that I don't need to apply so much power but rather let the blade do all the work - I simply brought the Katana down on the mat in an arc. And with a bare minimum of effort, the top of the mat was lopped off. Several more cuts followed, from different angles and directions, and within a few seconds there was nothing left of it...
Now was the time to try it on a full mat, a target which I have been told is approximately the same resistance as a human arm.
Resisting the urge to power through it (which indeed, actually causes it to be harder to cut, as the tightening of the muscles are effectively putting the brakes on the action) I just let the blade do all the work, and was pleasantly surprised to see the top of the mat slide down slightly before just falling away to the ground.
The cuts that followed were equally effortless, just bringing the blade around and down finishing with a horizontal cut, one of the hardest to achieve, that sliced right through without disturbing the bottom of the mat.
You can check out the video of all these tests below.
VIDEO: The Cutting Session Compilation
To say I was impressed with how this sword handled and performs barely begins to scratch the surface of my feelings for it.
But in other areas, my feelings were mixed..
The Ryumon Dragon is a true diamond in the rough.
Soon after I got the word out about them, the last few in stock were sold. Ryumon responded and made them again - this time with a horimono engraving on the blade, a different tsuba design - but again, not iron..
With a little extra care on the claying, better fittings and less pointless extras, this would be a true contender for best differentially hardened Katana under $300. But as it is, at the current price it holds it own, but with a little more care could be something very special.
I hope this review of the Ryumon Dragon Katana has been helpful. To return to A Beginners Guide to Authentic Japanese Swords from Ryumon Dragon Katana Review, click here