View Full Version : What makes for a good sword?

Erik Tracy
21st August 2000, 23:27
Greetings Obata Soke,

One aspect of Japanese swordsmanship which seems to be increasing as a serious component of a complete curriculum is tameshigiri.

More and more people are becoming interested in swords that actually cut and to use them for cutting to test themselves and the sword.

There seem to be more and more sources for shinken of varying quality and it becomes more difficult to judge what is good and what is not.

Could you please give us your experience on what makes for a good sword to be used in cutting?

What qualities and characteristics should one look for in a sword used for cutting?
-is more sori better, or less?
-what kind of balance?
-can it have bo-hi, or does this weaken the sword?

Arigato gozaimashita,
Erik Tracy

Nathan Scott
21st August 2000, 23:54

If I could add something.... :D

Someone else on a different internet discussion group asked how often katana or tachi with bohi were used in actual combat?

On one hand, bohi might cause the sword to bend easier if it was struck hirauchi, but on the other hand, bohi would not make the bushi as tired since it would probably lighten it a little and improve the balance of the sword.

Do you happen to know if swords with bohi were popular in the battlefield?


[Edited by Nathan Scott on 08-21-2000 at 05:57 PM]

Obata T
22nd August 2000, 20:43

Too much sori, or too little sori will make the sword hard to draw, noto, handle and cut with. A sori that is not too shallow or too straight, but rather a smooth, even sori is good for cutting.

As for balance, I cannot say. You should swing the sword and see if it is the ideal balance for you. The sword shouldn't be too heavy, too light, too short, or too long [sound familiar?].

If you are looking for a sword to practice kata (solo form) only, it would be nice if it had a Hi that made a noise (tachikaze) when it swings, if it was a little long and light. But, a sword for Tameshigiri cannot be too long or it'll bend, cannot be too short or it'll be weak, and Hi or noise doesn't matter when you test-cut.

If you cutting soft material, a Kami Sori edge is great. If you are cutting hard material like bamboo, a shell type [hamaguri-ha] edge is great. If your cutting both soft and hard material, a middle type edge should be ideal.

There are two types or steel for the sword, hard and soft. But besides this, there are of course more points to think about.

In detail, I'm afraid 1 or 2 pages cannot cover this subject... I am working right now on a second Shinkendo book (on Tameshigiri), it will have this kind of information in detail (i.e. Tameshigiri manner, Tameshigiri history, how to choose a sword, how to cut successfully, how to handle a sword, etc).

Before the Sengoku Era, there were not too many swords with Bohi [fuller grooves]. When Japan became peaceful during the Edo and after Edo Era, swords were decorated and carved more. These swords made during these periods often had carvings, and Hi.

Also, swordsmiths tried to adjust the weight and balance (a tiny reason), but the looks of the sword became more fashionable and seems to be the main reason for these types of things. Another reason Hi and carvings were done were to hide any sword kizu [flaws].

Some martial artists love a sword with Hi for Kata practice because it makes the swish noise when you swing it. But, a swordsman should be able to swing the sword (without Hi) and make the sound regardless. Also, it seems alot of swordsman dont like the swish noise because it bothers their concentration!

For thos people who are starting to do tameshigiri, choose a good sword when cutting soft material like wara [straw or tatami mats]. But, dont risk damaging your sword when trying to cut harder materials, and make sure you dont injure yourself or anyone else near you. Safety is very important to the future of dignified kenjutsu. Also, please don't confuse test cutting for kenshi with that of Shitoka [sword tester] - these are two different skills and reasons for cutting.

Kenshi historically only cut straw bundles, or tatami boards until I introduced the idea of cutting Tatami Omote [the rolled up top-layer of tatami boards] before I left Japan, and now it has become quite popular. This is likely because tatami usually cuts almost the same every time if made correctly, and it is much easier to get and clean up after.

Anyway...choose a good instructor, pile your experience, and choose a good sword before you choose to do Tameshigiri with bamboo or hard materials.

When it comes to choosing a good sword, it should be a good choice based on your correct experience and teaching. This kind of thing is case by case, but usually avoid extremes.

International Shinkendo Federation,

[Edited by Obata T on 08-22-2000 at 02:51 PM]