View Full Version : Shinken/live Blades for Iai

28th November 2010, 17:53
There appears to be a number of options in choosing a Shinken/live blade for use in Iaido.

The traditional route getting a custom made blade specifically for Iai from Japan; where a sword from a little-known Smith will begin at around $12,000. then there are the non traditional Shinken available from Tozando and Nine Circles looking at around $2000 which is a massive price difference for what is essentially a training 'tool'.

My question is how well balanced are these non Japanese Shinken and do they suit the Iaido practitioner well?

28th November 2010, 19:54
Hi, some people from Czech, Slovak Republic and Midle Europe have the shinken from swordsmith Mr. Juraj Kubinec from Slovak Republic.
He can do very nice and good swords (blade, sashikomi polishing, koshirae) for batto or iai, but his swords aren`t so expensive. Some his blades have utsuri effect. I think that he studied one year in Japan (his sensei was Kojima - I think ...)
Juraj Kubinec does the swords up 1330 EUR (basic level), but he preferred personal act and he hasnīt webpage in english.

Here is a link for photos of his swords

You can see more informations in his web www.katanakaji.sk
Sorry for small publicity, but it could be one way for live blade.

28th November 2010, 20:22
Thanks very much for the link and info, the photos look nice but I don't understand a word!:D

28th November 2010, 21:38
not sure where you are getting your price info, but nihonto prices are not that extreme. Was in Japan last week, one of my students bought a blade from an award winning smith for about $5600. Getting a live blade does not require having one custom made. Lots of good blades out there looking for homes, nihonto, custom, and production. Whether something suites the practitioner depends on the practitioner, his/her level, strength, style, personal taste. Balance varies. I'd say the ones from Tozando at least would usually be good, depends on what you want. For iai, I'd recommend a blade with bo-hi. Tons of other options and considerations. Not sure where you are or who you train with, but ideally you would get input from your teacher and perhaps be able to compare blades with your fellow students.


29th November 2010, 01:59
You can indeed have a good iai blade from a good swordsmith in rough batto polish for about 400,000JPY ($5000-$6000), if you know where to look. As Dave has mentioned, it is best to get advice from your teacher, as I did when I bought my blade from Japan. If it weren't for Ishikawa sensei, I wouldn't of scored the awesome blade I have now!

Kind regards,

Jeremy Hagop

29th November 2010, 08:45
James, you have stepped off into some very deep water.

First, unless your Sensei has approved your use of a shinken for iaido training, don't even think about using one!! That is unless you plan on counting your fingers every time you draw the blade.... And if he/she has approved your use, why not ask what he/she recommends?

Assuming that you're moving forward here, there are distinct differences between a shinken - a "live blade" that is normally used for tameshigiri, or test cutting - & a Nihonto, which is a traditionally-made blade from a Japanese smith. There are a few of us whose Sensei does require us to use a Nihonto in training, but I know of VERY few of us.

A Nihonto can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars for something that's mostly rust, all the way up to hundreds of thousands of dollars...& above. A shinken may cost you a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on how you want it to be outfitted. After swinging swords for several decades, I don't see or feel a lot of difference between my light-weight shinken & my light-weight Nihonto for training. That takes into account balance & weight, although I've found that shinken tend to weigh a lot more because they are intended for cutting tatami omote & bamboo.

Hope this clarifies things a bit.

29th November 2010, 11:01
Thanks very much for the link and info, the photos look nice but I don't understand a word!:D

Come on James... your Polish can't be *that* bad..

I understood dozens of Polish technical terms from the site, including "katana", "kashira", "menuki" and even "saya" (which I think means 'VAT not included') ;)

29th November 2010, 18:29
I only use a sharp sword for personal practise now... too many opportunities for an accident in a class full of beginners!
They do stop you being careless, as you are aware of the edge if you have any sense at all!:laugh:
A friend of mine has one for sale at 3000 euros which is a modern blade...as above they are not expensive if you look around. If you are lucky enough to be a small sword user (under 2.35) you can even pick up a nice gunto blade for about $1500!

29th November 2010, 21:20
. That takes into account balance & weight, although I've found that shinken tend to weigh a lot more because they are intended for cutting tatami omote & bamboo.

Hope this clarifies things a bit.

To add confusion though, Shinken are quite often Nihonto and used for Cutting. ;)

1st December 2010, 07:45
Unfortunately true, Maro, although those of us who collect them tend to treat Nihonto as the art-forms they really are. There are a finite number of Nihonto, whereas modern blades can be made in whatever quantities the market will bear.

So my shinken gets a good workout, while my Nihonto sit quietly in the katanadansu where I can easily remove & study them as the caretaker that I really am.

2nd December 2010, 02:59
terms again. and context, maybe. there are a finite number of antique nihonto, and an even smaller number of those worth collecting. but nihonto are being made today as we speak, by smiths striving their hardest to perfect their art and show their spirit. not in large numbers, true.
my dojo visited Japan recently and was invited to the forge of an award-winning smith. We saw several blades he had made, and had the chance to actually purchase one.
the reason for the invite? this smith was popular among the members of our hombu dojo in Japan. I visited two years ago, purchased one to use at the annual tai kai. Surprisingly, the smith was there to see his sword in use, in kata and shizan (no pressure :) ). He came back again the next year, watched again, even stayed at the same hotel we were in, eat and drank with us. And invited us to his forge, to see his work with fire and steel. And invited us to use his work, give it life.
yes, they are objects of art, and we are the caretakers. but our art is to use them, no? my nihonto are respected, admired, and used. (not the antique ones, so much).


2nd December 2010, 11:25
My question is how well balanced are these non Japanese Shinken and do they suit the Iaido practitioner well?Very, and yes.

That said, it depends on the sword. I have practiced briefly with a lovely nihonto that I was tempted to run off with (even though the owner may murder me), but I have also used a Ģ5500 shinken that felt downright odd (and vile) by comparison to the non-JP sword I use that is less than half the value.

1st January 2011, 04:40

Hope no one minds some input from the other side of the anvil.

Swords are being made today..right now that are, in many ways better than the antiques from generations past. Certainly they do not have the "history" that the old blades have but they work just as well, and in some cases better than an "old" blade. Now I know this will get alot of folks' knickers knotted up..but modern metallurgy coupled with traditional techniques can make some amazing swords... But this is not always the case...

Just like in the "days back when"..there was the "good stuff" and there was "junk" being made. Same today, even more so actually, as it seems that almost every time I turn around there's someone new making "traditional Japanese swords" and most of them feel like a crowbar in the hand with not even the slightest attempt ay any sort of "refinement".. But be that as it may, there are still quite a few places you can go to get a very good sword at what I can say an "honest price"...

But first you have to decide upon what YOU want it to "do" and the needs it must meet. Do you want object d'art or you want something to cut with? If all you want is a "mat cutter"..you could do a whole lot worse than a through hard 5160 or 9260 blade mounted up solid with quality tsuka, ito and mounts. From the "user" point of view you reduce the chance of sword damage from failure in technique and/or form by using a "through hard" (no Hamon) sword. Expect to spend anywhere from a few hundred up to about 2500 depending upon the maker, mounts and particulars.

If you must..just MUST have a Hamon on a Differentially Heat treated blade, you can go several ways...Mono-steel like a 10XX series as in say 1070, or a low alloy, shallow hardening steel like L-6. Here you get into the maker as well as the steel. Decent steel with a bad heat treat is no good. Know your maker and ask questions...hard questions and if he gives you some "out there" answer..well..I'd walk away first to think whether on not I want him to make me anything. If he is open and forthcoming and answers your questions to your satisfaction..well maybe you are onto something.

One piece blades are to me, from a "user" point of view the best way to go..Less chances of messing up...now you are looking at about twice the costs of a TH blade..given the additional costs of the hand work to bring out the Hamon.

Now another avenue to explore is if you must have a "laminated" blade..Here again, the PROPER materials in the right combination and "put together" the right way done by someone who KNOWS what they are doing..That's the "key" element here, and for quality you should very well expect to pay for it... Here in the US prices from a decent, top drawer smith like Mr. Mike Bell (or his son BTW) can start at 3500 US$ on up for just the blade in a "user" polish.

I know that my own prices are in that range for that sort of work.

(now you are probably wondering to yourself "Who the Hell is this guy and how come he is saying this stuff??"..which is fine..I have been playing about with swords for 40 plus years now...hopefully I figured a few things out by now..made a few thousand of them and am just finishihg my 4th book on that subject...and I am talking from a maker/user point of view..nothing more or less)

I know this answer probably isn't as prescise as you'd like but a sword is a very personal thing indeed. There are so many ways to go with this but I get the feeling that you are just "starting out" with this so I can give you this one bit of advice that may help.. Get the best sword you can afford...

Now I am attching a photo of a "non traditional, but traditionally made" dai-sho I finished up for myself that I use for cutting demos every now and then..and I cringe each time I cut with them cause I know the amount of work I put into them..These are laminate Kobuse construction with a nice hamon and showing decent hada. These were done as research pieces for my 4th book...

Anyway...Like I said swords are in general, a very perosnal thing and this is even more so with Nihonto and even with Shinken actually....So look around, ask questions and I know you will do fine..

Hope this helps...