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Muramasa/Masamune Japanese swords

Discussion in 'All Things Japanese' started by tetsunihon, Nov 23, 2003.

  1. tetsunihon

    tetsunihon yamatai dragontiger
    先輩

    Jul 29, 2003
    105
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    Konnichi wa, I had checked out this book on "Secrets of the Samurai" and found a lot of good information on almost every Samurai in Japanese history. I also found a small stroy about the blacksmiths Muramasa and Masamune. they were blacksmiths who created the toughest and sharpest steel. But one of them was considered evil along with his sword. How true is this story?:bow:

    does anybody know or heard of Masamune and Muramasa?
     
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  2. KaterinaH

    KaterinaH 後輩
    後輩

    Nov 24, 2003
    3
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    Hello, there.

    I have some information for you regarding Muramasa.

    The sword of Muramasa is considered evil among family of Tokugawa, who ruled Japan during Edo period. According to the history, it was said that first general (seii taishogun) Ieyasu Tokugawa's father was assacinated by the Muramasa sword. Also Ieyasu's eldest son, Nobuyasu, killed himself by doing hara-kiri with the Muramasa Sword. Therefore, the Tokugawa family extremely detested Murasame Sword believeing it would bring bad fortune to them and the idea became universal through the country.

    This is how much I know about it right now. If I happen to get more information on this, I will post them again here for you.

    Hope it will answer some of your questions.
     
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  3. tetsunihon

    tetsunihon yamatai dragontiger
    先輩

    Jul 29, 2003
    105
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    swords

    wow, so it is true, so it is also tru that the, correct me if I'm wrong, blacksmiths guild in Japan, did wipe out there recognition for making high quality swords due to the fact that those inccidents happeb in the Tokugawa family? So general, based on what the book described not many people would know to much about there craftsmenship there after.

    It also mentioned that Masamune, Muramasa's teacher, tempered swords of pure steel in a way to be considered a master, I wonder if its possible to discover his secrets if Masamune's craftsmenship created extremly sharp swords.
     
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  4. Mandylion

    Mandylion Omnipotence personified
    先輩

    Mar 15, 2003
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    From what I have read, the trouble in copying Masamune was in getting the hamon (wavy looking thing on the blade after it is heat tempered) and how he managed to achieve very high temperatures in his forges.

    It is really quite simply to create a very sharp sword. You really couldn't use it for anything but cutting strips of paper to impress the ladies as the edge would be too brittle to take any battle punishment. I think what people get really excited about with Masamune is the looks and the talent he had in his refined smithing process (and all the legend stuff).

    "wow, so it is true, so it is also tru that the, correct me if I'm wrong, blacksmiths guild in Japan, did wipe out there recognition for making high quality swords due to the fact that those inccidents happeb in the Tokugawa family? So general, based on what the book described not many people would know to much about there craftsmenship there after."

    I don't get this. Could you please reword it so I know exactly what you are after here? Thanks :)

    Just because it is worth repeating, let's not forget that Japanese swords were nothing more than hunks of iron shaped in various ways. They had no special powers, were no better than the hand that held them, and were no better nor worse that swords made in Europe etc. Sorry for the soap-boxing, but Japanese swords often suffer from grave misconceptions.
     
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  5. TheNewBeeFCaKe

    後輩

    Jan 5, 2004
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    From what i have read, Masamune's swords were art swords but they were also able to be used in combat. What made his swords Unique, besides the artwork on the sowrds crafted, were that they were tempered in a way that made them Extreemly sharp but not brittle at all and when they were held they was almost weightless. To this day no one that I ever heard of can recreate the process of which the swords were made, the secret may be lost to time. Although I would love to get my hands on one, today masamune's are priceless as they were back then. Theres a nice site I found on one of the masamunes if you wanna check it out.
     
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  6. TheNewBeeFCaKe

    後輩

    Jan 5, 2004
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    #6
  7. NinjaEmperor

    NinjaEmperor New Member

    Jan 15, 2004
    227
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    Well I know that Muramasa's blades were amongs the finest in Japan, but the most interesting thing is that I know about Muramasa sword from the ninja game Tenchu: Wreath of Heaven and in there Muramasa is a magic sword that allows you to kill the undead and zombies, it is constantly drains your health though, but no more then one point and it adds a health to you anytime you kill the undead or zombie and it is also glows with blue light. Funy thing it is how they used a real sword in the game! Say, anybody knows whether Izayo or Fugaki swords are real? Domo Arigato!
     
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  8. Mandylion

    Mandylion Omnipotence personified
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    Mar 15, 2003
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    Thanks for the nice link :)

    Just a few thoughts; Basically you have it right. We should be careful about what brittle means though. Any super-hard, sharp edge is going to be brittle. Part of Masamune's artistry was the brillance (shine) he was able to get on his swords. This was done by tempering the blade at very high temps. However, if you heat a blade up, stress builds up in the metal that causes it to become brittle (the entire sword, not just the edge). Masamune was able to develop steps in his manufacturing process that would relieve the stresses and give a stronger sword with a more brilliant shine to it than other smiths of his day. They were lighter probably because many of his surviving blades have a distinct taper (blade gets narrower) the length of the blade (so I have read). Weightless is a bit much.

    However, no super-hardened, sharp edge can be made less brittle. The edge is usually the hardest part of the sword (different temperings (hardness for the edge and back give it strengh). It needs to be so to be sharp for a long period of time. You are correct when you say Masamune's swords were not brittle (as in the entire sword). Otherwise he would not be a good swordsmith. But I too was correct in saying a super-sharp sword of the kind we hear of in legends (cutting leaves drifting down streams / cutting silk scarves falling through the air) would not be able to last in battle.

    Were Masamune's swords sharp? Sure. It is safe to assume they were. Were they sharper than what most other smiths could make? I'll even give you that one too. But we have to give Masamune more credit as a smith in that he would probably not go around making his blade with edges so brittle they would chip out at the slightest provocation. I don't know if they were ever used in battle, but if they were as highly prized then as now, why risk damaging one?

    Just for fun, say the great art museums of the world had a paintball game (since paintball was mentioned on another thread). Each director of each museum could choose one painting to act as a shield, but they could also wack at other directors with it if they felt like it. Chances are really good in the hurrly-burrly paintings will get splattered, torn, or in some way damaged or destroyed. The directors want to choose a painting that shows off a little, but should they be running around bashing people with their Van Gogh and Monet? Why not choose something less rare, but still impressive (say an Ansel Adams)? If you are a high-ranking general or shogun, I imagine the same would go for your swords.
     
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    Maciamo likes this.
  9. Zero-sen

    Zero-sen New Member

    Dec 20, 2003
    71
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    :"let's not forget that Japanese swords were nothing more than hunks of iron shaped in various ways. They had no special powers, were no better than the hand that held them, and were no better nor worse that swords made in Europe etc. Sorry for the soap-boxing, but Japanese swords often suffer from grave misconceptions"

    I am sorry but i have to disagree. The Katana was far supoerior to the "crusader blades" or european edged weapons in their primary use and construction. Folded steel is far stronger and resilient than pressed or hammered steel. The katana was designed as both offensive and defensive weapon. I have used both types of swords and attempting to block with the side of a western blade and it'll bent right over on you, Try the same with the Japanese Katana and you can rest assured you won't have to discard your sword. I'm no expert on western edged weapons or Japanese edged weapons, but i did study (against my own will) the crusades and the english civil war, but didn't western swords need a dagger or something to block and parry with? A Japanese blade needed no such backup weapon it's prety fearsome on it's own. Also as for the cutting aspect Japanese swords were/are superrior. I belive Stephen Turnbull the Japanese historian commisioned a study into this too.

    Curved weapns are far more efficient at this job than straight edged weapons, especially for cavalary. Mainly due to curves moving more efficiently in an arc than a straight line. Imagine charging someone with your nice spanish steel blade and smacking the guy (who is also wearing a helmet) square in the face and wheeling round to find.....he's still standing. Fair enough if the sword was extremely sharp you may have cut or even damaged the helmet. Try the same on the same guy with a Katana and you can guarantee the guy's head'll split like a melon. I have quite a bit of Tameshigiri experience and i have tried this with both my own katana ( the tiger by Paul Chen ), and with the Hanwei forge western blades. Whilst they are in no way near the quality of the older blades (This is in no way to disrespect Mr Chen, his blades are excellent), This does give a real sense of what you're up against.

    With regards to the skill of the weilder, yes i will agree with you there, if the swordsman using the blade is a complete amateur then he will get cut to pieces regardless of how good his sword is.

    On bamboo the Straight weapons would get lodged and would require alot of brute strenght to remove, the Katana does not, if it gets lodged a slight tug and a twist of the torso will free the Katana quite easily.
    Yes i will admit i do have a bias towards the Japanese weapons but in a stabbing role the two weapons are just about equal. This is just my two cents.:note: :bow:
     
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    Last edited: Jan 17, 2004
  10. Mandylion

    Mandylion Omnipotence personified
    先輩

    Mar 15, 2003
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    You've got some good points here. I would like to take a stab at responding. By the way, are you aware of www.swordforum.com If you like this stuff you should check it out, if you haven't already.

    Folded steel can be stronger, but Europeans used a variety of construction methods which also yeilded very stong, flexible blades too (including folding). Also, both the ages of the knight and samurai spanned hundreds of years. Unless we limit our conversation to a specific time period, doing the euro vs. jpn thing is like the apples and oranges thing. For example, Vikings could fold and weld in patterns that could be more complex than a Japanese sword. Perhaps the swords of the Crusades were sub-par (I'm not familiar with that period) in the metallurgical sense.

    Folding steel does not by itself make a strong blade. Folding helps to even out the carbon distribution in the metal and work out the impurities of a low grade material (Japanese smiths used iron sand for a period before imports from abroad became available) and make a stronger blade that way. Folding steel of already high quality won't make it much stronger, and in fact introduces the chance for messing it up and making it weaker. If you have something of high quality already, you will get a strong blade without fancy folding, cores of soft steel and springy outer skins.

    Blade strength will come down to the skill of the smith and the materials at hand. Both cultures made plenty of ho-hum swords, folded and not.

    What kind of sword were you using and what did you hit it with? If you smack a thin rapier (think three musketeers) on the flat with a kataka, darn right it might bend! Simple physics. Thick sword hits thinner sword on thinnest face - thin sword bends. If you tried the same thing on something like a longsword or a claymore you will get a different result. I have heard stories of well made katanas bending while cutting tatami because of a twisting of the blade on the part of the user. Steel is steel and all of it will bend under the right conditions. Folded or unfolded, Japanese or european really doesn't have much to do with it.

    Eurpoean swords were used defensively and offensively as well, but they also had armour, shields, off-hand weapons to deal with or rely on as well(depending on the time period).

    Different strokes for different periods. The weapons you are thinking of are called off-hand weapons and were used for blocking and perhaps attack. These made an appearence mainly with the rapier (again think musketeers) and at fairly advanced stage of european weaponry (around the Renaissance I think? Books not handly...please correct me). Back when knights were still in plate armor and such, sword techniques usually called for the ability to use both hands (half-swording etc). With the rapier and main-gauche [sic?] combatants were lightly armored, if at all, and so could not count on a suit of armor to absorb or deflect blows.

    As armor and fighting styles developed in Europe, weapons and their uses changed too. The Japanese seemed to find something they liked and stuck with it, preferring variations on a theme. This dymanics in European tactics does not denote inferiority, nor does the static nature of the Japanese sword say they had the best sword ever. Both places faced different situations and developed accordingly).

    Yes the Japanese katana, or any curved weapon, work very well on horseback and your geometry is correct. Indeed on an unarmored target the Japanese blade will probably cut better. This is not to say European swords were not as sharp or couldn't deliver a nasty cut. Forensic archeology has pointed this out. I would choose to run my bare hand along neither a katana nor a long sword, that you very much :) There were also European blades designed to maximize the cut - broadsword, backswords, falchions etc. Plus, a sword does not have to be razor sharp to kill someone.

    Please don't be running at people with swords! :) All things being equal (sword weight etc) I think you could expect to finish up with one dented helmet and two damaged swords.

    This is a bit of apples and oranges again and the time period issue. If your point is just about cutting power through armor, there is plenty on the Net about such stuff an I encourage you to browse the link I included at the top of this post. In short, swords of any culture did not do well against armor under battlefield conditions . I am aware of the controlled tests with a katana on a helmet. There were several flaws with this test, and it resulted only in cutting a few inches, hardly enough to kill a man who would probably be wearing padding and such under that. Add in the chaos and uncontrolled nature of battle and you are much more assured of a kill by going for a gap in a bit of armor than trying to cut through it. Thrust to the face would do just as well if you are keen on head injury (esp. with most open-faced Japanese helmets). Under the right conditions and with a blade designed to do so, aromor shearing results could probably be reproduced for any culture's weapons, not just the katana.

    Lastly, a sharp sword is not going to "cut" through armor any better than a duller one. Getting through thick metal has much more to do with blade geometry, weight and momentum.

    Thanks for the great post Zero-sen! I can see where you are coming from and from experience a lot of the east vs. west sword thing is just a matter of preference and brass tacks. It can be really hard to compare two such different martial traditions!
    :bow:
     
    #10
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2004
    Maciamo likes this.
  11. Iron Chef

    Iron Chef Villain
    先輩

    Feb 26, 2003
    2,283
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    "I would like to take a stab at responding."

    No pun intended right?
    :)
     
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  12. Maciamo

    Maciamo Twirling dragon
    先輩

    Jul 17, 2002
    3,333
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    Very interesting discussion Mandylion and Zero-sen !

    It's quite amazing to see that Japanese "fashion" has evolved so little through the centuries, especially from Heian times (9th c.) to late Edo period (late 19th c.). Both male and female kimono have hardly evolved, and apparently so have weapons, except maybe for an "upgrade" around sengoku-jidai (late 16th c.), possibly related to the first contact with Europeans and firearms. Japanese still wear kimonos on some occasions (or often, for some older ladies), but no Westerner would wear 13th c. crimson velvet robes and hats, nor Renaissance HenryVIII-like puffed shoulders and thighs with knee-high stockings, nor 17th c. long curly brown wigs with long blue or red jackets and a ruff, nor the shorter 18th c. white wigs and triangular hats, with a waistcoat, jacket and white tights, nor the early 19th c. high-collar black suits with white shirts and a huge white necktie... I could continue like that for ages. Actually, fashion has changed noticeably almost every decade since the 18th c. in Europe. Without Westernisation, Japanese would certainly be wearing the same kind of clothes as 1000 years ago now.

    Zero-sen has made the mistake of seeing history as unevolutive, because he based himself to much on Japan. 11-12th century crusaders have little to do with 15-16th century knights or conquistadors, and even less with 17th century musketeers, 18th and 19th c. infantry and cavalry regiments. Guns (from muskets & canons to rifles and artillery) have been used in Western countries from the late 15th century, i.e. 100 years before the Tokugawa Shogunate. But the samurai battle style in Japan didn't change until Meiji, about 400 years later than Europe. Masamune and the like lived when Europe has already colonised America and people like Cortes and Pizarro had defeated army of millions of Aztecs and Quechuas (=>Inca), what Japanese samurai with their best katanas would never been able to do (even after seeing the Last Samurai :D ).

    However, swords were still in use during the Edo period the West. Think of Napoleonian Hussards and Dragoons or, 60 years later, US Civil War Cavalry. Eventhough I am no expert in blades, their curved sabers were probably as good as the katanas of the time.
     
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  13. Mandylion

    Mandylion Omnipotence personified
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    Mar 15, 2003
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    As an aside, I found this neat discussion about a samurai vs. a knight. I know these things are kicked around a lot on the web, but this page is a great overview to all the issues invloved and why these types of questions are so hard to answer.

    http://www.thearma.org/essays/knightvs.htm (article)

    Also it also talks about all the things we have been going into with regards to historical periods. The rest of the site goes to a group that work a lot with historical Western martial arts and is worth a look.

    http://www.thearma.org/ (homepage)
     
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  14. Winter

    Winter Gag me with a spoon
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    Nov 19, 2003
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    Not sure if its been said since I havent bothered to read all the replies, but Masamune's decendant still forges swords for clients. He's 26th gen. swordsmith.

    I'm having one created from him to start a new family tradition, since most of my original traditions died out with the elders in my bloodline.
     
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  15. Kneppy

    Kneppy 後輩
    後輩

    Mar 3, 2004
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    Hey Winter, does this decendant of Masamune have a website or any way to contact him about making a katana? I've been searching for him for a while now and am interested in purchasing a sword from him.

    Thanks
     
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  16. Crag

    Crag Hitokiri
    先輩

    Oct 29, 2003
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    im prety shure its true
     
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  17. tetsunihon

    tetsunihon yamatai dragontiger
    先輩

    Jul 29, 2003
    105
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    decendent


    wow thats awsome, can you design a sword and have him craft it. and how much does he charge for crafting these swords?
     
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  18. Hachiko

    Hachiko Member

    Jan 17, 2004
    1,384
    7
    Of course, as many should know, the Muramasa sword was emphasized (cheapened, perhaps?) in the anime/manga Samurai Deeper Kyo...

    [​IMG]
     
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  19. Mandylion

    Mandylion Omnipotence personified
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    Mar 15, 2003
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    Most Japanese blades made by a Japanese smith in Japan with traditional methods start at around 5,000 USD for the bare blade. Once you add on a gaurd, handle, scabbard, wraps and other stuff, you will start getting close to 8,000 USD. The blade is made by one person, polished by another, assembled by a third, and making a scabbard is its own art all together.

    There are lots of cheap Chinese and other made blades. However, quality can varry widely. If you are looking for something more than a display sword, be thinking around 600 USD or more.

    Lastly, swords are not toys. If you want to see what happens with cheap cr*p, or when you do stupid things with weapons - visit this link.

    http://www.933flz.com/audio/Knives.mpeg

    OUCH!
     
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    Last edited: Mar 4, 2004
  20. Winter

    Winter Gag me with a spoon
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    Nov 19, 2003
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    tetsunihon: As far as I know, no, you cannot do that, nor should you do that.

    Swordsmiths are masters in their art; to tell them what to do, would be like telling the Pope how to pray.

    For instance, would you ask a prayer from the Pope, but request it done via a Pagan ritual?

    My point is when you are blessed with the presence of a master blacksmith, dont expect to demand things. Not that you would, but if you want your own personal styled blade, become a smith yourself.

    When you are getting a sword from these types of masters, you are getting generations of history, tradition, art. You get what they give, in short.

    Kneppy: I'm pretty certain he doesnt have a site. I mean, this field of art isnt there as a commercial business.
     
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  21. Mandylion

    Mandylion Omnipotence personified
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    Mar 15, 2003
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    I agree in part Winter. There are some smiths who don't mind making custom pieces. It is a cooperative project though and the smith is the one who has the last word.

    Usually you can tell right off if the smith will make custom pieces. Plus you will probably find him/her by word of mouth.

    Winter is right though - Japanese smiths usually don't do custom work after they get to a particular level. There are plenty of American and European ones who will - and the only difference you will get in most cases is cost and pedigree.
     
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  22. Kneppy

    Kneppy 後輩
    後輩

    Mar 3, 2004
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    Thanks Winter. How did you find out about this man? I am a collector of bladed weapons. How would I be able to get a hold of him if I do not have the ability to go to Japan and know no Japanese?

    Thanks
     
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  23. Mandylion

    Mandylion Omnipotence personified
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    Mar 15, 2003
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    I'm curious too, as last I knew, his family - if it still is around - doesn't make swords anymore. Masamune's secrets / skills passed on with him. No one has been able to replicate his work.

    Has someone picked it up again? I'd be interested in that story...
     
    #23
  24. tetsunihon

    tetsunihon yamatai dragontiger
    先輩

    Jul 29, 2003
    105
    1
    masamune


    well i have to agree but I read a book about samurai's and it also mentioned that he had an apprentice named I believe shiro Muramasa. He was trained in masamune's style but developed swords that were deamed cursed. So if Masamune died with his secrets maybe Muramasa has desendents that still crafts swords since the styles are some what close. Plus Muramasa name was banished from the guild wich could allow him and his desendents continue the art without wide regonition.

    But then thats my speculation.....
     
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  25. tetsunihon

    tetsunihon yamatai dragontiger
    先輩

    Jul 29, 2003
    105
    1
    blacksmithing

    yes you are right but I would dishonor the blacksmith by telling him what to do. What I would like to do is show him the design and let him craft as he see fit. Like telling the architect to design a stylized house and he comes up with a workable design that fits the environment....

    That what I would like.... being to ask him to craft a sword that is similar to what I designed but in his style. For instance Would like a two pairs wakizashi swords craft as one with a dragon ornamented hilt and the other with a tiger ornamented hilt. The blade would definitly be his tempered work. That what I mean.

    What do you think?
     
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