Heir 's Duty

Maeda clan's warrior

Swordstore now offers Japanese art in both antique and high quality limited reproductions. We also have the ability to produce any size (within ratio) reprint that you desire whether your intention is to place in a frame, use as a banner or decorate an entire wall space – we can do it! About this scroll: This scroll was commissioned for a 1st son’s (Inuchiyo) first battle. It is unlikely that he would’ve been allowed anywhere near a battle but the number of heads taken is meant to exaggerate his prowess and as of yet untested courage. Original with kantei (documentation) available.

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Iaito-FAQ

Construction Times For Iaito:

Your custom iaito will be handmade, fitted, and balanced.  Only the best products available are used. Each order is taken by queue.  Models for Entry Level, #1A typically take 6 to 7 weeks from inception of order to delivery. Models #1001-3003 typically take about 7 to 8 weeks. The #4004 can take 8 to 10 weeks.  Special requests such as special lengths, special weight instructions, or specialty saya can add to construction times.

Please understand that delays can happen.  This is usually during the last stage of manufacture when the nuri or lacquer is  being applied.  An order can be ahead of schedule but end up being delayed during this last process due to weather, contamination or production issues.

What is the Construction Time for a Steel Iaito?

Steel Iaito:

In order to comply with Japanese law, steel iaito are a joint venture between Japan and the PRC.  It is currently illegal to make a steel iaito in Japan regardless of various marketing claims!  This requires that a rather tedious process regarding government paperwork take place and construction times are impacted by this reality.  Typically it takes4-6 months to complete a custom steel iaito. Like iaito, specialty requests can add to construction time.

What is the Construction Time for an Iaito?

Your custom iaito will be handmade, fitted, and balanced.  Only the best products available are used.

Each order is taken in queue.  Models for Entry Level, #1A typically take 6 to 7 weeks from inception of order to delivery. Models #1001-3003 typically take about 7 to 8 weeks. The #4004 can take 8 to 12 weeks.  Special requests such as special lengths, special weight instructions, or specialty saya can add to construction times.

Please understand that delays can happen.  This is usually during the last stage of manufacture when the nuri or lacquer is  being applied.  An order can be ahead of schedule but end up being delayed during this last process due to weather, contamination or production issues.  

Swordstore will do the best job possible in expeditiously handling your order.  We do not have the ability to exert influence over some aspects of the delivery process including any needed government involvement such as Customs Inspections, tarriffs etc.

Why is Proper Sword Fit Important?

Why is Proper Sword Fit Important?

A blade that is too short or too long can alter the way you train and promote bad habits and injury.  Although we can’t see how you practice and won’t be held accountable for offering incorrect advice, we’re proud to claim that we’ve helped thousands of clients over the years.  By learning some simple things like how long the client has practiced, height, weight, right hand description and style of swordsmanship we are able to offer suggestions but ultimately it is up to the client to decide what is best.

What Is Proper for Weight and Balance?

A)     What about Weight and Balance?

This is a subjective issue. The blades that some consider to be light others believe to be heavy.  We have different physiques and capacities and over time our perceptions can change with practice as well. 

The molecular weight of metal remains constant.  This is a fancy way for saying more metal equals more weight.  carbon steel is heavier than Zn-Al alloy. 

Usually an iaito can be adjusted to "feel" like a shinken even though the weights do not match precisely.  This is why Swordstore's artisans hand fit and balance each blade made regardless of model! 

  • We can special order a blade without Hi (groove). Please note that the absence of a hi also removes a tool from the craftsman’s arsenal for properly balancing the blade. 

There are 4 blade types available depending upon blade length for weight: 

  • The thinnest blade is not typically offered outside of Japan as it is aimed at very young and petite Japanese children and typically too light for markets outside of Japan.
  • A middle weight blade is offered through 2.4.0 shyaku (about 72.7 cm/ 28.6 in.).   I would caution a prospective client that though it might appear counter-intuitive that a blade that is TOO light can actually exacerbate chronic repetitive motion injuries.  Therefore we prefer to discuss this option selection case by case and do not offer it as an automated choice on our web site at this time.  Please contact us if you believe this is the best option for you.
  • We provide a standard blade thickness as well and unless otherwise specified will be the blade type selected for most orders.
  • For longer blades, those exceeding 2.4.5 shyaku (about 74.3cm / 29.25 in.) we can also offer a “heavy weight” blade. 

Swordstore.com will not offer an EXACT blade weight.  There are billions of permutations when all options are considered that will impact the true weight of the iaito which would make exact weight statements impractical.  More to the point, 5g or 50g probably won’t make much difference in feel depending upon where the weight is placed.  Some tsuba (swordguards) are heavier than others but when added to fuchi/kashira, menuki and tsuka length can alter the blade weight by over 400g.  Our artisans believe that balance is a more critical issue than weight.  A lighter blade that is poorly balanced will feel heavier and demand more work that a heavier blade that is properly balanced. 

We strive to balance each blade so that the blade tip is responsive.  No one wants the feel of a dead tip. 

Traditionally weight is measured of the entire blade in koshirae (sword furniture) but without the saya (scabbard).

Swordstore realizes that some companies offer an exact weight.  They are able to do this because the parts are standardized and just fit together and there are fewer choices.  Still, many clients have told us that ultimately the promised weights were not met upon sword completion.

Tell Me About Iaito Construction?

Standard Iaito Construction:

A)     Iaito Construction: 

We offer the best quality blades available on the market today.  These zinc-aluminum (Zn-Al) alloy practice blades are made of the same materials used for sword practice at dojo or training halls throughout Japan. Chosen for their durability, these blades most closely resemble the balance and handling characteristics of the real thing – a Japanese shinken… The alloy is most practical for providing the durability demanded in daily practice regimens. 

Standard iaito are not designed for hard contact or cutting, the Zn-Al alloy is not hard enough to retain an edge. Iaito are designed for the daily practice of kata or repetitive motions. The Zinc-Aluminum is poured into a mold in a molten state and slowly cooled.  A thin layer of copper is electroplated to the blade so that the chrome will anneal in the final step.  The chrome bath's electrical current and duration changes based upon blade length. The process is done by hand and makes each blade unique. 

Over a decade ago an urban myth was started and we at Swordstore.com feel partially responsible for offering the information up in English that we believed to be true which sadly turned out to be false.  We had promoted the idea that there were two different ways to manufacture the blades with one method being inherently superior to the other.  We have subsequently found out that Japanese iaito blade construction utilizes a mold process for making blade blanks and although molds can be different (they have a life and wear out), the process remains the same despite the dubious claims of a particular maker. 

Unlike some of our competitors, we use honoki wood for construction of both our tsuka foundations and our saya.  Some makers use less expensive grades of wood or plastic for the foundation. The woods are inferior, gummy and become brittle.  Plastic is a poor substitute and although usually molded to have a same’ like pattern to avoid the costs of same’ in construction is too soft for a proper tsuka feel.  Swordstore will not use these substitutes in our swords! 

The hamon (we offer notare as a default, suguha, gunome and midare) are applied with a buffing wheel over a template.  Zn-Al is not forged steel with real activity in the blade.

How Do I Select the Correct Model for Me?

A)  Iaito (Mogito) Models:  Zinc-Aluminum Alloy 

B)  Steel Iaito:  Carbon steel with live blades

C)  Japanese Shinken:  Authentic Japanese Swords

The Model #1A Iaito allows the artisans to determine which parts will be used.  In managing parts inventories they are able to discount costs to the client.  This limits the levels of personal choice but does not compromise quality.  The iaito is designed for training and maintains the same standards and materials as our more expensive selections.  It is a great value! 

The Model #1001 Iaito allows for the much greater choice and like the #1A uses premium cotton ito, real same’, honoki and aged bamboo mekugi. 

The only difference between the #2002 and the #1001 is that the price increase reflects the cost of silk vs. cotton. 

Silk vs. Cotton vs. Leather Ito for Wraps:  Everyone has a preference.  Technically silk wears best and offers the best qualities of both shock and moisture absorption while cosmetically offering a great look and sheen.  

Some folks like the softer feel of cotton or the stickier feel of leather. Historically some Japanese instructors chose leather, not so much for the grip but as a silent badge of prosperity as leather was more expensive than silk. Leather does harden with age and the knot can become brittle.  Cotton will fray before silk does with extended use as the fibers are softer. Still, a good wrap should last for years. 

The Model #3003 offers a choice of silver colored fuchi/kashira and menuki at a fraction of the cost of solid sterling silver.  Additionally the tsuba can be ordered as an option.  It is a great look. However the colors might show a golden hue due to the amount of copper in the alloy.

The Model #4004 comes with solid sterling silver fuchi/kashira, and menuki standard.  The habaki is also silver.  The sageo is upgraded to silk. 

All metals patinate and react to our hand acids (pH) and skin oils.  Swordstore has selected jewelers bronze as the base for most of our standard fittings. First the lost wax process is very accurate in picking up details in the original piece and reproducing them for the client to enjoy.  Secondly it is very convenient in terms of maintenance as bronze is not as susceptible to rust as iron is.  When the fittings are new, they've been patinated to a plum brown antiqued iron look. Eventually the hand acids will remove the patina on the reveals and a soft gold iroage will emerge.  The relief accentuates the details of the patterns.  Some clients do prefer the pristine look however.  Swordstore recommends that a hard carnuba wax spray be applied regularily to maintain the original look.  Some clients want to develop the iroage look and can use a diamond pen found at craft shops and hobby stores. 

There are a number of commercial products available to repatinate the tsuba and fuchi/kashira available.  Contact us and we'll be happy to explain the process - it's fun! Silver fittings will darken with age.  You can special request a high polish vs. the darker antique polish that comes standard with orders by commenting on the order form.

The #3003 uses white bronze which will antique more like silver and does not reveal a gold iroage over time.

B)  Steel Iaito:

Realizing that Japanese shinken are expensive we created a training tool for practitioners requiring the demands of a live blade.  These are training tools and we do not suggest that they are appreciable assets that are suitable for collectors.  These swords were specifically designed for the demands of the repetitive motions of kata and for cutting proper targets. 

Bending and stress tests give both blades very similar ratings though the batto yo is more forgiving of an errant cut or target.  The iai yo’s hi (think I-beam) transmits power just as well but the mihaba (face) is not quite as wide in consideration of the repetitive motions of kata.  The fittings, tsuka foundation, saya, ito and habaki are made by the same folks that do the koshirae (furniture) for our shinken. 

These are real carbon steel swords.  The model #6006 is called a batto-yo and is designed specifically for cutting.  It has no hi (groove) and the weight is thrown forward towards the cutting portion of the blade to be more forgiving of an errant cut or uneven target.  The blades are sharp and the basic polish is designed for both soft and hard targets. (read more under polish)   The model #7007 is called an iaiyo and has a hi (groove) and is suitable for both kata and cutting.  Again costs will vary based upon the level of personalization demanded by the client.  Note:  The hamon is not selectable.

C)  Shinken:

Shinken or pure Japanese swords are what it's all about.  We work with some of Japans greatest smiths to make the best swords available at the wholesale level to our clients. 

Today there are just over 300 active smiths in Japan.  Swordstore.com works with approximately 35 of these smiths though admittedly we have our favorites.  We only work with well-established accredited and established smiths.  We do not work with hobbyists or apprentice smiths.

 Each smith is able to set his own business practices and it is well that the client understand that it is the signature or mei on the blade being purchased and not the blade itself.  Each particular smith sets his own policies, selects who will do the polish, habaki, and koshirae as well as his own costs and delivery times.  Quite often the selection of the smith alone is not enough to determine the best value for the client. 

We use the automated form on the shinken page to develop an outline with prospective clients.  However the process is too complex and too personal to really create a fully automated process.  Please allow us time to study your inquiry, request additional information and consider which smith would be a good match. 

The smiths (Toshyo) that we use all start blade construction from tamahagane or iron sand.  They follow traditional methods for sword construction and experts today claim that Japan has reached a new zenith in superior sword making.

Selecting Sword Furniture (koshirae)

Choosing the Right Fuchi/Kashira, Tsuba, Menuki and optional Kojiri for your sword:

Swordstore has gone to great lengths to be able to offer a wide range of motifs that can be mixed and matched successfully. 

Still, the client should understand that the larger the blade and or handle required, the larger the fittings should be to accommodate the size proportionately.  Another consideration is tsuba (sword guard) circumference as a smaller hand might not be as comfortable working with a tsuba of larger diameter. 

Sometimes a narrower or wider tsuka will better resolve an issue that would appear to demand a longer tsuka as well.  Contact us if you have any questions about special needs

The measurements for tsuka are based upon a ratio relationship and do not exactly cover distance from tsuba to kashira for example.  By Japanese sword convention however the tsuka doesn't typically exceed one/third the length of the blade. Within most Japanese sword arts the longer tsuka is frowned upon as getting in the way of doing some techniques efficiently.   

NOTE:  The fuchi/kashira design will impact the shape of a tsuka. 

Many of our fuchi/kashira sets also allow for the optional kojiri selection.  All properly made saya come with kojiri however the metal kojiri option requires that the kojiri be inset into the saya foundation.  The fact is that the lacquer does not bond well with metal and can break apart at the seam.  The kojiri does receive the most shock from inadvertently striking the ground.  For those clients that still want a metal kojiri, I would suggest a rough texture finish such as black stone over a gloss finish as it will probably be more successful long term. 

We will discuss patina later on in the FAQ.  However, we typically make our tsuba, fuchi/kashira, and menuki from Jewelers bronze.  All metal reacts to the air and to the hand acids (pH) of the skin.  Our standard fittings are designed to reveal a warm gold iroage while leaving the dark recesses to dramatically increase the level of detail found in the design of the piece.  We moved away from iron over a decade ago because iron rusts, adds weight and detail is lost in the duplication process.  Some folks prefer the look of iron and this can be reasonably maintained or reproduced by the client as a periodic maintenance, with Swordstore fittings.  There is one exception.  It is difficult to access the menuki which is wrapped by the ito.  

Some clients prefer the silver look without the cost of silver.  The #3003 offers white bronze that is antiqued as well. The silver look will sometimes have a a slight golden hue due to copper content.

Selecting The Proper Handle (Tsuka)

Tsuka Construction and Length and a Good Wrap 

When a craftsman gets an order, he selects two precut pieces of honoki that already have a curved shape.  The length of the tsuka is cut off and the length of the saya is also adjusted from these blocks of wood before shaping commences.  Requests for longer tsuka and/or saya can require a special order for the wood that in many instances has been selected and aged years before the actual use of the item. 

Each wrap is hand made.  Properly made the ito is tight and the diamonds are even. Often quality can in part be judged by the number of diamonds on a tsuka though this should not be over-emphasized.  Proper use (shibori) will actually help tighten the wrap over time.  Improper hand movements can loosen a good wrap.  

By Japanese sword convention the tsuka doesn’t usually exceed one third the length of the blade.  Over the last few decades we’ve seen a growing interest in the West for longer tsuka and Swordstore.com recognizes and tries to meet this client request.  When it comes to Japanese shinken however, some smiths will refuse to break with tradition.  Please understand that it is a source of pride and tradition to these artisans to maintain a standard that bares their name (mei) and reflects on their work quality.  

From a sword practitioner’s point of view there is no one proper way to determine proper tsuka length.  We offer tsuka lengths in increments of about 5 bu or 1.52cm / 0.6in.  Most tsuka are 8 sun (24.2 cm, 9.53 in.), 8.5 sun (25.8 cm, 10.2 in.), or 9 sun (27.2 cm, 10.7 in) and would fit the needs of most clients.  Proper grip would usually dictate a distance of 2 and a half to 3 and a half fingers distance between hands. 

Clients may prefer to send a tracing to Swordstore should trace the right hand from the base of the wrist around fingertips (don’t splay fingers open) to base of thumb.  Although Swordstore.com can’t accept responsibility for sizing, this information will help the artisan evaluate your needs. 

Some wraps are more durable than others.  Therefore the default wrap is hinerimaki.  Despite some unusual comments found on the internet today, “katattemaki” is not a “combat” grip.  Usually it is decorative and it certainly is not superior in terms of durability.  Some clients prefer the menuki placement to be reversed.  This is called “gyakute” menuki and Swordstore is able to provide this service. 

Don't worry it isn't not rocket science!  You will probably not require precision in measuring to the nearest bu (1/12th of an inch) or even a quarter inch.  Sometimes in-between sizes are best resolved by shortening, lengthening, widening or narrowing the tsuka (pommel) or even simply adjusting your grip. 

Some folks think that if one Mekugi/Megukiana (pommel pins/openings) is good that two must be better.  This isn't always so.

 Our tsuka are shimmed tight for daily practice.  We do not glue the tsuka to the nakago (tang).  Typically we provide one mekugi or pin. Upon request we will often provide a second pin, especially for tsuka of longer lengths.  We consider the second pin to be cosmetic. The client should know the facts however; historically the artisans provided a second mekugi as a quick field fix.designed to reduce or eliminate tsuka-gata (sloppiness) between the handle and the nakago on the interior if it was moving around.  This was a short term correction and not considered ideal. 

A second pin does nothing to provide additional protection from shear force.  When cutting, the energy travels along the edges of the nakago and not the pin.  By drilling a second hole in the wood foundation of the tsuka and in the metal of the nakago at the base of the handle where it tapers the foundation can be substantially weakened.  This is compounded by the fact that the practitioner does shibori, the wringing out motion at this strategic ocation.  Sustained use can then break the weakened tsuka foundation. One notable exception might be specific to cutting targets when an extraordinarily long tsuka is used.

 

 

Determining Blade Length?

There is no one universally accepted rule as various styles and teachers have differing opinions about the subject of sizing.  If a sword is too long, the practitioner will compensate in ways that might make for poor technique.  A sword that is too short will not help the student grow to maximum potential.  Short whippy movements might look nice but fail to consider the bigger picture within a combat setting. 

Measuring for a sword is more of an art than a science.  Beginners often feel that any blade length is too long and/or too heavy especially when doing nukutsuke (drawing) and notto (re-sheathing). 

As skills develop many Iai exponents prefer longer and/or heavier blades more representative of real Japanese swords.  Although Swordstore.com can’t accept responsibility for determining proper fit, we often ask questions about  a prospective client’s weight, height, art studied, , school style, length of time studying, a description of the right hand and for comment about any physical attributes that might have a bearing in helping the client determine correct fit.

 I like to say that sword sizing is two parts school bias, two parts teacher bias, two parts physical characteristics and one part personal preference.

 Often clients are “in-between sizes.  We ask for a tracing of the right hand from the base of the thumb, around the finger tips to the base of the wrist without splaying the fingers open. This helps us understand the role of the tsuka (pommel) in the overall design.

 By taking all of these details into account and using Swordstore.com’s capacity to custom fit a sword to a client’s needs we have earned a great reputation in the marketplace for providing the correct training tool to the client. We're here to help! 

Some Iaito / Mogito History...

A little Iaito History: 

Iaito are Zn-Al blades that came into being after WWII and after the Allied Occupation removed the ban on martial arts study. Initially there was some debate amongst high ranking instructors about the efficacy of starting a student off with an iaito vs. a live blade.  The question was whether the student would exercise the same energy and focus with an iaito and hone the skills (pardon the pun) to effectively grow into using a “shinken” or pure sword.

The weight of economics as Japan was just beginning to rebound from the destruction and poverty in the aftermath of  WWII coupled with a strong governmental resistance to having weapons available openly to the public at large compelled the instructors to accept these dull yet durable training swords.

Eventually most instructors not only came to accept but to prefer that beginning students start training with an iaito also known as a “mogito”. Today it is common to see students practice with iaito thru yondan or godan levels before migrating to a shinken.

Classical Measurements

The Classical Measurements:

1 Shyaku = 11.93" = 10 sun

1 Sun =1.19" or 3.03cm = 10 bu 

Japanese sword craft is always interesting and always filled with unusual little twists and turns.  For example:

 

  • ·        Did you know that the tsuka measurement is not supposed to be a precise measure from let’s say tsuba to kashira tip?  Not only are different kashira tips sized differently but the width of the tsuka is impacted by the dimensions of the Fuchi and Kashira.  Therefore the amount of material (ito) is a ratio relationship of sorts.  The thickness of the ito can also have a bearing on the amount of ito used.

Why Should I Care About Sword Fittings?

Japanese blades and sword furniture (Koshirae) have always been highly sought after.  The Japanese artistic range blended the skills of jewelers and smiths with a profound understanding for working with metal, especially non-ferrous copper alloys.

All metals patinate and the Japanese craftsmen of the 15th-16th centuries were probably unrivalled in the world at that time for their colorization and patination techiques.  By mixing alloys, adding chemicals, altering heating techniques these artists brought us inlays of precious metals, and colorization such asshakudo, shibuichi, sentoku, and kuromido.  

Besides these blending and pickling techniques, they refined how they intricately carved and patterned metal with finishes like nanako.  These artisans not only worked to merge form and function for the warrior but also created pieces that were only meant for their artistic beauty and to meet the demands foreign trade.

Several decades ago we offered iron tsuba as a standard for our iaito and shinken.  However iron rusts.  Further, details from the original work of art are lost in reproduction.  These fittings cost more both in the making and in the labor to deburr and finally, add weight to the overall sword.  

We can provide iron tsuba on many (not all) of our tsuba as a $100 option upon request.

We chose to offer both Jewelers Brass and White Jewelers Brass to our clients.  Brass doesn't rust and requires no maintenance.  Further, the lost wax process allows for direct and exacting reproduction of the fine details of the original work, lost in the iron process.

All metals patinate and the pH of the hand acids will interact with the metal over time.  We patinate our fittings and then wax them.  However with use, the higher surfaces a warm golden or pewter glow suggesting Japanese iroage.  The darker crevices and recesses will remain "antiqued" and help reveal interesting details of the design elements of the piece. (Note:  The white brass still can have a yellow hue.)

Some clients prefer the pristine iron look and this can be maintained for the tsuba, fuchi/kashira (menuki are hard to access due to the ito) by wiping off the fittings after practice and occassionally adding a spray carnuba to the surfaces and buffing.  A patination agent such as gun blue can also be re-applied.

Some clients want the iroage to emerge more quickly.  This can also be obtained with the use of a diamond pen.

Although expressed elsewhere on the site, I wanted to remind our clients that Tsuba have different diameters and thicknesses.  Sizes for Kashira/Fuchi vary in diameter and depth.  Menuki too have different lengths and depths.  You can view most of these specs by placing your cursor over the blue "i"icon on the ordering pages.  One should take these sizing differences into consideration when selecting a particularly small fitting for a large sword or conversely a large fitting selection for a smaller sword.

In summary, we want to achieve the greatest range of appeal for all of our clients without sacrificing quality. Whether you are pursuing a golden, silver, or iron look to your design, you can select the fittings to fit your need.