Photographer's Note

Considered a sacred art and only performed by Masters of the Trade, fabricating a katana can take weeks, and even months to make.

This Master from the Minosaka factory in Seki City, Gifu Prefecture (established by sword-smiths more than 400 years ago) was providing a small glimpse during a demonstration for sword construction. This particular city (with over 800 years of knife/sword tradition) was comprised of some 300 other swords-smiths during the Muromachi Period (A.D.1338 - A.D. 1573).

Folklore heros like Oda Nobunaga revered the sword-smiths of Seki for the fine tradition, quality and craftsmanship of their swords.

As with many complex endeavors, rather than a single craftsman, several artists were involved. There was a smith to forge the rough shape, often a second smith (apprentice) to fold the metal, a specialist polisher (called a togi) as well as the various artisians that made the koshirae (the various fittings used to decorate the finished blade and saya (sheath) including the tsuka (hilt), fuchi (collar), kashira (pommel), and tsuba (hand guard).

The Japanese sword blade is formed from a combination of two different steels, a harder outer jacket wrapped around a softer, inner core. This creates a blade which has a hard, sharp cutting edge with an inner core which is resilient and able to absorb shocks in a way which reduces the possibility of the blade breaking or bending when used in combat.

In combat, the act of cutting, required a special technique, called "ten-uchi." Ten-uchi refers to an organized motion made by arms and wrist, during a descending strike. As the sword is swung downwards, the elbow joint drastically extends at the last instant, popping the sword into place. This motion causes the swordsman's grip to twist slightly and if done correctly, is said to feel like wringing a towel. This motion itself caused the katana's blade to impact its target with sharp force, and is used to break initial resistance. From there, fluidly continuing along the motion wrought by ten-uchi, the arms would follow through with the stroke, dragging the sword through its target. Because the katana slices rather than chops, it is this "dragging" which allows it to do maximum damage, and is thusly incorporated into the cutting technique. At full speed, the swing will appear to be full stroke, the katana passing through the targeted object. The segments of the swing are hardly visible, if at all. Assuming that the target is, for example, a human torso, ten-uchi will break the initial resistance supplied by shoulder muscles and the clavicle. The follow through would continue the slicing motion, through whatever else it would encounter, until the blade inherently exited the body, due a combination of the motion and its curved shape.

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Additional Photos by Brendon Hicks (Brendon) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 81 W: 9 N: 61] (289)
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