Japanese Sword Chopironedge

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The Art of Japanese Sword Making

Of all sword-making nations and cultures, none has received such veneration and praise as the Japanese. This is partly because of the unique martial philosophy of Japan, which preserved the ideal of the perfect warrior, dedicated to the service of his master, right into the modern era. This ennobling of the arts of personal combat, with its total commitment to live for honor and to die bravely, was called the way of the warrior, or bushido. Its practitioners were called the bushi, or samurai, and its tools were the katana and wakizashi swords.

The katana was first seen during the Muormachi era in Japan, a time in the 15th and 16th centuries when the Muormachi Shogunate was first established. A period of civil war, the samurai were leaned on heavily during this time, and they felt the need to develop a sword blade suited to rapid draw- to smite their enemies in a single blow, from the draw, and so impact a severe initial blow to the battle. This sword was the katana, and its unique characteristic was the slight curve that eased the line of the draw, and subsequent blow. In combination with its exceptional sharpness and balance, this made the katana an awesome weapon of first strike.

The makers of the katana sought to harmoniously balance the two essential features of a combat sword- the need for exceptional sharpness, and the need for a blade they could withstand impact without bending or breaking. Sharpness requires a high-carbon steel edge, but durability requires a low-carbon, malleable steel. Japanese sword makers sought to perfect the combination of these two steel types into one blade by a process of wrapping a core of durable low-carbon steel with an edge and flanges of high carbon steel.

The billet made of these combined segments of steel was then heated, folded and hammered, as many as sixteen times, to achieve a blade of the utmost purity. Once the basic katana blade has been thus formed, it was strengthened by a process of precise quenching, in clay slurry. It is the composition of this slurry, and its application in the quenching process that is considered one of the sword makers defining signatures. By ensuring the spine of the blade has a thicker coating than the edge, the quenching is concentrated on the edges. The differential quenching provides the extra hardness along the edge of the blade, and it also causes the katana to curve along the spine, assuming its distinctive shape.

The final element to providing an incomparable sharpness to the sword involved the prolonged and careful polishing of the blade. This was achieved using a sequence of polishing stones, each with a finer grain than the next, that were successively applied over a period of weeks- until the blade glimmered with a mirrored glazing. This frictionless surface greatly added to the overall cutting power of the katana- and it was now ready to be applied to the exacting demands of the Iado. This was the sweeping strike that cleaved an opponent on the first draw- a technique which the samurai mastered to awesome effect.

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