The 'basis' of this essay is from an article that Robert E. Haynes wrote in February, 1997. As he related, "This is not a hard subject, if one has more than a facile ability, in their preception, and are cognitive of what they see."
The senses are the primary source of empirical evidence. Empirical research is a method of gaining knowledge by means of direct and indirect observation or experience. Knowledge arises from the gathering of information using only support that is observable by the senses. Teach yourself to see deeper, than the all too obvious, surface. Naturally I am speaking of the ability to master the comparative judgment of the aesthetic quality of iron. You can sense that iron is extremely difficult to judge, without training yourself first. I asked Robert to "teach me". He replied, "I can help you to train yourself to observe beyond the obvious perception, but the ability to perceive more than the surface will be up to you to learn for yourself, by yourself, over many long years of persevering." In my case, having received a partial education in fine art 40+ years ago, the ability to see is part of the quality of the artist. Everyone can ultimately learn to see an object beyond the surface, and into its depths.
Now I will try and give you a brief history of how I would judge an iron plate tsuba. When I first held a tsuba in my hand I did not have a clue as to what I was seeing. The surface was obvious as an art object, and the configuration of the plate seemed to be no problem. Thus I had the surface of what I was looking at under control, I thought. Then I watched Robert look at a tsuba. I realized I had seen nothing, and I knew nothing about how to look at a tsuba. I needed to learn to see all over again. I asked Robert how he had learned his ability to see the fine points of an iron tsuba. He told me that as a student, he was taught by Dr. Torigoye, along with the lessons in the fine points of fittings. Naturally Dr. Torigoye had been taught by Akiyama Kyusaku how to study a tsuba. It would seem that Akiyama taught himself, during his more than 75 years of study.
During Robert's and my monthly discussion of tsuba, my first question is "What do you see when examining a tsuba?" He replys "First take the iron plate tsuba in your hand and try to see more than the surface." I did this, but could only see the obvious. I asked, "How do I begin to see?" He told me that the first thing that one has to determine, is the age of the tsuba. I tried to do this, but found I had only a vague reference point to judge the age. I must tell you that I have been learning to develope my ability to judge the age of iron tsuba for only 10 years. I have much more to learn in perfecting this ability. Do not be discouraged by my example. You can certainly see the age in chunks of say, one to two hundred year periods. Anyway, you must develop this ability first. Robert's next lesson for me to learn, try to see the "quality" of the iron. Is it well folded? How hard, or dense, does the plate seem? Can you see any of the folding lines? How much hammer work does the plate show? Are the irregularities of the plate surface natural, or created by the maker, as the plate was finished. Then comes the hard part. Try to see beyond the surface. This is where my real education and training began. Robert ended by stating "One can judge the plate quality by seeing into the surface and feeling the hand of the artist who made the plate. The next area is by far the hardest of all, to judge the aesthetic quality of the iron, and the aesthetics of the finished product. That is where your years of self training will come in. Naturally this will not happen with the first group of tsuba one lays their hands on."
I have held hundreds of tsuba in my hand during my years of study, and you must begin to do the same. I still question whether I am making a judgment that is correct. I will continue to see iron plate tsuba that I feel are beyond my abilities to see or understand. They are the ones that interest me the most. For they will advance my knowledge of judgment, when I understand, and solve, their subtleties. Roberts final comment to me was "When one does come to understand the iron plate tsuba, its beauty far surpasses that of any kinko work."
This is the last part of the article that Robert Haynes wrote in February, 1997.
"You will have noticed that I have said nothing, so far, about soft metal plate tsuba made before the Edo period. These pose a problem, almost as great as the study of iron plate tsuba. Unfortunately, very little attention has been paid to these tsuba. Most of the old, and new books, use the same early names, which are very general in nature. Such as Ko-Kinko (old soft metal tsuba), Ko-Goto (old Goto fittings), Tachikanagu-shi (old tachi fittings maker work), or other terms which are nothing more than labels invented to cover a whole field of tsuba art that has never been adequately studied. Much of this neglect stems from the general lack of interest in this area of the art of fittings. There seem to be two reasons for this neglect. The first, is that Akiyama did not take a great deal of interest in these types of fittings, and wrote very little about them. All subsequent authors followed his bent. The second reason, is that the Goto of the Muromachi period, so overshadowed all other soft metal artists that they seemed unimportant by comparison, and that all study of the early artists has been exclusively devoted to the Goto. I feel that a great deal can be learned about all the fittings made before the Edo period, both iron plate and soft metal, through a study of early soft metal fittings. Even though this is now my field of study I feel as much at sea as when I tried to judge my first iron plate tsuba. I have no one, it seems, to guide me, and I can only guess, by what I see, if I am making sound judgments. When I feel I have more facts than theories, then I will try to report on what I have learned." (Haynes)
Elliott D. Long
Shibui Swords and Tsuba