INTRODUCTION OF METHOD OF SWORD JUDGMENT.
Man possesses a natural intelligence whereby he is enabled to guess the form of a thing by hearing the sound it produces, or divine its meaning by seeing only its shape. Our judgment of a sword is reasoned in like manner: we first become familiar with the marks of a sword A, and when we afterward recognize these signs in a sword B, we conclude that A belongs to the same class as B. There are, however, two varieties of differentiation. One is the individual peculiarities of the production of each maker. The other is the accidental personality of each sword. For instance, whatever clothes they may put on, we can recognize our intimate friends, if we see but a gesture, or a backward glance, while we fail to remember mere acquaintances. So it will be most necessary, in the case of the sword, that we should remember the difference between the changing clothes and the body within them. We are often inclined to pass a hasty judgment even without distinguishing between a "midare" or "straight edge," when a sword resembles closely one we know well, or when it bears some peculiar ornament, which tradition ascribes to a certain maker. But in such a case we judge from its clothes and not by the true method of sword judgment, which is the very opposite in every way of vague supposition.
The difficulty of judgment will be seen from the fact that there are many kinds of " straight edge," all of them apparently the same. It is the object of a sword judge to minutely discern these variants. For the convenience of beginners, we have attached, in the following pages, some illustrations of the important marks of such swords.
ON THE PRACTICE OF THE JUDGMENT.
Keep always in your memory the following three details : (1) the names of all provinces and their situation; (2) the names of all eras from the era of Daido, in their successive order; (3) the complete list of swords. (It is very awkward to consult the book every time you have a blade to examine.)
When you examine a sword, always hold it lengthwise, point upward, and in such a position that the light, coming over your shoulder, will shine on its blade, for thus you may see it most clearly. Look closely, inch by inch, from hilt to point, first on the outside (right hand) and then on the inside, examining it on its plane (taira), ridge (shinogi), back (mune), etc. Consider well whether it is ' gunome,' or ' choji' or a sakagokora' (reverse line), in case it is a 'midare,' or whether it has 'feet' or not. Should it belong to the straight edge class, observe also the character of its ' uehiyokeutsuri' (nie marks), and its nioi. Then select from the list you have kept in your mind that class to which you think it bears the greatest resemblance. Compare each peculiarity of that class with the blade in hand, and never ignore any unsatisfactory detail, however great the resemblance may be in other respects (although in many cases one's first impression is correct). Never neglect to examine each part searchingly until you have finished, for if you do not carefully study its back or edge, you may fail to notice its scars. If the reflection of light is inconvenient, you may examine the blade slantingly. Always touch the sword with a wrapper; never touch it with your sleeves, and you ought to keep the hilt and scabbard covered with a wrapper. Never let the blade touch its scabbard either when you withdraw it or when you return it to its case. (Besides this, there are many things to be observed.) Express your opinion only after you have sheathed the blade.
The short sword must not be judged in the same manner as the long sword. The same swordsmith often makes the one differently from the other. One, for instance, being ' midare ' and the other the "straight edge." Beginners must take the greatest care not to judge the long sword from the marks of the short sword, for some swordsmiths forged only the long sword, while others made a specialty of the short blade. Knowledge concerning the polishing is very necessary, for without it good judgment is utterly impossible, since in many cases the true nature of the stuff-iron, or the presence of scars, etc., is concealed by polishing.
Examine as many swords as possible, for practice makes for perfect judgment, and during your investigation put a wrapper around the nakago (that part of a sword which enters the handle), which bears the inscription of the maker's name. Examine the blade twice, thrice, or even to the fifth time, asking yourself whether your judgment is correct, or nearly so, or possibly wrong in regard to its origin. Be careful not to express an unordered opinion, but judge according to the rules of the edge, structure, etc. To say that "I think it resembles some work I saw somewhere," is awkward; and instantly to guess the maker of a work with which you are already acquainted is no nioi, not because you may not hit upon it rightly, but because you do not judge it according to rule. You will never judge correctly if you do not work according to rule. Never make a strained judgment, but answer honestly according to your study of the blade. If vou had examined ten swords and conclude that all of them belong to Nagamitsu, then you must answer: "They are made by Nagamitsu"; never temper your judgment by your supposition that it is impossible there should be so great a number of Nagamitsu's works in one place. Be not dazzled by splendid ornament, nor scorn poor appurtenances. Having no thought of the owner, and receiving no influence from mere supposition, keep your eyes and mind fixed upon the marks of the blade.
When you meet with a sword that you cannot judge at all, confess frankly that you cannot judge. There are numbers of unknown swords whose makers even Honnami cannot determine. It would be most ridiculous to pass your judgment on such a sword from mere guess work. The ' straight'-edged sword must be judged exclusively by the rule of the straight edge, and the ' midare '-edged sword by that of the 'midare.' If you meet with uncommon work, it is not proper to judge at once by the rules of exception, for you must first judge it by the general rules. Only when there are some striking marks of dissemblance may you use the rules of exception. Suppose we saw a short sword, having the characteristics of Hasebe Nobushige, but straighter and narrower than was his customary form. One man will at once judge it to be Hasebe's work, but another will say: "It is the work of Hiromasu of the province of Sagami," and upon being told that his judgment is wrong, will say: "Although its structure is different, it may belong to Hasebe." In this case the latter is the better judge. For the sword having the more vital characteristic marks of the class from the province of Sagami, it will be great shame to the first judge should it turn out to be Hasebe's; but not so with the second judge. Infer other things from this instance. Never judge carelessly, nor strive to obtain the admiration of others, for the existence of such a feeling is to be considered as a proof of unskillfulness.
THINGS TO BE REMEMBERED IN SWORD-JUDGMENT.
Beginners desire too ardently simply to determine the name of the maker; so much so that they are often misled by a falsified inscription. The judgment of the sword, however, is far more difficult than that of any other article. Old swords are often so rubbed and worn that it is impossible to discern their traits, which may have been modified, moreover, by good or bad polishing. Besides, although there are many thousands of swordsmiths, we may be acquainted with only a few. It is necessary, therefore, for beginners to copy and keep records of the structure, lines, inscriptions, etc., of each sword they examine. The works made by the first and second classes are most difficult, for, notwithstanding the limited number and the splendid marks of structure and inscription, the first works differ in the most minute points. Inferior works have no constant mark which can be considered characteristic of any particular maker.
If the edge has no ' feet' or no ' midare' but has a great degree of nobility, then it is generally made by either Awadaguchi, Rai Tayema, Kanenaga, Senjuin, Yukimitsu, Shintogo, Old Miike, Sairen, Yukihira, or Nagamitsu, and sometimes by Nobukuni, Yoshinori, Tenkai, Shitsu Kake, Kagemitsu, Unjo Zenju, Aoye, etc. If its nobility is slight, although it possesses nie woody grains, it is made by Uuatsu or Hojen, or by Shimada, Seki, or Nio. If its ridge (shinogi) is high, by Mikoro; if its appearance is good in no part, by the old Namihira, Imka, Kageuaga, or Fuyuhiro, or Later Bizen; and if its appearance is bad and the ' nie grain' is not noble, by Kongobyoye, Takata, or Kanafusa. The full details are given in the chapter on the classification of edges. Whenever a blade has 'feet,' it belongs to the class of Aoye; and if it has "little midare," it belongs either to the Old and Middle Bizen or to Mihara, Namihira, etc. Other details are given in the following chapters. Take care not to confound the edge that has small 'feet,' with the straight edge which resembles it very closely.
One class of ' midare ' called ' Notare midare,' is composed of many varieties which all boil very irregularly. These are chiefly made by the Masamune school. We can only distinguish their provinces and ages, the makers' names being lost. Another class, called " Choji midare," chiefly appears in the works of Ichimoji; if it has ' nie grains' it may be the work of Yoshiiye, Sadatoshi, Awadaguehi, Rai Kuniyuki, etc. ; yet if its 'nie grains' are scanty, and it has rich nioi ( the shining appearance of the blade), it is of the Bizen school; if it is of the ' small Choji,' then it belongs among the products of Old Bizen. The works of Bizen and Kyo are easily confounded.
Another class, ' Gunome midare,' is the chief characteristic of the work of the Bizen class, and Sehi, or of Yamato, Kaga, Iwari, Bungo, and Takata, or of Utsu, Ilojin, and Naimikira. Works by Aoye, whether they be of ' midare' or of ' small feet,' always have the 'Saka' (reverse line), and this is also the case with the work of Samoji and Ichimoji. The ' hitatsura' edge cannot be found among swords of the first class, and that of the common and middle works has no admirable character. Although this sort of edge appears in the works of Hiromitsu and Hasebe, which are much recommended in the old books, and although the work of these masters is undoubtedly superior, still the Hitatsura edge is undeniably undignified. Works of the Bizen class have unequal ' midare,' which is seen to increase toward the hilt and to diminish at the point. Some of the Ichimoji blades have their greatest width at the middle, and possess some ' little midare,' as is also the case with the swords of Rai Kuniyuki and Kunitoshi. Generally speaking, the works of the Bizen class have scant 'nie grains,' but rich ' nioi' and frequently have the soft edge at the ' cap ' ('boshi,' the point).
Works of the Sagami class never have a soft-edged cap, attention being concentrated in the point. Of course, there are some works exceptionally executed; but each bears some unmistakable characteristic of its maker. There are many swordsmiths who bear the same name. They may belong either to the same century or to a different age, so that it is difficult to distinguish among them. The short sword is commonly called Kusungobu (9.5 inches), although we always include it in the 7 or 8 inch class. We may also term them Kowakizashi (small waist sword). As for ornamental figures, some were carved at a later period, and others by contemporary, but by different hands, so that they do not necessarily offer determining proof. Despite this, however, some peculiarities may be traced in each of them. It is noteworthy that some of them have had their shapes modified afterward.
There are many different sorts of the skin (or coat) of the blade, like the Masame (regular woody lines), the Itame (irregular woody lines), or the Pear-Skin, which has spots like a section of that fruit. (The higher quality of the Pear-skin is called Kenzan skin.) Among the swords of the Itame, those are the best whose iron is dense, and among whose woody grains silvery lines are visible. Some have the minute niemarked skin among their woody lines. The color of such work is often heightened by polishing and polishing, but the glaring color of the common sword shows the stiffness of the iron. The brightness of re-heated swords is somewhat lacking in moist and dewy quality. Here lies danger of great confusion. Those which have the woody skin are somewhat inferior in quality, the superabundant presence of this texture indicating the softness of the iron and imperfection of hammering. Some works have a very rough skin like the bark of a pine-tree, and such a sword is not good, even if the effect be the result of rude polishing. The edge of some blades cannot be discerned, owing to the presence of spots, and such works are not generally fit to use, as is the case with many swords of Sukesada, etc. There are also some blades whose marks have been purposely erased by polishing. The best skin is fine, silky, and beautiful.
"Good work" has different meanings, be it of the first or second class. It is like the good weather of the seasons. We say it is good weather when, in spring, it is balmy and rich; good weather in autumn, when calm, and in winter, when it is exceptionally warm. Meanings differ as the seasons differ. Now the good works of the modern swords ('shinto'—new sword) are like the good weather of summer, calm, warm, and not at all cloudy; while the work of the ancient skillful maker is spring-like, being dewy and transparent as regards the iron; and distinguished by an ineffable character of profundity. This is the secret part of sword-judgment which needs your careful consideration.—If you examine only the outer marks of structure and do not take into account the whole character of the sword, it is like inquiring about the genealogy of a man, and failing to ascertain the quality of his soul.
SOME REMARKS ON SWORDS; SCARS ON SWORDS.
In order to 'straighten a sword which is too much curved, the smith sometimes hammered the ridge from the hilt to the top on both sides of the blade, thus straightening it by extending the ridge. It is impossible, however, to modify the shape of a sword which is heated on its back (munegake), for if a sword has a flaw in its interior, its point will be broken by much beating. In order to curve a sword which is too straight, the smith applies a red-hot copper bar to its back, and when the color of its ridge changes to purple, he dips it gradually into water from the edge to the point. Repetition of this process will finally bend the blade. Some warp in a short time; others never warp. Strong-edged swords that warp very rapidly sometimes split in the edge, and soft-edged swords never warp. Remember that the poorly made sword warps but little, and has a very inferior appearance in its welded edge.
However celebrated may be the maker of a re-heated sword, it has no value. Such a sword has as its condemnation a different color in its skin, crossing obliquely at its hilt (which, however, will vanish by polishing), and its cap shows no nobility. Both sides differ in character; the skin is rough and loose (with a few exceptions its iron not at all moist); its edge is hard and difficult to polish, and its 'nie grain' glaring and gloomy; all its features deformed and unbeautiful, even after it is polished. If it be very skillfully re-heated, its skin, etc., may seem very splendid, especially after the lapse of fifty or one hundred years, when it is cleared from the marks of heating. It still retains, nevertheless, some ghastly traces which assure us it is useless. There are also some other swords of the same kind whose point only is re-heated for two or three inches in order to fill in a lack of welded edge. Such swords generally have no Kayeri; and their caps are disgraceful and artificial. Their welded edges are also very vague, which shows that they are disfigured by polishing. Take great care not to overlook any scars, though often they are half concealed by polishing; and do not mistake rust for a scar. All scars in the ' cap' must be avoided, whether they be 'moon's rings,' ' bird's bill,' or ' crow's beak.' 'Back split' and 'vertical split' are not so objectionable, the former appearing frequently in the works of Kongobyoye, etc. ' 'Corner stain,' 'barren ground' and 'edge stain' may be tolerated if they do not appear in large quantities. A slight protuberance or depression, if slight, may be concealed by polishing (which may occasionally cause it), so that it will not be objectionable, if it is not great. Examine well, however, whether it is shallow or deep. A 'knot' is produced by imperfect hammering, and never appears in superior work. 'Buried metal' was not ill thought of in ancient times, but it is to be avoided, since the depth of the scar cannot be ascertained. ' Stain' on the edge if slight must be allowed, and is characteristic of almost all works of Kunimune, Morinaga, and others. If there be any split in the boundary of the welded edge, it is called 'nioi' split' (Nioigire). You may clearly detect it by looking at it obliquely, or better still, by the light of a lamp. This split is to be avoided.
If the surface of the edge is uneven, the iron of the lower part is generally soft, or else its welding is incomplete. ' Edge split' and ' shinaye ' must not be allowed. Both are scars transversely made. If it is massed in one place it is called 'centipede shinaye.' Shinaye of the back and ridge may generally be cut away. ' Vertical split' is sometimes concealed by the chisel. However nruch the shinaye is reduced by the chisel, it will still be seen when it is whetted. Some hold that scars of the ridge and back are worse than those of the edge, because the iron forms, as it were, the backbone of the sword. Others claim that edge or steel scars are more fatal than that of the iron, because it is the edge which bears the brunt of battle. Both are right, since either defect will occasion the breaking of the sword when in action. Strictly speaking, even inscriptions and figure carving may have the same result. If the iron is too soft, it may bend; if it is too hard, it is liable to break. These are important points requiring careful attention on the part of swordsmiths. ' Arrow scar' is not objectionable; we ought rather to admire it. It is a mark left by an arrow's head, and resembles the slight puncture left by the stroke of a drill. ' Clash' is not a scar, but a mark produced by the clashing of blades. Among superior swords, eight or nine out of ten bear 'clash.' Beware, however, of those swords whose 'shinaye' is so disguised as to resemble 'clash.'
Such are the scars that can be seen on the surface. Sometimes a new flaw will appear during the polishing, and at other times old scars will disappear through polishing. If a sword has no outward flaw it is treated as having no scar. Although it is not good to cut away the 'vertical split,' etc., by the chisel, yet it cannot be called bad, as it modifies any unsightliness. These scars are sometimes concealed by figure carving. Only a few of the celebrated works are without scars. Thus a little 'edge stain,'' 'vertical split,' etc., are to be tolerated. ' Broken edge' was not disliked in ancient times. It is a question whether we may pass 'broken edge' when it is split. But we may safely say it will not be as objectionable if the injury is slight. Victory is often gained by a sword whose edge is broken. It is not right to admire the ancient sword having no scar. It should show its marks of service. In the case of modern work, it is different. It should be flawless.
As the whole appearance of a sword may depend upon the mode of polishing, we must select the most honest and skillful workman. A good whetter will work upon a sword as long as may be necessary, repeating the process until the blade is perfectly finished; but a dishonest whetter thinks only how he may save his labour, and will omit the proper processes; when and wherever he thinks it will be overlooked by an unpractised customer, he will betray his trust. The general features of a sword are thus deformed to such an extent that precious mounting may be irrevocably injured. There are many whetters of this class who will heat the edge when it is too hard; who will polish away without caring whether or not they injure the edge; who will not obliterate scars and protuberances and spots upon the blade; only polishing away the obvious rust.
The most important parts to be treated by polishing are the angle of the small ridge, the shape of the cap, the part near the hilt, and the body of the blade. These may be carried by the skillful whetter to the highest degree of perfection. Even the sword two or three feet long may have its appearance modified to an extent of two or three inches. To "make the irregular even" is, however, the chief care of the whetter, who must not injure the edge while polishing the body, or stain the body while polishing the edge. There are some qualities of iron which are very difficult to finish, requiring constant labour for twenty to forty days. My teacher once told me that he knew of a sword, most perfectly finished, which required fifty days of polishing! Thus you will understand how difficult it is to get a sword whetted for a limited sum of money when the labour required must differ so greatly according to the nature of the blade. These are my brief remarks on polishing, but, as this subject is most abstruse, you must continue its special study under your own teacher.
AUTHORITY OF THE SWORD JUDGE.
There are many books concerning the secrets of sword-judgment. Some from the hands of skillful judges. They contain much, however, that is inexplicable, and no rule can be adopted, however skillful its author, if it contradicts the rules established by Honnami, for Honnami is the established authority on the sword to this day (the statement still holds true). In the time (late sixteenth century) of Hideyoshi there lived a man called Ikeda Sanzayemon, who was a very skillful judge of swords, he issued his certificate under the title of Honnami Kosetsu, inlaying the name of the maker with his own in gold or in red lacquer, on the nakago, having no inscription, as is the custom to this day- Although at that time there lived many celebrated judges, Honnami was the best and most renowned. There lived also Miyoshi and Hosokawa, whose secrets I have received, but the books written by them are very difficult to understand, their style being archaic and confused. There have been many changes since their epoch. There was no polishing, rubbing, etc., the process of polishing being closed with the present 'middle polishing.' Although there was some improvement in the time of Koho, the grandson of Kosetsu, it was but the rude polishing of the ridge, so that all the modes of finish by which the iron is modified and the body is rubbed and brightened, etc., are later developments and inventions of the house of Honnami. Thus, if we were ignorant of the rules of Honnami and contented ourselves with the books of the ancients, we should fall into gross errors.
There have also been gradually discovered certain methods of polishing by which dishonest workmen are enabled to finish their work by shorter processes, so that the old sword may be made to appear new, an inferior one to be noble, good characteristics may be disguised, and objectionable marks made to appear excellent; all this simply from the manner of polishing. Consequently we must carefully study the modes of polishing and accumulate experience on this point, which, however, cannot be perfectly realized without actual practice in polishing. There are twelve families of the house of Honuami, and all are acquainted with the modes of polishing. Many skillful men of the house successively made observation from their own experience, and these are now handed down as the established rules. Every student of the sword must study these rules. There are indeed some men who are ignorant of them, although they are sometimes able to determine the name of the maker correctly. This must not be thought strange, for when we ask such men the characteristics of that maker they are always unable to answer. They are like those doctors who sometime cure diseases though they are wholly ignorant of medical science. We must be careful, on the other hand, not to depend solely upon books, thus neglecting practice. It is needless to say that however well the rules are studied, skillful judgment cannot be gained without experience. We must neglect neither practice nor rules.
ON THE SELECTION OF THE SWORD.
As the sword will be judged differently by men of different interests, you must be very careful in its selection. Some are foolish enough to pass judgment on a sword which they cannot really understand, others will not speak the truth although they see it. The merchant may speak falsely in order to sell his wares. If a blade belongs to some nobleman, or if it is appreciated as a family treasure, or if the possessor is very proud of its supposed qualities, the true judgment will often be withheld through courtesy. When you would have any sword truly judged, you must commit it unreservedly to a judge of absolute sincerity. There are some swords which have the inscription of one maker while they are unanimously regarded as the work of another swordsmith. In such cases the decision of the judges must stand. The sword is made by the power of fire and water, and its quality is stable. We ought to admire any happily made work though it come from the forge of an inferior maker. The product of a workman does not always reach one standard. So if the work is not perfect, we must depend upon the decision of the judges. We therefore append a certificate to each sword, to show in what manner and for what reasons the value of the blade has been determined. If one issues a dishonest certificate, the crime committed by such a man is indeed great. As Honnami is the surest authority, we recommend all who wish swords to consult with him.
NOTES OF CERTAIN SWORDSMITHS.
The naginata (halberd) was first made by Yamato Sadamune, in the second year of Kwanji. All the naginatas made by Tajima Hoseiji have their points softly tempered, in order to avoid their breaking. For 250 years after the age of Hogen, or Heiji, many celebrated artists appeared in the house of Ichimoji, including Norimune, Sukemune, and others. Fukuoka(or Yoshioka)-Ichimoji is a somewhat inferior worker. According to the old book, some of their works are not signed with the name of Ichimoji, while many of Fukuoka's blades bear the inscription, "a native of Yoshioka." The nakago of the Bizen class, made about the age of Oei, is generally short, as is also the case with some halberds of Naotsuna, Tomokuni, Nio, and others. The angular shape of the nakago is derived from the shape of the sotoba (grave-board), so that by grasping it the owner may not be doomed to the three evil paths of transmigration.
It is said that Masamune did not inscribe his name, believing no sword could be made which might be mistaken for his own. Yoshimune, on the other hand, inscribed the letters of his name so no one might know which part was written first and which last. His earlier blades have the initial of his name with a small letter, but afterwards he inscribed in larger figures: the later works are superior. There are many traditions of the master. Some maintain that the length of his nakago is 4.2 sun. (See Part III on the list of the nakagos.) ' Kurikara' is the figure of a dragon entwined on the sword and drawn in the shape of a Sanskrit letter.
When Rai Kuniyuki was young he inscribed himself as ' Kunitoshi,' but after the birth of his son Magotaro, he gave this name to the latter, and signed himself Kuniyuki. In fear lest his blades should be confounded with those of his father, Magotaro inscribed his name as Rai Kunitoshi after his thirtyeighth year, calling himself Rai Minamoto Kunitoshi from his sixty-second to his one hundred and fifth year. Notwithstanding this, there are two varieties of blade bearing the name of Kunitoshi, one being the early work of Kuniyuki, and the other the younger productions of Rai Kunitoshi. The secret details of this matter can be transmitted only orally.
The works of Yukihira, surnamed Kishindaya (the Devil), have the nakago narrow and thin, with an ' oblique file' and an angular head, while the upper part of the menuki hole (through which the pin holding scabbard handle is secured) is cut by the file. Having his residence in the provinces of Bungo, he inscribed himself "Yukihira of the province of Bizen." While he was living in a mountainous village, a devil disguised as a boy came and asked him to make a sword 27 sun in length. After receiving it and killing his enemy, the boy served Yukihira and helped him make his swords. Once he gave Yukihira a great mass of iron which was brought to his house by seven or eight men. When Yukihira was sick, the boy made many dozen swords by himself and inscribed them with his master's name. He then said to Yukihira that he wished him to sell these swords himself, and to live comfortably with the money he should get for them, while, having served Yukihira for three years, he must return to his original home. Thereupon he suddenly disappeared, and when Yukihira sold these swords it was thought the boy was a demon (Kishin), so that they gave Yukihira the nickname "Kishindaya." Some say he lived in Yamato. There were three men of the name of Yukihira. The life history of the second greatly resembled that of the first, though he lived 470 years later; but the history of the third Yukihira is unauthentic and vague.
Yukihira was born in Bungo in the era of Tengo. When he was 41 years old, he was banished to Kozuke for some crime. He returned to his country after the lapse of 16 years. Some say that he studied in Bizen, and so became the royal smith, assistant to the Emperor. His father, Sadahide, was also a famous smith, but as he died when Yukihira was only nine years old, it is impossible that he taught the son. It is said that when Yukihira resided in the province of Dewa he sometimes marked his swords ' Getsusan ' on the outside and ' Yukihira ' on the reverse. The old works of Harima are tolerably well made, although on the whole they are inferior in their structure, nakago, etc. There are inscriptions which are generally avoided, as of evil portent, such as " Ryohai," "Sairen," "Jitsua," "Tengaimono," '•Jikkake," "Senjuin," and all Buddhistic words as well as Sanskrit letters, which, however, were not shunned in ancient times. Perhaps it will not be well to seek especially for swords which are detested, such as the work of Muramasa, and in some cases it would be best to withhold judgment, if the sword happens to have belonged to Namihira, Ryohai, etc.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE OLD AND NEW SWORD.
Some prefer the old, while others admire the new sword. Although the old abounds in excellence, some covet the spotless and brilliant blade of the new sword. Work less than one hundred years old, no matter how celebrated its maker, cannot obtain a certificate from Honnami. The price of the new sword increases as it becomes old; for instance, the works of Morimitsu and Yasumitsu which, a few years ago, were worth 30 ryo, are now selling at .50 ryo, and those of Sanemasa and Sukehiro have increased in value from 1 or 2, to 5 or 7 ryo. There are several reasons why the old sword is the more valuable. The wound inflicted by it is difficult to cure, though it be but a scratch one inch deep; while that made by a new sword heals easily even if it be deep. We know that the narrow, thin blade of the old sword is far sharper than the strongly made blade of the new. This is generally true, although there may be a few exceptions. At this time there are many fraudulent old swords made by polishing away the blade of the new sword. This is readily done, as the appearance of the welded edge of the modern blade is easily changed, and thus the ' midare ' may appear a ' straight' and a ' straight' may become like 'a midare.' Old swords never change their character, Ichimoji always remaining Ichimoji however much it is whetted.
In the book "Notes on the New Sword," it is said, that "we must be well acquainted with the art of sword-cutlery or we become as the archer who is ignorant of the nature of the bow, or the doctor who does not understand medicine." The author further gives the details of cutlery concerning the new sword with which there is no difficulty. In the matter of polishing, we must admire it even if it be made to-day. We admire the old sword the more as its 'heat color' is lost with age and as its stuff iron presents peculiar marks, showing the lapse of 500 or 800 years. We can understand its meaning only by the study of the method of polishing. Of course the knowledge of cutlery is not positively useless. But even the Honnami of every generation do not study cutlery, while they are all perfectly acquainted with the modes of polishing. There are some men who commit the examination of their sword to a smith. But the arts of cutlery and judgment being quite different, the latter cannot be acquired without its special study.
The method of sword judgment relates almost exclusively to the old sword, but we can easily judge new blades without the knowledge of its rides. Many of the new swords bear the inscription of the maker. The structure of the nakago is very simple, being exactly similar to their pictures in the sword book. There are many very skillfully forged blades which have often obtained a better price than genuine work, for the reason that their value is fluctuating. This will be the case more frequently in the future.
Some new swords resemble the old work, and are much boasted of, but it is rather contrary to the purpose of the new sword, that being valuable only because it is new. The works of Sukehira and Sanemasa are noble, fresh, and lively. We appreciate old swords that look new, but the new swords that look old from the beginning become useless after the lapse of a few hundred years. Even the old blade of which the welded edge is not clearly seen is useless. However slender its edge, good work will appear lively and newer than it really is. Some maintain that the new sword will benefit posterity, serving it as the "old," while the old sword will not be useful to future generations, having fulfilled its purpose. This seems reasonable. Still, always to select the new sword from such a motive is to sacrifice one's own welfare for posterity. This is very foolish, and may jeopardize one's life.
THE BLESSED SWORD.
What is called "blessed sword" is not blessed by its maker, but by its owner. However excellent its quality may be, it will not produce any good, if its owner be not a good man. It is thought that through the possession of a certain sword one may obtain blessings, or that calamities will come, but there is no ground for this belief. After all, the ruin or misery of a man is produced by his own bad conduct and not by the influence of his weapons. The good man will naturally come into possession of a good sword, while the bad man, if a blessed blade fall into his hands, will presently be moved to part with it. The object of sword-judgment is not only to recognize its maker, but to decide the good or bad qualities of his work. As a good servant will not serve a bad master, so must our conduct be upright if we wish to possess the ' blessed sword' which promotes our welfare.
It is understood by all men that the sword is the instrument by which the state has been governed from the dawn of time. The oldest existing sword is ' Amakuni,' which was made over 1000 years ago. No one knows what sword was in use before that time. The killing of men by the government is inevitable, as it diminishes the number of bad men and increases the number of good ones. If we could control without killing it might be called a peaceable government, but it is only maintained by the precious sword in our heart, which, killing the evil thoughts, will lead to the blessed condition. Be it the individual, the family, or the state, its good or evil condition will be produced by the righteousness or the unrighteousness of their respectiveswords. Some are rather afraid of possessing a blessed sword, but as it is a most precious guard of our lives, we must choose as goodsouled a sword as possible. Some superstitious men insist that good or evil fortune will result from a certain measure of the sword. We only ask such men what good or evil fortune ever resulted from the differing statures of men. Some even dislike the swords that bear inscriptions relating to Hachiman (the god of war), or to Buddha, the lotus flower, or Sanskrit letters, and it will be wholly useless to tell these foolish ones that such an idea is quite unfounded.