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Battle Ready Sword Details

We must accept that times have changed, and most modern sword forges are operating with the understanding that very few people will ever even consider using their swords in any kind of a battle - ever. That means that lower quality swords will have a chance at passing with less scrutiny than they would have in the days that the quality of sword would truly be a life or death matter.

Antique swords from hundreds of years ago may be made properly, but they are likely to be far too expensive to use for much practice. Even the delicate handle wrapping may have been preserved with proper care, and that would most certainly be damaged with any hard gripping and sweaty practice. Preserving these antiques as works of art is fantastic, but does not get you much closer to the goal of having a ready-to-use sword for training.

Factors to consider before purchasing what you hope will be a battle ready sword:

* Quality of steel: A good quality battle ready sword is made of properly treated high carbon steel. This steel is strong enough to withstand the impact of strong strokes. Samurai would often take their newly made swords to a body of water, and hit the sword sideways against the water to test for strength. The side-slapping action against the water generated enough force to test the lateral strength quite well, without damaging a properly made sword.

* Tang: Secondly, always consider the sword's handle and tang (the long piece of sword metal extending into the handle, used to attach the sword with the handle). Authentic battle ready swords will often have a full tang, as opposed to one that may only go part way down into the handle area. You will feel the difference in the balance and the weight ... and of course, you will feel the difference when you swing, slice, cut, etc.

Along with this, note the number of small wooden or bamboo pegs inserted through the handle and tang. These will be small circles visible on both sides of the handle; some modern makers use plastic, which is likely to be strong enough, though most certainly not traditional. In a "proper" Japanese sword, there would only be one of these pegs per handle; modern made swords often have two, and sometimes even three.

An interesting thing to find on an old sword: in many cases you will find a second hole drilled into the tang. This would have been done to fit the sword into a handle other than the original. This is not necessarily an indicator of quality, but you will better understand the reason for these "extra" holes in the sword tang.

* Handle Wrap: If you are fortunate enough to spend a lot of time around well made swords, take a look at the handles, and the myriad ways they are wrapped. There are several variations, and each makes a very big difference to the end user. You will find handles wrapped in silk, cotton, and even leather. Modern swords will likely have blended fabrics as an option as well.

Beyond the wrapping materials themselves, there will be small items wrapped within the handle, often adding some grip themselves, along with some meaningful significance - perhaps they would be molded in the shape of some family good luck charm, etc. The style of wrapping will also differ greatly: diamond patterns, with twists, and even braids are possible. With these, you will see a bumpy material underneath - in the past this was usually made with shark or ray skin, though some modern day manufacturers even make this from plastic. In other cases, you will not have so much of the diamond pattern, and tight consecutive wrappings around the handle will be used instead.

Ideally, you will have the opportunity to test several different handles on otherwise similar swords, so that you can begin to appreciate the differences of each. Unfortunately, this is a very difficult situation to find, despite the value it would have to a detailed understanding of the intricacies of the art of sword making.

* Weight and balance: If you are looking for a functional sword, then the overall weight is very essential. You should grow your sword handling experience over time, to the point that you can hold a sword in its scabbard, and have a sense of the sword inside. After you have held quite a few, you will start to notice the difference made in weight and balance by having a long or short tang, a "blood groove" or bohi along the spine, and different thicknesses and lengths of swords.

I once had the opportunity to show someone a sword made to replicate the shorter swords often carried by ninja. These swords were often "disguised" by using a regular length handle and scabbard, so that their actual size and shape would be unknown to observers.

I was happy to hear my guest immediately understood the difference: he picked up the normal looking sword, in its scabbard, and asked me, "Is this a shinobi katana?" Of course, he was correct.

Imagine the importance of this if one were to quickly grab a sword in the dark of night, for immediate battle ... the ability to immediately understand the details of the weapon you held, even with only your hands touching it for a moment, could be crucial.

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