sword

All posts tagged sword

I keep seeing those TV commercials for house alarms.. A young women with a child is in her house, she turn on the alarm. You see a prowler outside. He kicks the door in, the alarm goes off, frustrated, he turns around and runs away. Sure, it could happen just like that, but the thug is already in, ten feet from the potential victims, and he just got pissed-off.. Why would he leave right then? Criminals do not think about the consequences of their actions, otherwise they would be in another line of work. Even if a squad car is a couple blocks away, he still has plenty of time to kill the mother and child, just because that alarm ruined his day, or he just feels like it.

Your first line of defense should not be a house alarm. By all means, get one, but you should think about your doors first. A good solid door with a steel frame and quality locks can save your life. Windows can be armored too, and you get the benefit of hurricane protection as well.

Martial arts training is a must, but what you really need in your house is a gun. That requires training too, but it is an excellent life insurance. Some will say “but I don’t like guns.” It’s just an object, it won’t shoot you all by itself. If you are not comfortable with one, you just need an instructor to show you how to handle it safely. You also need a safe, the kind you can open quickly by pressing a finger combination:

Gun vaults at Cabellas

Get at least a 9mm semi-auto, or a .38+P revolver. I highly recommend all Glock models of semi-auto pistols. Anything smaller won’t stop an angry robber. I personally have an affinity for the .45, but I would be very happy with a Glock model 19, with the right ammo.

A robber has to go through a series of evaluations and actions to get into your house. Why would he pick your house? Get outside, stand across the street and look at your place.. Imagine how you might break-in. Imagine watching yourself get in and out. Are you an easy target? You need to evaluate your value as a target to make yourself look less inviting to unwanted guests.

Next comes you physical protection. How strong are the entry points to your house? Not only doors and windows, but roof, garage door, and any possible weaknesses? Robbers will find ways to get into your house you would never think of. You need to plug those holes.

Last, your response to a home invasion. It shouldn’t be just calling 911 and hoping for the best. You do need a weapon. The choice is yours, but is limited. I see baseball bats near front doors fairly often; wrong place. If someone kicks in the door, they got your weapon! It takes a lot of strength to damage the human body, and if you can’t swing that bat hard enough, forget it. A gun, sure, but you must practice with it. A sword would be better than any kind of club. Non-lethal options like the Taser or mace are in my opinion not good options. The Taser is a one shot deal, and mace might just piss-off your attacker.

One last consideration is the legalities of self-defense. If someone breaks into your house, you have a petty clean-cut case. If however you shoot a robber on your front lawn while he’s getting away with you TV, you’re going to jail..

I am not an expert, but I hope these suggestions will help keep you safer. Comments and suggestions are welcome…

UPS finally dropped my much anticipated Kaze Ko-Katana outside of my house last night (they didn’t bother to knock on the door, as usual). You might want to read the introduction to this full review here.. I am not a sword afficcionado, but I do know quite a bit about knives. This is my first katana, and I will try to provide an objective and complete review, though I have no other sword to compare it to. The closest would be my Cold Steel Master Tanto; apples and oranges..

Initial Impressions:

The sword came in a nice wooden box, cheaply made, but nevertheless attractive and practical. A lined sword bag is included, also much appreciated for the price.

Click on the image to enlarge..

My first impression upon picking up the Kaze was that of a solid chunk of steel, well built and fitted. There is no “rattling” of any kind, nothing moves. The blade feels heavy, though I am sure not as much as a full size katana, which I have never handled. The short blade makes it comfortable to hold. For a beginner like me, it is important to track your blade in space as you move it around. Friends, pets and significant others will appreciate that.. Better have nobody around actually, that is much safer. Two things jump at you while looking at the blade: The natural hamon looks great. It is subtle, but obviously authentic in it’s beauty. The kissaki (tip) however is awful. More on that later. The sword feels very agile.

Specifications:

The blade is short, 20.5 inches. Mine has a brown cotton ito wrap, which is very tight. As I understand, it is also available in black. One menuki (handle ornament) is located on the left near the tsuba (guard), the other one on the right near the kashira (pommel). They feel good under your fingertips and improve your grip. The mekugi (pins) are set at an angle, which I guess is to clear the ito wrap so that the tsuka can be removed without unwrapping the handle. One is bamboo, the other one appears to be brass. I don’t see how the blade could possibly come loose with this setup. The saya (scabbard) is lacquered glossy black, and attractive from the outside. There is no reinforcement at the mouth, so I expect it to crack soon or later. Except for a slight difference in blade length, the specifications are pretty much what Mark Mowrey has in his excellent review.

The Blade:

The blade is made of 9260 spring steel with a differentially hardened edge by the traditional clay method. As mentioned before, the hamon looks great. I would not want a fake hamon except for a back-yard beater, and even then.. Fake is just that, fake. One might argue that a blade forged in China is fake, but I disagree. Chop your finger off, and see if fake blood comes out.. The polish is decent, certainly sufficient for a $200 sword. The kissaki however is the hair in an otherwise delicious soup.. I can see file scratches on the tip, as clear as day. It looks like someone was doing a great job on the blade, then ran out of time and thought “the hell with it, it’s done.” I would have been glad to pay $40 more for a decent job. Lucky me, I own a Dremel! I can imagine people raising their eyebrows there, but remember, this is a cheap sword. I couldn’t get it any worst than it already was anyway. I went to work with a buffing wheel and polishing paste. The look improved slightly, but not as much as I hoped. I just didn’t want to waste any time on it, as I was eager to fill some plastic bottles.. Sharpness at first was disappointing. The edge was sharp mind you, but did not shave hair like my Master Tanto. It did cut paper well, but not every time. I worked on it for a few minutes with a fine stone, then took it to my leather belt. Finally, I managed to clear-up a bold patch on my arm. With the proper tools and a little time, this blade could be frighteningly sharp. Time to head for the backyard!

Though I tagged the following video as a “cutting test,” it was my first ever cutting session. My lack of technique is obvious, but I managed a couple decent cuts. 2” palm frowns offered no resistance at all. My friend Erin brought his stainless steel wall-hanger fantasy sword for a try. We made sure the area was clear in case it came apart. No such concern with the Kaze.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/wEydRijPb4U" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
Oh, and by the way, the dog is fine!
[warning]This 15 minutes impromptu cutting session was long enough to allow tiny rust spots to appear. Wipe your blade regularly while practicing, and oil it when you are finished.[/warning]
Click on the image to enlarge..

My second cutting session was very educational. I went to cut palm frowns in the backyard. Sometimes the blade would go right through with no resistance at all, and sometimes I would feel a vibration through the tsuka. Re-enacting my movements slowly showed me that I was rotating my wrist, getting the wrong angle at the time of contact. As much as 15 to 20 degrees off! No wonder the frowns would just break sometimes. After correcting my grip, I could barely feel the cuts. This tameshigiri business isn’t easy. With my new confidence, I moved the the bamboo we have in the back.. It proved harder to cut, but with the right angle and swing, chop! 3/4” (nothing thicker in the yard), that’s enough for me, I’ll need much more practice before trying anything harder.

Verdict:

Historical accuracy: 3/5 – I don’t know! I am sure it detracts quite a bit from an original though.
Fit and Finish: 3/5 – If it wasn’t for the kissaki, I would have given it a 4.
Handling: 4/5 – It feels great in my hands. The short blade is quite fast.
Structural Integrity: 5/5 – I don’t see how I could possibly break it in normal use.
Value: 5/5 – Unbeatable price for a hand-forged sword with a real hamon.
Overall: 4/5

Pros: Cheap. Very strong. Beautiful hamon. Tight fittings.
Cons: Rough kissaki. Not as sharp as I thought (easy to fix).

Conclusion: A very good sword for the price. I tend to look at safety first when buying a practical weapon. The Kaze Ko-Katana does not worry me a tiny bit in that department. I do not think you can find a better deal for a hand-forged, differentially hardened blade. If Cheness spent a little bit more time on the tip, they could sell this sword for at least $50 more, if not $100. I am not worried about bending it on a bad cut either. It would take quite a mistake to bend it permanently. If the kissaki had been as well polished as the blade, I would have bought a Tenchi for cutting. As it is, the Kaze will be my backyard cutter. If I damage it, I can always buy another! I would recommend it to anyone, especially as a first time sword purchase. Even if you are not into cutting, it can make a nice display piece (polish the tip!) or an excellent home self-defense weapon.

After weeks of consideration and research on the web, I finally decided to buy a katana. Not a cheap wall-hanger, but a practical sword, forged by hand and differentially hardened. I am very familiar with knives, even started to forge my own. Swords however are mostly unknown to me. Why would a grown man buy a sword you may ask, well, I have a few reasons, and they have nothing to do with the “cool” factor. Swords are not toys, but deadly weapons. I place them in the same category as handguns and rifles. I came to believe that they are one of the best home defense weapons available. My interest in knives came from the staggering number of designs found for such a simple, primary tool. Metallurgy, the forging and hardening processes have always fascinated me. I have barely scratched the surface of that art, but I can certainly appreciate the skills it takes to forge a blade longer than a few inches, then harden and temper it properly. My life-long interest and practice of the martial arts also influenced my decision. I have long ago found out that most Asian disciplines only work in their context. Russian Systema however works in any circumstances and can make use of any weapon. Give me a frying pan and I’ll be immediately efficient with it using Systema principles. A sword, though presenting some challenges, shouldn’t be too much trouble. Of course, I will use a dull one or bokken for practice. Other sword designs were interesting, but the Japanese katana in my opinion is the best sword. It is light, razor sharp, and simple in design. Nobody wears armor these days, so a heavier sword would make little sense. The way these swords are made is also fascinating. Even if you have no interest in swords, you can’t but admire the dedication and skills of Japanese sword-smiths in their pursuit of perfection. I never get tired of watching the following documentary from National Geographic:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/ko9vR2_ptlA" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

I can’t pay three highly skilled artisans for three months to forge me a blade, so I have to accept some technological shortcuts. Modern steels like 9260 Silicon Alloy Carbon Spring Steel are even better than traditional tamahagane. It’s not traditional of course, but much cheaper. The folding process becomes superfluous, since the carbon content of modern steel is constant throughout the material. I would love a folded blade, but the cheapest ones, forged in China, start at around $1000. More than I am willing to spend for a first purchase. A San-Mai construction like my Cold Steel Master Tanto would be desirable too, but simply too expensive. There is one feature I really want however, and that is a differentially, clay-hardened blade. This process of covering the back of the blade with thick clay before quenching in water produces a very hard edge and a soft back (watch video above). This way, a sword will bend but not break, while still holding a razor-sharp edge. It also produces a visible line of hardness called the hamon. Most replicas have a fake one, acid-etched on the blade. I can’t accept “fake” anything, so my choice becomes fairly limited for an affordable real sword. Thanks to companies like CAS Hanwei and Cheness Inc., real forged blades from China are available, starting at around $160 for something that won’t come apart in your hands and take a lot of abuse before breaking. Shell-out $200 to $300 and you get a serious tool. My choice is the Kaze Ko-Katana. With a 21-inch blade, this katana is about seven inches shorter than a regular sword. These swords are also called chisa katanas, and are easier to use in tight places. Here is another review of the Kaze (watch the cutting test video). I got a 10% discount and ordered mine for less than $200, with free shipping.

Proceed to the full review

An often overlooked home self defense option is the sword. They work as well today as they did centuries ago, as we can read about in this recent news article. A Baltimore student killed an intruder with a Samurai sword. At short to medium range, a good sword is deadlier than any gun. It never jams, and never runs out of ammo. Modern reproductions of Japanese katanas made in China have come a long way and are now available for a couple hundred dollars. So, is a sword the self defense weapon of choice?

Well, it depends.. As with any weapon, are you willing to spend the time to learn to handle it safely and practice on a regular basis? “It’s just a sword” you might say, but a 28-inch razor sharp blade can ruin your day very fast; just look at this:

Sword injury.

Sword injury.

Picture from the excellent site:
Swords Buyers Guide

And this is what happens when you mess with a cheap stainless steel wall-hanger:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/_N4hprpRJhM" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Avoid stainless steel like the plague. Be very suspicious of movie related products or cheap “Ninja” katanas. A sword, even a bad one, is very dangerous. The difference about a bad one is that is is as dangerous to you or people around you as it would be to an intruder. It only has to touch you to cause gruesome injuries. Sword makers offer non-sharpened models called iaitos, used in the discipline of Iaido, which is the art of drawing. They are a good investment and insurance policy for your early training..

As far as Japanese sword arts, you might want to look into Iaido, Kenjutsu, Kendo or Shinkendo. My opinion is that your best bet is an art that actually teaches to cut targets (Tameshigiri). I would personally look into Shinkendo or Toyama-Ryu, which are modern swordsmanship systems. You don’t have to become an expert, but learning a few basic techniques, cuts and safety are a minimum.

Are you willing to spend $200 or $300 for a decent blade made of carbon steel, forged and mounted properly? These figures are actually cheap compared to real Japanese swords starting at around $6,000. CAS Hanwei and Cheness Inc. are the major manufacturers of decent quality reproductions. Hanwei also offers medieval swords worth a look, if you prefer the Highlander type of hardware! Cold Steel also has a good collection of practical swords (I like their Chinese War Sword). See below how Cheness forges a blade:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/CzB3AUchSxk" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Though not made in Japan (Nihonto or modern Shinken), the Chinese reproductions are real swords made by hand using somewhat similar techniques. For most people, they are the only accessible models, with a price range of about $150 to $3,000. For home defense, a $300 spring steel model would do just fine. I like the cheness Ko-Katanas, which are a shortened version for tight spaces, like a house. You’ll never (hopefully) carry your sword outside your house, so you don’t need a long one. A wakisashi would do fine as well (one-handed). Watch below as Paul Southren from Swords Buyers Guide tests a Cheness katana. Very impressive.

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Carbon steel rusts.. You will have to clean and oil your sword at least every other month. It isn’t a high price to pay to keep your weapon ready and in good shape. Aside from that, a good sword will never let you down. If you practice swordsmanship, you also have an excuse for owning one and grabbing “the closest thing that could be used as a weapon” when it comes to explain to a judge why you cut a robber in half instead of calling 911 and waiting for the cops while getting beaten-up or killed.. And yes, the above mentioned swords will cut someone in half if you practice long enough to get a perfect cut. More often than not however, just showing the sword tends to convince intruders to turn around and start running.

I may have a preference for Japanese swords just because of their light weight, but any good quality medieval or antiquity reproductions would do fine, from European blades to sabers, scimitars, Chinese swords, there is something out there for everyone. With anti-gun laws looming on our horizon, a sword might be a good choice. It sure beats a jammed gun any day. You never have to buy ammo, so practicing might involve just a bit of your time and sweat, maybe a membership fee and a few tatami mats.. If you do decide to get one, be responsible, get professional advise, and learn about self-defense laws. Be safe 🙂