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Old 05-02-2005, 11:01 AM   #20
Keith Larman
Dojo: AIA, Los Angeles, CA
Location: California
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 1,604
Re: A warning! Not the chen swords!

Michael Ellefson wrote:
I have 3 students starting tameshigiri using practical plus katanas. I have another 4 that use the old practical katanas. They cut and cut again without incident. As they progress they will move to higher end katana, if they choose to stick with it. One of my students is also learning polishing on these blades. (It will be great to have an in-house polisher).

I've heard that the Bugei swords are just remounted from Paul Chen blades and are not actually especially made for James and Co. Can anyone in the know elaborate?
And I've heard Elvis is alive and serving smoothies in a juice shop owned by Janis Joplin.

Yes I can elaborate on Bugei.

FWIW my name is Keith Larman and I've been polishing and mounting swords professionally and full time for a number of years now. FWIW my web site shows photos of my work if you're interested. I have a photo page linking to many of my projects.

The guys at Bugei are friends of mine. I'm also one of the people who is involved in their Quality Control as well as discussions about new blades. I am also involved in helping out with repairs and generally supporting their customers. I also need to say that I am completely independent. I'm not an employee of Bugei but an outside contractor I suppose. I do some work for them that they pay me for. But I'm not "on the payroll" or anything like that. So I have first hand experience. And it's not just something I heard somewhere.

Okay, that said. Bugei has always been intimately involved in the design of their swords. Take as an example the Dragonfly. Ted Tenold is the main guy Bugei goes to with traditional sword spec questions (and since I work with Ted and we're very good friends sometimes I get involved). Ted designed the furniture himself and send detailed drawings, sizes, etc. directly to Paul Chen. The design parameters of the dragonfly was to design a shinogi zukuri blade, iori mune, thinner kasane, subtle taper in the haba, chu kissaki and scant niku. The goal in terms of performance was a lighter, faster blade for iai students looking for a lighter kata blade. Many iaidoka practice hours a day and are susceptable to repetitive motion problems. So we went into the lighter ranges of historic blades and designed a sword that would be easier on the elbows, shoulders and wrists. We also wanted a design with scant hira niku to both keep the weight down but also to facilitate soft target cutting as many different ryu in iai circles are increasing their practice of tameshigiri (test cutting). So the combination of the thinner kasane, wider haba, and less niku resulted in a vicious soft target cutter that is *very* sharp and lighter than the rest of the Bugei models. And with traditionally inspired tonbo themed custom designed furniture. Even the lacquered rayskin with brown silk ito was inspired more along the lines of a nod to some of the Higo tradition. We asked for versions with bo-hi (deep semi-circle grooves) and without. The ones for bo-hi are for those who do mostly kata but wanted a "live" blade.

Prototypes arrived a while after the initial discussions with Paul. James Williams went out, cut, practiced, and showed the blade off at a few seminars and blade shows. Some changes were made in fitting sizing, angles, colors, etc. Ted and I went into Bugei to sit down, take it apart, look it over, and offer critiques. Changes were made, fittings were resized, and it went back to Paul for further modifications. The first shipment came with some incorrect features in terms of degree of tsuka taper, ito color, and color of the same' (rayskin). That was subsequently corrected as well.

That is how Bugei designs swords. The one before that was the crane. That one was designed using a classic tsuba design. The blade parameters was to go for more of a moderate shinto era design with some hamaguriba niku, but not quite as big and robust as some of the other designs. It makes for a nice moderate blade for the serious practitioner who cuts a lot.

Before that was the samurai. More designed along the lines of the larger blades of the Nambokucho era. Big, robust, think, heavy hamaguriba cross section. Same with the unfolded shobu. Very large sword with significant hamaguriba niku. Not a sissy sword by any stretch.

Other info. Bugei has had a long relationship with Paul Chen. James Williams has traveled to China many times to deal with Paul. Tony Alvarez used to go on a regular basis as well on Bugei's behalf before he started his own business. About two years ago Bugei sent Ted Tenold ( over to sit down with their craftsmen and go over issues of tsukamaki quality and tension, blade sharpness, blade geometry, fit and finish of koshirae, polish, refinement, etc. This was paid for by Bugei with the full understanding that Hanwei would eventually use these things in their existing lines of swords.

And for more info again. I get inquiries all the time from people who need repairs to their Paul Chen swords. First of all, I will *NOT* work on any PK or PPK. In my professional opinion they are not good choices. I've seen too many broken. Two PPK's I've seen broken where the user was performing *KATA*. In other words, they didn't hit anything, just swinging, and the blade snapped. The blade otherwise looked fine -- there was no hint of problem. They had cut with them repeatedly. They had used them with success for a while. Then one day - snap. Looking at the blade cross sections you could see enlarged grain -- something not visible externally given the poor finish of these inexpensive blades. In other words even someone with training and experience in the crafts of the sword wouldn't be able to pick out that they were "waiting to fail". And failing catastrophically at that. The odds are small, but the repercussions are horrendous. Japanese swords were designed more to bend on a blown cut. If you use improper hasuji in your cuts the likelihood should be a set in the blade. These just snapped due to brittle steel caused likely by overheating during the mass heat treatment they must use on these. Also notice that the overwhelming majority of the PK's and PPK's are now very thin in the kasane. That is not good given they're using the lower grade steel and a rudimentary heat treatment. The higher end blades utilize a vastly superior steel product (Swedish powdered steel) which requires a more precise heat treatment. The end result is a vastly superior product. Other blades I see frequently have issues that would have resulted in them being sent back to China if they were Bugei blades. Binding saya, loose tsuka, ware in bad places (grain openings), heat treatment issues (yaki-otoshi, hagiri, etc.), loose tsukamaki, poorly carved koiguchi, etc. Quality control is a mixture of hit and miss from china but also how much time the vendor on this end devotes to their product.

but I'm getting off-track.

Bugei orders their blades with various nagasa (blade lengths) and tsuka (handle) lengths. So you're not just buying a generic sword but you can order one sized appropriately for your style and you. When they arrive Ted and I usually get a call from Bugei and we head down with our toolkits. We have spent days inspecting, cleaning, honing, adjusting, repairing and sometimes rejecting swords. Some shipments are in good shape, others aren't as good. After a thorough inspection and tune-up the swords are repacked into custom boxes Bugei has made for them. These are larger, double-walled cardboard with custom die-cut foam. We literally throw away the generic cleaning kit from Hanwei (it isn't very good) and replace them with kits Bugei buys directly from a nihonto supplier in Japan.

Anyway, I must admit I get rather annoyed to hear some of the silly speculation on-line. Bugei has long been very open about how it goes about making swords, designing swords and standing behind their swords. They have an 800 number and are a "brick and mortar" business. They stand behind their products. They have a solid guarantee. They've been in business for a long time. They pay guys like me, Ted, etc. to be involved in every aspect of their sword design, production, inspection and customer care. And frankly we aren't cheap. The swords are collaboration of experienced martial artists (James and his students as well as others) and professionals who work full time in the craft end of swords on the very high end.

Now... All that said. Sure, things always leak back into the generic Hanwei sword lines. Bugei pushed things forward originally many years ago. Hanwei started then offering their Oriole and Musashi sword. Bugei pushed hard about issues such as tip geometry, blade geometry, heat treatment, edge condition, etc. During QC sessions we regularly reject blades. These aren't cheap because they're made to our specs. And we reject things that don't meet our expectations. It takes Bugei a *long* time sometimes to get the swords it needs because Hanwei has to work long and hard to do our orders because they know things will come back if they aren't perfect. I get people contacting me all the time with issues on new swords they bought elsewhere with issues I would have rejected out of hand. They get their swords still in the shipping boxes Hanwei uses to put them into larger boxes for the boat ride over. They still usually have the thick grease hanwei uses to coat their blades. Those blades never came out of the box it was packed in when it was made in China until the customer gets them. Bugei's blades are inspected, cleaned, adjusted, tuned and sometimes fixed up even more by professional polishers before they're repackaged into appropriate boxes and shipped to them. With Bugei standing behind them because they can. Because we do th QC. Because they insist on quality from the factory. Because they designed the blades in the first place.

Sure, the generic ones have benefited from the work Bugei has invested in their swords over the years. Lots of benefits have trickled down. Are they simply repackaged Chen blades? Well, as a guy who's spent many long days helping design, inspecting, cleaning, fixing and sometimes rejecting swords I find that statement bordering on insulting. A lot of work goes into them. That said, if you don't want the things Bugei offers, the generic swords ca be just fine assuming they arrive in good shape. But most really don't know what the "gotchas" are in swords. What is a fatal flaw? Can you see them? Do you know how things are supposed to fit? Regardless, assuming you get a good one I personally think the Bushido and Tiger are really nice swords for the price. But most vendors don't have polishers "on call", don't have the QC, don't have the support options, and don't have the reputation of Bugei. I bought a Tiger for a friend recently because he wanted the ko-kissaki. I ended up repairing the tsuka, adjusting the koiguchi, and doing a few things to the tsukamaki to fix some issues. I also had to ream out part of the saya for him to get a proper fit. And the blade needed some touching up on the edge. Nice sword. And if I had charged him my shop rate he would have ended up spending more than a new Bugei sword would have cost him...

Okay, I've typed way too much.

If you have questions about Bugei, they have their own forum for that very purpose. If you wonder about how they're done, it is *very* easy to go to Bugei's forum and simply ask rather than speculating idly. . They also have that 800 number on their website at .
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