Re: Research on Japanese swords
"The Connoisseur's Book of Japanese Swords" is a well respected work. I would search for contact information on Michael Bell and Thomas McGuane III. Michael Bell worked in a sword refurbishing shop for fifteen+ years (in Japan) and is now considered the foremost western traditional swordsmith (not just by me). Thomas McGuane III is a direct student of Yoshihara sensei (one of the ten national treasure swordsmiths) and has an encyclopedic knowledge of Japanese blades.
On the issue of Cold Steel, Paul Chen, Bugei, etc.:
The sword retailers you mentioned, as well as Bugei, are sword manufacturers, not swordsmiths. Their weapons are not forged to shape, the steel is not hand made, and the finish work is done in a factory environment. That does not make the swords less valuable training tools, and does not mean that they do not cut, but always be sure to check that a sword has a real, almost holographic looking hamon, is not stainless steel of any kind, and has a full tang before you ever lay your money down. These are VERY important safety considerations and go a long way toward determining if what you are looking at is a katana, an iaito, or a novelty item. To the best of my knowledge, the only place one can purchase sword made to exhibit all of the traits you would expect from a genuine katana is the private shop of a well trained and practiced smith. In addition, remember that authentic swordsmiths almost always sell their blades in shirosaya form rather than with all the regular fittings. In Japan, each element that went into a katana's fabrication, habaki, tsuba, tsuka, saya, blade, other fittings, and the final construction, were each a separate art, and you would never ever find a swordsmith who did all of those arts and sold finished weapons. Indeed different styles of fittings came in and out of fashion regularly before the restoration, and trendy warriors would often regularly change the fittings on centuries old family blades. Wealthy warriors would own many blades all stored as shirosaya because blades were timeless, fittings were not. The blade is the true core of the weapon, and the only part which is irreplaceable. To a bladesmith, making and selling a complete weapon is like creating an unbelievable fresco in tribute to all that is glorious about humanity, then having everyone in it wearing bell-bottoms.