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Old 08-14-2008, 02:45 PM   #1
Keith Larman
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Sword Show -- see the real deal...

Okay, the San Francisco Token Kai (translation -- big honking show of Japanese swords) is this weekend at the San Francisco Airport Marriott. People from all over the world attend this show including some of the best craftsmen like Yoshindo Yoshihara from Japan. This year there will be some spectacular blades on display and there will be talked given by craftsmen who make habaki, polishers, and handle wrappers. And of course the showroom has guys from all over the world selling/trading/just explaining things. I'll have a table with my good friend Ted Tenold and we'll have a variety of interesting stuff on the table. So quit swinging your bokken for a short while and come see some 800 year old samurai swords for real... And even hold a few...

http://www.ncjsc.org/SF_token_kai.htm

Later... Gotta pack...

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Old 08-14-2008, 04:03 PM   #2
dave9nine
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Re: Sword Show -- see the real deal...

hi!
im super interested in this....i check your link and i cant tell if the "reservation" part is for folks needing table/booths or if it's jsut to go....the "admission fees" I assume is for spectators (ie. me)...

another question: if i was to want to purchase a sword, would i be able to get an assesment as to what size is right for me?

*i have 3.5 solid years in iwama-ryu aikido, so i know my way around a bokken, and I actually plan to find an iaido dojo once im done with my uchi deshi stint in a few months, so i would not be buying the sword just to have on a wall (although, based on some reading ive done, i wouldnt be in a hurry to use a live blade before careful practice with a bokken and iai-to, either)

-dave
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Old 08-14-2008, 04:15 PM   #3
Will Prusner
 
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Re: Sword Show -- see the real deal...

dang it! I'm about as far away from this wonderland as I can get while still remaining in the same country. I don't assume there'll be a Miami Token Kai anytime soon? Didn't think so.

Well, I guess California deserves a super cool sword show, what with all the firearms restrictions...

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration...

ART! - http://birdsbeaks.blogspot.com/
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Old 08-14-2008, 08:35 PM   #4
Michael Hackett
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Re: Sword Show -- see the real deal...

The show is awesome! I've attended several years running, but will miss this year's show. There will be any number of really knowledgeable folks there to help you select what is right for you - including Keith. You'll see blades, fittings, armor, even saddles and stirrups. There is no need for reservations to attend, just show up and pay the entry fee (ten bucks as I recall). The workshops are another matter as I've never tried to attend their meetings or workshops. Really nice people and very helpful. If you enjoy Japanese blades, you'll see some that will amaze you.

Michael
"Leave the gun. Bring the cannoli."
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Old 08-14-2008, 11:08 PM   #5
Keith Larman
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Re: Sword Show -- see the real deal...

Just finished loading the car -- 6 hour drive first thing tomorrow morning.

As Michael said, visitors need only pay admission to the show which was something $10/day last year. There are seminars put on by the show organizers itself that are part of the admission. Things like sword appreciation, proper handling, etc.

The most important thing for someone new to the show would be to try to do the "sword handling/etiquette" seminar usually put on by Grey Doffin on Saturday morning. It'll make walking the floor a lot less stressful. Remember some blades on tables can be worth more than a high end luxury car. So you'd really not want to do something silly with a $60,000 sword... Highly recommended.

*Or* you come and find someone like me and simply ask for the pointers. I've walked people around the show most every year and introduced them to various other people. I've shown folk how to properly ask to see a blade, how to remove it from the saya without damage, and proper behavior while you have it out (don't talk over the blade, never touch *any* part of the blade with your skin, etc.). I'd rather spend 5-10 minutes explaining things than see someone get yelled at or worse yet hurt themselves (people have cut themselves stupidly at shows -- yes, oddly enough swords can be really sharp... You'd think that would be obvious, but someone invariably will run a thumb over an edge to make sure.).

The sections put on by the NBTHK-American Branch are "added" seminars as they are a separate group from the club putting on the show. Basically the NBTHK-American Branch puts on seminars for NBTHK-AB members since most of the members involved are already at the show with tables, etc. However, non NBTHK-AB members can attend these things but last year they charged a small $5 fee for attendance for each thing. So it might be a bit more if you want to attend different seminars. Usually the NBTHK-AB seminars are the ones where you'll walk into a room and see ten 800 year old masterpieces in perfect polish laid out on a table with someone explaining what you're looking at. You light up, follow etiquette, then get to often pick them up and study them in hand one at a time. How often do you get to hold a 800 year old masterpiece in your own hand?

With respect to finding the "right" blade for a martial artist... That's always a tough call. Each different style will usually have their own preferences for things like nagasa (cutting edge length), tsuka length, and some other parameteres. So the first piece of advice is always ask your sensei. That said most (90%) swords I do for people fall into a rather narrow range. 28-29.5 inches, 10-12" tsuka, 5/8 tori sori. Pretty normal. As a matter of fact I'll have a rather inexpensive (in traditionally made sword terms) shinsakuto on our table. It is over 28 inches and made by the smith in Japan that designed the very popular "Hataya Kotetsu" swords used in cutting competitions. So this is a true nihonto made of tamahagane that has been mounted up with user fittings and nicely wrapped in green doeskin. Very traditional looking rig. If you come by the table ask to see it if it isn't out. I'll let you feel how that one feels in your hands. We have it on a rather low price because it was made to be used rather than an art sword. And it has been used so its appropriately loved (i.e., all scuffed up).

But... If you're planning on studying iai sometime in the future this is not the time to buy a sword. Unless you're okay with your future sensei saying "that sword is all wrong for you." Remember each style has different ideas as to what is correct. MJER guys often like moderate length while some guys in MSR often go for really long nagasa. And besides, proper etiquette is always to ask sensei first. So first things first -- start training in iai. Then once you're ready for a sword you'll already know what to get... Then come to the next token kai or contact someone like me or any number of other people and we can help you find the right sword...

Oh, and as it is anywhere, caveat emptor. Some guys love this stuff and are incredibly helpful. But there are a few who will happily sell you anything they can talk you whether its any good or not...

Anyway, the show is a blast. I go, put stuff on tables, and usually come home with less money than I arrived with. But I go home with books, small fittings for projects, and usually a very sore frontal cortex after having spent most of the time studying really nice blades... That's my pornography... Looking at really nice swords...

Last edited by Keith Larman : 08-14-2008 at 11:11 PM.

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Old 08-14-2008, 11:13 PM   #6
Keith Larman
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Re: Sword Show -- see the real deal...

Quote:
William Prusner wrote: View Post
dang it! I'm about as far away from this wonderland as I can get while still remaining in the same country. I don't assume there'll be a Miami Token Kai anytime soon? Didn't think so.

Well, I guess California deserves a super cool sword show, what with all the firearms restrictions...
True, but there is an annual show in Tampa every year. I may not go next year as I've been kinda disappointed at the show and the organizers the last few years. And it is a long trip for me (cross country). Not to mention the cost not to try to fly with multiple very heavy sword cases. Each one of those extra pieces of "baggage" along with extra weight fees are making it harder and harder to justify these shows for some of us.

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Old 08-14-2008, 11:17 PM   #7
Keith Larman
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Re: Sword Show -- see the real deal...

Quote:
Michael Hackett wrote: View Post
The show is awesome! I've attended several years running, but will miss this year's show. There will be any number of really knowledgeable folks there to help you select what is right for you - including Keith. You'll see blades, fittings, armor, even saddles and stirrups. There is no need for reservations to attend, just show up and pay the entry fee (ten bucks as I recall). The workshops are another matter as I've never tried to attend their meetings or workshops. Really nice people and very helpful. If you enjoy Japanese blades, you'll see some that will amaze you.
Last year there was this guy who had some amazing framed displays of what looked like real nihonto. But he had done them all by using various nuri techniques (traditional lacquering). They were incredible. I spent the longest time marveling over those things...

Anyway, if any of you make it come on by and introduce yourself. Just ask people to find the table held by Keith Larman and Ted Tenold. You'll eventually find us. Remember, however, that we're often covering up our table so we can to look at other tables or hit the seminars. And I think Ted is helping out with some of the NBTHK seminars this time. So we might be away for some stretches of time.

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Old 08-15-2008, 08:27 PM   #8
Will Prusner
 
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Re: Sword Show -- see the real deal...

Quote:
Keith Larman wrote: View Post
True, but there is an annual show in Tampa every year. I may not go next year as I've been kinda disappointed at the show and the organizers the last few years. And it is a long trip for me (cross country). Not to mention the cost not to try to fly with multiple very heavy sword cases. Each one of those extra pieces of "baggage" along with extra weight fees are making it harder and harder to justify these shows for some of us.
Hey, thanks for the 411. I'll keep my eye out for that! A dissapointing show to a connaisseur, would probably be mind-blowing to this complete noob . And any show is better than no show. Thanks again.

W.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration...

ART! - http://birdsbeaks.blogspot.com/
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Old 08-16-2008, 11:10 PM   #9
Michael Hackett
Dojo: Kenshinkan Dojo (Aikido of North County) Vista, CA
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Re: Sword Show -- see the real deal...

Keith -

How about a report when you return? A dojo mate called me today and said it was awesome. What did you think?

Michael
"Leave the gun. Bring the cannoli."
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Old 08-18-2008, 12:02 PM   #10
Keith Larman
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Re: Sword Show -- see the real deal...

Hey, got back late last night and I'm unpacking/cleaning swords this morning. Warning -- long post ahead... You asked for it.

Great show. The San Francisco Token Kai is IMHO the best show outside of Japan. The vendors are always great, the venue is nice, and there's a fantastic sushi bar fairly close by that also has some really good sake'. Hole in the wall kind of place and the head guy is a fountain of good information about what's fresh and good. But I'm getting off track, neh...

This year was a bit sad, however. Ralph Bell had long been one of the motivating forces behind the show. Truly a character and a really good, plain spoken man. Unfortunately he passed away recently in a car accident. So there was a pause where we all remembered him and Terry McCarthy played amazing grace on the pipes. Everyone raised a glass to Ralph this year.

I drove up with my wife and daughter since the kid loves to swim in their indoor pool. So we made it a sort of long weekend vacation away for them while I was at the show. Got in around noon on Friday after a 6-hour drive for me. Got the table started and my good friend and partner Ted Tenold arrive soon afterwards. I brought up a really nice art shinsakuto (newly made art sword) by Komiya Yasumitsu. The Komiya smiths in Japan today are known for both their art swords and their swords made for martial arts practice. The arts swords are just gorgeous and their swords made for martial arts practice are renouned for excellent handling, balance and durability. Not to mention they're also traditionally made and gorgeous when fully polished. Here's a pic showing the activity in the Yasumitsu piece.



We also had two unpolished shinsakuto by the Komiya smiths -- one by Kotoken and the other by Kunimitsu II. I'm right now polishing a Kunimitsu II and the depth and richness of the nioi-guchi as well as the deep ashi are really nice. It will make a really gorgeous sword for the owner if I can ever finish the polish. (More on that later.) We have two unpolished blades with the idea that some entry-level martial artist might be interested in going a bit more upscale and traditional. Today top quality unpolished blades from smiths like Howard Clark go for well over 4 thousand (and they are worth it IMHO). So we decided to bring in a few high end martial arts level swords from Japan unpolished to see if we could generate some interest in some more traditional style blades for a bit more. We'll see -- the jury is still out on that one. Lots of people love them, but it is an investment...

Ted brought up a ton of sword fittings from his http://legacyswords.com site. I almost walked out with a set of horse menuki he had that match up well with a horse fuchi kashira set I have... I don't think they sold at the show so I might still have to buy them. Lots of cool stuff.

We also had two swords on our table on consignment for a good friend. Both Juyo Token (which essentially means the NBTHK in Japan has judged them as being important art works). One was a Rai Kunimitsu daito with a spectacular koshirae. The blade was really healthy (meaning it hasn't been overly polished over the years). So we're talking about a blade that is roughly 780 years old. Absolutely gorgeous and very much textbook Rai work. Value is probably the over 60K range. If you want to see that sword and some really well done photos please hit this link -- don't skip it just becaue it is really expensive -- go see it because it is absolutely stunning...

http://www.nihonto.ca/rai-kunitoshi-2/index.html

The other Juyo we had on the table was a Bizen Unji piece. If you're learning about swords one thing people often have trouble with is the concept of Utsuri. Utsuri is a sort of misty "reflection" of the hamon in the softer ji of the sword. Is it a subtle effect and remarkably difficult to photograph and explain. This sword had intense utsuri (a major evaluation point for Koto Bizen work). So I showed this sword to a lot of people as they asked questions. Many are way too nervous at these shows to ask to look at top notch blades. My opinion is that's why you go in the first place -- look at the best things you can look at! I showed one kid probably no more than 15 years old the Unji. I spent some time teaching him how to properly hold the blade, what not to do (don't touch the blade, don't breath on it (moisture), don't talk over it (tiny bits of spittle will ruin an art polish), etc.). Then I showed him that blade and helped him "learn to see" the utsuri. It was great watching his eyes light up as he made it out. Then I watched him turn white when he asked me what it cost -- closer to $40,000. Unfortunately I don't have any photos of this piece. But gorgeous...

But enough of our stuff... I saw all sorts of incredible blades. Rai pieces, Awataguchi, Bizen, Soshu, tons of Mino (which I just can't seem to enjoy)... The highlight for me, however, was the breakout session the NBTHK put on Saturday. Ted was the guy moderating so we had to cover up our table because there wasn't a snowball's chance in Hades I'd miss it. It was a "craft" presentation. Jimmy Hayashi, Brian Tscernega, Mike Yamazaki, and David McDonald all gave talkes. Hayashi-san is considered one of the best polishers around, certainly in the top echelons. He set up a polishing area and proceeded to explain aspects of polishing as he worked a small window in a blade from nagura through uchigumori. That was worth every cost of the trip for me. Jimmy Hayashi was traditionally trained in Japan for almost a decade before he went out on his own. Few people today even in Japan can do that any longer due to economic pressures. Imagine being an uchi-deshi for 10 years...

Brian is *the* top habakishi (habaki maker) outside of Japan. Brian did a presentation on habaki, how they're made, and touched on some of the often overlooked and very subtle details of size, dimension, flow and style.

Mike Yamazaki ( http://ricecracker.com ) did a presentation on restoration of koshirae. And how important it is to have someone who knows what they're doing do the work on important swords. He had some really nice examples of restored lacquer work and koshirae on the table.

And David McDonald ( http://www.montanairon.com/ ) gave a presentation on tsukamaki. David does really great work and he showed his collection of disassembled tsuka cores demonstrating the variety of ways things were done from the ground up.

Once we finished up in the breakout sessions I hustled back to the showroom to answer questions at the table. I got to see old friends and put some faces to names for some new ones. All good. And I have to give a special thanks to the folk from the Senpokan dojo who brought me and Ted a bag with a couple In-n-Out burgers... That was great as neither of had eaten in about 10 hours we had been so busy with everything else. Meetings with the NBTHK, the breakout sessions, then answering questions on the floor. The bad part was about 20 minutes later I was ready to crawl under the table for a nap...

Ted and I finally cried uncle and took off for a while at around 7pm to get sushi with my family and another friend. That was good. I'm sure we probably missed some people who would have dropped by the table but we were both totally fatigued at that point. It was also a bit of a celebration as Ted was voted onto the board of directors of the NBTHK-American Branch -- quite an accomplishment. So that's all good.

We made it back to the show, answered a few more questions until it finally closed out at 10pm. At that point Ted and I ended up spending another 3 hours at a small table in the corner of the lounge with Jimmy Hayashi. That was incredible for me being able to chat, tell stories, ask questions, talk about the future of polishing, talk about how many essential natural polishing stones have been mined out, etc. It was interesting as we talked about the parallels between swords crafts and martial arts. We talked about things like shu/ha/ri, the relationship between student and teacher, the devotion and focus required to *really* learn these things, etc. It was also great for me in that I had been struggling with finishing a blade by Komiya Kunimitsu, a lovely shinsakuto I'm doing for a client. There were two remarkable things Jimmy conveyed to me on that topic. One was a purely technical thing about the jizuya stage in polishing especially when dealing with a very hard gendaito with fine, tight hada. The second was a reminder about the bigger picture of polishing -- every sword should be your absolutely best work. It doesn't matter what the customer wants, it doesn't matter if the sword is a national treasure or a Bungo blade made somewhat as a mass produced sword. Every polish must be your best polish. A good reminder and something I needed to hear as I had been struggling with the finish. My struggle was that it is very late in terms of deadlines, I had promised to be finished by now, but I have something I needed to fix that would mean me being even later and literally destroying about 40 hours of work already accomplished. It popped up as I was trying to match up the jizuya and I managed to create some scratches that I couldn't get out. I solved my problem on the jizuya selection for this blade, but... I needed to take it back to koma nagura and redo the entire shiage to do it right. And that's 40 hours lost and another 40 hours to spend. But that's what I need to do... I must say I knew that deep down inside, but sometimes you need someone else to say something like that to make you truly comes to grip with it.

Anyway, next Brian Tscernega dropped in and the four of us talked swords and life for a while longer. Mike Yamazaki came by and needled us about still talking swords late at night in the bar, but hey, I'm happy to admit to my sword geekiness. I probably one too many martinis for me given the sake' I drank at dinner... So we all eventually gave up as it was last call and wandered up to our rooms.

I had promised my daughter to take her swimming in the morning before breakfast. It felt like had just closed my eyes when the kid was standing there with a gigantic grin on her face informing me that the pool would be open soon since it opens at 7 am. Great... I managed to convince her that I should sit in the hot jacuzzi for the first 15 minutes with my eyes closed while the advil kicked in...

The show opened up again at nine. I walked the floor a few more times and finally ended up buying a wakizashi I had been watching. Signed Bizen Sukesada I think. The very tip had been snapped but not beyond repair. Obviously the sword had been repaired sometime in the past (repaied quite well, however) as the yakiba was a bit more narrow than you'd expect given the overall look. And lots of surface gunk and rust. But I could see some nice utsuri and I think it has some potential. Besides it came in a broken down koshirae that had complete and rather nice looking handachi fittings. Smaller, but nice. So it'll be a labor of love for me getting the fittings off and having those restored just a bit. And I want to study the blade just a bit more...

Anyway, great time, tremendous educational opportunities, and tons of *really* nice swords.

Oh, forgot to mention. One friend managed to pick up a really remarkable yari. Shinshinto era Yokoyama school piece that looks like it has a huge amount of potential. I wish I'd seen it first as I've had another Yokoyama school piece that was just stunning. He showed it to me and the I instantly recognized the work. And it looked like it might have a hagiri (crack in the edge -- something yari are very prone too) but Jimmy Hayashi put it on the stones at the demo briefly since they were out. It turned out it wasn't a crack and it also looks like the signature is righteous. So he scored a great piece.

Enough typing for me. I need to go unpack my stuff, oil swords, and then sit down and write down some remaining notes for myself... and then it's out to my polishing workshop to work on that sword with Jimmy Hayashi's words fresh in my head. I don't work on antiques but the lessons are the same... Slap on forehead time for me. Domo arigato gozaimasu Hayashi-san!

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Old 08-18-2008, 02:51 PM   #11
Michael Douglas
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Re: Sword Show -- see the real deal...

Thanks for a nice review Keith, and good links to peruse.
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Old 08-18-2008, 05:01 PM   #12
Keith Larman
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Re: Sword Show -- see the real deal...

Oops, I wrote Rai Kunimitsu in the review up above. That's what I get -- I was reading up on the Rai school this morning since the blade was fresh in my mind and the variety of smiths got jumbled up in my head. Not to mention I'm working on a Komiya Kunimitsu blade right now. So I mistyped the name.

The blade we had on the table was by Rai Kunitoshi.

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Old 08-19-2008, 09:21 AM   #13
Michael Hackett
Dojo: Kenshinkan Dojo (Aikido of North County) Vista, CA
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Re: Sword Show -- see the real deal...

Thanks Keith - great response. Not as good as being there, but almost as good. Thanks for taking the time to give us the low down on all the happenings. Next year for sure.

Michael
"Leave the gun. Bring the cannoli."
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Old 08-19-2008, 07:40 PM   #14
Stefan Stenudd
 
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The real deal elsewhere, too.

Unfortunately, I was not able to get to that event, but I'm so ridiculously lucky that I have one of the foremost experts and collectors of Japanese swords in my hometown. I visited him yesterday, and got to see some of the wonderful tachi, katana, wakizashi, and tanto of his collection.
Quite a delight.

When you hold one of these masterpieces, you get the feeling that you immediately know the sword arts
They guide you, just by the perfection of their shape and balance.

Stefan Stenudd
My aikido website: http://www.stenudd.com/aikido/
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