Monthly news & updates
August 1st, 2021 | Issue # 160
Swords in the News
Positive Sword Related Stories in the News
It has certainly been hard for them, but Japan has heroically pushed ahead with the Summer Olympics - and here they imagine every nation on earth as an Anime Samurai!

While the original historical Olympic Games died out sometime between the 4th and 6th centuries AD, regional sporting contests and the spirit of the games lived on throughout the medieval period.
A mystery object, highly decorated like the Sutton Hoo shield and helmet, was found by a metal detector in Norfolk, the United Kingdom last month and it has the experts stumped. Could it be part of a rare pommel style? Is it part of a sword belts buckle or a baldric? Have a look and make up your own mind.

How about a summer school for kids where they can learn Fiore or Meyer's HEMA sword fighting systems? Well, they have one in Michigan - wish I had this kind of thing around when I was growing up...!
Lovingly made by Trent and Colleen Schriefer in Maine, find out about their awesome business making some of the best quality (and very affordable) wooden medieval wasters around as featured in 'Down East' (a local Maine online publication).
Not much attention was made to the highly decorative 'fit for a Shogun' kinkara-kawazutsumi-tachi of Tokugawa Ieyesu. But recently it was strongly suggested that it was made not in Japan, but in Spain.

The Arthurian tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight just got the Hollywood treatment. But here original medieval manuscript and the old tale is dissected by History Extra.
Sword Industry News
It has taken the better part of a year to get there, but finally the sword industry is reaching something close to a temporary state of equilibrium. The much anticipated Cas Iberia restock refreshed, at least for now, some of the most popular entry level functional sword models from brands such as the Hanwei Forge, Kingston Arms, Dragon King, A.P.O.C. and others..

Some of these items have been out of stock for over a year and due to their popularity, are not likely to remain in stock for all that much longer.

Some of the hottest restocked items - the Tinker Pearce Series by Hanwei
Tinker Longsword $249.99
Tinker 9th Century Viking $249.99
Tinker Norman $239.98
Last month we were also delighted to re-release a modified (and in many ways actually upgraded) version of our Forge Direct Custom Katana series - a standard length differentially hardened, Master smith forged T10 tool steel Katana that in many ways defines the standard for mid to high end Longuan Katana replicas.
The Forge Direct Custom Katana Version 4.0

For the time being, the recent restocks and re-releases have managed to avoid any price increases - partially because as supply stabilizes a bit, there are enough swords to keep everyone going even on reduced profit margins. But for how long it will remain like this is yet to be seen - because the cost of shipping and production has been skyrocketing for a long time now, and sooner or later, something, somewhere will have to give.
New Swords at KoA
The Digest's best picks from Kult of Athena' New Product Section.
Balaur Arms
This month we see a wide range of items - not as many new swords as last month, but some really nice new ones including those listed above, several daggers and blades by Baltimore Knives and Swords, Valiant Armoury and many more. Check out all the new offerings below:
Olympic Fencing - Modern Day Swordsmanship
Whatever your opinion may be about the '2020' Tokyo Olympics running in 2021 to empty stadiums and limited viewing options - most sword enthusiasts can appreciate the Olympic spirit embodied in one of the fastest and most dynamic sports that traces its lineage to historical dueling; Fencing.

Maybe you have been watching it closely or have at least seen some of the highlights here and there - and while much of the action has already transpired, the finals are taking place TODAY - so it's not too late to catch the worlds best of the best go head to head.

But before we get in where and how to watch the finals - let's take some time to explore the background of Olympic fencing, because while often dismissed my enthusiasts who are focused on HEMA, JSA or weapons Martial Arts practice, it has a long and rich history and the skill involved should never be underestimated..
Historical Origins and Martial Connection
Modern Fencing grew from Classical Italian fencing of the 19th and 20th century, and while it is clearly a sport and not a martial art, classical fencing was used in duels as late as WWI and so has a foundation rooted in real life and death sword combat..
Harvey Keitel in the opening scene one of the most realistic sword fighting movies of all time, the Duelists
And there can be no doubt that Olympic level fencers have amazingly fast reflexes, endurance and the ability to make split second decisions with total commitment - all critical skills of swordsmen throughout all ages. But more than this, it is also a mental battle, a battle of wills - and a battle against oneself.

To understand it's martial heritage, the benefits to health, and to clear up many of the myths surrounding it, check out the article '15 common misconceptions about Fencing' from the Academy of Fencing Masters.
Rules of the Game
Essentially, the sport of fencing consists of three disciples - the foil, the epee and the saber.

Each discipline has its own set of target areas and rules governed by the F.I.E. - the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime.
As a general overview, fencing matches take place in a rectangular, long (44'/14m) area called the piste and consist of 3 x 3 minute rounds.

Touching any valid target of the opponents body using an authorized technique with your sword or forcing them to fall off the end of the piste results in a point - and the first opponent to reach 15 points is declared the winner.

One important (and quite complicated) rule critical to foil and saber fighting (but not epee) is found in the concept of 'right of way' or 'priority' which is a rule that comes into play when two combatants land a valid strike more or less simultaneously (within one second).

While complex, the core principle is that the person who is in an attacking position first, who makes their opponent misses by parrying or falling short and counter attacking or the person who controls the initiative and is more aggressive generally, gets the point.

Below are links to the rules of the three disciplines as well as a quick overview:

Thrusting/tip only. Any target from head to toe is valid. No 'right of way concept'.

Thrusting/tip only. Torso only. Right of way rules apply.

Thrusting AND cutting. Upper body targets all valid. Right of way rules apply.

For a general overview, check out the video below:
Tools of the Trade
Of the three types of fencing swords, the 'pistol grip' is perhaps the most controversial among fencers who also appreciate historical swords. Used by all Olympic level foilists, and not uncommon among Epee fencers either, but was never seen on any historical dueling sword and is very much an artifact of the sport itself.

However, more conventional grips are used or the versatile saber - and indeed, it is the combination of the cut and thrust that makes Saber fencing the most popular among people who also practice HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) or are looking for a more 'authentic' sword fighting experience.

The blades of Olympic foils, epees and sabers are all made from maraging steel - low carbon, ultra high strength steel that gets its strength not from carbon, but from metallic alloys in its construction and will slow a crack in the blade by a factor of 10 when compared to medium or high carbon steel blades. The blades are also slightly curved so that they flex in a predicable direction when they contact the target - and most importantly - they are very SAFE (it is practically unheard of for a fencer to be injured by a BLADE during a fencing match, though pulled muscles or torn ligaments are not uncommon).

Typically, it costs around $700 to $1,500 to kit yourself out with everything you need for serious fencing practice - though the swords themselves are actually quite inexpensive (definitely sub $300!) and you can pick them up readily enough on or other online stores such as the $60 maraging steel (S2000) Saber with electronics included!
Watch the Finals TODAY August 1st 2021
Much of the action has already happened - but there is still time to catch the finals..

From 9am to 5:50pm local time (Tokyo) is the last day of the Men's foil team championships. While coverage has been a bit of an issue, you can watch the Olympics using any of the following streaming services depending on your location or VPN proxy set up:

  1. DAZN.
  2. ESPN+
  3. Hulu + Live TV.
  4. Sling TV.
  5. YouTube TV.
  6. Sony LIV.

Or you can see free livestreams (as well as video of all the previous matches) for free on NBC HERE

Even if you don't see it live this year, I hope that this article has sparked some interest in this sport of swordsmanship.
Video of the Month
Still have your doubts that Fencing is a sport that has martial applications. Well, check out this cool tongue in cheek video with US Olympic Champion Monica Aksamit where she defends against 4 'regular people' attempting to stab her in the face..! (spoiler alert: the shocked look on her opponents face below gives you some idea of the outcome!).
Very interesting that the first person to face of against her felt genuine, visceral fear - there is no doubt that if you try fencing for the first time, you will probably experience a similar thrill..
Best Forum Posts
We kept 'mum' on this one for quite some time, but it was finally revealed in a Facebook post last month that Kult of Athena has a new owner. The forum erupted into Chaos momentarily until the new owner made a post to clarify what is going on - showing just how important good vendor/member interactions are to ensuring everyone has accurate information 'from the horses mouth' and do not go down the rabbit hole of wild guesses and pure speculation..

Traditional Katana are not designed to flex and return to true - and it's a design feature that they will tend to take a set rather than snap or shatter when over-stressed, but what to do with any blades that do end up with a set from a bad cut? Find out here, it's nowhere near as bad a problem as you might think..

The master of Japanese sword customization and years ahead of his time. Rest in peace Mr. Lohman.

Hungarian sword makers Regenyei may primarily service E.U. based sword enthusiasts, but their site is available in English, their reach global - and their custom swords? Check the thread and see for yourself!
Neo-Katana from Seki-city, Japan
It started, unknowingly of course, only about a month before Covid-19 started dominating the news cycle and causing unprecedented chaos around the globe. I had just spent a very pleasant Christmas and New Years vacation in Hokkaido with my daughter and at the start of 2020, spent about a week with a Japanese Swordsmith, Shinsuke-san and an American English teacher Chris Loeber.

I recorded my visit over on SBG with the article Antique Samurai Swords, a Personal Journey and it concluded by alluding to a project I had had in mind ever since I first saw first hand the level of attention to detail on an entry level un-sharpened iaito training sword..

I have alluded to it several times throughout the year, but for anyone needing a refresher, my thought at the time when examining the attention to detail and craftsmanship of a Japanese made iaito was along the lines of 'if only they could fit a live blade to these fittings'. The way I saw it, industries around un-sharpened iaito and live blades in the form of traditional Japanese kitchen knives was alive and well, but swordmaking? The industry for sword making was effectively stymied by domestic oversupply, restrictive laws left over from the aftermath of WWII and price competition from overseas and from existing antiques or recently made Shisakuto..

Being something of an iconoclast, the obvious solution to me was to simply use the best iaito fittings money could buy and commission some quality blades to be mounted on them made in Longquan. But if we are going to spend over $1000 on fittings - why 'cheapen' it? Why not have the blade made in Japan too?

The obvious answer is cost - to have a blade made in Japan will be very expensive. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that for this project to make sense on any level and build the Japanese sword industry rather than take from it, the blades HAD to be made in Japan. And while it would be expensive, it would be a wholly Japanese made Shinken at 1/4 of the price it would cost if you were to have it made using Tamahagane and custom made fittings.

Could it be done? Would the Japanese Sword Smithing community embrace or outright reject my idea?

That is the question I proposed during my visit - and in a surprisingly short period of time with more or less zero resistance to the idea (indeed, the Swordsmithing community of Japan seemed to welcome it) we had drawn up a plan to create it..

It's just a working title for now - but we call it:

Bonji Sword Prototype
Above are the first sneak peek images at the prototype for this project - the Bonji Sword, so called because I selected custom 'Bonji' themed silver fittings ('Bonji' the Japanese terminology for the 'Siddham Script' based on ancient Sanskrit that was used in East Asia to transmit the Buddhist scriptures):
As you might expect, the fittings turned out stunningly beautiful. Such fittings are usually only seen on high end iaito such as this one for just shy of $2K by Minosaka Shinto, Japan. But for the blade, we see the true spirit of Monozukuri (Japanese craftsmanship) take it to an even higher level..

The blade is made from 'Shiro2' cutlery steel chosen by Shinsuke-san and sourced from the Tafekfu Special Steel Company. When forged by a Master, it turns out looking something like THIS:
We still a bit more work to do to cross the finish line: the prototype still needs one final polish (as well as final assembly and the signing of the tang) before it can be sent over to the US to be evaluated and tested. And we still need to finalize all the custom options and pricing, so it is still a few months out before we can start to consider offering them to the Japanese Sword Enthusiast community.

But stay tuned folks..

This Project will, we think, be quite revolutionary...
SBG Funnies - Sword Frog
Hope that you enjoyed this issue of the digest.

A very busy month ahead as we gear up for the final third of the year (though to many people it feels like an overly long, stretched out 2020) - including many scheduled site updates and upgrades across the board. But I will save that until September.

So until next time, stay safe and happy swordening.

  • Paul Southren