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David V.





Joined: 27 Nov 2005

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PostPosted: Thu 01 Dec, 2005 9:48 pm    Post subject: Weapon craft, Japan VS The rest of the world!         Reply with quote

Just to set the record straight for this newbie, what is the truth behind the level of extreme popularity enjoyed by japanese blade craft compared to the relative undermining of craft from other cultures, particular western weaponry?

I can't count the number of exaggerated myths surrounding Katanas and assorted japanese weaponry i heard in my life, myths and exaggerations also boasted by fiction and media alike.

Why is this? Why are Katanas so over-estimated? Is there any ground for their superior craftsmanship? Was japanese swordmaking really more advanced to that of other cultures? Is it because western craftsmens focused purely on practicality whereas their japanise counterpart had a pinch for turning their trade into an art? (which seems a recurring theme in oriental culture).

Today i just revealed to a friend my intention to acquire a real sword, and as soon as i showed him my weapon of choise he told me : 'why buy that? If you want a real sword, wouldn't it be better if you got a Katana?'. Bleh...
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Anton de Vries





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PostPosted: Fri 02 Dec, 2005 1:03 am    Post subject: Re: Weapon craft, Japan VS The rest of the world!         Reply with quote

David V. wrote:

I can't count the number of exaggerated myths surrounding Katanas and assorted japanese weaponry i heard in my life, myths and exaggerations also boasted by fiction and media alike.

Makes me wonder about the Japanese view. Is it the same in Japan, i.e. do people believe a katana can cut through machine gun barrels?
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Wolfgang Armbruster





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PostPosted: Fri 02 Dec, 2005 4:02 am    Post subject: Re: Weapon craft, Japan VS The rest of the world!         Reply with quote

Anton de Vries wrote:
David V. wrote:

I can't count the number of exaggerated myths surrounding Katanas and assorted japanese weaponry i heard in my life, myths and exaggerations also boasted by fiction and media alike.

Makes me wonder about the Japanese view. Is it the same in Japan, i.e. do people believe a katana can cut through machine gun barrels?


There was once an article in the NYT by a Japanese journalist about exactly this topic.
He told a story about a Japanese soldier during WW2 who complained that his magnificient ( a high quality heirloom) Katana got bent when a horse stepped on the sheated sword by accident. The swordsmith responsible for repairing all the katanas and guntos had a hard time educating this man (and lots of others) about the truth.
The soldiers were quite surprised to hear that their highly praised swords could chip and nick quite easily when treated in the wrong way.

I used to have this article on my computer but it got lost while formatting Sad
Maybe someone else still has a link to this article.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Dec, 2005 5:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It could also be noted that the katana was in use a longer than high quality european blades. By the time europe, and the US came into serious contact with the japanese in the 19th century, swords where obsolete in the west, for most purposes.
the swords the western officers carried where mass produced military sabres. Most of the sailors that came there didn't have even that much experience with quality bladed weapons.
Thus they would not be very hard to impress with the "fantastic" qualities of the Katana.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Fri 02 Dec, 2005 9:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling,
I think I have to disagree with that. I've handled a few really fantastic feeling original 19th century sabers that not only were incredible in the hand, but had incredibly detailed fittings. Mass produced doesn't necessarily equal lesser quality. (look at Albion, for instance!)

I imagine most of the "hype" of the Japanese sword has a little more to do with the deep spiritual reverence they had for it, which could be mis-perceived by outsiders. I also think that there is more hype in the modern world where swords aren't actually used anymore.

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--German Longsword & Italian Rapier in the DC Area--


"A despondent heart will always be defeated regardless of skill."
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Russ Ellis
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PostPosted: Fri 02 Dec, 2005 10:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would also submit that holly wood and the cartoon (or anime or whatever) industry probably share a lot of the blame.
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Patrick Kelly




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Dec, 2005 10:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

David,

You may want to use our search function to finds answers to your question. This is a heavily discussed topic that usually results in heated discussions and neccessary moderation for very little gain. Enter the word katana into the search function and you'll probably find enough information to satisfy your curiosity.

"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus
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John Cooksey




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Dec, 2005 11:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Short, simple answer (hopefully unoffensive):

1. japanese military tech. (and social organization) got frozen at the beginning of the Tokugawa era

2. Japanese sword usage got preserved and enshrined because of this cultural "freezing"

3. Americans (and others) bring home Japanese swords and images of Japanese folks using swords after wars in Asia

4. Americans (and others) subsequently become obsessed with Asian martial arts, Asian martial arts movies, and other stuff.

5. Japanese swordsmanship is probably the "best-preserved" form of practical swordsmanship (possible exception of Philipino martial arts), and certainly the most widely-disseminated and popularized

6. Lots of people want to belong to this "living tradition" of sword use, rather than try to reconstruct Western martial arts


What I find really interesting about Japanese weapons and armor is how "ancient" they really are-----how closely connected to the general East Asian forms and techniques of the early first millenium AD. From an archaeological perspective, that is just really, really cool.
Plus, some of the way coolest Chinese material is preserved in Japanese shrines and temples.

I didn't surrender, but they took my horse and made him surrender.
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Bob Burns




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Dec, 2005 11:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

John that sure makes a whole lot of sense. I know from my personal experience in the Asian arts that the only sword that seemed to mattery to anyone were the asian swords. The people I knew in these circles seemed to give no creedence to European swords at all.
Though I never particularly studied the the sword while in that circle, all I remember is the obsession of the katana and other Asiatic swords and they were revered as almost some sort of supernatural weapon.

Thanks for your post and Patrick thanks for the suggestion of "katana" in the search window.


Happy Collecting,

Bob
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Margaret Lo




Location: Princeton, NJ
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PostPosted: Fri 02 Dec, 2005 2:50 pm    Post subject: Re: Weapon craft, Japan VS The rest of the world!         Reply with quote

David V. wrote:
Just to set the record straight for this newbie, what is the truth behind the level of extreme popularity enjoyed by japanese blade craft compared to the relative undermining of craft from other cultures, particular western weaponry?

I can't count the number of exaggerated myths surrounding Katanas and assorted japanese weaponry i heard in my life, myths and exaggerations also boasted by fiction and media alike.

Why is this? Why are Katanas so over-estimated? Is there any ground for their superior craftsmanship? Was japanese swordmaking really more advanced to that of other cultures? Is it because western craftsmens focused purely on practicality whereas their japanise counterpart had a pinch for turning their trade into an art? (which seems a recurring theme in oriental culture).

Today i just revealed to a friend my intention to acquire a real sword, and as soon as i showed him my weapon of choise he told me : 'why buy that? If you want a real sword, wouldn't it be better if you got a Katana?'. Bleh...


The myth of the supernatural katana will remain alive thanks not only to anime and movies, but thanks to the simple fact that its critical supporting culture is very much alive. Two weeks ago, I visited a training session of the Yagyu Shinkage Ryu in NYC. This is a 400 year old school that originated with the swordmaster for Iyesu Tokugawa. Its theory and practice are documented and intact and regularly taught. Its current headmaster is a banker by trade who visits the US on occasion. The various Japanese weapons schools are listed in www.koryu.com. See also http://www.flatfishdesign.com/yagyu/

Not only has this school retained physical technique, it has retained combat strategy which it does not share except with very senior students. If that's not already super cool, I don't know what is! When you see the attitudes and listen to the discussion of technique, you realize its vitality and legitimacy. So the katana seems supernatural because the swordmasters remain so superbly skilled that they seem....well...supernatural. Happy

M
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Mikko Kuusirati




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Dec, 2005 3:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Russ Ellis wrote:
I would also submit that holly wood and the cartoon (or anime or whatever) industry probably share a lot of the blame.

Dunno about that, really... if you actually look at them, most anime shows depict European style crucifom swords as the ultimate melee weapons.

Now Hollywood, that's a clear case. For ex, remember that ninja boom some decades ago? Big Grin

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Steve Grisetti




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Dec, 2005 6:27 pm    Post subject: Re: Weapon craft, Japan VS The rest of the world!         Reply with quote

Margaret Lo wrote:
...Not only has this school retained physical technique, it has retained combat strategy which it does not share except with very senior students. If that's not already super cool, I don't know what is!....

And the limited sharing of strategy would only add to the mystique. Welcome aboard, Margaret!

"...dismount thy tuck, be yare in thy preparation, for thy assailant is quick, skilful, and deadly."
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John Cooksey




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Dec, 2005 9:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mikko Kuusirati wrote:
Russ Ellis wrote:
I would also submit that holly wood and the cartoon (or anime or whatever) industry probably share a lot of the blame.

Dunno about that, really... if you actually look at them, most anime shows depict European style crucifom swords as the ultimate melee weapons.

Now Hollywood, that's a clear case. For ex, remember that ninja boom some decades ago? Big Grin


Darned ninjas are freakin' everywhere!
I know I can't step out of my house anymore without tripping over three, at least.

I blame realultimatepower.com

Oh well, that's why I am getting myself a Mauser C-96 airsoft pistol. 30 rounds at 420 fps. Now that's a ninja-sweeper, right there.

I watch a lot of anime, and I do see a lot of katanas, even if they are not always being used by main characters.
Of course, in my favorite, Fullmetal Alchemist, when any of the main characters need a weapon for serious battle, they just make themselves some spears. And I do love spears . . . . . .

I didn't surrender, but they took my horse and made him surrender.
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Boris Bedrosov
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PostPosted: Sat 03 Dec, 2005 5:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello everyone!

This is a very interesting topic, to which I can contribute something, I think.

First of all, it's a common practice to be said that the Japanese swords are superior not only to Europeans, but to all the rest of the world swords. Personally, I think that this is a myth, nailed in the people's mind generally by Hollywood. I don't deny the superb characteristics (both combat and metalurgical) of the katana (if you see my profile, you'll see that the Japanese arms and armour are my favorite), but simply speeking, they are developed and constructed for quite different type of combat. Beeing used against relatively light armours, and sometimes against not-armoured warriors, katana is simply different weapon. Its sharp blade is excellent in cutting, but I have strong doubts about its use against heavier European armours. The curved blade facilitates its cutting power, but weakens its thrusting capabilities also.

At the second place I will put some economic factors. All you know, that Japan was and is resources-poor country. This is true and for the iron particulary. The supply of swords was limited. So, the Japanese blacksmiths had no choise about the way of developing of the blades - the cheaper and low-quality swords were unacceptable. This wasn't an Europeans' problem, due to far greater quantities of iron available in Europe. On the other hand we know a lot of excellent European examples - Toledo is just one of them. So, if Europe had the choise between expensive, high-quality swords (for the noblemen) and cheap, not so high-quality swords (for the ordinary troops), Japan had the choise between high-expensive, extremely high-quiality swords; or expensive, high-quality swords; or not swords at all.

And last, but not least both the katana and European swords have their advantages and disadvantages, strong and weak points. Any attempts to establish the superiority of one type of weapon over the others out of the context of the circumstances, in which it was used and developed, seems to me little meaningless. This is the only reason, why I stopped to compare them and think "What will happen if?...". Because there are not any strong evidances about "engagement" between Japanese and European swords, which would allow us to compare their combat effectiveness, I just accept that both are superior weapons in different ways.

Regards!
Boris
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Wolfgang Armbruster





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PostPosted: Sat 03 Dec, 2005 8:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello Boris,
first of all I agree with most of your statements.
But as far as I know Japanese armour wasn't lighter than European plate armour.
A complete suit of gothic plate armor and a complete Japanese yoroi were about the same wheight, ca, 15 -20 kg.
The main difference was that Japanese armour was developed to allow its' user to wield the bow whereas this is impossible with full-plate. Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong Happy

I'm also quite sure there was a fair amount of lower quality swords in Japan. But nobody cared to preserve these swords, only high quality blades were treated as heirlooms.
That said, lower quality blades weren't necessarily worse than hq blades when it comes to fighting. Many mass-produced blades from Europe had the same handling characteristics as the more expensive ones.The difference was that the fullers were sometimes a bit uneven or the grinding was sloppy. But they were fully functional swords ready to be employed in combat.
I think Peter Johnson once commented on this topic.
The same situation probably applied to Japanese blades.


But I totally agree with you when you're saying that neither Japanese swords nor European ones were better than their counterparts. Both weapons were highly developed designs that totally fulfilled their purpose Happy


Having said that I get the feeling that this discussion happened before :P
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C. Stackhouse




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PostPosted: Sat 03 Dec, 2005 9:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The ever lasting debate of japanese vs western swords can be ended with, "What is it you need your sword to do?"

Japanese swords were generally used against lightly armoured or unarmoured soldiers, therefore they needed to be light and good at quick sweeping cuts. Whereas european swords were generally coming into contact with heavier armour, especially in the case of other knights and would need to be slightly sturdier with a greater potential for crushing impacts and still be usable if marred. When two samurai clashed they were trained to attack the vulnerable areas of the joints and neck (especially the armpits) because a direct hit into any plated area could cause the blade to be nicked, chipped or damaged and thus severely reducing it's effectiveness in battle.

The way these different swords were wielded is another factor in determining their situational superiority, european swords were commonly used single handedly from horseback or in tandem with a shield. A katana was used exclusively with both hands, it's lead hand acted as a fulcrum to increase slashing power, it was usually only the first six inches of the blade that was used for striking where the entirety of a european sword was meant to be a weapon.

Who would win a sword duel, a knight or a samurai? Depends entirely on skill, a highly trained samurai would have no trouble overwhelming a newly knigted squire, and visa versa a battle hardened knight would easily defeat a novice samurai.

The only way to TRULY prove a weapon's superiority is to identify what it was used for, and how well it did the job. If it did the job it was designed to do better then the other sword it is superior. In the case of katana vs medieval european swords I strongly believe they both did exactly what they were meant to and are therefore equal.


I apologize if this essay is crap, but have been quite sick for a few days.... -_-

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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Sat 03 Dec, 2005 9:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

C. Stackhouse wrote:
Japanese swords were generally used against lightly armoured or unarmoured soldiers, therefore they needed to be light and good at quick sweeping cuts.


As Wolfgang pointed out, Japanese armour is not necessarily heavier than European armour. First of all, we have to take into account time period, as 10 c. European armour is not very much like 15th c. European armour, and the same goes with Japanese armour. But if we were to compare examples of 15th. century full gothic harnesses to 15th c. Japanese plate yoroi, I think you'll find that they are not that different in weight. In fact, on average the European armour is actually a little bit lighter. The same is true of comparing European longswords with Japanese ones, though I suspect that if we had more surviving samples of original pieces that the averages would be quite close, if not nearly identicle.

Quote:
When two samurai clashed they were trained to attack the vulnerable areas of the joints and neck (especially the armpits) because a direct hit into any plated area could cause the blade to be nicked, chipped or damaged and thus severely reducing it's effectiveness in battle.


True... but this is exactly the same thing with European swords. Wink If I may quote my favorite historical European fight master, Sigmund Ringeck, "If you want to attack a man in harness, you must find his vulnerabilities quickly. At first try to strike him in the face, and also in the armpits, in his palms, or from the rear into the gauntlets, or into the back of the knee, between his legs, and at all limb joints, inside where his harness has its' articulations." (Christian Tobler's translation.) As you can see, the ideal way to use a sword against a man in armour in either tradition is to hit the man where the armour isn't.

Quote:
The way these different swords were wielded is another factor in determining their situational superiority, european swords were commonly used single handedly from horseback or in tandem with a shield. A katana was used exclusively with both hands, it's lead hand acted as a fulcrum to increase slashing power, it was usually only the first six inches of the blade that was used for striking where the entirety of a european sword was meant to be a weapon.


Ah, but you forget that the Japanese used horses, too. Wink And if you want a fair comparison between sword styles, you should look at late medieval European longsword techniques compared to the Japanese katana, as they are much more similar in style. And you will also find that while there are many differences between the fighting styles, there are by far more similarities. Similar stances, similar attacks, similar defenses. And the Japanese made use of the pommel strikes ane even in some cases using the off hand on the blade, in many ways nearly identicle to the techniques used in European swordsmanship.

Quote:
Who would win a sword duel, a knight or a samurai? Depends entirely on skill, a highly trained samurai would have no trouble overwhelming a newly knigted squire, and visa versa a battle hardened knight would easily defeat a novice samurai.


In total agreement. Happy

Quote:
The only way to TRULY prove a weapon's superiority is to identify what it was used for, and how well it did the job. If it did the job it was designed to do better then the other sword it is superior. In the case of katana vs medieval european swords I strongly believe they both did exactly what they were meant to and are therefore equal.


Also in total agreement. Happy

Quote:
I apologize if this essay is crap, but have been quite sick for a few days.... -_-


Eh, don't apologize, we're all here to learn!

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--German Longsword & Italian Rapier in the DC Area--


"A despondent heart will always be defeated regardless of skill."
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C. Stackhouse




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PostPosted: Sat 03 Dec, 2005 11:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:

True... but this is exactly the same thing with European swords. Wink If I may quote my favorite historical European fight master, Sigmund Ringeck, "If you want to attack a man in harness, you must find his vulnerabilities quickly. At first try to strike him in the face, and also in the armpits, in his palms, or from the rear into the gauntlets, or into the back of the knee, between his legs, and at all limb joints, inside where his harness has its' articulations." (Christian Tobler's translation.) As you can see, the ideal way to use a sword against a man in armour in either tradition is to hit the man where the armour isn't.


Let me clarify :P I should have mentioned the kinds of attacks used to said joints. They were an almost pseudo-stab that drove the edge along a certain part of the body (most commonly used when attacking the neck) It would effectively sever the jugular and/or the carotid. These were used mostly in place of full out slashes or stabs, they were quicker and uses the curve of the blade to it's full potential, not to mention the nasty tricks it plays on your eyes. (trust me I've had it done to me.... With a bokken obviously:P).

And yes the samurai's armour may have been heavier, but because it was designed to be used with a bow it left a few more open spaces in the arms and neck. The reason for it being so heavy is that no one likes to be impaled on a yari or cleaved by a naginata which they would have encountered much more often. Damned if it isn't pretty though :P

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Boris Bedrosov
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PostPosted: Sun 04 Dec, 2005 11:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello, Wolfgang!

Genaraly speeking the problem is what do we mean saying "lighter" - "lighter" as a mass, or "lighter" as protective capabilities. You are right - as a mass, Japanese armours were similar to Europeans, but as a protection, I have some doubts. There are many, many factors and I will try to count just some of them:
1. Japan had naver adopted typical for Europe chain-mail as a basic armour. In Japan it had only auxilary functions. Here no problems for the samurai with his katana against European warrior with chain-mail, without any doubts.
2. The typical Japanese armours were with scale (o-yoroi, do maru) and lamellar (ni-mai do, okegawa do) cuirasses. The full plate cuirass (namban do) appeared in Japan just in the middle of 16th C. Although it was strongly influenced by the Portugese armours at that time, it was the next logical step in the evolution of the Japanese armours. Note that from the end of the 14th C. o-yoroi was not in use, except by the samurai from the old, glorious clans, as a symbol of their ancient traditions. At that time the European armours were full plate. I think, here the samurai would have serious problems. My personal oppinion is that full plate armour is some steps forward, comparing with scale and lamellar ones as protection.
3. The o-yoroi was the only armour "optimized" for bow-fight on the horseback. Somewhen in the end of the 13th C., the beggining of the 14th, the ground hand-in-hand combat started to dominate the Japanese battlefields. One of the reason for dicounting the o-yoroi was its vulnerability in such type of combat, particulary because of its weakness under the right armpit.
4. Many others Laughing Out Loud . Look, I'm planning to write an article about the Japanese armours for myArmoury.com. Maybe here you will find some answers. Laughing Out Loud Laughing Out Loud Laughing Out Loud .
5. I think, sometimes we don't count something very important - the personal combat skills of the warriors. This is, I think, the problem. As I've already written, we are trying to compare quite different types of combat, types of weapons, types of technologies, different circumstances, even different societies, discounting the HUMAN factor.

But as you said "Having said that I get the feeling that this discussion happened before"

Regards!
Boris


Last edited by Boris Bedrosov on Tue 06 Dec, 2005 2:58 am; edited 2 times in total
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Margaret Lo




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PostPosted: Mon 05 Dec, 2005 6:56 am    Post subject: Re: Weapon craft, Japan VS The rest of the world!         Reply with quote

Steve Grisetti wrote:
Margaret Lo wrote:
...Not only has this school retained physical technique, it has retained combat strategy which it does not share except with very senior students. If that's not already super cool, I don't know what is!....

And the limited sharing of strategy would only add to the mystique. Welcome aboard, Margaret!


Thank you Steve. This forum will do nothing, however, to lessen my growing addicition to steel. Laughing Out Loud

M
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