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Keith Larman
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PostPosted: Wed 17 Nov, 2004 8:34 am    Post subject: Tsuka Length         Reply with quote

This post and the resulting topic that will continue here was originally created to respond to This Post by Angus Trim in another topic. I felt it was generally off-topic enough to that original topic and informative enough to split into its own topic. Let's be sure to make a good conversation out of this and not a pissing match.[Nathan Robinson]

Angus Trim wrote:

Then you find that there's a lot of the modern market that's built on myth. There seems to be a whole mythos built up on some super long handles. Some folk believe for instance, that older, more martlal kats would have handles one third the length of the whole sword...... Total myth, the archeological record not only doesn't support that, it shows that handle lengths got longer in general as we get later in time.


The problem with using generalizations is that they go both ways.

*In general* tsuka lenghts were around 1/3rd blade length. *IN GENERAL*. But there were regions where longer tsuka were favored. They were in the minority, of course, but one can't just then say "Hey, they were in the minority therefore they're not traditional". There's lots of things done and tried traditionally and the production market only covers a fraction of what really exists.

Secondly, bear in mind that what we see today in terms of mounts at sword shows, etc. is rarely older than 100-200 years old at the most. Japanese didn't think twice about remounting swords. And they would be remounted constantly if in use. And if not in use they'd likely be in shirasaya. Or dead and rusted and gone. It is a lot more difficult to make generalizations about things like tsuka length given that much of what exists in terms of mounting isn't really all that old relative to the blades contained inside those mounts.

Third... In the Edo period (starting again relatively recent in the history of the Japanese sword) there were a series of famous laws written stipulating mounting styles, lengths, etc. that Samurai could wear. This *set* what was allowable and influenced the "fashion" of what was correct. And many arts evolved along with the times (as they should do). Again, this doesn't mean longer tsuka weren't used before. And doesn't mean longer tsuka were used in various areas. The Satsuma region and Jigen Ryu come immediately to mind. These guys sometimes even had tsuka that curved the "other" way from common. Uncommon, yes, but that doesn't make it non-traditional. Those guys would beg to differ.

Fourth. Longer tsuka is a relative thing too. As you well know things don't always scale proportionally. Sometimes the balance of a sword and the handle evolve differently. For instance, some styles enforce a tsuka length based on absolute length (usually a bit under 10 inches). This goes way back to those samurai of whom many were barely cracking 5 feet tall by the way. Small guys, small hands. Anyway, the style may stipulate absolute length. And you simply dealt with it. Others will stipulate the tsuka should be long enough for two hands with one or two fingers between the hands (which still works on short folks with under 10" tsuka, but me at 6 feet tall, well, I need longer). Other styles still want a bit more space. Closer to a hand space in between. Ever seen Big Tony Alvarez's hands? Care to guess how long a tsuka he needs?

Fifth. Years ago I was working with a visiting sensei. I was using an antique blade with short tsuka to practice (in my mind to be respectful of his visit). He watched me, walked over, and told me I needed a longer tsuka make. This surprised me. But he said that I was so big across the chest and shoulders that the shorter tsuka was cramping my ability to get my shoulders, elbows, arms, etc. in the correct positions for good cutting. He suggested about 2 inches longer which gets around to the 11" level for me... Which to this day for me feels dramatically better in that I don't have to "collapse" shoulders, chest, etc. to go through the full range of movement. Here it's not about leverage, speed, etc. but simply a larger body, a big Norwegian chest and arms, and everything "meshing" correctly with the movements.

Sixth. Bugei worked with Hanwei originally to design swords for Bugei. And of course Hanwei went from there designing their own versions in part based on input from Bugei for Bugei's line. Realize that the principles of Bugei practice in a style that favors longer tsuka. And they were making blades for themselves as well as to sell. But... They also realized that it is relatively easy to shorten a tsuka. It is next to impossible to lengthen one that is too short. Yes, James is adamant and passionate about what he likes, what he thinks is right, etc. Passionate people are like that. In the style James was studying the longer tsuka was the norm. Not the most common of course but saying it isn't traditional or is "mythology" isn't correct either.

The danger here is in choosing to ignore the variety of what really existed by focusing either on the "usual" design or focusing only on the exceptions. The reality is a rich variety of styles, shapes, lengths, etc. throughout history. Also note that Bugei (as the example I'm most familiar with as I consult sometimes with them and help with QC) offers all of its swords with a choice of tsuka length. Right down to 10" on some models. The range is there and offered for the customer to choose what their sensei tells them to use. Or what they personally feel most comfortable with.

Is the longer tsuka traditional? Yes. Is the shorter tsuka traditional? Of course. And more common historically. But that isn't mutually exclusive with other lengths being "traditional" as well. If we are going to define traditional in terms of what was common then a hira zukuri katana isn't traditional. But that's silly -- they existed. Of course they're traditional.

Personally I think it does no good to gloss over the history and wave things away. Lots of things existed. And it gets mighty confusing due to the complexity of the issues. The history of the Japanese sword is a lesson in exceptions to the rule. And full of laws. And full of stylistic differences. And regional differences.

The major problem IMHO is the lack of education in the sword world combined with simplistic explanations. Newbies read these things and take the generalizations as gospel then proceed to gloss over all the most important and interesting exceptions that the richness of these things comes from.

Bottom line for me is that I just roll my eyes and wander away usually when the topic comes up. People will argue until they're blue in the face as to what is "correct" and that other views are "myths" or whatever. The problem is that the attitude excludes the variety that exists. And the complexity of the issue. Everyone wants to know what's "right" in 5 words or less. I guess that's easier than accepting the complexity of the issue and realizing that there aren't easy answers to it. And that no position on the issue holds absolute truth. Because there is no absolute truth in a craft that goes back 1000 years... Silly to think that there is.

Keith Larman
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Angus Trim




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PostPosted: Wed 17 Nov, 2004 10:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Keith

Not really sure what it is you're trying to say here, but I find your words interesting enough to have sent a link of this thread to Scott Irey. Scott, of course, knows the history that you mention intimately, and has the sources and resources to check things thouroghly.......

I'm not sure what you're trying to say, and I'm certainly not sure of your intent, but this does kinda remind me of attempts years ago to denigrate things like harmonics, dynamic balance, and the importance of distal taper in the western sword world.......

Scott'll be unavailable today, but likely will respond tomorrow......

Auld Dawg

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Lloyd Clark




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PostPosted: Wed 17 Nov, 2004 11:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

When I studied Bugei in Japan back in the 1980s, my sensei told me that a good rule of thumb (well, he didn't use those words exactly, but you get the idea) for tsuka length is that it should equal the length of the forearm from wrist to elbow. This would "size" the tsuka to the user.

In my style, Totsuka Ryu, we generally begin in gedan no kamae position as our "on guard" position and I found that the tsuka of this size allowed for a very quick reversal from parry to cut.

Unfortunately, I have not practiced my kenjutsu in many years.

Cheers,

Lloyd Clark
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PostPosted: Wed 17 Nov, 2004 12:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Keith, you make some very good points regarding the trend for people to want to put everything in nice, neat little compartments. It's often impossible to compartmentalize this stuff, as the subject matter is so rich and complex. This has been true in the European collector community for a long, long time. Often, the subtleties aren't the only thing lost in translation, but so often we find the entire underlying theme and purpose clouded as well.
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Keith Larman
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PostPosted: Wed 17 Nov, 2004 12:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Angus Trim wrote:
Hi Keith

Not really sure what it is you're trying to say here, but I find your words interesting enough to have sent a link of this thread to Scott Irey. Scott, of course, knows the history that you mention intimately, and has the sources and resources to check things thouroghly.......

I'm not sure what you're trying to say, and I'm certainly not sure of your intent, but this does kinda remind me of attempts years ago to denigrate things like harmonics, dynamic balance, and the importance of distal taper in the western sword world.......

Scott'll be unavailable today, but likely will respond tomorrow......

Auld Dawg


*sigh* The intent is simple. The issue of tsuka length is complex. What is historically correct varies by time, region and style. All things in context. To say that it is a myth is no more correct than saying that long tsuka were the norm and "correct'. It just depends. Toss into the mix that the average Japanese of today is significantly taller than 300 years ago. Not to mention 6' and taller westerners with completely different builds... Toss in the cultural "inertia" to avoid change and controversy. Toss in those who view things like tsuka length to be "set" values within the martial arts (i.e., absolute tsuka size regardless of hand/body/whatever size) vs. those who see it in reference to the person holding the blade and their style. Some go absolute, some go relative. Rules of thumb are handy but as a craftsman myself, I always ask the customer what they need. What their sensei asks them to get. Most branches of MJER I'd done swords for want tsuka around 10" or so. But there are others like Lloyd who posted above who do things a bit differently. And unless he's about 4 feet tall, I would guess his forearm is a heck of a lot longer than 10". I've done tsuka ranging from 9" to 15". I thought the 15" was pushing the limits, but hey, the guy was 6 foot 6. In a style that favored longer tsuka. I ain't arguing with his sensei either.

The intent is to say the issue is actually quite complex *without* an authoritative answer. It is easy to speak in generalizations (and in general they were short), but the fact is that the craft covers a long range of time and there were significant differences among provinces even during the same times. How close to the shogunate they were, how much control was in place, how "rebellious" they were, how much they wanted to stand out, how much they wanted to fit in...

Lots of things *could* be done by simply saying "this is traditional -- see, I have one right here and its traditional". But there are lots of traditional styles. And lots of things tried over the years. And lots of reasons why some things became popular, and others didn't. And those factors usually did not operate solely on performance or practicality. But on a very broad range of factors that are near impossible to quantify.

It is *not* a critique of anything you are doing. Chill out. Yes, the shorter tsuka are the most common and are traditional. Just like many other things. The point is that the definition of "traditional" when you're talking about a diverse craft with a people who did have some diversity from region to region across 1000 years is nebulous at best.

I was *expanding* on the topic.

Keith Larman
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Keith Larman
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PostPosted: Wed 17 Nov, 2004 12:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

And let me add that I'm certainly not saying long tsuka were the norm either. They weren't. Shorter were. What I'm appealing to is to give a more balanced and complete context to understanding the issue. Rather than the handful of e-mails sitting in my in-box right now asking me about tsuka length, mekugi, etc. because they read on a forum that Gus and Scott said... All these e-mails filled with questions with no context, all completely absorbed in a simplistic, absolute view of what is "correct". It just ain't so simple. And I can explain it umpteen times in e-mails or post on a forum and hopefully answer it once.

Is it an authoritatively correct and complete answer? Nope. Hopefully it hashes things out a bit.

Keith Larman
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Lloyd Clark




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PostPosted: Wed 17 Nov, 2004 12:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I wish I could remember the name of the Kaji in Kamakura that made my iaido daito back in 1985. Though, by law, they could not make a folded blade katana for a gaijin, he did a beautiful custom blade by stock removal and then thoroughly tempered it properly (i.e. a true hamon). I swear, that blade had a soul, and is still the liveliest cutter I have ever owned. It begged to jump from the saya and was devastating in tameshigiri practice.

I wish I still had the blade - and the tsuka was approximately 12.5" (my forearm length)!

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Lloyd Clark
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Angus Trim




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PostPosted: Wed 17 Nov, 2004 2:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Keith

I'm not sure we're really in any sort of disagreement here........but before I get there, let me make a couple of suggestions that'll make this easier in the future. I lost a bet today, I bet Scott yesterday at lunch that we wouldn't wind up in Bugei's crosshairs any time soon, because Bugei is in the same position in the Japanese sword market, that Albion is in the western, ie the 900lb gorrilla with the largest market share and most loyal fans/ customers......

1.But, if you state your point right off the bat, as in this case, expanding the discussion you avoid misunderstanding. No disrespect, but I couldn't find your point in the first post at all......

2. Follow your own advice and chill out, deep sigh's show emotion, and this isn't that important. I don't see why we can't have a public gentlemanly discussion, shared with the others of myArmoury......

As far as being in basic agreement, if you use the 1/3 total length tsuka/ sword length statement I made, that would have a kat with a 28 inch blade have a 14 inch tsuka, and a 30 inch bladed sword have a 15 inch tsuka, and your own words on this is " I thought the 15" was pushing the limits"............

Maybe my own meaning was initially unclear. What I meant is that the 1/3 ratio is uncommon. It is not the norm. Certainly it existed, but the norm is much smaller handles............We even seem to be in agreement here.

I can't do anything about PMs or emails sent to you. The discussion on SFI in question about tsuka length starts out with a question of whether we would make a longer handle. It was answered negatively. Initially we're copying existing antiques, thus the tangs are already set lengthwise. For swords intended for cutting, both Scott and I believe that there shouldn't be too much wood without steel backing {tang length}..........Someday we may do that {longer tangs}, but there also harmonic considerations, and frankly before I start making long tangs on existing models of blades, I want to know more about what I'm getting into. I do have a pretty good idea when it comes to double edged straight swords, but I'm just beginning my learning curve in the Japanese stuff.

Have a nice day Keith

Auld Dawg

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Keith Larman
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PostPosted: Wed 17 Nov, 2004 3:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I was responding to this in your post. Which is exactly what I quoted. I'll quote it again.

Quote:
Then you find that there's a lot of the modern market that's built on myth. There seems to be a whole mythos built up on some super long handles. Some folk believe for instance, that older, more martlal kats would have handles one third the length of the whole sword...... Total myth, the archeological record not only doesn't support that, it shows that handle lengths got longer in general as we get later in time.


The fact is that some did. It is not a "Total myth" which is what you wrote. *THAT* is what I was replying to.

In Bugei's crosshairs? Good lord, I'm not an employee of Bugei. I don't represent Bugei. I don't speak for Bugei. Just me. One guy in Southern California polishing and mounting swords. One guy. My opinion. My experience. I can't make that any clearer. So you didn't lose your bet. Unless you're simply looking for controversy.

I was addressing the issue of whether something was "total myth". No it isn't total myth. It is widely misunderstood because so many people seem to be intent on saying that it was one way or another way exclusively. Both views are incorrect. And those sorts of posts on-line do no good to anyone because they don't bring out the complexity of the issue one bit. That's what I was talking about. And that was what I was trying to write. And I don't think it was particularly unclear or controversial either.

But in all honesty, I just don't care. Really it makes little difference to me. I've said *NOTHING* about your swords, about what you're doing, anything. Yet you seen insistent on making anything and everything I say somehow personal. I don't want to be your whipping boy nor do I want to be the guy that you keep pointing at as the one "out to get you". I was addressing historic information. I've got a handful of scans of Juyo Bunkozai swords and koshirae with longer nakago and tsuka I can post. But what the hell is the point?

No, I don't disagree in general. I do disagree with calling it a total myth as the entire statement, by being a generalization, misses all the subtle stuff I personally find interesting.

Sheesh...

Keith Larman
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PostPosted: Wed 17 Nov, 2004 3:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Every point made is valid and I encourage you to keep talking about this, but both of you need to take this down a few notches. If you want to talk about the lengths of tsuka, then go for it. I not only don't mind people disagreeing on these things, I encourage it. I want people to ask others to back their stuff up and share facts and history. This is how we all learn.

But if you want to talk about crosshairs, competition, and whatnot, don't do it here. Don't do it here. Do not do it here. None of us care.

I liked the points made about wrapping things in context and looking at these issues as being more complicated than small compartments can really hold them. That was a good point. From there, it degenerated into shit. Go back on topic and talk about the swords themselves or stop talking.

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PostPosted: Wed 17 Nov, 2004 5:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Keith, I would very much like to see those scans.
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Scott Irey




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PostPosted: Wed 17 Nov, 2004 5:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well this is a fun one to get into for my first posting on the forum...where to start...where to start....

First...Gus....Keith....pull back....set the keyboards down.....nice and easy....easy.....no sudden posts...that's it....now step away from the keyboard..don;t reach for the coffee or the the sugar... Might I suggest large portions of turkey followed by long naps now?

Now that the situation is semi de-fused...

Tsuka length is a hot topic, and has been since quality production level kats appeared on the market some years ago. Gus is correct in saying there is a whole segment out there who believe that "older, battlefield type kats" had overly long tsuka. And although it is true that longer handles existed throughout Japanese sword history they were never the norm.

When long handles did appear, they appear with proportionately long nakago. There is a real need to have steel backing up the wood in a Japanese tsuka for very obvious reasons. Show me a long tsuka with no steel backing it up and I will show you a tsuka I can snap without hitting a target. Not a good way to build a sword if you ask me.

When a kat with a long tang is coupled with a long tsuka you still very rarely see anything that approaches the 1/3 the overall length formula. I have owned a few late period Satsuma katana in Satsuma koshirae, and even the biggest of them, a 31 inch monster with a 12 inch nakago, only had a 12 3/4 inch tsuka. Truth of the matter is I still have of the hundreds of swords I have seen and handled, many in period mounts, to find one that reaches the 1/3 formula.

Keith makes a very good point of stating that in the Edo period there were rules regarding blade length, color of furniture and other aspects of the Japanese sword. In this period if became the *norm* to have tsuka be roughly 1/3 the length of the nagasa (linear measurement form notch to tip) This leaves you with a lot of tsuka in the 9 - 10 inch range as the legal limit on blade length (although not strictly followed) was right around 28 inches.

There were exceptions as has been pointed out. The style I practice for instance ,MJER, advocated, at the time ,the use of an 11 (roughly 11 inches)sun tsuka. In fact the founder of MJER was reknowned for the incredible length of his tsuka, and many period documents (pre Edo mind you) from sources outside of MJER make reference to the exceptionally long tuska (11 sun) that Hayashizaki used and how it was influencing swordsmen across the country into adopting a longer tsuka.

This leads us back to the aesthetic rules regarding length of tsuka in teh Edo period. The handles of the Edo period were in fact longer on average than handles of the Sengoku period. Blades created in teh Edo period in my experience have longer nakago than earlier period swords. Now it can be argued that many older swords were cut down in order to have them meet Edo period conventions. Perhaps that is true....but I have handles more Ubu nakago old blades than I can remember, and seen even more documented...the vast majority have shorter nakago that could not back up a longer tsuka. It is very reasonable to say those blades did not have abnormally long tsuka...if they had they would have been questionable weapons. Those Ubu nakago blades that I have handled with longer nakago would have most definitely had longer tsuka. But I have yet to see one that would safely allow for a 1/3 the overall length ratio tsuka that seems to have become popular today.

As a craftsperson I am like Keith. I will do my best to accommodate what a customer wants...as long as it stays within reason. Should a guy with big hands have a long tsuka....yes...but it should not be on short nakago.

Anyways, this is all just my opinion.

Regards,

Scott Irey
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Wed 17 Nov, 2004 6:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

So far I have found the substance of this thread very informative as it deals with, what is for me new information, as the subtleties of Japanese sword is not at all my area of study.

Apart from a casual knowledge of Japanese weapons gleaned from various reference books, this discussion is at a whole order of magnitude beyond what I was aware of.

I think some of the misunderstanding is due to too much reading between the lines: Seeing hidden agendas were there are none, plus a few "criptic " comments that lack context leading to trying to figure out "What does he mean by that"?

(Like the Bugei's crosshairs comment: I Still don't have a clue what this was refering too or aimed at!)

And please, I am not trying to start or perpetuate an argument here, I just think that it would be a shame to not take advantage of valuable information because of an avoidable misunderstanding.

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Angus Trim




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PostPosted: Wed 17 Nov, 2004 6:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Keith Larman wrote:
I was responding to this in your post. Which is exactly what I quoted. I'll quote it again.

Quote:
Then you find that there's a lot of the modern market that's built on myth. There seems to be a whole mythos built up on some super long handles. Some folk believe for instance, that older, more martlal kats would have handles one third the length of the whole sword...... Total myth, the archeological record not only doesn't support that, it shows that handle lengths got longer in general as we get later in time.


The fact is that some did. It is not a "Total myth" which is what you wrote. *THAT* is what I was replying to.

In Bugei's crosshairs? Good lord, I'm not an employee of Bugei. I don't represent Bugei. I don't speak for Bugei. Just me. One guy in Southern California polishing and mounting swords. One guy. My opinion. My experience. I can't make that any clearer. So you didn't lose your bet. Unless you're simply looking for controversy.

I was addressing the issue of whether something was "total myth". No it isn't total myth. It is widely misunderstood because so many people seem to be intent on saying that it was one way or another way exclusively. Both views are incorrect. And those sorts of posts on-line do no good to anyone because they don't bring out the complexity of the issue one bit. That's what I was talking about. And that was what I was trying to write. And I don't think it was particularly unclear or controversial either.

But in all honesty, I just don't care. Really it makes little difference to me. I've said *NOTHING* about your swords, about what you're doing, anything. Yet you seen insistent on making anything and everything I say somehow personal. I don't want to be your whipping boy nor do I want to be the guy that you keep pointing at as the one "out to get you". I was addressing historic information. I've got a handful of scans of Juyo Bunkozai swords and koshirae with longer nakago and tsuka I can post. But what the hell is the point?

No, I don't disagree in general. I do disagree with calling it a total myth as the entire statement, by being a generalization, misses all the subtle stuff I personally find interesting.

Sheesh...


Hi Keith

It looks like a semantics problem, the way we both use the language is different. And maybe a "shades of grey" vs "black and white" kinda thing......

It seems to me we basically agree on nearly everything. We both agree that handle lengths vary, and that the "norm" is smaller than 1/3 of the total length {tsuka / total length ratio} We both agree that swords with abnormally long handles existed, though rare.

Thus, that far, it seems to me we both see things in shades of grey. Lots of variety.....

But for me, its the word "norm" that comes into play here, and this is where the difference seems to come from.

Are long handles {1/3 the total length} the norm? Or are they not? This for me is a black and white question, with a black and white answer.

Bearing in mind a lot of people believe in this..........

So for me, this belief is either true, or a myth. Black or white.

Consequently, its the "norm" being 1/3 the total length {still talking about handle length} that I see as a myth. The long handles did exist, but were not the norm...........

I hope I'm a little clearer now.......

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Mumtaz Baber




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PostPosted: Mon 20 Dec, 2004 2:01 am    Post subject: Re: Tsuka Length         Reply with quote

Keith Larman wrote:
This post and the resulting topic that will continue here was originally created to respond to This Post by Angus Trim in another topic. I felt it was generally off-topic enough to that original topic and informative enough to split into its own topic. Let's be sure to make a good conversation out of this and not a pissing match.[Nathan Robinson]

....................These guys sometimes even had tsuka that curved the "other" way from common. Uncommon, yes, but that doesn't make it non-traditional. ........



Hi Keith. Its a long shot but would you have any pics of such a tsuka? I wanna learn more about this type of handle that curves the "other way"

Regards

Mumtaz Baber
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PostPosted: Mon 20 Dec, 2004 2:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Keith,

Thanks for this post and its given me more incite into longer tsuka...My Iaito tsuka being 11.5" long I'd still consider short considering my hand size and arm length, plus my body build comes into play. It doesnt mean my experience with this tsuka isnt specifically wrong for me, in fact it feels very comfortable, but aside from when laws came in stating what a Samurai could carry I'd guess that like today the warrior (or practicioner now days) would get a sword made appropriate to his school that he trained under, and that which suited him. And I was told by my sensei the one constant with Japanese swords is there is no specific constant, the variables are too great.

I can see exactly why this thread was made, I dont know why there were some of the posts there are...but I no longer involve myself in the politics of 3 or 4 forums, should be a null issue since we all love swords. Build a bridge, get over whatever it is thats going on...learn from each other, plus have fun in the process.

Thanks again keith for the information you've posted, I hope you dont mind but I added your post to notes on nihonto I have...just as a reference.

*!*
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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Tsuka Length
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