Copyright Robert Cole 2015 - No copying or distributing

Judging Quality

     The classic route of identification, starting with SUGATA (see
APPRAISAL OF BLADES - KOTO), becomes a matter of course. Through it date,
province, school and hopefully smith have been ascertained. One comes to
know whether an individual piece is a particularly good example of the 
work of an individual smith.
     At some point the intrinsic quality of the piece is judged, over and
above all other considerations. It goes to the sword itself; revelation of
the inner secret.
     It should be said that while the peculiar genius of some of these
gentlemen have left us guessing at utterly unknowable secrets, defining the
quality of a piece falls to understanding three main points, the heart of
which is STEEL.

These points follow in order: 

     STEEL      -  The quality of steel throughout the piece. The smith's
                   ability to make good steel.
     INTEGRITY  -  Sword construction considered as structural
                   integrity only. How well the piece is put together. 
     TEMPER     -  Quality of tempering and of tempered steels.
                   Homogeneity of temper ("temper" refers to the YAKIBA 
                   and state of crystalline steels).

     In short, judgment is made on quality of steel and structural
integrity of manufacture. As important as any aspect in appraisal, a sword
is also judged in virtue of its VALIDITY AS A WEAPON.
     In this respect, understanding sword quality becomes not only a
judgment of steel but knowledge of the history that dictated style-change.
With study, one develops the sensibility and understanding to know for what
purpose an individual sword was actually made, be it social, martial or
artistic. It was always specific to an actual history.  
     On this point it might be useful to add that in old Japan a complex
and intricate system of secular and non-secular groups with varying and
sometimes arduous disciplines existed, quite 
beyond the normal class distinctions found elsewhere in the world.Swords
were kept in these social orders, in many cases, for 
succeeding generations. Some of these pieces wear this rich 
pedigree plainly.
     For the appraiser, historical integrity is as much an 
importance as how well knit the steels. 

     Quality will, however, always resolve to steel. 

     The fineness and purity of old steel, and the many coveted and lost
secrets of making it.

    Note: Iron (the key of steel quality) was traded between
    individuals or between towns located within the relatively 
    closed trading communities along one of The Eight Roads of  
    old Japan. For this reason the steels in KOTO work have
    quality characteristics unique to the area of origin. 
      (see THE FIVE SCHOOLS  and  KOTO - The Eight Roads)
Sho-shin
Glossary