TO BLADESIGN

Masters of Fire
The alchemist, like the smith, and like the potter before him, is a “master of fire”. It is with fire that he controls the passage of matter from one state to another. The first potter who, with the aid of live embers, was successful in hardening the shapes which he had given his clay, must have felt the intoxication of the demiurge: He has discovered a transmuting agent. That which natural heat – from the sun or the bowels of the earth – took so long to ripen, was transformed by fire at a speed hitherto undreamed of. This demiurgic enthusiasm springs from that obscure presentiment that the great secret lay in discovering how to “perform” faster than Nature, in other words (since it is always necessary to talk in terms of spiritual experience of primitive man) how, without peril, to interfere in the process of the cosmic forces.

in The Forge and the Crucible Mircea Eliade

ANTHONY DICRISTOFANO - A MASTER OF FIRE AND OF STEEL

I personally met Anthony DiCristofano in 2004, in Chicago, during a working visit, and was treated to a wonderful lunch by this great and therefore very modest human being. He could not accept that I would pay the lunch in his city. This touched me as a sign of Anthony's genuine warmth coupled with a very low profile which does not hide a discreet humorous profile and a very kind and gentle personality imbued with a very acute intelligence.
 

A native of Chicago, Illinois, in whose University Mircea Eliade taught, Anthony DiCristofano is a kind and most friendly, yet quiet gentleman, of powerful built and a kind heart, that every so often in shown in a shy and discreet manner.
As a smith, he turned professional at the beginning of the year 2000, and through his Namahage swords website I could see the increasing refinement of his swords to a point of beauty that was almost unbearable.
Even today, the smith works with elements whose power we do often overlook to concentrate in the material result. All the five elements, earth, air, metal, and water converge to participate on the ritual presided by fire, are still the same as in the beginning. Fire has the characteristic of immateriality, yet also the power of transmutation, changing the nature of matter, acting in many cultures as a transmuting agent to other dimensions.
Apart from his amazing swords, their beautiful shapes (sugata) and hamon (different crystalline structures) which are but the result of his non stop search and research on the intricate dialogue between fire and steel.
Therefore this interview had been delayed for almost a year.
 

AT TIMES ALL I HAD WAS MY WORD!


BLADESIGN-
Anthony, this all being said, what was the original appeal that led you to take up the craft of making swords?
ADC- It was the result of self exploration into my seemingly out of place views and perspectives which led me to find peace in the different mind set of other cultures. It seemed that the more I studied Japanese language and culture, the more I began to understand myself.
I next proceeded with the study of the kendo. In doing so I found a deep sense of peace and realized that a sword was not only a weapon of war but of spiritual relevance as well.

BLADESIGN- Am I right to infer from your reply, that forging a sword is a spiritual experience for you? If I may add another question, what is your relationship with fire?
ADC- I take it very serious when I am making a sword for someone. When doing work which was commissioned I often have the person and their requests in mind while making the sword. Many hours and much sweat goes into making a single blade. I feel that this imparts something into a blade that can not be captured by mass production. I have heard many people say that there is a strong feeling or presence to my blades.
…….Relationship?…..How do I answer such a question? Excuse me for being overly philosophical. Is man so different from a sword? His character forged by the blows from the hammers of life. Some leaving visible evidence but most obscured by the polishing stone or the polished smile. The inner effects are there forever in the grain of the steel and of his soul. Finally, it is from the fires of life we emerge stronger and with a deeper understanding.

BLADESIGN- During your apprenticeship process, did you have a teacher, a guide, a mentor?
ADC- Friends and guides.

BLADESIGN- I recall you saying once, that you could clay a blade to achieve the exact hamon result you want. Care to elaborate on this? We are in the realm of the arts of fire, are we not?
ADC- I have studied hard to be able to produce very active and flamboyant hamon not unlike those seen on Nihon-tô. To say exact would sound as if I had some sort of dominance, complete control or mastery (another word that I dislike). I like to think of the outcome more as a negotiation between the fire, steel, clay, water and myself. A violent dance climaxing in beauty.

BLADESIGN- The blade you made for me, it was exactly what I wanted, and you finished it before the agreed time. This is a more prosaic question. Would you like to elaborate about how does the smith Anthony DiCristofano copes with time and the management of deposit money, never asking for more until the blade is ready to deliver?
ADC- For me a promise is a very important thing. As a man of humble beginnings, at times all I had was my word. I try to do my best not to promise what I can not deliver. As for money, I like to get a sizable deposit (usually up to, but not more than half) upfront to assure one's commitment. I do not like to get more than that upfront. For the reason is if I collect all of the money upfront, it puts a stress on me while working. The blade is already paid for and the customers property before it is even made. To me this is bad karma. After completion, I ask for the final payment which will shift the balance and the blade becomes theirs. Perhaps it sounds strange?
 

BLADESIGN- As the interviewer I am conveying some issues I have read or noticed and that is connected with some doubts about steels and their capability to cut. My position, safeguarding what is implicit in my statement, is that “steel (properly treated steel) is steel”. What do you have to say about this obsession of some circles about your steel's cutting abilities?
ADC- It is my humble opinion that all too often, in the west, people opt for steels with very high carbon contents. This is great for producing a razor sharp knife, however, swords must be able to withstand the stresses of shock and flex. For me there is no reason to go in excess of .50-.65 in carbon. Properly heat treated, this range will produce a sharp blade that will endure the rigors of battle. The range of carbon of old Nihon-to was not all that high.
Cutting a billet

Some Shinsakuto have a bit higher carbon content but there are also some other factors that we must think about.
One is, American carbon steels have the presence of small amounts of alloy. One being manganese which deepens the heat treat. So to compare western mill steel and tamahagane on a carbon content basis alone would be foolish.
The other is, many swords being made in Japan now that have a higher carbon content are made in the kobuse style. That is even if the outside jacket steel in nearing .60-70, they rely on a softer core steel to resist breakage.

My forge folded blades are made from various steels depending on what result I am looking for. Ultimately it will be the forging and heat treating that brings these steels to there optimum potential.


BLADESIGN-
Do you think that, bottom-line, many people with shallow metallurgical clichés tend to judge things on a hear-say basis rather than personal experience? At least what is your personal experience on such issues?
ADC- I think this in an intrinsic part of human nature. All too often the more we hear something the more we tend to believe it without question or analysis. This is how the advertising world is able to succeed. It is almost a form of hypnosis. I personally like to make my decisions by first gathering as much information about a matter. I don’t like to be spoon fed my decisions by others. This makes us nothing more than a marionette. Dancing for those that will pull our strings.

Using a Japanese drawknife

BLADESIGN- I personally dislike the word "successful" for the different connotations it carries, so, would you have in 2000 anticipated the recognition and the accomplishment that your work have reached? Can you find a significant pieces in your early commissioned swords and those of today?
ADC- I really don’t like to anticipate anything. In Kendo we try to attain “mu-shin". This was my philosophy before I had ever heard of it. It was nice to put a name to it though. Loosely translated it means no mind. Why bind up our mind with foolish thoughts that will not affect the outcome. In America we are told to be confident. In a boxing match both contenders go into the ring brimming with confidence. Only one will win. Of what good was the confidence to the one that lost?

BLADESIGN- In other words, you have taken the path of none competition, the lonely path of self-perfection. Would you care to elaborate about your views, and how these relate to the swords you make?
ADC- Yes. I do not want my swords influenced by what others are doing here in the States because of some intense preoccupation with competing. My mind is on what is going on in Japan. This is where I get my inspiration. Inspiration is a good thing. Competition many times is not. I don’t want my drive coming from trying to out do somebody or something. This gives a bad vibe. I am driven by a passion from deep within and the only person that I compete with is myself. I tend to be very strict on myself.
I know that there are some people that will go to great lengths to try to discredit the works of those that they see as their competition. I do not operate like that. Just the other day I had a person tell me that they like both my blades and Mr. **** blades but could not decide on whose to buy. They seemed surprised when I complemented the work of the other smith and didn’t try to clinch the sale. Those that resort to underhanded tactics that are less than honorable in the name of competition will not endure.
 

by Antonio Cejunior - BLADESIGN 2005