REVIEW BY ANTON LICHAUCO

INTRODUCTION

Late last year, with Antonio and Joe, we set out to make a pair of swords. Without losing sight of a sword’s primordial purpose, we challenged ourselves to create something more than just another replica.

I personally wanted to see Joe extend the magic he did with Antonio’s tsuba and saya in the
Seasoned Katana. Fascinated by that project, I felt ready for something more, different and innovative, textures and colors on an otherwise pristine blade, anything that would make this addition to my collection more than just another well made copy.

Around then, I also started to notice the work of other sword smiths -- Rick Barrett’s dark and foreboding
Elven saber, Don Fogg’s ancient looking bone-hilted damascus wakizashi, Jim Kelso’s contrasting pair of daggers and many other fine examples that have moved blade smithing into another means of creative expression.

Sugata of the Hikari no Ken.

Completed set. Joe Walters achieving an overall ancient look as requested

What you see here is the result of months of work and a product that made me very happy. Like an antique sword or even an expertly fitted and polished modern forge folded blade, these swords are not meant for cutting bottles or mats. Rather, I have with me a pair of swords that I will enjoy holding and examining, discovering new details and appreciating the artistry and intellect that went into them.

The Design

We decided to use a pair of swords as the canvas to develop the idea of contrast – a light versus a dark sword. We chose the chokuto rather than the more common katana, as something different and as a challenge to Joe as we wanted a visible hamon on both swords.

Hikari no Ken (the sword of light) is a simple sword whose wood had worn smooth through time. In contrast, Kage no Ken (the sword of darkness), with its club-like kashira, oversized habaki and solid kojiri, was designed to be brutally ugly with nothing subtle or sleek.

With this two-sword canvas, Antonio and Joe worked on the details of color and texture to enhance the picture of contrasts as well as the unifying theme of time and age.

On its own, each sword is a unique piece but seeing the swords side by side, you can imagine the dichotomy of lightness and speed against mass and power. Pushing imagination further, you can picture contrasting fighting styles or even the opposing nature of the men who wielded these two swords in combat and the timelessness of such conflicts.

Eric Litton's superb renditions helped very much in the full perception of the swords.

THE PRODUCT

With Joe totally in tune and involved in the design process, production flowed seamlessly from design. Both swords were made of 1084 steel, differentially hardened. Fittings were made of mild steel, etched, pounded and textured.

For Hikari no Ken, Joe chose maple for the saya and tsuka to match the copper colored koshirae. He deliberately selected wood that was devoid of any attention-grabbing grain or burl to emphasize austerity and simplicity.

The tsuka shows Joe’s attention to detail as he carved sections to reflect a handle that had shifted and cracked and which time had smoothened. Darkened the areas around the fittings copy the staining of metal corrosion and patina on the wood.

Hikari no Ken’s blade has a pearly, matte finish with areas of corrosion and discoloration inter-playing with the blade’s hamon.

By design, Kage no Ken is dark, dirty and rough. We added an oversized habaki to add mass and allow for half-swording movements. Joe ingenuously addressed the problem of excessive weight by carving out sections from the steel block.

Unfortunately, pictures cannot capture the range of Joe’s magic on blade. Aside from the clearly defined hamon, at certain angles, streaks and splotches of brown, gray and black are also noticeable.

Statistics and Handling

Hikari No Ken
Tsuka Length: 10.5”
Nagasa Length 25.0”
Thickness at the Tsuba 3/16”

Kage No Ken
Tsuka Length 11.0”
Habaki Length 4.5”
Nagasa Length 20.5”
Thickness at the Tsuba 3/16”

Both swords are extremely sharp and can surely cut through typical material for cutting exercises.

As expected, Hikari no Ken is a light and fast sword. As a one-hander, the lightness of the tsuka and the absence of blade taper make Hikari no Ken balance out just a bit farther from the tsuba than I would prefer. Used with two hands, this characteristic is barely noticeable.

Kage no Ken is a heavy sword more appropriate for two-handed use. The pommel design provides a surface to help in the thrust and retraction of the blade. Beyond this, I have still to explore the range of motions that can be achieved with the kashira and habaki combination, making room for all the possible stabbing and slashing assisted movements.

CONCLUSION

I write this review as a message of appreciation and admiration for Antonio and Joe. Especially for Joe as he delivered a truly successful project. Equally important, he has also made the process pleasant and educational for me with his patience, humor and generosity with his knowledge.

Through this review, I also I hope to share a different direction in sword collecting – of building on the familiar form and explicit purpose of a sword to celebrate the creativity and innovation of a modern sword smith.

What an interesting phrase - “a modern sword smith” and I must add a word of thanks to all of you out there. To the modern sword smith, whether your swords honor history, support a martial discipline, continue a tradition of forging, grinding and polishing or as in this case, present a way of creative expression, thank you so much for making it such a great time for people like me who treasure the sword.

Anton Lichauco


COMMENTS BY JOE WALTERS

The theme of 'Light and Dark' embodied in a pair of swords was a project that struck a very strong chord with me.

Antonio
's design based upon Anton's concepts clearly mapped out a canvas to work within. Construction of the blades proved difficult, but very educational. I studied countless examples of corrosion and aging to develop an authentic, ancient feel for the blades, learning that the most challenging aspect was to be maintaining a balance between 'deliberately destroyed' and 'naturally aged.

As a result, I chose a grey-frosted oxide for the Hikari No Ken, simulating ancient steel that has been protected from the harsher elements and has grown old in rest. To bring forth feelings of darkness, a harsher pitting and corrosion was chosen for the Kage no Ken. The black oxides were built up with a blend of molten salts and acids. Brownish-red oxides were added with another blend of acid patina. There is a lot of depth of color in the blades that can only be seen by angling the blade under light.

The fittings and wood for both blades follow the same theme: what would two, opposing living swords evolve into if concealed for ages, undisturbed. I was lucky in finding the maple, which matched the Hikari no Ken perfectly. Serendipity played a role in the texture for the Kage no Ken's saya, which evolved into an ancient-twisted-looking piece of old wood under an aged lacquer.

It is rare that I get to work with two friendly and warm clients and friends with such openness and freedom. This was a blade smith's dream project from beginning to end, and I am grateful for the experience.

Joe Walters

DESIGNING THE SWORDS OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS BY ANTONIO CEJUNIOR

Anton
has kindly requested me to add some text on my experience with the design of these swords.
It is always a pleasure to work with Anton because, apart from being a well learned gentleman and a very kind customer, Anton perfectly understands the role of a designer by very clearly expressing his wishes. Something Ancient, for me, meant almost inventing a story. which I did begin to write, but became unfinished due to the fast development of the project.
Though
unfinished, here is what I wrote as a way of exercise. I called  it The Swords of the Absolute, since the two main elements explained by Daoism refer to Yin and Yang, two opposing forces that complement each other which proves to be a philosophic principle extrinsic to mankind, yet omnipresent. Magnetism is based on positive and negative poles attracting each other, electricity has also a negative and a positive pole, the succession of day and of night, cold and hot, light and heavy. All these realities that apparently confront each other are more of a parts of the entirety.
Another interesting aspect is based on the fact that steel is obtained with the participation of all the five elements: fire, water, metal, earth and air.
Then, some research was made to find Jokoto swords and my books helped a lot.

This is an example of a Sword with pommel in the shape of guy (Chinese Jade symbol) and silver fittings. Kofun Period, 6th. century.

Sword with pommel in the shape of guy (Chinese Jade symbol) and gilt bronze fittings.
Kofun Period, 7th. century.
These
two swords helped develop the concept of the large kashira as well as the long habaki
.

Sword with fern frond shaped pommel.  Kofun - Nara Period, 7th. - 8th. century.
With these swords and the study of them I came up with Anton as customer and Eric Litton as renderer to develop a correct rendition that took many phases as can be seen here. This can show the process of tuning up the renditions to provide Joe Walters with the correct effects of swords belonging to a unfinished tale.
During the interaction with Anton, it was very rewarding to see how gratifying was his questions and understanding of the answers.
The
next thing a designer has to do is to find the right smith, and in this case, I knew Joe Walters was the right smith for his extensive technical vocabulary.
I decided
to suggest a shortening of the blades so that they would keep a length that would provide maximum control in yaki-iri and Joe took the challenge with entire success. The pitting, texturing and all aspects are of extraordinary quality.
As a designer it was great fun and pleasure working with all the team and Anton proved to be a customer and friend who knew where to stop as well as where to allow creative freedom.
Nothing is more rewarding than to assemble a team that works in entire synchronism.
I would therefore like to thank Anton, Eric Litton and Joe Walters for the tantalizing and unique work we managed to put up together.

Antonio Cejunior, September 2003