THE QUIET MAN IN THE STEEL FARM
AND MY TAMESHIGIRI 1086 BLADE
 

Let us glance for the moment at this sequence of mythical images: the storm-gods strike the earth with 'thunderstones'; their emblem is the double axe and the hammer; the storm is the signal for the heaven-earth hierogamy. When striking their anvils smiths initiate the primordial gesture of the strong god; they are in effect his accessories. All the mythology woven round agrarian fertility, metallurgy and work is, moreover, of relative recent origin. Of later date than pottery and agriculture, metallurgy is set in the framework of a spiritual universe where the heavenly god, who was still present in the ethnological phases of food-gathering and small-game hunting, is finally ousted by the strong God, the fertilizing Male, spouse of the terrestrial Great Mother.

                                                                         Mircea Eliade
                                                                         The Forge and the Crucible

I have never met Howard Clark in person, but in the many occasions where we have exchanged written thoughts or spoken over the phone, I have found that this good man who dislikes and is uncomfortable being treated as a god or an idol, is humble and concerned with his fellow human being, and with very clear and open ideas about many issues pertaining to the world, which will always remain in the utmost and sacred privacy.

B
y now, meeting him would be just the corollary of a rather long relationship by email or phone calls.

It may seem amazing for many that, in today’s globalized world, one can get to know another person in a relatively profound way. But it also happens that one has to be aware of the fact that experience can sometimes provide for a more perceptive and intuitive view of one’s interlocutor, without much guesswork.

He knows I don't idolize anyone, but rather relate myself further with those who can accept an equal terms treatment.

Howard, whose father was a farmer, lives in a farm and has a special predilection for the woods and, I am sure, for the silence that surrounds him. As the inheritor of the Clark name, this man chose to work with steel, which is undeniably connected with farming, that ancient dialogue between man and mother earth.
I don’t know if Howard ever made farming tools, but if he did, he surely is profoundly connected to one of the most ancient crafts since the iron age. Indeed many tend to think on an immediate basis of iron or steel as connected only to swords. That is incorrect, but it surely provides an inner foundation to whoever came from shaping farm tools into the craft of making swords.
I am, however, definitely inclined that Howard has worked with agricultural tools one way or another.

I started my sword connection with Howard without even knowing of his existence, when I ordered a 1086 blade from Bugei, around the year of 1997-98. The sword came after 18 months, and when it reached me, it was an amazement to the eye.

Later on Bugei would ask me to send them pictures of the sword as I later learned that it came out to be one of the most well achieved hamon that Howard produced at that period.  Although I had the tsuka changed into a brown tsuka-ito at 12 inches, the picture on the right was taken for Bugei and it appears on their leaflet.The hamon is indeed very unique, as can be seen in the picture below. I would prefer to just call it a free hamon, in the sense that the rebel that exists in this quiet voiced man manifests itself in a non-conformist hamon that only obeys to his will, not following school or style. And I must add, why would he have to follow a style and not create his own?
In this blade of mine I found that the hamon stoped at the shinogi. It had probably been deliberately interrupted by the intelligent eye of the polisher. I admired the interruption as it gave a new boundary to it and re-established the rules of beauty and gave a sense of balance to the entire blade. It had to be decided and done with authority.
It was also much later that I found out that the blade had been polished by Ted Tenold, a gentleman in his own right with whom I also have had the pleasure of exchanging some emails for my spiritual satisfaction.

I wonder if any of us will ever get to know another human being to the full extent. I doubt it, for it is even quite impossible to know ourselves well enough. But this impossibility should not prevent any appreciation of talented human beings such as Howard Clark.

From my correspondence with him, I found in Howard a caring man that does not like to talk about it. He rather acts in a supportive way, though running away from any thanks, as if ashamed of being so kind. This is not a man who is comfortable with the limelight. He has the wisdom to prefer the discreetness of his farm and his work, living a simple yet enriching life with his wife Christine and their children, helping out other folks and children whenever possible.

But all these are just prelimminary thoughts.
It is needless to say that the inner energy that emanate from Howard Clark's blades that I have come to touch, is a pure personal manifestation of the occult power that the transmutation operated by the smith through the intermediation of the opposites, the fire and the water, confers to them. Ii is however important to state that each smith will confer to his works his own energy by the way he works the steel. This is a craft rooted in other crafts of which many smiths are not aware of, but the transmutation does take place nonetheless.

If distance is something physical, the swords that I own are the materialization of that link, and everyone of them has its own character. Is Howard Clark better than other smiths? I don't think that this question can ever take place. Each one is unique.
Each one celebrates the ceremony of transmutation and the works that preceed or succeed to the firing ot the blade in a very personal way.
Howard carried with him the burden of being the creator of the L6 Bainite, something that perhaps metallurgy took hundreds and hundreds of years to achieve, and that Howard has unleashed, like the genie bottle that was opened.
For some reason that I cannot explain, I was the last purchaser of his L6, right before he decided to produce and market it through Bugei

I must take this opportunity to state something. It is a breakthrough in terms of making an indestructible sword and I own one. It may be sought after by many people. But it doesn't make them better swordsmen. Many people I know use another type of sword and it is the one who holds it that makes the sword powerful, not the other way around.

Now I have returned to a second 1086 blade whose story I will not tell much, except to say that Howard Clark has always been extremely nice to me in a very detached way.His way, that reminds me of my older brother, though Howard is younger than me. I wonder how many times he did the sword to be with the right sori I asked for.
M
y guess is that he will not tell. Perhaps his mastery allowed him to achieve the result with the first attempt, perhaps not. Maybe I'll never know, but what makes me wonder about the blade that is not yet with me at the time I write these lines, is that I have resorted to a rendition for the mountings, which is already done. And I just wonder how close will my anticipation view and Eric Litton's superb rendition work will be to the blade.

Like all smiths I know, Howard has a behavioural pattern that keeps him apparently away from what he has done. Like what is written in the Dao De Qing: once the work is done, the superior man detaches himself from it.

The way Howard adresses the hamon is coming again to my mind. His non conformist attitude is that of an innovator. Indeed much could be said towards the obvious fact that American smiths are not Japanese, and though there is a mutual flow of knowledge, I sense that Howard Clark is expressing himself in very personal ways, which does not mean belittling the work of any other smiths, but rather analysing the fact that Howard is defining himself as an American smith who makes Japanese style blades with his own methods. And this article is about Howard Clark, so my vision must be focused in his work.

This positioning, which is often not taken in a conscious way, will be regarded in a historical perspective, perhaps some years from now as a step towards the affirmation of a new way of making nihon-tô style blades.

Howard sent me this picture as a surprise gift from him. He knew I wanted a boar's eye, as we discussed if he would be so kind as to fit one of Fred Lohman's boar eye habaki into the blade. So Howard decided to make me a surprise and make the boar's eye himslef. He never mentioned it again.
 
I emailed Rick Barrett  and asked him if he would be so kind as to hybrid polish the blade for me. I of course told Rick that I would be paying for the polish and he was kind enough to spend an entire week before shipping it for the fittings.
It is of relevance to note that bladesmiths themselves admire each other's work. They know that each of them is uncomparable in their own way, so Howard was prompt to ship it to Rick, and Rick had no problem with polishing Howard's work.
Therefore we, the collectors, owners and users should not take a different stand towards any smith. All of them are great smiths, each with their own styles and this is the lesson many should grab about how the smiths cooperate.

 

The Blade

It is very interesting to compare other photographs below with my order to Howard with all the specifications enclosed. I find it to be most convenient to build a page when specifying a blade than to describe it. I value good communication as the most important thing and actually I have never regreted it.
Howard's new style of hamon makes me wonder if I sould call it a half moon or any other name. The blade is impressively powerful once more.
As I have said before, I can feel the power and energy of his blades. Each has a different sound if I may put it this way. Or a different pitch, if you prefer.
I
dare say that having worked with concepts for many years, I knew this blade would be something terribly dangerous. I can say that indeed it is. I look at it and I can see it. I look at its beautiful curve and I again can sense its movement. I inspect the geometry and I know it is a ruthless animal.I would describe the sound of this blade as a low, almost deaf earthquake thunderous sound.
Yet the entire piece is full of a powerful beauty.

Because of again a conjunction of efforts to make this blade possible, I decided to name this blade in possibly a paradoxal way. You will find its name on the Fittings Review whose link is in the end of this page.
So if you were looking for a review just like stating the specfications, well, I am not the type of person to go that way. Anyway they are at your disposal through the links placed here.

The blade is heavy but made lighter by my choice of a 14 inches tsuka.
By taking portion pictures of the blade I believe it is a better way to show the hamon.
When the light is right more pictures will be added on the full blade. When revisiting, be sure to click refresh.
 
THE FITTINGS REVIEW OF THIS BLADE


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