Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Last Sword Maker

This is a video about Taiwan's last sword maker.

Below is an excerpt from a post by Francis Boyd, who is an Asian trained American sword maker. The full article may be read here.

An article on Thai-Chinese swordsmiths by Francis Boyd

Hi guys

This article titled "Blades of Bangkok" was written by American Japanese-style swordmaker Francis Boyd, and published in the American knife magazine "Blade" in March 2000. Francis is an accomplished smith himself, having trained under a Japanese swordsmith named "Nakajima" (if I remember correctly); a fellow apprentice was Michael Bell. I understand that Francis has a tremendous interest in Chinese and Japanese swords and look forward to meeting him personally one day .......

"Christmas of 1998, my wife, Eleanore, and I journeyed to Saigon and Bangkok. We had a wild time in Saigon but, aside from a few antique purchases, it was rather uneventful in terms of blades. After only four days in Saigon we flew on to Bangkok. There we were met by Wiwat Chantape, a professor at Rajabhat College in Ratchaburi province; Sawate Poopakorn. a teacher at Mahidol High School in Bangkok; Pint Sangchanda, a lovely young lady who is a graduate student at Rajabhat University in Bangkok; and at least a half dozen of Wiwat's students from Ratchaburi. The next day Pim and her father took us on the grand tour of Bangkok-the Royal Palace, the Temple of the Dawn and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. We finished the day at Thailand's National Museum, which contains a superb weapons collection. Housed in a single room, the collection, while in rather poor condition due to the local climate, is nonetheless impressive in scope and historical significance.

Upon entering the room the first thing you see is a full-size model of a war elephant (the ancient Thai equivalent of the modern army tank), mounted by a warrior and weapons handler equipped with spears and halberds, bristling like a porcupine. From there you wander around the room to case-after-case of swords of all Asian types-Thai, Japanese, Chinese and Malaysian. Pole arms are everywhere, including some European halberds. There are also some very fine European firearms, the most impressive a revolving cannon custom ordered from the French by a king of Thailand. The collection was easily as interesting as anything I saw in Thailand.

Gang Hammering

Christmas Day we were up early and off in search of blade knowledge. About two miles down the road, Wiwat took us to a country smith's workshop. As we hopped out of the van, we were greeted by the melodious sound of gang hammering as three men pounded away in rapid succession on a blade. The workshop was outdoors with just a makeshift roof to keep the rain off. When they finished pounding, I was introduced to Guan Shou Shui, the master of the shop, along with Pa and Som, his assistants.

With Wiwat translating for me, I was able to discern that Mr. Guan was making sugar-cane knives. He is Chinese and wrote his name in Chinese for me, but my Mandarin did me little good in communicating with him because he spoke a Southern Chinese dialect that I did not understand. With help I learned that he forges exclusively with bamboo charcoal. Amazingly, the man worked completely barehanded. Due to holding hot steel for 30 years, the palms of his hands looked like the soles of my shoes. His family comes from the Southern Chinese city of Tou Po and has worked as smiths for three generations.

Thanking Mr. Guan after buying one of his sugar-cane knives, we boarded the van and headed into Ratchaburi town proper. There we stopped at the shop of Loau Pin. She is an 82-year-old Chinese smith who, when we walked into her shop, was sitting on the floor chiseling the serrations in the edge of a rice sickle by hand. She told us that she had been making blades for 60 years and that her husband had also been a maker of swords and knives before passing away three years earlier. She is second generation from Southern China and blademaking has been a family craft for many generations.

Mrs. Loau had four men working for her, including two brothers. One brother led the hammer gang while the other worked the bellows and tended the fire. We watched the men work for a while and then stepped next door to the shop of another lady swordsmith, Mrs. Ying Pairot.

Ms. Ying is a sweet little lady of such small stature that it is hard to believe she has been making blades for 45 years. Furthermore, her family has made blades for over 300 years! She has a 250-year-old European post vise that she said is the family heirloom to prove it. She said her father worked until he was 84 and her brother also was a smith. They had come from Tou Po right before World War 2. Her husband was her assistant and her son already had earned a Ph.D from a college in Australia with the financial support of his mother.

This lady knows her stuff and gave me a real going over. Like all Thai smiths, she makes everything from swords and bowies to everyday tools and cutlery. The most astounding thing she said was that the reason all the Thai smiths use bamboo charcoal is that you can forge in it without using flux. She makes her swords with eight folds (eight being lucky to the Chinese) and uses an inlaid-edge construction that the Chinese call jiagang (qiangang). She inlays the edge steel about 30 percent of the way through the body steel. She questioned me thoroughly about how I make my temper line after I showed her a tanto I had brought with me. After a fairly lengthy discussion on swordmaking, I came away quite impressed with the sweet little old lady. She also gave me the Thai names for her tools: tao -- fire; tung -- anvil; kim -- tongs; and korn -- hammer.

From Mrs. Ying we went to the Ratchaburi Museum, where I was shown the sword presented by His Majesty King Rama V (Chulalonkorn of The King and I fame) to Ratchaburi state in 1910. The sword was made of solid gold with jewels and cloisonne. Unfortunately, I could not get a picture of it because the museum does not allow cameras. The blade easily rivals the solid gold dagger of Tutankhamen and is much larger. What a day! How could it get any better?

But it did.


Zacky Chan said...

Another great video. Thanks!

Rick Matz said...

I stumbled upon it. I had to share it.

hermann said...

By far no the last smith in Taiwan, and highly criticised, too, for using excavated human bones, for carbon in his steel.

Rick Matz said...

I don't think that I'd want human bones in something I bought.

Maybe he's the last employing that method.

Jonathan Bluestein said...

Thanks for the great video Rick. There are many people like him in Taiwan and Mainland China - masters of truly great skills, simply awaiting the right disciple, who often never comes =\

Hermann - the use of human bones is nothing controversial. They have been used throughout the history of sword-making across the globe, and in Europe, too. I highly recommend watching the following sword-making documentary:

Rick Matz said...

Good stuff Joanathan. Thanks!

Yi Zong New England said...

The first time I was at his forge he had a Canadian chap as a disciple. He wasn’t there the last time though.

Rick Matz said...

Thanks for visiting!