Ashi (?) is a frequent recurring term in sword descriptions and means 'leg' or 'legs'.
For instance, a choji hamon is made by creating ashi during the clay treatment before the yaki-ire (quench). The ashi connect the habuchi and the ha through thin annealed channels. This is a security measure to force the blade to chip small pieces instead of big chunks upon hitting an opponents blade. Yes, even the most expensive Japanese swords will chip (it's essentially the way they were designed) :)
The term ashi is also used to describe the hanging mechanism of gunto and tachi saya.
However I want to point our a third and lesser known use for ashi: The ashi of the menuki.
Since modern made menuki are often cast and not hand-made, not everybody is familiar with this phenomenon. However in traditionally made menuki these are still present.
To explain what menuki ashi are I would like to show you these beautiful menuki made by master kinko-shi Ford Hallam. Look at the little welded leg on the bottom of the menuki. These are called the ashi of a menuki.
Actually there are three traditional ways to fix the menuki on the tsuka.
- flat or hollow bottomed menuki wrapped under and held-by the tsukamaki. Most iaito and modern made shinken are made with cast and flat menuki because most swords nowadays are wrapped anyway. This makes the addition of ashi unnecessary.
- Ashi which are little legs which go through the samegawa into the tsuka. Ashi are particularly useful with alternative wrapping styles such as katate maki which has the menuki placed OVER the tsukamaki. In this case the ashi can easily be passed through the wrapping allow good fixing of the menuki into the tsuka. Fixing into the tsuka can also come in handy with single strand menuki cross-overs to show more of the menuki. Note that the availability ashi does not exclude the menuki from being wrapped under the tsukamaki. The ashi are just a way to fix the position and hold them in place.
- ne-ashi (? ??) going all the way through the nakago and tsuka, connecting the two menuki with each other. This method was mostly used on older tachi where the menuki were used to cover the (metal) mekugi pin. However also homages to koto swords are sometimes eqquiped with this menuki type. It's not actively used anymore since this type doesn't allow the sword to be taken apart without removing the menuki and mekugi combination (or worse, first the tsukamaki if has been wrapped).
Now lets have a closer look at the lovely menuki in the pictures:
The 'Water drops on oak leaves' menuki are about 40 mm long and made from steel. The water drops are small silver beads water which Ford magically fused with the lovely patinated steel. Looking at them from a tsukamakishi's point of view, I have multiple things I need to consider:
- they are a-symmetrical with the focus on the largest part of the leaf
- trying to to fix the menuki with two ito strands won't hold well due to the asymmetry since the stem doesn't allow much fixing
- I would like to show as much of the beads as possible so fixing them on the 'drops side' isn't an option
Most likely these menuki will be used OVER the ito in an alternative tsukamaki style. This seems like the only way to show the full glory of these menuki. The short ashi (no. 2) will dig into the wood about 2-3 mm and will be snug fit into the handle.
I'm thinking of katate-maki but also gangi-maki seems like a nice option for these menuki... What do you think?
The sword will be a unconventional 'water' themed custom sword. The underlying theme will be 'changing of the seasons' with a small haiku to describe it ;)
Rise water dragon
wash away the summer heat
In fall comes the rain
???? Teishi no natsu (~end of the summer)
???? Noboru Ama Ryu (~rise rain dragon)
???? Aki o michi (~fall it means)