For anyone interested in buying a sword from The Samurai Workshop and indeed anyone who was curious at all, here is my review of their Batto range. This is their entry level series for martial artists and backyard tameshigiri/freestyle cutters alike.
I'm based in the UK and sometimes, customs can be a little tetchy and getting a sword into the country can be more problematic than any of us would like. Fortunately, Jeffrey works closely with the couriers and made absolutely sure it got from his hands and into mine not only in a short space of time but without so much as a squeak from customs.
The sword arrived in the usual well packaged, long brown box that we all know and love and once I'd opened it up, I found as well as the sword, a T-shirt, sageo and Choji oil. The sageo is a burgundy colour and looks and feels like a decent synthetic silk, a far cry from the shoelacey rubbish you get on most production katana and the choji actually smelt of cloves. Good signs I thought. Removing the sword from the thick black cotton bag, I was very happy to see a nice subdued colour scheme of black and gold/brass fittings.
According to TSW, this line of swords was created with the idea of being lighter, stiffer, shorter than other swords on the market and was inspired by a first hand experience of an old antique koto blade with a balance unlike anything currently on the market. Not having had any experience with antique swords myself, I can but wonder how close they've managed to get.
Before I forget, here are the swords specs for those looking to get a quick picture of what we're dealing with.
|Blade||9260 Spring Steel, Through hardened, No-Hi|
|Blade length||2.35 shaku (71cm)|
|Width at tip||23.5mm|
|Width at base||32.5mm|
|Thickness at tip||4.5mm|
|Thickness at base||5.5mm|
|Tsuba||Iron, black coated|
|Tsuka||26cm from top of fuchi to bottom of kashira and I believe in Rikko or hourglass style.|
|Fuchi/Kashira||Brass, black coated.|
|Kojiri / Koiguchi||Buffalo horn|
This sword suits my style perfectly. I do not like garish or blingy blades, to the chagrin of my partner who as supportive of my passion for swords as she is, would dearly like for me to put something that looks wild and different up on the wall. However, the 'black' version of the batto is neatly done and simple. The black same, ito, tsuba.. well, everything apart from the habaki, seppa and menuki appeals greatly to me. This is of course my own personal taste and for once I really feel that the golden coloured menuki really work well with this, offsetting the otherwise dark tones wonderfully.
The sword looks slim and graceful in comparison to some swords I have owned or had the chance to handle. Once I'd tied the burgandy sageo, adding the only other point of colour to the sword it looked, It felt rather awesome.
If you've ever owned a chinese ebay sword then you'll know what I'm talking about when I mention the loose tsukamaki, shoddy materials, poorly shaped thin wooden core probably cracked in at least one place. This is not the case here however and being as this is one of my pet peeves with production katana, I was very happy when I saw this.
The tsuka looks to be shaped in a rikko or hourglass shape and is well proportioned. It measures 26cm from the top of the fuchi to the bottom of the kashira which is a good size for my distinctly average hands. There are no cracks or breaks to be found anywhere. It is the most structurally sound tsuka I have seen on a production katana so far.
The ito is japanese cotton and doesn't feel cheap or abrasive to handle. I pushed and prodded at the ito for a while trying to get it to move and although there is a little give, its solid and functional. It has been done both with alternating folds and with hishigami making this a robust wrap that isn't going to slip around on you.
The end knots curiously enough are reversed on the tsuka with the omote knot being on the ura side and vice versa. This doesn't make any difference to the functionality of the sword however and both are well executed, lining up perfectly with the kashira which is tightly fitted.
The rayskin is of average quality at this price point and is well lacquered. It's really very shiny but doesn't manage to look cheap and its a perfect offset to the matte black cotton ito. A small point though, on one side you can see the wood where the rayskin ends. It's a teeny tiny point, but I can see it, so I'll mention it.
Two bamboo pegs are used to safely secure the tsuka and are of good quality, rounded/polished nicely on either side to show the grain, and inserted at an angle as is correct. Also, there are no horrible drill marks on the rayskin. A small point, but it's nice to see that they were fitted with care.
Trapped underneath the ito are the quite tasteful menuki. I've seen this "bamboo leaves" theme before. They are a safe option to match/compliment the rest of the fittings for this sword and they work well. I believe both menuki are identical for better or worse.
The tsuba is a nice simple design and looks like a stylised sunburst or flower pattern interrupted only by the kogai and kozuka ana. I must claim ignorance at this point but according to the website, it is "Musashino - Kamiyoshi Rakuju". I hope that makes more sense to you than it does to me. What I do know about it however is that it is made of iron and has a strong magnetic pull when subjected to one of the many hard disk magnets I have laying about. Although it must be of cast iron, I cannot see any of the casting lines. Maybe this is because of the black coating that it is finished with. regardless, it is an even and pleasing finish and has none of the harsh sharp edges that I detest.
The fuchi and kashira are coated with a more matte like finish and have some form of fern leaf like pattern. These, I assumed were made of an alloy as they are not magnetic, but it turns out they're actually made of brass. A much better and stronger alternative to some random white metal alloy.
Although these fittings are undoubtedly cast, I cannot find any visible casting lines on the outside no matter how hard I try.
The seppa are made of brass and sit tightly in position. They have the so called 'coined' edge to them but the ridges are smaller and finer than I've seen. They fit nicely with the colour of the menuki, in fact when resting in the saya, the fact that the menuki and seppa are the only real accents to the overall colour scheme is very pleasing in my mind.
The habaki is a plain solid brass type having been polished up however so that it looks acceptable. It may not be particularly eye catching or ornate but it serves its purpose and has none of the file marks or random scratches that Im used to seeing on production swords. It is very tightly fitted to the majority of the blade, the only gaps are on the cutting sides where the blade has very little niku and the habaki are curved to accept more.
The saya is a plain black gloss finish. This may not suit everyones taste as the gloss tends to pick up fingerprints really easily from being being handled. Although the kurikata is wooden, the koiguchi and kojiri are buffalo horn and nicely shaped. This is however, what I'd expect. What I am always pleased to see however is the fit of the habaki to the koiguchi. This is exceptionally well made and fitted.
Only time will tell of course how long this lasts, but for now you can pick up the sword by the saya and shake it and the blade will not fall out. Talking of shaking the saya, there is little to no clatter to be heard from the blade when you shake the sheathed sword. For what its worth, there are no shitodome. It was since explained to me that they were deliberately not included so the sageo fit easily without risking damage to it. Seeing as I ended up removing these things on other swords myself so the sageo fit at all, this makes perfect sense.
Made of AISI 9260 and through tempered, this carbon-silicon based spring steel is very resilient and therefore more than likely to be very forgiving of poor technique, (which with me is a blessing) but it's said to hold an edge well. This will be the first 9260 blade I'll have handled but If it's comparable performance wise with the 5160 that I have used before then it will be extremely tough.
The polish is perfectly acceptable for a sword like this as it's going to be used exclusively for target cutting. It isn't a mirror finish by any stretch of the imagination but it's nicely done. In a through tempered blade theres really not a lot more to say about the polish, what I will touch on though is the kissaki.
The yokote is not geometric but it's the nicest cosmetic counter/cross polish I've seen. It's bright and crisp and if you look closely enough you will see it goes in one direction only rather than looking like it's been attacked by wire wool. The shinogi is crisp and runs with the same clear lines all the way down the blade.
On the spine of the blade, the mune, there is a ridge that runs the whole length of the blade right from the munemachi all the way to the very tip of the kissaki. I believe this is called Iori mune and although I don't know if there is any real purpose to this ridge, it does seem to make the already pointy tip seem all that much more pointy.
There is very little niku on this, which is perfect for me as I really only deal with light targets. I believe this blade will handle targets up to tatami with absolutely no problem whatsoever.
How does it perform?
Living in the UK and having limited funds means that I am only able to test cut with certain targets. Can you imagine the postage for tatami from another country? I use milk jugs (soft plastic), water bottles (thin plastic) and coke or 500ml soft drinks bottles (hard plastic). These are also the targets that the majority of casual cutters use however so it's not that bad.
The balance of this blade is a good mix. It's both light and fast, and it still manages to keep it's blade presence noticeable, letting you know that whatever target you decide to seperate, it's up for the task. This is another plus point for me as I like my blades to be a little 'zippier' than most and this gives me the both of best worlds.
As I suspected, the length of tsuka on this makes the blade that much more manageable. It's long enough for me to be able to grip with both hands but not so long theres excess stuck out of the bottom into my left wrist. This will make upward diagonal strikes that much easier in comparison to swords with longer tsuka.
Now I was simply going to add a video in here of me cutting some targets but Saturday had different plans involving technical issues, strong winds and sporadic torrential rainfall so I will have to leave that for another day. EDIT: I promised a video and here it is. This blade is fast and makes short work of light targets like bottles, no matter what type.
I did find that the sword performed as expected. I cut many different bottles and found that they put up little to no resistance. Static cuts are a cinch with this blade and I was able to cut from a far reduced distance than normal. A couple of bodged cuts left me with no doubt as to the durability of this sword and just for good measure, I deliberately cut down through the lips of a few of the tougher bottles. This had no effect on the edge besides the usual scuffing.
This sword excels at being light and fast but It's point of balance is still forward enough to not require you to 'slam' the blade through the target as I've been able to demonstrate with consistent bottle cuts from a distance of just five inches. This makes it a good sword for trick cutters regardless of whether or not they've just started or they're more experienced.
The lack of niku facilitates easy slicing as long as your edge alignment is on. Because of the steel used, if you do mess up it doesn't matter too much because this sword is deceptively tough but it will bounce bottles or get stuck in tatami if your hasuji is off. Technique will certainly matter more than if you were wielding a more meaty blade as many trick cutters who deliberately use hira zukuri style blades can tell you. Target wise, it deals with anything I can throw at it bottle wise no matter how harshly I treat it and I'd imagine that it will deal with tatami with no problem at all. I cannot say about anything else simply because I don't have access to it.
The fittings are head and shoulders above your normal beaters. Hishigami, iron fittings, you name it. Everything has been carefully and tightly put together. This is not anything like your usual chinatana and you realise this the moment you pick it up. If I had friends closer to me that cut, then I would love to hand them this sword to see what they think of it. I really would love to get their opinion of it as well.
The short of it is, I've wanted another shinogi for a while now and I took a lot of time thinking about it. After handling this one I've decided that I've definitely found my new day to day sword.