An intense craft: learning the ancient art of Japanese sword making
Published Sunday, July 2, 2017 2:56PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, July 3, 2017 8:01AM EDT
In a recent seminar, seven men from around the world came to Montreal to get hands-on experience with an edgy new hobby.
The seven hammered away, enduring intense heat while folding iron over itself. The end goal – a traditional Japanese sword.
According to bladesmith Allen Rozon, who organized the 10-day class at Les Forges de Montreal, there’s been a resurgence of interest in the ancient art.
“Knife-making, sword-making, it’s experiencing a bit of a renaissance at this point,” he said. “I think that more and more people lack the opportunity to work with their hands. This is a great place to do it.”
Rozon himself learned the craft over the course of 15 years from the Japanese master who is teaching the class, Taro Asano.
“He’s literally the only Japanese swordsmith willing to travel outside of his country to teach people with traditional techniques and materials,” said Rozon.
For Asano, teaching the art isn’t just about the final product but about the journey.
Asano began learning how to make blades when he was 13 and began as an apprentice to a swordmaker when he was 20. Now, he’s developing new methods that blend Japanese forms with Western ideas.
“The finished product is very important for the student but it’s not so important for me,” he said. “The process is more important for me.”
The process is a difficult one – steel is heated to incredibly high temperatures and then fold over and over, creating super-strong layers.
It’s not a hobby for the thrifty – each student at Rozon’s course will use between three and four kilograms of steel at a cost of roughly $400 per kilogram. The course itself cost $6,000 per student.
All of Rozon’s students have some prior experience with blacksmithing. Joe Travasio travelled from Texas to take the course, the second time he’s studied under Asano.
“The work itself is difficult but the act of creation just gets you going,” said Travasio. “It makes you want to do a little bit more.”
It’s hard work, but ultimately, there’s a payoff. Each sword can be a weapon, but it’s also a work of art.
“It’s like seeing a new baby,” said Rozon. “You waited and you waited and you waited and now they’re here.”