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Man At Arms: Art Of War Season 1 Finale, Ep8, Weapons of the Samurai

Last night was the Season 1 finale of the El Rey Network TV series, ″Man At Arms: Art Of War″. Episode 8 was entitled, ″Weapons of the Rising Sun″, or, better yet, ″Weapons of the Samurai″. Danny Trejo and his team were joined by film producer and El Rey founder, Robert Rodriguez, and his son, Rebel. Rebel has been inspired by action movies like ″Kill Bill″, which his father was involved in, to take up the art of bladesmithing. Needless to say, the first of the two weapons to be built and tested is the famous sword of the Samurai, the Katana. However, while the Katana may rule in action movies and TV series, the second weapon, the Yari spear, was the real killer on the battlefields of the Samurai.

 

 

 

Matt Stagmer tells the team that they have some authentic ′Japanese Steel′, known as Tamahagane, or ′Jewel Steel′. Made from black sand, this steel is smelted in small quantities in a Tatara, a clay vessel about 12 feet long and 4 feet high and deep. Over a period of several days, 4 to 5 craftsmen will add the ingredients, like iron sand, charcoal and more black sand, forming layers. Typically, it takes some 22 tons of these ingredients to form about 2.5 tons of usable steel, called Kera, but only 1 ton of this has the quality of Tamahagane for making weapons.

 

Ilya Alekseyev begins the process of breaking down the chunk of Tamahagane. As he heats and hammers away at the slab, Ilya separates high carbon steel from low carbon material. He hammers all of these into flat pieces. Ilya next uses a technique of ′clay stacking′, stacking pieces of the high carbon steel and forge welding them together. Once he has a billet, he begins elongating it into a bar which he cuts and folds numerous times. This gives a more even distribution of carbon throughout the billet with each new layer. Rebel Rodriguez joins Ilya and is taught hammering techniques from the experienced smith. Ilya shows Rebel the correct positions and angles to hold both the billet and hammer.

 

Rebel earlier showed off his own blade making skills to Kerry Stagmer and the team with examples of some knives, as well as a Yari he made. Rebel demonstrated his fighting style used for the two-handed polearm, which is primarily a thrusting weapon. We also learn that this business of wearing katanas on one′s back is not very effective. It may look cool in movies and such, but such was not practical on a battlefield. Drawing the sword from behind is difficult and clumsy, and also leaves one wide open for attack from the front.

 

Back at the forge, Ilya finishes the Katana blade after forging some low carbon steel into a ′taco′, in which he forge welds his high carbon steel. This places the harder steel along the cutting edge while softer steel along the spine for more give and flexibility. Ilya files the Katana blade before heat treating it. This cleans away hammer marks and any impure slag that may remain. He then covers the blade with clay from the spine down to just above the cutting edge, which will create a Hamon line, indicating where the softer and harder steels are. Once heated, Ilya quenches the blade in water, yes, water! He does this to deliberately warp the blade, giving the Katana its distinctive curve.

 

Jesus Hernandez starts work on the handle, or Tsuka, for the Katana. He carves two slabs of wood to fit firmly around the sword′s tang. After gluing them together, Jesus grinds them down into the correct shape and size. He then wraps the handle with stingray skin, which was boiled to make it easier to work with. Jesus ties the skin to allow it to dry and stiffen. He then makes the Habaki, a copper piece to support the guard, the Tsuba, from the blade side. The Tsuba is then cast from an alloy of copper and silver, which is decorated with Japanese symbols of the wind. Jesus then assembles it all and wraps the Tsuka with traditional silk cord.

 

Ilya presents the finished Katana to the team and is given the honor of the first slice. Normally, a hand-forged Katana would take a month to make and then another month to polish and sharpen. Ilya takes two whacks at a tatami mat, slicing it easily. Then Danny does the same. Next, Marko Zaror tries to slice baseballs fired from a pitching machine in midair. He misses the first and catches a piece of the second ball. The third baseball is cut nearly in half by Marko with the Katana. Success!

 

Ilya returns to the forge to work on the Yari spear tip blade. He again uses the Tamahagane steel and hammers out the spear blade quickly. Ilya leaves the edges thick to prevent problems during the water quench. He also does some engraving to decorate the blade before heat treating. Ilya adds clay to make a Hamon along the center of the Yari blade, then fires it up and quenches. Matt Stagmer then uses a belt grinder to finish and sharpen the Yari blade. Once completed, Ilya puts the blade in some pitch to highlight the engraving. Matt makes the pole out of oak, which is about 8 feet long and appears to me to be at least 3 inches wide.

 

After varnishing the wood, the spear tip is added and Matt presents the finished Yari to the team. Rebel gets the honor for first use and demonstrates his skill on some sand bags suspended by ropes. Rebel works the Yari quickly and precisely, thrusting and stabbing each of the bags cleanly. Danny also take a few stabs with the Yari. Then, Marko gets to try and stab a sand-dummy dressed in Samurai armor. The Yari does not penetrate the primary areas of the armor, proving how effective the woven pattern armor is. But, Marko does score lethal hits in the joints about the shoulders and neck areas. The 8-foot length of the Yari gives an attacker 7 times more range than when using a Katana, showing why the Samurai relied more on the Yari in battle than their swords.

 

So ends the first season of the El Rey Network series, ″Man At Arms: Art Of War″. Personally, I like ″Forged In Fire″ on the History Channel more, but ″Man At Arms″ is an enjoyable alternative. To begin with, it is a different sort of series. While more informative in the history of weapons, ″Man At Arms″ does fall short sometimes. For example, in this last episode, no mention was made of the many types of spear tips of the Yari. There are many styles, ranging from narrow to broader leaf shaped blades, as well as different shapes, like crescents and even jagged-edged types. So, I look forward to a second season. Until then, ″Stay sharp!″

 

For more REAL NEWS and views, follow Andrew Zarowny on Facebook and on Twitter @mrcapitalist.

 

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