Friday, 31 December 2010

Year of the Usagi

Helmet with large hare's ear crest, probably made of lacquered linen or paper
Happy New Year!

Perhaps confusingly, Japan starts the New Year on Jan 1st, but also uses the Chinese astrological designations for each year - the Year of the Tiger is over here, and the Year of the Hare has just begun.

I don't know if there is any value in characterising years by their astrological sign, but if there were, I would say that this past year has lived up to its image of power and ferocity, leaving its claws in to the very last.

The hare is quite different, of course, and interesting as a symbol. Though often translated as rabbit, it is not the Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter kind of animal, but more Brer Rabbit. Many Japanese folktales attest to this side of its nature. The earliest mention I know of is from the Kojiki, where the white hare has got stuck on an island, and to get off tricks all the sharks in the area to line up between the island and the coast on the pretext of counting them to decide whether the hare clan or the shark clan is largest. The hare runs across their backs to the mainland - of course, it can't resist a final quip, telling the sharks what it has done, and gets its skin torn off for its pains (surviving to fight another day). From this comes the common image of the hare and waves.

Rabbit in the Moon menuki - courtesy of the Dayton Art Institute
Artistically, the Japanese hare looks much like our cuddly bunny. It was much used by the samurai as a symbol of speed and determination to go forwards. Interestingly, the samurai didn't feel a need to always use 'tough-looking' symbols to portray military prowess. As part of a wider culture with multiple meanings in different fields (military, religious, political, personal) they had wider concerns than looking mean and surly - if you were a professional, spending a large amount of your life campaigning, you didn't have to try to look military - you were anyway.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi:s depiction of Shinozuka Iga-no-kami, a 14th century warrior
Quite a few examples, from a variety of historical periods show hare crests, sword ornaments, helmet decorations etc. The recent exhibition at the Met in New York had a good example of rabbit ears on a helmet, for example, and in Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, the general Miki Yoshiaki (the noble Banquo character) has a hare crest on his sashimono (banner) and ears on his helmet.

Still from Throne of Blood - note the crest on the banner on the left. You can just see the small hare ears on his helmet, too.

So, returning to the story above, the image I have for this year, is running swiftly towards your goal, passing freely over the waves over the backs of the sharks (and avoiding their jaws if you just keep your mouth shut for long enough).

Best wishes to you all.

Tsuba from late 16th/early 17th century (

Sunday, 26 December 2010

The Beautiful Women of Uemura Shoen

Exhibition flyer showing the famous work, 'Start of the Dance' 1938

The recent exhibition of Uemura Shoen’s (1875-1949) work at the Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, was a good chance to get an overview of this prolific artist. Almost anyone familiar with Japanese art of the twentieth century will have run into her work – indeed, she was one of the most prolific of the Kyoto based artists working in the ‘Bijinga’ (beautiful women) field. Despite the evident beauty of many of her works, I think we can say a little more than that about them. I was very impressed by some of them, and not so much by others. Once again, the catalogue is not necessarily a help in making judgements, as much of the power of the earlier works is lost, and the later ones benefit from having the large empty expanses reduced in scale.

Here are some of my observations...

Detail from 'Preparing to Dance' 
The exhibition included about 100 of her works, including many of the most famous ones, and a room full of sketches, giving a broad overview of her oeuvre. I would say that the first thing that strikes the visitor is how skillfully she uses her medium. The first room, in particular, shows some beautifully painted works – she had clearly mastered the tradition in which she worked and had imbued her subjects with a grace and lightness which makes them perfect exemplars of their type. As a woman in a male dominated world, she must have had to battle for every inch of ground, and in terms of the paintings themselves, she was more than successful. The bokashi (delicate blending) was exquisite, and she showed very sure handling of form, line and colour – which is to say, she drew very well, with delicate, finely articulated figures; her brushwork showed great finesse (for those unfamiliar with it, brushwork is a different quality to that in western art – the outlines of figures and drapery are drawn with long single strokes of the brush… one line = one stroke, and so the firmness, decision and liveliness of the line itself, as well as the form it escribes or the shape it encloses, have value.) Skill with colour is also a technical skill, as well as being a matter of choice. Not only do the colours have decorative and emotional impact, but the manual skill necessary for laying down flat, unblemished areas of colour is also part of the mastery. Looking closely, it was possible to ascertain something of the covering qualities of the different pigments – the reds, in particular looked very strong and solid. This is something it is difficult, if not impossible to judge through a catalogue, in which most of the subtleties have been removed, (partly due to printing coasts, I assume), and is the one of the reasons why paintings can have so much power when you see them as objects, rather than images.

Moving into the next gallery, there was a slow but discernible change in the pictures as Shoen, a mature artist in her 40s-50s, followed different paths of development. The catalogue notes tell us she was searching for inner emotion, expressing it through the restriction of expression, resolving the previous details of the background into larger areas of denser colour. Part of her inspiration for this came from her interest in Noh theatre in which, unlike kabuki, which delights in powerful, expressive movements of the body and face, the actors wear masks that allow for no direct communication of feelings through facial expression. Though I can appreciate her desire to replicate something of this in paint, there are some aspects of particular arts that are resistant to transfer. In fact, this is what gives them their own particular characteristics. Noh is a rather refined art, but it has a dynamism that is expressed through the restraint of the movement and the fine carving of the masks. What works in this context cannot necessarily be transferred to the medium of paint. Whereas in Noh, the control and skill, the suppressed emotional energy are present in the voice, the movements, the gestures, and are evident to the observer, in a painting, that degree of restraint, especially in a style that utilizes thinly brushed lines and colours points to vacancy, rather than pent up, focussed energy. I’m afraid that, to my mind, the paintings fell into this category – they appeared to coarsen and lose their finesses and subtlety. Far from giving greater insight, they gave less, I felt, as there were fewer queues to work from.

Detail of 'Start of the Dance'... the delicate articulation of line of the earlier works is clearly lacking - but what is there in its place?
I am aware that this is partly a cultural difference, and that inexpressiveness is supposed to speak volumes, but I am also aware that this can be an excuse for hollowness – a real lack of substance. Look beneath the fine exterior and you will find… nothing. Focus becomes turned in on itself, an exercise in mental tension, with no content other than the concentration itself.

I see the attraction of such theories – paring down the inessentials to focus on content – but in this case, the actual works did not bear them out. I can also see that an artist might move in a direction that doesn’t necessarily result in better work. It may be for personal creative reasons, the result of market pressure, or just a drift with the times as fashions changed.  For Shoen, I think it was probably a combination of all of these.

It seems she was greatly affected by the criticism of bijinga at the 9th National Art exhibition (1915). Although her works were not singled out, the genre came under fire for being out of touch and irrelevant to modern times. Added to this was the suggestion that the women depicted in these paintings were not ‘real’ women, merely pretty, doll-like figures. Of course, not only were many of them indeed, doll-like, but were also geisha, and thus could be regarded as ‘play-things’ in another sense, as-well. In fact, one has only to look at the faces in Shoen’s earlier work to see the truth of this criticism.

This would have been enough to give anyone food for thought. The direction she moved towards was not unique (though on reading the exhibition catalogue, you might be forgiven for thinking so). Many artists took a similar tack, flattening and slightly abstracting the principle images, in so doing, hoping to go beyond the superficial likeness and achieve more psychological insight and universality. In fact, Shoen’s son was one of those who did just this, followed by his son in turn.

Uemura Shoen, 'Contemplation' detail, 1946
Unfortunately, to my eye, many of the best of these paintings appear merely decorative, and the worst, distinctly amateur. It was the beginning of a slow road towards superficiality and prettiness. Not that Shoen’s paintings fall into either of these categories, but she was schooled in a far harder discipline than those who came after her. I think part of the problem is that she abandoned the absolute purity, the finesse and beauty of her line, and what she replaced it with never came up to the same level. Whereas a painter such as Terashima Shimei produced works that employed simplification and gave insight into character, this never really comes out in Shoen’s work.
Terashima Shimei, 'Winter' 1941

However, this should not be taken as detracting from her stature as an artist – the artist brings him or herself to the artwork, and reveals their humanity, in all its glory and all its faults.

Monday, 20 December 2010

The Symbolism of Yagyu Tsuba

Suigetsu                                 Marunami
General remarks

This is just a rather general introduction to the symbolism of these tsuba, as I understand it, based on a number of years of desultory research and mulling it over. The illustrations are drawings I did to illustrate a few of the more significant motifs – photos can be found here and there, but there is surprisingly little on the web. Mind you, determined searching has turned up some quite interesting examples.

Symbolism in classical martial arts falls into several categories – when interpreting these symbols we should bear in mind that a number of different interpretations may be plausible, and some of these may be what the symbol was originally intended to convey. Others may be ‘correct’ in that they represent the present teachings of the school (though whether these are still close to the art as it was practiced several hundreds of years ago is not always easy to ascertain), or they may represent concepts or metaphors that are entirely accurate and consistent with the teachings of the schools but are the result of personal insight on the part of the instructor, and were not necessarily passed on from previous generations. Then there are guesses. Some of these may be very good, but some of them may be way off.

Yagyu tsuba incorporate a number of motifs which are familiar to those involved in the martial arts and which relate to the principles of Yagyu heiho. Many of the designs include a combination of symbols in a single image – the symbolism may be composite, or it may contain references which are not apparent to those unfamiliar with the teachings of the ryu. Some of these may be interpreted broadly, but, of course, someone who has undergone extensive training in the Yagyu tradition is likely to have a more subtle understanding of the concept as it is embodied in the ryu. I believe that some of the symbolism operates on several levels, so even a relative beginner in the style may be able to associate certain motifs with the names of kata or techniques, but an advanced practitioner will be able to attach a deeper meaning to the same design.

Categorising the motifs
The designs can be categorised in several different ways – some of the names appear to relate directly to names of kata or concepts which are mentioned in writings of the Yagyu family, while for others I can find no direct written references, but seem connected to concepts that are important in Yagyu heiho. Some of the motifs seem quite obvious at first glance, while others are more abstract, either in terms of the conection to heiho, or in the design itself. Finally, there are those which are merely illustrative.

Another way of looking at the designs is to consider the degree to which the treatment of the motif is related to its meaning. For example, is the way bamboo depicted telling us anything important with regard to heiho, other than the fact of it being bamboo? I believe that the answer is yes in some cases – the repetition of the sinuous line in the water motifs is repeated in well ropes clouds and cords – it is tempting to believe that this has something of the quality of movement employed in Yagyu swordsmanship. Other designs have a symmetry that conveys force and balance…. very different from the wave designs, but perhaps also illustrative of imporant atributes in swordsmanship. Some of the more decorative tsuba from other schools also depict water, waves,bamboo and any number of  motifs, but in none of them do I have the feeling that they are connected in any way to swordsmanship beyond the choice of motif itself.

I have never heard any reliable estimate of the total number that exist – I have seen something like fifty or more different designs, and I am sure there are more.

What do they mean?
Perhaps the most distinctive motif is water. This recurs in a number of different designs, but in each, sinuous ripples and waves fill the tsuba We can imagine Renyasai discussing the design and saying, “Yes, it should be like this.” In terms of heiho, this may relate to the relationship between a swordsman and his opponent, where the superior swordsman, with no pre-planned strategy, responds naturally to the moves of his opponent, slipping into the gaps that appear in his opponent:s defense, flowing around his attacks, filling the empty spaces, just as water does. Though water may not have its own shape, it does have a characteristic movement, and this is what is depicted.

The water motif is perhaps most commonly depicted in ‘The moon in the water’ (suigetsu), which is well known through its connections with Zen Buddhismalthough it has older antecedents and connections to other schools of Buddhism and the Confucianism of Chu Hsi. Even outside its martial context you can see different interpretations, depending on what aspect of the relationship between the moon and its relection are being highlighted. I have seen it discussed as referring to the aim in Yagyu swordsmanship of reflecting the opponent’s movements in the same way that water reflects the image of the moon: that is, akind of melding with the opponent’s movement without the intervention of the conscious mind. This interpretation usually lays stress on the calmness of the water as a pre-requisite for accurately reflecting the image of the moon. Similarly, it is said, the swordsman’s mind must be calm. Interestingly, the water in Renyasai’s tsuba is anything but calm, having the same sinuous lines as in his other designs. This reinforces my feelings about the quality of movement that is required, but also makes me think that the specifics of ‘the moon in the water’ are not so easily explained.

Even within the Yagyu school, we can see there are different explanations for suigetsu, and without being personally taught, I think it is difficult to appreciate the precise meaning of the phrase, and the way in which the different descriptions relate to the imagery of the concept. Suffice to say, despite its derivation from philosophy, it is not a theory, but the title of a technique or skill, but one that I think is properly categorized as mukei – shapeless (or not dependent on specific moves or positions).

Visually, there is, of course, a moon in the top of the design, and its image is reflected in the waves at the bottom – although it is sometimes hard to see.
sangaku, dōsasa and tsurubenawa

Another well-known design is one known variously as ippon take, take kirikabu and dōsasa, which shows the base of growing bamboo with twigs and a few leaves. This is an important design, as it was the one Renyasai had on his own sword, Kagotsurube (well basket – suggesting a well bucket made of woven bamboo… obviously not very efficient in drawing up water). The typical image of bamboo as a symbol in the martial arts conjures up images of pliability, bending to release its load of snow, unlike the more rigid trees which eventually break under the weight. In this case, it is clearly being referred to somewhat differently. I have not seen an explanation which strikes me as being entirely correct (perhaps someone with personal experience of this could put me right, but I have my own ideas). I have seen it related to the first technique, itto ryodan, (cutting in two with one stroke) of the first set of Shinkage-ryu kata, but the relationship is not immediately clear. On reflection, I think it probably refers to the importance of the roots and base of the bamboo, which allow the rest of the bamboo to display its characteristic flexibility. This blend of strength and pliability is important in swordsmanship, and similarly, it is the strength of the hips and legs that allow the freedom of movement in the sword and the upper body.

On the subject of itto ryodan, this is also supposed to be the inspiration for the design called tsurube-nawa (well rope), which shows a pair of well buckets and the attached rope. You have to look carefully to make out the buckets – it took me quite a while to see them (that was before I checked the title). If you are familiar with double-bucketed Japanese wells, the symbolism is fairly clear. If you let a full bucket go, it would immediately drop back in to the well, bringing the other one up. Of course, they pass each other on parallel paths, very much like the itto ryodan technique. It is easy to see how this relationship and the immediate descent of the bucket, acting entirely unconsciously, can be applied to the movement of the sword. Likewise, I have seen it applied to raito (lightning sword), a shinkage-ryu technique from a jodan position, which is, I believe, a variation or closely related to itto ryodan.

Also interesting are the motifs that have a theoretical rather than pictorial basis. These include sangaku (three learnings) which is also referenced in the first chapter of Yagyu Munenori’s Heihokadensho, The Shoe Offering Bridge, which came down from Yagyu Sekishusai. They are posture, limbs, and sword. This triangle motif, and the related mitsuboshi (three stars) are repeated in a variety of combinations. This is probably a clue to a deeper meaning – in Legacies of the Sword, Karl Friday describes it as ’code’ for ‘sangaku-no-en’ denoting the way in which the motion of the sword is. or contains a spiral motion built on three points – a triangle within a circle. Also quite common are the square and diamond shapes. These appear to refer to the ability to be centred and maintaining a kamae that has no deviation one way or another – it is facing all four sides.  The wheel is another common motif – it occurs in various technique names and the design known as namiguruma (waves and wheel) or suisha (waterwheel) was used by Renyasai for his wakizashi, Sasa-no-tsuyu (dew on the bamboo grass). It relates directly to various techniques and the ‘wheel’ kamae but in a deeper sense, to the kind of movement that inspired names such as suisha, hana-guruma, oni-guruma.
Yagyu-gasa, marobashi, jumonji, namiguruma

Lastly, for the moment, there are two motifs linked to some key concepts of the school: marobashi, which relates to the freedom to move in any direction, like a rolling ball, and jumonji,  (cross), the meaning of which is better left to those who actually train in shinkage-ryu. (I gather no-one is particularly happy with the translations/explanations that have been given in published versions of Heihokadensho).

I would be glad of any comments or information from shinkage-ryu practitioners (or anyone else, for that matter) who can shed any more light on this fascinating subject.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The Samurai Mind - in my bookstore now

I had a nice surprise today as I was browsing through the local English language bookstore - it was seeing this on the shelf. If you check the author, you will see that it is my own book, but I had last heard it was due out in March, and hadn't expected to see any copies till the New Year, when I would be getting a few pre-publication copies. I have yet to get any of those, but I did actually buy a copy to send to my brother, who will, I hope, appreciate it. I left the other copy on the shelf in the hope that someone with good taste or ample curiosity would snap it up quickly.

Of course, as I wrote it I am going to recommend it, but for more than just that. As an enthusiast myself, I wrote something I hoped that other enthusiasts would enjoy, and that would add something to their knowledge, and to the field in general. It is a book of translations from 18th-19th century Japanese writers on the inner factors involved in swordsmanship. All of these writers, save one, were masters themselves, and put down some very interesting insights on paper. What is unusual about these works, for readers familiar with Musashi's Gorin no sho or Yagyu Munenori's Heihokadensho, is that they were written for a wider audience than the master's inner circle of top students. This means that they are far easier to access for readers outside that tradition, but give enough of the flavor of these inner aspects for the reader to be able to understand them (to a certain degree) for him/her-self.

My own experience in swordsmanship has given me a personal taste of many analagous or parallel teachings, and I hope that this has enabled me to translate them and keep some precision in the meaning - most other translations of works by swordsmen, for all their other qualities, often fail to make distinctions that are quite important in the original works, and are vital for a proper understanding of the technique or concept the writer is trying to explain, often giving a plausible gloss, but missing the specifics.

Here is a quick rundown of the translated texts:

  The Mysterious Skills of the Old Cat (Neko no Myojutsu) by Issai Chozan: this has been translated several times before, and it's a long story as to why I included it, but it works well in the book as a kind of key to understanding the other works, which are amplifications and more detailed explanations of various facets of the the skills that are introduced in this story. If you are a bit uncertain of what you're going to be reading and whether it will be too deep for you, this will set out the general ideas for you.

  Sword Theory (Kensetsu) & A Treatise on the Sword (Kencho) by Hirayama Shiryu: I don't think Kensetsu has been translated at all into English beyond the first line, the uncompromising:

"My swordsmanship is for killing the enemy"

and although I later discovered that Cleary has translated some selections from Kencho, the complete work has not previously been published in English. I will have to write more about Hirayama when I get the chance - he was a formidable character, and these works present his ideas on swordsmanship very clearly - the second work consisting of annotated quotations from classics to give weight to the theories he presents in Kensetsu.

  Joseishi’s Discussions on the Sword (Joseishi Kendan) by Matsuura Seizan: I have written a little about Seizan before. This is one of several works he wrote on the sword, and is the most general of them. It is written as a series of unconnected notes and musings on different aspects of swordsmanship for the sake of students of the sword, it seems, which build up to give quite a clear picture of his view of the art. He was a retired daimyo, in fact, master of  a cadet branch of the Shingyoto-ryu. Only fragments of this work have been published in English before.

  Ignorance in Swordsmanship (Fushikihen) by Kimura Kyuho: this is another unpublished work (D.T. Suzuki includes fragments in Zen and Japanese Culture, taking the curious course of interpreting a clearly Neo-Confucian work as a Zen text). I found it very interesting - it takes the form of a dialogue between the writer's master and a visitor to the dojo, and how one should practice to attain  'real' swordsmanship. Although the language is philosophical in tone, the aim is the development of practical technique. Kimura was a master of the Unchu-ryu, which was originally based on use of the spear. Interestingly, Hirayama had also studied, and mastered Unchu-ryu, though a different but possibly related one.

I could say a lot more about it - as the author, I know it's not perfect, but I think  it offers some genuine, hard to find insights and will broaden your knowledge about traditional swordsmanship. The publisher is Tuttle, and it should be 'available at all good bookshops' as the saying goes - and hopefully some of the less good as well.

I'm sure it would make a great present, too.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Yagyu Renyasai and the Yagyu Tsuba

Miyamoto Musashi might be the best known, but he was not the only bugeisha who was intimately connected with the visual arts: Yagyu Renyasai (1625-94), headmaster of the Owari branch of the Yagyu Shinkage Ryu, is well known for the the tsuba he produced as well as being a master swordsman. These are fairly well-known amongst sword (and tsuba) collectors, but martial artists seem less familiar with them, and there is very little written about them in English.

I first saw pictures of them in Dave Lowry's book, Autumn Lightning, which was also the first time I had really heard about the Shinkage Ryu. What struck me about them was the way in which they incorporated elements of the school's strategic principles into the design. Later, when my language ability had inched it's way up to a suitable level, they were one of the first things I researched in Japanese... greatly aided by a combination of pictures and short captions, I was just about able to make some sense of what I was reading.

The world of swords and their accoutrements is a large and complex one, particularly when it comes to appreciation and collecting, and my knowledge is admittedly slight. As seems to be common in many fields, there is a mixture of truth and story in the sword world, and ferreting out verifiable facts is not easy - it is quite common to repeat stories but they are not always substantiated.

As with many Japanese crafts, the making of tsuba was often a collaborative effort, and Renyasai employed skilled specialists at different stages of the operation. The basic tsuba were forged by a number of different smiths - among whom, it was said, was Kotetsu Gozaemon. The story goes that these rough pieces were placed in a rice mortar and Renyasai pounded them with a heavy mallet to test their durability. Those that survived unharmed progressed to the next stage, which involved working the designs into the metal, through a variety of drilling, cutting and filing processes. The designs themselves are also the subject of some uncertainty, though the best were traditionally all ascribed to the painter Kano Tanyu. An examination of the dates involved makes it unlikely he designed all of them, but it is possible that he designed some of them. The metalwork was performed by members of the Goto family. After they had been shaped, they would be tested again with, as the story goes, an axe. Those that passed were accepted, and were then patinated to give the desired finish.

 There are several points here that I'm not sure of - it seems that the Yagyu family has an album of tsuba designs which includes stories about them, several of which have become quite well known. There are some doubts as to their authenticity - the collaborations with Kotetsu, Kano Tanyu and the artisans of the Goto house have not been proven, and in fact, seem unlikely, though I have seen suggestions that Kano Tsunenobu, Tanyu's nephew, was involved in the design stage. The connection with the Goto house, who were, among other things, keepers of the Tokugawa mint, has actually been described as 'unthinkable'. Likewise, the picturesque story of Renyasai pounding tsuba in a rice mortar seems to originate from 19th century sources.

On the subject of mortar pounding, here is a short section written in the early 1900s, taken from Jim Gilbert's site on tsuba,

 "As to the mortar story. It is very doubtful, for what use was there in pounding them up? Is this the proper way to test a tsuba? There are certain methods in trying weapons, if one wishes spoil anything by rough usage. One might smash even a Myochin armor or a Bizen sword. To pound tsuba is the same. Mr. Yagyu is the man known as the best fencer and a clever man appointed by the 2nd or 3rd Shogun Tokugawa. If so he would not dare to play such a foolish game. This opinion must be taken from tradition of Yagyu people, or storytellers' jokes. Since I was a young man I have seen may thousands of tsuba, but only two or three with sword marks (kizu). So that we must think whether tsuba were struck by the sword in actual fight. In real fighting it is a question of a moment whether to kill or be killed. Why should one prefer to cut an arm rather than a head, which would not kill. After examining many blades a tsuba, not only with sword marks, almost no mark is seen on the habaki moto, but generally near the boshi. The mementos of the fighting period: Kamakura tsuba are very thin, Kanayama as well, especially the later ones have large piercings, which made them look very dangerous for real fighting, besides, the work of Kaneie I, Myoju, are thin, especially that of Myochin. Not only are they thin, but even made of shakudo, copper, or brass, and those soft metal tsuba are not thick. All these facts suffice to kill the story of pounding tsuba in a mortar. Some people might say that most of the tsuba made by armor makers are thick, that proves that they were made for defense. So that Yagyu's mortar trick was not so foolish. That opinion at first sound reasonable, but I can't agree with it, as my idea is that the thick heavy tsuba was intended to give weight to the hand, so as to give a greater strike (momentum) to the hand." 

Note that Akiyama was born in 1843 and was at age 9 named a page under lord Yamanouchi Yodo Toyonobu of Tosa. Akiyama was not only an authority on sword fittings, but also grew up wearing swords.

(originally from the early 1900's journal "Token Kai Shi" part four, Articles by Akiyama Kyusaku Translated by Henri L. Joly, Annotated by Robert E. Haynes)

I must say that although the tsuba is not meant to be used as a defense, it would require a particularly bold swordsman not to have one on his sword, although this was, in fact, the case with one of Uesugi Kenshin's swords. Yagyu tsuba are very sturdy in feel and appearance, and I am sure this reflected the practical value of swordsmanship. However, testing with an axe, although possible, would have left its mark on the metal, so this must be regarded as nothing but a story (or an isolated incident).

There also seems to be no reliable record of Renyasai's personal role in all of this - presumably he oversaw the process, offering opinion and suggesting changes, as Rikyu did with the artisans who worked for him. Whether or not he had a hand in the physical work is something we don't know - it is quite possible that he supplied rough designs which were worked up further by skilled artisans. As for the designs themselves, it has come to be accepted that they reflect aspects of Yagyu heiho, or martial arts, and I shall discuss this next.