Sanding bokuto, or polishing swords, both are done the same way, you start with higher grit and move down to finer and finer grit.
One thing you need to do is to fix a flaw when it shows up. You can’t really wait until the next grit down, you have to do it when you see it. Now I have to qualify that, sometimes I can see tool marks that will disappear with the next three grits.
Mostly though, I just miss those marks with my old eyes and the poor lighting in the shop, combined with never having figured out how to wear reading glasses under a dust mask and ear muffs.
Let’s talk swordmaking because there are two different people involved in the stages up to the polish. The maker and the polisher. The maker creates the sword, rough shapes it, clay coats it, tempers it and then turns it flat on and smacks the quenching water. If there’s a flaw it shows up here with a bent or broken blade. The swordmaker might do some filing to remove his hammer marks and give the blade a final shape. It’s here that he may take a couple pieces of wood and remove a twist, or just put it over his knee to straighten a bend.
All these things the polisher might do as well, will do if they haven’t been done. It’s the rough stuff, the general shaping.
The polisher then starts to work with his stones and sharpens while he polishes. He works the stones down and fixes things as he sees them, not later. He may go from sideways to lengthways as he uses each stone, polishing until the marks of the last stone are gone. Waiting until one or two stones down will mean a flaw in the polish is there at the finish. You have to fix it as you go.
With bokuto I cut them out, bandsaw, tablesaw, bandsaw, fixing twists, bends and whatnot in the wood. At that point I have a roughly shaped thing and I start in with the sanding belts. 24 grit does the final shaping, sort of like the smith’s files. Look, full disclosure here if you’re wondering, I don’t use much in the way of hand tools, and modern swordsmiths don’t employ two or three youngsters to swing hammers. There are mechanized things that do the same job for a heck of a lot less money. I used to build furniture with no nails, glue or screws. I threw out the last of that stuff a couple months ago. It’s cute but joints loosen up and it becomes a bruised tailbone waiting to happen.
At the roughest grit I need to take out the saw marks and correct lines. Finer grits take out the marks from the grit before and perhaps show where I missed a gouge. Finer and finer grits show up more and more flaws. Sometimes I get very close to the end and notice a crack in the wood. Even if it’s only a surface crack, if I can’t get rid of it Brenda throws it into a corner. Functionally it’s fine but she’s not going to mail it out, she hates returns.
Hence a basement and warehouse full of seconds.
To get rid of it I go back to the grit that will do the job, 400 grit might take a scratch out in a week, 24 grit will do it in six seconds, and add a bunch of less-deep scratching.
This is obviously a metaphor for training in budo, but do I have a point? I do indeed, and it is this, don’t fix things until they show up. By that I mean not only should you not fix something you haven’t seen yet, you can’t.
You have to go from the rough to the fine, fixing things along the way. You can’t see the flaws that show up later, sometimes you get to the very last grit before that surface check shows up. That’s the way of it. Don’t borrow trouble, don’t assume a problem is going to be there, even if you suspect it will, leave it alone unless you want to risk making even more of a problem. When polishing you aren’t adding material, you’re subtracting it. If you take away too much you’ve created a problem while trying to fix one.
So teach the rough stuff first, the big shapes, and leave the fine tuning for later when it will “stick”. When polishing a sword one might “open a window”, polish a couple of inches to see what’s in the blade. The very first time you start in with the rough stones that window is gone. Same with beginners, you can talk yourself hoarse about metsuke but if they’re trying to remember which foot moves next their eyes are going to go up and to the right.
Some folks like to “data dump”, to tell every student everything they know. From a teaching point of view this is a waste of time. They won’t hear 90 percent of it for years, then it will be just like you said it for the very first time. “Why didn’t you tell me that five years ago”?
I’m not even sure it impresses anyone, all the knowledge of minutiae in something like iai. I’m sure most beginners will be thinking “OMG dude, just cut him”. And they’d be right. When you can cut stuff, worry about the style. Working on style is just so much preening and posing if you can’t cut, if your balance isn’t there when you move. To fix that you have to go back to the rough grit and there goes all that shiny posing.
Neither the teacher nor the student can jump to the end, to the final grit. You may think you can but it’s just lipstick on a pig.
Fix it when it shows up or you’re going to have to remove more material and waste days worth of polishing as you go back to the rough grit to fix the problems.
“But what about bad habits you might pick up if you don’t fix everything at once?” If you have habits you can’t change you have problems that can’t be fixed. You’re a broken or cracked blade, into the corner of the basement with you.
Aug 11, 2018
Check out the seminars below for the rest of 2018 These are all confirmed. The big thing is to make sure the seminar happens by signing up. You can’t worry that you don’t have a ride, or your thumb hurts until later, when you have no ride or your thumb actually hurts.
August 17-19 Calgary/Vancouver Jodo/Iaido seminar and grading
September 1-3 Tombo dojo Niten and Kage seminar, also Montreal intro to jodo seminar
September 8-9 Ueda sensei in Santiago Jodo seminar and grading
September 22-23 Kurogo sensei in Mississauga koryu Jodo seminar
September 29-30 Fredericton iaido and jodo seminar/grading
Novemer 3-4 Ohmi sensei in Peterborough koryu iaido seminar.
November 23-25 Mansfield Sensei, Mississauga, Jodo seminar and grading
December 1 Etobicoke Iaido grading