Book review: Analysis of the Iai Katana

Today I want to review a recently published book, written by PhD Jon Andresen from American Art Swords. Title of the book is Analysis of the Iai Katana, published by Jon’s Androzo Publishing, and available via amazon. In his book, Jon approaches the katana, as mentioned in the blurp, analytically and his academic scientific background is very much reflected in this approach. Jon is also an iaidôka, a rokudan renshi to be specific, and thus he tackles the analysis of swords, and that is of iaitô and shinken as well, truly from the modern iaidô practitioner’s point of view.

The book is basically divided into three parts, i.e. bokutô, iaitô, and shinken. In the first part, Jon thoroughly analyses all aspects of the bokutô, with a main focus on the woods used, from traditional to modern Japanese sources to non-Japanese equivalents. And with thorough, I mean thorough, as this (I am speaking of ~ 50 pages) is the most comprehensive study on bokutô I have come across to this day. The second part is comparatively brief and addresses all basic and relevant points you have to know about iaitô whereas the third part on shinken is the main part of the book and comprises ~ 120 pages. In these 120 pages, Jon analyses and puts into relation measurements, weight, and bôhi grooves by using a dataset of 1,695 long swords from all periods. Through this analysis, you can see certain trends and relations of nagasa, kasane, weight, and presence or absence of bôhi, just to name a few factors, whereas the weight makes an important part of this analysis because as Jon says in the preface, to predict the weight of blades based on their nagasa was originally a major goal of this work.

This means, and borrowing from the preface, it was to be for the benefit of iaidô students who generally care about what swords weigh when information of the weight is usually omitted in descriptions on sites that sell swords. The book is rounded off by guidelines and tips on maintenance (and that applies to bokutô, iaitô, and shinken) and therefore I would recommend this publication to the serious iaidô aspirant who wants to get as much information as possible to make up his mind on the purchase of an as perfect as possible iaitô or shinken (in addition to what your sensei is recommending of course). In other words, studying Jon’s book gives you useful tips, and makes you aware of maybe never thought off aspects that you have to bear in mind when shopping for a sword that should fit you well and for a long time on your journey along the Way of Drawing the Sword. As indicated, the book places a firm focus and does not pretend to be anything else, thus do not expect to find in it any discussions on swordsmiths schools, workmanships, swords as collectibles, or iaidô techniques/kata and things like that . I just wanted to underline that because, from my personal experience as an author in this field, people often expect a “Swiss Army knife” approach.


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