Iaito & Koshirae - Mini Series 4
Updated: Feb 29
The 2nd part of this issue's topic covers the Habaki and then lead in to the levels of iaito construct. The Habaki's function is to hold the blade such that it sits nicely within the saya (almost not touching it). It is fitted between the blade and its tang (nakago). In a fitted iaito, one would see the blade, followed by the habaki, seppa and tsuba.
Like the tsuba kashira, kojiri (saya cap) and fuchi, the material for habaki varies. Originally crafted using iron, other metals such as copper, silver and gold are generally introduced. There is also a variety regarding Habaki crafting and finishing. In general, there are 2 types of habaki construct. Namely, these are habaki are made from 1 single piece of metal (Hitoe) or 2 pieces of metal; one encased by another (Futae). Habaki finishing range from different file-marks design to different carving finishes. Below, one can see see-saw file-marks of habaki finishing.
Regarding iaito construct levels, there are generally 3 types: beginner, intermediate and advanced.
Beginner level typically offer limited selections of koshirae, Kashira/Fuchi, Menuki, Tsuba choices. The options for saya finish could also be limited to a few basic designs.
Intermediate level offer more options for koshirae and saya finishes , and one may pay a premium to include fancier materials (e.g. silver) for koshirae and/or fancier saya designs.
Advanced level typically includes some of the aforementioned koshirae material as default selection.
Besides these, the handling & balance afforded by each construct level is also subtly different.
The range of koshirae choices available varies depending on different iaito makers.
It can be quite challenging to visually tell the differences between the different construct levels. Observe the 5 iaitos in above picture (top to bottom, #1 to 5). Contrary to conventional assumptions, advanced level ones are the bottom three.
Let's take a moment to enjoy the handiwork of these iaitos. [Top row: Tsuka kashira, 2nd row: Tsuba, 3rd row: Fuchi, 4th row: Menuki]
Does that mean a beginner should get an advanced level from the get-go? Ultimately, it is a matter of an individual's prudent planning and preference. It is far more important to acquire one from a reputable and credible iaito maker. With proper care and maintenance, and factoring in wear & tear from practice, a standard practice iaito should last anywhere between 10-15 years.