Master Kuo adds human bone to the blade.

Kuo Chang-hsi is Taiwan’s last traditional sword maker. He has been making traditional Chinese and Japanese swords for over thirty years. At the beginning of his career he would sometimes earn as little as $15 a month; today one of his swords can fetch over $200,000. Each blade takes weeks, sometimes even months, to forge.

Following tradition

Master Kuo uses the traditional technique of adding human bone to the blade whilst it is being forged, which he takes from the cemetery with permission from the respected families of the deceased. The phosphorous in the bone, which is added to the blade of iron and steel while it is being softened at 1,300 degrees, is purported to remove the impurities from the metal. There is also a spiritual reason for adding human bone. Kuo tells Al Jazeera’s Steve Chao, “Legend has it, the bones also bestow the sword with a spirit.”

If one day I can find an apprentice that is willing and capable, then all I have will be his

Kuo’s swords are recognized all over the world and one of his swords, the Green Destiny, was even used in fellow Taiwanese, Ang Lee’s Hollywood epic, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Tai Chi master, Su Ching Biao, is one of many sword connoisseurs who understands the quality of Kuo’ swords. He says, “I come to master Kuo because few make swords with such distinctive quality anymore, it is rather a shame.”

Search for an apprentice

Kuo became a blacksmith when he was only 13, carrying on the family tradition that stretches back to the 19th Century but they specialised in farm tools and  it was only in the 1980s that he decided to branch out into sword making. Unlike his father, who threatened to tie him up to stop him from running away if he refused to work as a blacksmith, he has given his son the freedom to choose what he wants to do in life.

Legend has it, the bones also bestow the sword with a spirit

Soon Kuo will be too old to carry on sword making but he has yet to find a suitable apprentice to pass on his skills to.

He says, “If one day I can find an apprentice that is willing and capable, then all I have will be his.” If not, then as the last sword maker left on the Island, Taiwan could soon be witness to the end of a long held and deeply venerated tradition.


Watch Taiwan’s last sword maker in action:


Source: Al Jazeera – Steve Chao

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