Donnerstag, 29. Oktober 2015

A most extraordinary weekend with Martin and a bunch of other quality people - The sword - form and thought

So, many of you might have wondered, what this guy´s about not posting that long. ;-) Now, apart from new challenges, this is mostly due to this post. I postponed it again and again, so to say ;-), for it has been one of the most intense weekends of the last years, and a real reality check for me and my art as a bladesmith. But, first things first, Martin from Ireland had contacted us and we invited him along for the opening event of the exposition "The Sword - Form and Thought", to which we made our humble contributions. Now the translation we had offered did not find its way in into the catalogue and the exhibition, but simply having part in it was great enough. We were absolutely enthused to have part in it and watching it a bit from the inside, and as I said to Martin, "it´s a great adventure for us", and this has not at all changed with a bit of contemplation. So Martin arrived at Cologne railway station and we went to fetch him. 
We arrived a bit early and so we had an opportunity, or should I say, we had the privilege to watch the homeless persons and the drunkards begging for money at the station. While some of them were really disgusting drunkards, one really gave me a teaching in humanity, and I mean what I say. The story goes like this: We were standing there, and I had already given one of the more decent - looking ones some cents, when we were approached by another. There were too many beggars to even provide for, and this particular guy was particularily nasty and annoying. I was like "No, I haven´t anything to spare now, sorry", but he insisted and violated my personal sphere constantly, so I turned to ignore him. He left. In no time whatsoever, another one came up, begging for money again. Still in somewhat of a sour mood, I did not even react. It was then when he gave me a valuable lesson (I mean it). He said that while it would be okay for him if I could not spare any money and said so, ignorance would hurt his feelings, for every human being deserved a minimum of respect. Aww, run through with my own rapier, he actually was right.

The lesson I have learned (again) by it was, not all of them are disgusting drunkards. On the other hand: I can´t provide for all of them. And there is something very wrong in our society, when there are that many of homeless and bone poor people. Even if someone is a drunkard, there is a reason for it. Oh no, it is not that society in itself is responsible for everything, but, being bone poor myself (it´s safe to say that many of those beggars have more money than I do), I can safely say that even though I do a lot for society (and everyone should), society keeps give me a right kicking up my spine, not in spite of me doing a lot of voluntary work, but BECAUSE of it. This can make a man a drunkard or a wizard. I prefer the latter, but I understand that not many make this choice.
But actually we DID have a great time in the impressive shadow of the dome.

Did I mention already that I love this crazy person?;-)

Looks cute, does she? Trust me, she´s not. *ggg* Looks harmless, eh? Trust me, SHE´S NOT!!!1!11!*ggg*

We then met with Martin and welcomed him to Taj Mahovel in Hagen (sorry Jacquie, for stealing the name, it´s just soooo fitting for my home;-)).
We chatted the night away, and suddenly were faced with THE day. We had a coffee and a tea and some buns for breakfast and off we were to get the train... erm... at least we got one train....;-) to Solingen, where we were most warmly welcomed by Ms. (ph.D.) Grotkamp - Schepers of Klingenmuseum Solingen for the opening speeches of the exhibition. While there was a load of political gibberish going on, one thing became abundantly clear: It has not been easy for the staff of the museum to acquire money for something like the exhibition and the quality events around it. Culture is next to impossible in our time without donations of private sponsors. I sincerely hope the staff can always find the motivation required to carry on and all the while keeping their passionate approach towards teaching. I mean it in the truest sense of the word when I state that "culture is next to impossible". Monetary evaluations destroy every cultural asset when not controlled properly. We have to redefine the importance of money and its substitutes, if our species is to survive.   

Anyway, all too soon we were on our way home. One night´s chats and in-depth philosophical discussions later, and the next day saw us off to the sword expo that took place on Saturday.

We passed through the beautiful village of Gräfrath...


At the entrance to the museum we saw this demo by ars gladii, which gave valuable insight on medieval martial arts.
Far removed from the Hollywood turmery fighting styles, Herbert Schmidt, master of the Ars Gladii school explained how it really looked like.

Enjoy this sequence:

There also was this delicious demonstration why some Hollywood images make no sense. The demo was full of insights like this, and all of the people were nice and laidback and always willing to answer and discuss questions. We also met with Stefan and his absolutely great and highly gifted son and had another nice chat before we went inside. 

I must admit I did not manage to see all of the swords properly and maybe I have not done everyone of those really great persons justice. I cannot but apologize, but there were so many of you! It was most impressive that I met with a bunch of pacifists. Wait? Pacifists at a sword expo? You tugging our beards, I hear you say? In this picture you can see Martin talk to Claus Lipka, best friend of Stefan´s from Stefan is a master of several sword arts, both Japanese and European, and one of my idols in swordsmithing. And it was funny to hear him calmly talk about the techniques of making mincemeat out of opponents only to conclude that this was not the option. BECAUSE he knew how to, he would never do it. BECAUSE he knows war, he emanates peace, I cannot put it any other way. He is one of the nicest guys I have met so far, and that means a thing. We immediately talked for hours on end, and I cannot but say it was a great privilege.
Those are examples of his work. I do not want to go into detail here, and I daresay the pictures, even if they are as lousy as they are, tell the story.

This is Stefan and his son, who is currently learning the trade from him, in deep conversation with Dr. Grotkamp - Schepers. My deep respect also goes to this lady, who did a great job in spite of all the difficulties the museum is faced with.
The next booth was that of my favourite photo model... always willing to trade a weird joke, but one of the most accomplished masters in spite of his always calm and laidback manner, JT showed no surprises, but great swords with a kind of flowing aesthetics.

I was delighted to meet with Lukas (I made an article about his works already here), who might as well be the next shooting star of the swordsmithing community. Super-friendly and laid-back, he is a master of MMA no less.

I also was intrigued to meet with James Elmslie, who had some replicas of medieval grosse Messer on display. Most interestingly, the one second from the bottom shows a somewhat inverse configuration, as the edge is on the side with the Pandur tip. We had a very intense, albeit brief discussion, for it was already closing time.

Then we all were off to dinner in the Gräfrather Klosterbräu inn. Outside we were delighted to meet with Petr, who had put on his adult face;-),

with Jake and Peter and Owen Bush and Jul Loose. We were absolutely intrigued to have a talk with Peter Johnsson who is and stays one of the nicest, weirdest and most intelligent and passionate human beings in the universe. Coming to think of it, they all are. I have still not worked out the finer threads of this experience, for it has a spiritual dimension that freaks me out a bit. But as is, it feels like a wheel that has set to turning. Can´t put it any other way, but it has started to turn, and it is gaining momentum, rolling ever faster. It is as if we all were part of a movement, and we all have tasks to fulfil and deeds to do. Individually, but not alone. It is as if a moment in history is becoming self - conscious. We might reclaim the blade that is lost and find the answer that is given from far beyond.
It´s all a big adventure, but not one to be lived through with idle romanticism, but with purpose and responsibility.
I am glad to have met all these people. Period. Might be I will be able to call some of them friends one day, but that´s not the culprit and not the issue here. The wheel is rising up. The tide is rushing in.
I welcome it. 


Mittwoch, 28. Oktober 2015

The German hunting knife as an everyday tool and apotropaion

 This is somewhat of an edit of an ancient post from way back then. But as is, the times have changed a lot, and so has my perspective on the topic, albeit not THAT much. Still the German hunting knife, a.k.a "Jagdnicker" is one of my favourite styles of knife. The term Jagdnicker is a composite word out of "Jagd" (German for hunt, hunting, Swedish "Jakt") and "Nicker", a substantive of the verb form "nicken, ab-nicken", which refers to a special technique to kill an animal that is  either kept by the hounds or injured (see the picture courtesy of Alfred Fritschi, Kleines Jagdlexikon, J.Neumann-Neudamm Verlag, 1937, S. 120 via


The knife, whilst in history actually served as a hunting weapon, always has been far more than that. Even today it is customary to present it as a honourable gift, as a status symbol in traditional attire or even use it as an apotropaion (talisman against evil). Most commonly to date this style of knife is used in the German custom of "Brotzeit", "Jause" or "Vesper". This term needs some explanation, for it is not just, as translated "snack" or "dinner". The Brotzeit is the very definition of "slow food". Ideally speaking, people gather up in a Biergarten, the famed German - Bavarian institution to share a platter of sausage, cheese, mixed pickles, bread, pig stilts, Weissbier and Schnapps and other delicacies. Often the knife of the traditional attire is used, and it sometimes becomes a kind of show - off who´s got the most precious blade. This has, as far as I am informed, always been the case, and it is a kind of ritual showing off the knives and one´s own aptness in sculpting e.g. the white radishes, which are a traditional addition to the "Brotzeit" into accordion shapes and even wood spirits and the like. ;-). It´s also a good occasion to socialize with the lassies ;-), named "Dirnd´ln". Exactly for this occasion, many traditional cutlery sets came with two forks, and the smaller one was named "Dirnd´l - Gabel" (girl´s fork). This is almost a mating ritual, or so ethnologists tend to say ;-), for this indicated that the man wanted to provide for the girl. Many traditional hunting knives were also etched with Christian prayers or sigills. Popular prayers were e.g. The Lord´s Prayer or wishes for prosperity and health. Popular sigills were e.g.
 (picture from
The Agla sigill was used for magical purposes, e.g. to ward off storms or Evil spirits. Other apotropaic inscriptions were IHS (Iesus Hominum Salvator - Jesus, the saviour of men, or Iesus Humilis Societas - The humble society of Jesus) or INRI (Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum - Jesus, from Nazareth, King of Jews). Another crucial mark were nine crosses and nine crescent moons. There was a saying in Bavarian dialect "Neun Kreutz un neun mo´greif´n alle deifen o´" (Nine crosses and nine moons attack all devils). Also in use was a kind of "rune" (of course, not genuinely so), the "Drudengatterl" (nightmare fence) or Drudenfuß (night-mare´s foot, on the left):

(Pictures courtesy from Peter Pfaffinger:, thank you, Peter!)Drudengatter02

 The Drud or night - mare was a nocturnal spirit, sometimes a supernatural witch making a lot of mischief, spreading animal diseases and turning the butter stale, up to killing people in their sleep. To ward this spirit off, the knife inscribed with the aforementioned apotropaic words or sigills was stuck into the bed post or the door stock. That way the night - mare would cut itself on the blade and flee. The defensive effect was emphasized by the sigills and inscriptions.

Apart from that, the knives were priced tools, but not necessarily used that much except for festivals and holidays; for farming work there were others, more humbly made. In any case, the knife was handed down in the family as a priced possession.

 In a way, this knife is something like that. It´s the knife that my father used for 25 years, an old Hubertus with a 9 cm blade and stag antler scales. Now it´s mine. I will not have any children, but if I had, they would inherit it ;-). This knife, simple as it is, is also a kind of talisman for me. It reminds me of all the hikes and foraging outings and "Brotzeit" - meetings with friends from Hessia we did together when I was a kid, of working in the reconstruction of many houses, when he cut the plaster boards and his lunch alike with it or scraped out his beloved tobacco pipe with the blade, of good times and bad times.

No wonder I have an affinity to this kind of knife, eh? ;-) A part of my collection: Top to bottom:

-Otter knives, 10cm, 1.4110 steel, stag antler with a multi - carry sheath for traditional attire and belt carrying
-Hubertus, 11 cm, rattail tang, 1.4109 steel, with art deco fittings and a lovely sheath for traditional attire.
-Hubertus, 12 cm, full tang, C45 cryo - hardened steel with a surprising edge-holding capability for that steel., Sambar stag antler
-Widder knives, 10 cm, full tang, 1.4116 steel, stag antler, with a beautiful etching of a fisherman on the blade
-ancient Solingen Nicker, 11,6 cm, rattail tang, crucible steel, pre - 1920.
-Rudolph Broch blade with Weberknives fittings, C60, 10 cm, cowhorn handle
-Hartkopf Nicker with a beautiful stag etching on the blued 1.4110 10 cm full -tang blade, stag antler
 This is a knife I made long ago in the garden of my old home by the lake, after a historical piece from the Southern Tyrolean region of the Paseirer valley. 12 cm, chisel steel with a full bainite temper, ca. 59 HRC. riverso. I fitted the Edelweiss badge in, which is a bit controversial. Many people would look at it as trumpery, but as is, I have actually SEEN Edelweiss "in person". I am thoroughly fascinated with this flower and it conveys a meaning to me: While it clings to the sheer rock and prospers in the most hostile conditions, it will die in a cultivated garden. And even in the most hostile environment, there´s still a flower growing, a strange flower, white and pale and ghostly even, but still-only strange and strong flowers will survive in hostile environments. So my trusty readers might see why it appeals to me ;-).
 This is a bad example of a "Drudenmesser". It is made in Pakistan. Oh, so it cuts well, but...
 It´s made from stainless industrial damascus, and it´s even tempered. It was dead cheap, to be true, yeah, and the blade is well made. The mountings are sloppy, but they even have some kind of tribal knifemaking charme to them. So why is it a bad knife?

Now, imagine there´s a very accomplished craftsman. He makes knives like these, with love and meticulous precision and fierce passion. He just so can make a living from it for himself and his family. But he strives to get better, as any dedicated craftsman does.

Now, imagine there´s another guy in the neighbourhood. He looks at the knives the first guy makes and is like "Yeah, I can make a profit from that." And copies the knives to an extent that his master´s mark has the same pixel mistakes as the Drudengatterl from the homepage I just quoted. And makes them in Pakistan at a fraction of the price.

This would not be half as bad if he had talked to the first guy in the first place and would say the truth about his knives. For a knife made in Pakistan, this is good enough, and not everyone wants to or is able to afford a knife for almost half a grand. As I said, the knife cuts well, the Damascus is relatively carefree, it´s a light carry and it´s dead cheap and offers quite a bargain. For a user, this would be fine. But that´s not the point in it all. I personally would suggest to save for the real thing, if you want something for a good traditional attire. But a lie is never good and eventually will fall back upon you.

 This is another knife I made. It´s apotropaic "power" lies in the fact that I have made it from ancient crucible steel I found on the St. Jakes pilgrimage trail near my home. It is selectively tempered.
 Here you can see it shows a kind of pattern in the blade. The steel was presumeably processed by one of the ironworks in the vicinity, ca. 1890-1920. The blade has a hardness of ca. 61 in the edge and 45 in the spine. Typologically, the knife is inspired by the traditional style of Jagdnicker with a semi- integral layout and a somewhat triangular shape, but differs a bit. The bolster I filed out octagonally, and the blade shape is also a bit different. The sheath is made for belt carry, not for a knife pouch in the traditional attire leather trousers.
 ...but as you can see, there are deviant shapes along the traditional design produced, too.
All of them made by Hubertus, my favourite traditional knifemaking corporation in Solingen, but available from other corporations like Linder, too. The topmost knives are made from 1.4034 (420HC), the two below are made from 1.4109 (which is similar, but not identical to 440A). It is most interesting how well even the 1.4034 blades hold an edge. This is due to cryogenic hardening employed by Hubertus and a very sensible forging process with a lot of experience. The topmost knife is one of the first knives I ever got-my father bought it for me in Austria when I was 11 years old. I only once had to reprofile it.

The German hunting knife is a knife that has a strong connection to our cultural identity. Of course it could be used as a weapon, as anything could, even a pillow. But it has strong roots in our history, our religion of state and our social culture. It has contributed a lot to what we are and thusly shaped our future. And while Germans are reluctant to say that they are proud of their culture, because of some aspects of contemporary history (the Third Reich), this culture is very rich, not because of its enclosedness, but in the contrary, due to the plurality of its people. Now this plurality is enriched, or could be, by the many refugees and immigrants. But in order to empower a sane and sensible way of integration and cultural exchange, we must keep in mind who we are and where we come from. The German term "Gemütlichkeit" was exported as far as the USA. If you use a very literal translation, this means "being like one´s mind", referring to a sort of well-being along the requirements of one´s soul. The Jagdnicker and Drudenmesser are but one, but a crucial part no less of at least the oft - quoted Bavarian Gemütlichkeit and find their equivalents in other styles of knife throughout Germany. Being well along the requirements of one´s soul is a thing of personal dignity, and this is something that the German "Grundgesetz" (which, unfortunately is not a constitution of state, since we are no state, but ruled by a trust corporation) assures every citizen, provided he acts according to the law.

This knife can show us who we are, if we ask the right questions. If we know who we are, we can put up to our challenges better. It is an experiment of the mind I can recommend to anyone not sure about the refugee problem; just ask the question what knives do they use and why. Just ask one question at a time-and don´t get me wrong, that´s quite difficult to do, and chance is, you will find many things that differ - but also many things that are similar. We have no choice but to look at the things similar if we want to build the society of our mutual future without compromising who we are and the well-being of our collective soul.

To those who try to offend us, we could answer with a meme I once read in an Austrian inn:

"Buama, wann´s raufen wollts,
Dann lasst´s eich raden,
Die Messa san g´schliffan
 Und d´Pratz´n san g´laden!"

(Boys, if you want to fight, please take council, the knives are honed, and the fists are loaded!" ;-) )

Noone in their right mind wants to quarrel with a Bavarian who´s drunk! ;-)

Kidding aside, I hope to have made clear that this style of knife has deep cultural roots in tradition, and it is those roots that in my opinion could prepare us for the future. If we fear the bad things that could happen, we are wrong. We have to look at the chances of our culture. In fact we have no choice. The knife could give us the "Gemütlichkeit", and this is something we should strive for also for the new citizens of our country; gathering around the table and sharing good talk, and the food we all like respectively. No harm done if one prefers the beef to the pig stilts on the platter-if he doesn´t make a fuss out of it and ruins it for the whole lot.


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