by Robert Haynes

Those who think they know, and those who know they don’t know. That is the question! Now we must confront the past study of Japanese sword fittings… the mystery within the riddle, inside the enigma. Appearances are the reality without doubt, and if the reality is not sufficient, then change the appearances. Characteristic of this attitude is the notion that there is a “perfect” way of doing things. In learning a subject, the emphasis is on automatic, non reflective repetition of what the teacher says. Mystery is reached by removal of the objects in between the self and the perfect model, embodied by the teacher. The malleability, relativity and negotiability of truth, and the claimed superfluity of logic, in the absence of a strong intellectual tradition, and with the subservience to the letter of the law, and the acceptance, even celebration, of the status quo, when combined with the concurrent xenophobia and the rigid, “never make waves”, all of the above is certainly not the way to study any subject.

It seems it is easier to go back to the beginning… than on to the future, because Akiyama Kyasaku is ALL that we have, past or present. We did have those who carried on the ideas and theories of Akiyama, such as Dr Torigoye, and Sasano Masayuki, but they are dead, in fact all those who questioned or thought for themselves are now dead, and they are abrogated and exprogated by those “experts” who are living. Why should this be happening now? Because these very “experts” have returned to the “Star Chamber” ideas that commanded all the “guru” during the last seventy years. Now, free thinking, to ask questions, to question authority, to even think for yourself, are areas which cannot be controlled, and thus are prohibited. What must be done is to find a way to beat the system! Become an inconoclast, a polemicist. To find such a person in Japan one has to go back to the writings of the high priest Jien (1145-1225) in his work of 1219, GUKANSHO (Miscellany of Ignorant Views). It is very sad he is not with us today to inform the “experts” of the many ignorant ideas to be found in all the aspects of the field of Japanese sword fittings that are expounded as certainty. In no area is this more notable than that of KANTEI. A form of scholarship where you have the answers BEFORE the questions have been asked! In fact, in the study of kantei, the answers determine the questions!

Rational empiricism, is a method unknown in the study of sword fittings today. Surprisingly, more than a hundred years ago when Akiyama began his studies of fittings, he used the empirical method of study, and because of that, the information that he gained through that method formed the complete basis for all future study. If only empirical ideas had been followed by many more persons, but they were not, and we do not find them used again until the time of Dr Torigoye, and a few years later in the studies of Sasano Masayuki. It seems to frighten the “experts” of today, for it has no use for rigid unquestioning certainty, that the “scholar” of today must have. Let us see what has been lost by not following the empirical method. The vast majority of the books that have been published in Japan, during the last few years, and they are becoming fewer each year, have added less and less to the available knowledge of sword fittings. In most cases the authors today do not want to challenge any of the authors of past works, and thus rock the boat. Even such past masters as Dr Homma and Dr Sato added some new information to the books of the past that they re-published. Today one does find some very strange books, that in reality, are coffee table books, often with very poor photography and no new information whatsoever. There is a chance that the studies that are to be published, some day, by Mr Fukushi Shigeo, might contain new information that will add to the available knowledge. The vast majority of this new information will be in the area if Edo period soft metal fittings, and once again we will probably see that the true study of fine pre Edo period iron plate fittings will receive but token mention, and little if any new research. Might we blame this on what today passes for progress? Or as Ogden Nash was want to say: “Progress might have been alright once, but it’s gone on too long”. For me it has certainly gone on too long. It seems that every ten years a new mandate is injected into my life. Since this is close to my sixtieth year of the study of sword fittings, lets look back over these years. Starting in 1946 or 47, I bought my first tsuba. By 1950 I was in the army in Korea. The first ten years (actually 13 or 14) ended with my studies with Dr Torigoye in Japan, in 1960. The next ten years to 1970, ended with the sale of the vast majority of my collection, most if which I do not miss to this day, in fact out of the thousand or more tsuba I had at that time, culled from the 5000 I saw, I miss but a dozen or so. The next ten years ended with my ten auction catalogues, first issued in 1981, and the information that they contained, which in many cases did add something for the Western student. The next ten years ended about 1993, with the years of work on the Dr Compton collection. The next ten years, and they were full ones, ended with the publication of my index of artists in 2001. It is now five years into the next ten years which will end for me in 2010. I wonder what will be my achievement in that time, except that I will have been a student of sword fittings for 63 years. It is not easy, or in my nature, to be a doyen, but I am proud to be the student of Dr Torigoye who was the last student of Akiyama Kyusaku, and thus I am the last of the Meiji students, and as I have no successor, that ends a 100 years of students. When you are my age one does not need honors….awakening in the morning is honor enough! I am sorry for my opportunities lost, the questions I did not ask, the answers I never received. All the study that has gone in the past. I think a door is closed. Then again some new light comes in and I find that perhaps I might have a last ten years to 2020, when I will be 90 years. (Bob Haynes 2/2005).

By the way, ‘The stuff that dreams are made of', is the last line spoken by Humphrey Bogart, in the MALTESE FALCON, of 1941.


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