So you want to become an apprentice swordsmith…

Some of the most frequently asked questions we receive are in regards to becoming an apprentice swordsmith. This article is meant to help answer many of the questions we are asked about apprenticeships.

Michael Bell undertook a traditional five year apprenticeship to Japanese master swordsmith Nakajima Muneyoshi. Michael ‘s teacher, Mr. Nakajima, was unique in that he learned all of the Japanese sword arts: swordsmithing, polishing, habaki-making, as well as the making of koshirae. Usually each aspect of Japanese sword-making is preformed by a specialist; a sword can pass through the hands of four or more artists before being fully completed. It was for this reason that he was brought to Oakland, California in 1963 by the Japanese Sword Society of the United States; Mr. Nakajima could perform all the different jobs necessary to restore old swords. In 1970 Michael Bell was introduced to Mr. Nakajima and shortly thereafter became his apprentice.

Today Michael Bell strives to pass on the knowledge taught to him by his teacher. Since the foundation of Dragonfly Forge in 1987 in Coquille, Oregon, Michael has taught many students in various aspects of the Japanese sword arts. Interest in such instruction was so great that in 2006 Michael began offering formal classes at Dragonfly Forge. Following two years of great responses from students, Dragonfly Forge founded Tomboyama Nihonto Tanren Dojo in 2008 with the construction of a new larger shop and smithy.

During the two decades after Michael began Dragonfly Forge, he has many students, but only a handful of apprentices. The distinction between students and apprentices is important. Students only spend a few days, a week or two, while an apprenticeship is a long term commitment spanning several years. Some past students of Michael have wrongly referred to themselves as apprentices, while only studying with him for a week. It is not that there are secrets to the arts that a kept from students of our classes and shared only with apprentices. But to begin to master the art requires grasping the subtleties that can only be learned through long hours of study and experience. To date, only one person has completed their apprenticeship to Michael and been granted a certificate of mastery, Ron Macy.

Given the number of inquiries we receive regarding apprenticeships outside of our formal scheduled classes, this article will hopefully be informative for those seeking more insight on the subject.

Apprenticeship requires a great commitment from both the apprentice and the teacher and it is critically important that both have personalities that are compatible, given that this is a relationship that will often last many years.

For whatever reason, swordsmithing, and Japanese swordsmithing in particular, is often perceived as a glamorous, easy-going career. And although there is nothing else in the world that we would rather do, swordsmithing is hard work. While its obvious that a forge fire is hot, some people fail to realize how hot it really is for the smith who must spend hours working next to it. Swordsmiths will get burned; that is just something that goes with the job. Forging and grinding causes blisters in unusual places, until calluses have time to form, and undoubtedly a swordsmith will be cut several times during his lifetime (although less often as each experience slowly teaches us). These are the dangers of the job, of which aspiring swordsmiths should be keenly aware.

More important than strength or toughness, an apprentice MUST have patience and dedication if they are to learn the art of swordsmithing. When Michael Bell first began his apprenticeship, in an attempt to emphasize the hard work and dedication one needs to learn, Mr. Nakajima warned, “Long hour, small pay.”

Years of teaching students here at Dragonfly Forge have reinforced our belief that an apprentice who has had no experience working with their hands has a much longer road to travel in order to master the sword arts.

Apprenticeships can vary greatly from sensei to sensei, but traditionally last a minimum of five years. In Japan, swordsmiths are greatly restricted by several laws. Under these laws, one can only become a swordsmith by serving a minimum five year apprenticeship to a licensed Japanese swordsmith, followed by a series of tests.

Because Nakajima-sensei never registered as a swordsmith following the war when the laws requiring swordsmiths to be licensed were passed, under Japanese law apprentices of Mr. Nakajima could never become officially recognized smiths in the Japanese tradition. Anyone seeking such apprenticeship must seek a licensed teacher in Japan.

Gabriel Bell became an apprentice in the perhaps the most traditional way, by being born the son of a professional swordsmith. For a large part of Japanese history, this was the way nearly every swordsmith began to study the art. The creation of swords, being advanced military technology, were closely guarded secrets. Because of that, this knowledge remained within the clan, and promising apprentices who had not been born into their teacher’s family often became adopted sons.

Thankfully today’s swordsmiths are generally very generous with their knowledge and experience, to the great benefit of the art as a whole, and one does not have to be born into a swordsmith’s family to learn the art.

Given modern life, the tradition of live-in apprentices has pretty much vanished, even in Japan. However, it is still essential that apprentices are able to spend the long hours with their teacher that the art requires. This poses another problem for potential apprentices as they must either find a teacher nearby, or relocate. Given that there are no more than a handful of swordsmiths working in the United States, relocation may be the only option.

Also it is important to be aware that apprenticeship has no salary whatsoever and a great deal of cost to both the apprentice and the teacher. After traveling expenses, apprentices must face the cost of long hours and much effort for knowledge that will only be profitable after many years, if ever. For the teacher, he faces the cost of time invested in instruction, as well as the cost of fuel burned and tool wear once the apprentice is ready begin learning firsthand. Generally this debt to one’s teacher is repaid by doing whatever chores the teacher requires or by other efforts. However, all too often apprentices lose sight of this debt and the giving becomes one-sided; such relationships are always destined for failure.

Apprentices of Michael Bell do face some challenges apprentices of other teachers do not. Because his teacher was unique in his knowledge and experience in all of the swords arts, Michael’s apprentices must learn to create a complete sword. It is not enough to only learn to forge and heat-treat a blade. Before a certificate of mastery can be awarded, the apprentice must also be able to make professional quality habaki and koshirae in the Nakajima tradition, learn the fundamentals of polishing, and grasp the aesthetic essentials. As mentioned earlier, only one man, Ron Macy, has fully completed such an apprenticeship. Outside the Bell family, he is the only person granted the privilege of using the character “tombo” in their signature.

For those who are interested in apprenticing as swordsmiths, we would greatly recommend first attending one of our Basic Forging Courses at our swordsmithing school, Tomboyama Nihonto Tanren Dojo (Dragonfly Mountain Japanese Sword Forging School). Taking such a course gives one the chance to experience swordsmithing firsthand, without the expenses and commitment of becoming an apprentice.

For those interested in learning more about Japanese swords in general, we highly recommend the book The Craft of the Japanese Sword by Leon Kapp, Hiroko Kapp, and Yoshindo Yoshihara. Those interested in sword polishing should also read the book The Art of Japanese Sword Polishing by Setsuo Takaiwa, Leon Kapp, Hiroko Kapp, and Yoshindo Yoshihara.

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102 Responses to So you want to become an apprentice swordsmith…

  1. Praditia Iksan says:

    I live in Indonesia. I met a man here, a javanese, an Indonesian which claim to be an apprentice of Nakajima such as Mr Bell. Do you know/can confirm there is an Indonesian ever apprenticing under Nakajima? his fake name is Eiji Katsumimaru. it is important because he opened a succesfull swordshop which i suspect sellling imported chinese katana but he insist on making them himself and he is a student of nakajima and hattori knife school.
    Thanks

  2. Michael Bell says:

    During my five year apprenticeship with Mr. Nakajima, I came to know much regarding his biography. After the war, he was unable to even return to Japan for several years, and once he returned little work was to be found in the sword arts. During his time in the United States, many people were students of Mr. Nakajima, but only myself and Francis Boyd undertook apprenticeships. Not once during my five years with him, did I hear of Mr. Nakajima having a Javanese apprentice anytime during his life. From your description, he seems to be a fake.

    The quality of the swords this man is selling would be the best indicators of whether or not he has the lineage that he claims.

    • Henry Long says:

      Mr. Bell,

      Regarding the question about Eiji Katsumimaru, his website is http://www.eijiforge.com.
      There are a lot of mismatch about his lineage/claim as far as I can find (student of Nakajima, etc).

      If you can take a look and clarify if there is a bit of truth in this claim, it would be helpful. Thank you

      • Michael Bell says:

        Dear Mr. Long

        Regarding your question concerning Eiji Katsumimaru, we have done what research is possible with the information given.

        His biographical information was lifted in its entirety from the Nakajima Monogatari, written by Francis Boyd, as is the photo of Mr. Nakajima.

        I am certain that Mr. Nakajima did not have an Indonesian apprentice before arriving in the U.S. and he died shortly after returning to Japan in 1977.

        The swords pictured on the web-site appear to be Chinese production blades.

        I hope the above will help clarify the situation.

  3. James "Bryce" Lucero says:

    hello, i am originally from Coos Bay, Oregon. Not to far from where Mr. Bell apparently has his studio. i had heard a couple years ago from a friend that there was such a man by that made swords. i used to partake in aikido and kenjitsu classes. i became very interested in japanese culture. i would greatly like to learn if he is accepting apprentiships i would like to know what i may do to become weapon and armor smith.

  4. Trevor Penkwitz says:

    Hello. I am still in high school but would very much like to be an apperentice, not a two week student, after i graduate. What are your requirements for apprenticeship? any info would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    • Gabriel Bell says:

      There are no specific requirements for apprenticeship. However, because it is critical that both master and apprentice have compatible personalities, both must become acquainted before apprenticeship can become an option. A potential master will certainly also wish to see examples of forged blades or other skilled craftsmanship. It is for both these reasons that we recommend those interested in apprenticeship attend one of our classes as first step, besides for those very interested in forging blades themselves our classes will more than pay for themselves in the long run.

      If you have not already found this article by Pierre Nadeau online, I would suggest reading it as it gives some good insight on a traditional apprenticeship in Japan.

  5. Gabriel Bell says:

    There are no specific requirements for apprenticeship. However, because it is critical that both master and apprentice have compatible personalities, both must become acquainted before apprenticeship can become an option. A potential master will certainly also wish to see examples of forged blades or other skilled craftsmanship. It is for both these reasons that we recommend those interested in apprenticeship attend one of our classes as first step, besides for those very interested in forging blades themselves our classes will more than pay for themselves in the long run.

    If you have not already found this article by Pierre Nadeau online, I would suggest reading it as it gives some good insight on a traditional apprenticeship in Japan.

  6. james v. says:

    I respect the Japanese Arts greatly, but I was wondering if there is a European style sword smith of quality and repute on the West Coast,my kids live here so I would like to stay a day or two’s drive from them. I am willing to dedicate myself to this trade because it was for superior skill in the smithing of arms that my ancestor Alyn Vaughn knighted for in 1053-56? A.D. I have worked as a laborer, a hardscaper, and a framer to varied success, but I have always toyed with the idea. Now I am serious and am starting a formal inquiry into the matter. This is my first attempt at communication and I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction, so I can get my feet on the Path. Thank you very much
    James A. Vaughn

  7. Chad L says:

    I would be very excited to attend and participate in all the courses that have been made available through the Sword smithing School but I am most certain that my goals would require a much more indepth education which I can only imagine would come from an Apprenticeship under a Master Sword Smith such as Mr. Bell. Specifically because I really want to be complete swordsmith, not just a blade forger. An apprenticeship under Mr. Bell would be ideal as I wish to learn every aspect of crafting a sword from making the steel to polishing the blade and finally assembling the entire sword.
    I can’t wait to attend the Basic Forging class to finally get a feel for what this is like and continue my journey to becoming a Master swordsmith.

  8. Bo Danysh says:

    Mastersmith Bell,

    I had spent 5 years apprenticing under someone who was a moderate blacksmith in ability but a cunning and skilled Fabricator, creating weapons and armor of all types and construction. I was elated to have had the experience but, dishearten that there was not any actual smithing in the creation processes.
    I have a devout affection and dedication to the trade but I feel that I can not call my self an legitimate apprentice of a trade. I wish to learn the trade more than anything. I am currently enlisted in the US NAvy and I have aspirations to be stationed in Japan ( I believe it is Santobu, or Okinawa) could you possibly instruct me in a proper way to approach a Swordsmith as a prospective disciple? any information of wisdm you can part with I will be much appreciative of.

    Thank you for your time, and consideration.

    -Bo

    • Michael Bell says:

      Bo,

      I can understand your desire to smith; we find ourselves at our happiest next to a hot forge fire.

      Any experience one has working with their hands will be a great asset in swordsmithing.

      Unfortunately it will be impossible to undertake an apprenticeship while enlisted in the Navy. A swordsmithing apprenticeship requires total dedication, and military life is not compatible with such of a commitment. For true swordsmiths, the learning process is lifelong, so do not feel the need to rush unduly.

      If you have not read it already, I would highly suggest reading ‘To become an apprentice’, by Pierre Nadeau. He discusses approaching swordsmiths, and overall the article is very good and informative.

      If you do become stationed in Japan, take it as opportunity to immerse yourself in as much Japanese culture as possible. Swords were not created in a vacuum. That is, swords were shaped by social, technological, religious conditions. My sensei Mr. Nakajima stressed that there were three things one needed to know outside the art to be a good smith: The use of the sword, the history of the sword, and Buddhism. One must pick up the book, before one can pick up the hammer, so to speak. Visit all the museums. Read everything you can regarding Japanese swordsmithing. Learn the Japanese language, if possible. Etc…

      Lastly, I would highly suggest attending one of our Basic Forging Courses at our swordsmithing school, Tomboyama Nihonto Tanren Dojo. For those interested in pursuing swordsmithing lifelong, our forging classes offer a chance for hands-on learning, covering the entire process of forging a Japanese sword, through heat-treatment (yaki-ire) and shaping, for a relatively small commitment of time and money.

  9. Tim says:

    Mr. Michael Bell, I am interested in Swordsmithing, but unsure of commitments necessary. Would I be able to attend a college as well as take on an apprenticeship? Would I be able to take on a full time job as well as an apprenticeship? How much would an apprenticeship cost as far as money and time go?

    • Gabriel Bell says:

      Tim,

      Apprenticeship requires total commitment. Bladesmith Don Fogg has good saying that applies perfectly: “Get obsessed, Stay obsessed”.

      One should consider an apprenticeship is a non paying full-time job, that lasts a minimum of 5 years. Generally apprenticeships are paid for in skill and labor. Every apprentice is expected to begin contributing as soon as he formally begins, if not beforehand.

  10. William Redner says:

    I am very interested in learning the art of the japanese sword. How would I initially find a master, under whom to learn? This article states, there are no, specific, qualifications, but should I be fluent in japanese, in order to be accepted by a master? Should I find a master to apprentice from, what expenses (other than the travel expenses) should I plan for? Thank you.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Dear William Redner,

      If you are seriously seeking to undertake a traditional apprenticeship to a Japanese smith in Japan learning the Japanese language if not fluently, at least near-fluently is almost a must in order to communicate and function in day-to-day life, although I must admit I was nowhere near fluent during my apprenticeship to Mr. Nakajima and his English was limited. We managed just fine.

      To complete the four year (generally five year) minimum to become a licensed smith in Japan you will certainly have to face the bureaucratic issue of a visa or other similar alien immigration documentation to remain in the country for more than 90 days. You may also need to account for living expenses, as the tradition of live-in apprenticeships is becoming more uncommon in Japan.

      If you have not done so already, certainly read this excellent article by Pierre Nadeau specifically regarding apprenticeships in Japan.

      For a chance to learn swordsmithing firsthand, I would highly suggest looking into one of my Basic Forging Courses at our swordsmithing school, Tomboyama Nihonto Tanren Dojo. Although a few other bladesmiths do offer forging classes, as far as we know, our swordsmithing school is the only one of its kind anywhere, offering a full curriculum in the Japanese sword. Without the cost or commitment of an apprenticeship (not to mention travel to Japan), our Basic Forging Course gives students a chance the learn firsthand with an experienced teacher. The knowledge learned during class should allow students to build their own inexpensive, yet efficient and effective propane forge fire, and to begin forging and learning on one’s own after the class.

      Best wishes in your endeavor

  11. Michael Bell says:

    Dear William Redner,

    If you are seriously seeking to undertake a traditional apprenticeship to a Japanese smith in Japan learning the Japanese language if not fluently, at least near-fluently is almost a must in order to communicate and function in day-to-day life, although I must admit I was nowhere near fluent during my apprenticeship to Mr. Nakajima and his English was limited. We managed just fine.

    To complete the four year (generally five year) minimum to become a licensed smith in Japan you will certainly have to face the bureaucratic issue of a visa or other similar alien immigration documentation to remain in the country for more than 90 days. You may also need to account for living expenses, as the tradition of live-in apprenticeships is becoming more uncommon in Japan.

    If you have not done so already, certainly read this excellent article by Pierre Nadeau specifically regarding apprenticeships in Japan.

    For a chance to learn swordsmithing firsthand, I would highly suggest looking into one of my Basic Forging Courses at our swordsmithing school, Tomboyama Nihonto Tanren Dojo. Although a few other bladesmiths do offer forging classes, as far as we know, our swordsmithing school is the only one of its kind anywhere, offering a full curriculum in the Japanese sword. Without the cost or commitment of an apprenticeship (not to mention travel to Japan), our Basic Forging Course gives students a chance the learn firsthand with an experienced teacher. The knowledge learned during class should allow students to build their own inexpensive, yet efficient and effective propane forge fire, and to begin forging and learning on one’s own after the class.

    Best wishes in your endeavor

  12. Colton A. Jones says:

    Hey, I live in the U.S. and I have been want to be a bladesmith for 2 years now. I wan to learn from the best and the best are not here for certain. I am willing To put in all that is required of me. I am 17 years old and young enough to learn anything yo have to offer me. But I need to find someone to teach me. The cost is irrelevant. I know I will work it out. This is what I want to do with my life, but I just need someone to teach me! I am as willing as it gets. Do you have any good Masters I can learn from? It would really help if I could prove all these people wrong whom think this is a waste of time.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Dear Colton A. Jones,

      Although the art of the Japanese sword is certainly still firmly rooted in Japan, I would say that the Japanese sword arts have flourished here in the United States in the past decade or so, with a select few artists rivaling the quality of that in Japan.

      I am not aware of any swordsmiths either here in the United States or in Japan who are actively seeking apprentices. While I am open to apprenticeships given the right circumstances, I already have several apprentices and a demanding workload.

      Those seeking to become swordsmith must take a great deal of initiative and begin the lifelong journey that is the art of the Japanese sword themselves. Look for any opportunity for exposure to Japanese swords, bladesmiths in general, or anything you think may be of relevance. The master and apprentice relationship is by its nature a close one, and cannot be compared to being as simple as responding to a job ad. The opportunity of an apprenticeship may present itself if you are truly determined to seek the knowledge and experience.

      When I first began my journey, I too was told by many many that it was stupid, crazy, couldn’t be done, on-and-on and etc. I must say that it motivated me and it was very satisfying proving them all wrong.

      Best wishes in your endeavor,

  13. Joe Whitehead says:

    It would be interesting to see inter-style exchanges between schools, but alas it seems that Europe’s sword-making skills have all but vanished although some people like ARMA are picking up the trade again.

    Not wanting to be a swordsmith or even a forger, but I am interested in weapons history. Cool site and school!

    Question: Are any swords at all made with modern methods able to stand up against the same stresses as the traditional blades? I’d be curious as to if someone actually spent the time and money to develop one.

  14. Gabriel Bell says:

    Dear Joe,

    Thank you for the compliments.

    There are many good reasons the Japanese sword survived in more-or-less the same form for about 1,000 years. Fully traditional Japanese swords certainly were technical marvels during their time in history, and remain so to this day. The controlled heat-treatment process (known as yaki-ire in Japanese) produces a differentially-hardened blade with a hard cutting edge and ductile back to resist breaking (a technology which was never developed or used in the European swordsmithing traditions). Also, the purity of traditional Japanese swordsteel was, and still is exceptionally high, even by modern standards. However, today Japanese swords are not so much appreciated for their power as weapons, but for the artistic beauty of the sword: the sugata (the shape), jigane (the composition and quality of the swordsteel), and the hamon, (the hardening along the edge).

    Although our emphasis always remains in producing a sword with proper sugata, jigane, and hamon, it has long been our belief that a sword should function first as sword. Over the years, my father, Michael Bell, has experimented with both traditional and modern steels and methods. With some extreme testing to support it, he began specializing in swords made of forge-welded cable (sometimes known as wire-rope), a material used for quite a while with American knifemakers. The cable steel allows us to produce a blade which, we strongly believe, will outperform all others made from traditional and other modern steels. These cable blades are still heat-treated using the traditional clay-resist method of yaki-ire, slightly adapted to our propane-fired forge.

    Our cable blades owe their strength and cutting ability to a combination of the steel, a modern high-carbon alloy, and the natural spiraling structure of the cable wires. Often, our cable swords are sought by martial artists interested in practicing live cutting.

    Some other American bladesmiths have been experimenting for sometime with some truly modern high alloy steels and modern heat-treatment techniques (stuff like quenching in molten salt baths), also with successful results.

    We do indeed make a limited amount of blades from traditional steel, which we make ourselves, known as oroshigane, as the classic art aesthetic can only be achieved with such methods. However, due to the huge amount of labor required to make and refine traditional swordsteel such blades are several times more expensive than our swords forged from forge-welded cable steel. We are also in the process of experimenting with smelting our own fully traditional tamahagane smelted from iron sand, known as satetsu in Japanese.

  15. Joshua says:

    I was wondering if there were anyone who were in oregon who might be able to teach me how to become a swordsmith. I have a huge fascination with it and was hoping that when I’m done with my current job that I could start learning so I can start making my own swords.

  16. Gabriel Bell says:

    Dear Joshua,

    You are in luck as our swordsmithing school, Tomboyama Nihontō Tanren Dōjō, Dragonfly Mountain Japanese Sword Forging School, is located on the southern Oregon coast near Coos Bay.

    We offer a variety of classes for those interested in hands-on learning of all the Japanese sword arts. Our most popular class by far is our Basic Forging Course, a hands-on course designed to give the student a working familiarity with the tools and metals utilized in the forging of a Japanese sword blade.

    We would love to have you attend our school and hope you can do so in the future.

  17. Casey Wicks says:

    Hello.

    I am Casey Wicks, a student of the martial art of Sanjuriu. I have for as long as I can remember been fascinated with all aspects of Japanese art, tradition, and culture. Having studied karate for four years and the Japanese language for somewhere around a year I have found myself recently anticipating enough free time to dedicate myself to further learning. I am keenly interested in your form of traditional apprenticeship. Its focus on personal contact and dedication appeals to me in a way that college life does not. I would like to communicate further with you on this topic. Currently I work six days a week, but I check my email, and work will be over for me October 1st (I am a wildland firefighter). I have a small amount of experience sharpening and shaping steel tools and have fallen in love with the aesthetic and utility of the metal.

  18. Lucas Peck says:

    Hello, my name is Lucas. Until a couple days ago, I wasn’t even aware that swordsmith apprenticeship was possible. I have been an admirer of the sword ever since I could define “honor”. This is only one of the many reasons why I wish to seek apprenticeship. I am a prior service member of the US Army, and I believe that the values I have learned there will assist me during this course. Unfortunately, I have no prior experience in smithing, however, I believe that this may also be a good thing – that I am not influenced by another’s method.
    I’ve been reading about how the master and apprentice should connect at a personal level before the master decides that s/he’ll accept the apprentice, which is why I would like to keep in contact via e-mail or instant messenger so that way no unnecessary trips have to be made. I really look forward to this.

    Thank you.

  19. Jake Anderson says:

    I have had a long time dream of being a true blacksmith/weaponsmith. I think your school being the only one in the U.S.. Would teach me wonderful techniques. I only want to learn the arts of Japanese sword to better my self and fulfill my dreams. I hope I will attend soon. Thank you for being there for aspiring people like myself.

  20. Adam Coleamn says:

    To those with a serious interest in becoming an apprentice, I hope to help.
    First I should start by stating that meeting and subsequently learning from Sensei Bell has very literally changed my life. Obviously because of the study itself, as well as coming to both admire and love Sensei as a man. But it should be said that it literally changed my life, because I had to “literally” change my life. If you are in fact serious, you WILL have to move. Second, it is very demanding monetarily. Thankfully my wife was 100% behind my desire to learn, which was needed. I was only able to work maybe 2 or 3 days a week as the rest of the time was spent at the smithy. She was willing to cover the rest. Any time spent with Michael is great, but to truly understand what it is to be Toushou, you have to spend a LOT of time with Michael. There are lessons that only surface after a whole year. Then a whole new set of lessons that only come after the second. And so on. Also, you must feel a calling to the Japanese culture. You don’t have to be able to explain it, but it must be there. Next you must be willing to shut up, and give your self entirely to it. Any lesson, anytime.
    Michael is a brilliant man, and his teaching reflects it. In parting, a brief story.
    When I began learning from Sensei, I remember him one night telling me that I would learn to see with my hands. ” You’re eyes can be lied to ” he said. I assumed I knew what he was talking about, and likely said that I did. But now nearly six years after meeting him, and in the process of setting up my own smithy not more than half an hour from him, am I starting to truly understand what he meant.
    Thank you Sensei. Your an honored man in my heart. And always will be. You’ve given me nearly everything I now consider sacred.どうもうありがとうおねがいします
    Adam 山国

  21. Chelsea Garrett says:

    To Mr. Bell,

    Hello, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind taking in an apprentice who is 14 years of age about to be 15. I want to start out early, so I could learn a bit more easily, and I’ve looked all over the place, but no one will teach me the art of making swords. Even though I live in Illinois, I wouldn’t mind moving to Oregon or where you are to learn. It has been my dream to learn. I know it’s going to be hard and with consequences, but I just want to learn and be able to make top quality swords..

    Thank you for your answer when you reply!
    -Sincerely,
    Chelsea Garrett
    チェルシーギャレット

    • Michael Bell says:

      Dear Chelsea,

      Many thanks for your inquiry.

      I have instructed several young people about your age in the art of swordsmithing and they do as well as older people. I applaud your desire to begin early. I would suggest that you take our forging course to gain some practical experience and to see if the art is suitable for you. This will of course require support and permission from your parents or guardians.

      15 is a bit young to commit to an apprenticeship. I usually require that a student finish high school first.
      However, you can get started now by taking one of our courses. You are certainly free to visit anytime.

      Best regards,

      Michael Bell

  22. stone guild says:

    hello i have been interested in the art of sword crafting along with sword play for years, and i really want to start learning how to craft swords and i was wondering if you know where i can go to start learning. It would be magnificent if you know any one and can help me out? thank you

  23. stone guild says:

    i am 15 soon to be sixteen and if you can help me out that would be great, or can i become your apprentice either way i just want to follow what i like to do best

  24. stone guild says:

    oh and where would your sword smithing courses be held

  25. mike smiley says:

    Mr. Bell
    I am in somewhat of a predicament. for the last six months i have been a student of a skilled swords smith. it has always been of obsession of mine and this man saw my passion and agreed to teach me. unfortunately he passed away two weeks ago. yesterday his son asked me to create a sword in memory of my mentor yet i do not know that i have the necessary skills to create such a piece. i feel that i have much more to learn before i could attempt such a task and was told that you were one of the most skilled teachers in the states. until the request was made of me i had thought to give up my dream entirely yet now i would do anything to continue my training so that i may honor my mentor. sir i am asking for guidance and an opportunity. i wish to honor my mentor by finishing my training and creating a master piece in his honor. as such i would like to submit my self as an apprentice to you. please contact me
    sincerely,
    michael a smiley

  26. I am considering selling basically everything i own (keeping only a handful of sentimental items) and moving to Coquille Oregon from south-east Texas specifically to study at Tomboyama Nihonto Tanren Dojo. This would be a huge undertaking for me and I was wondering if there was any chance i would be able to become an apprentice of Michael Bell. I understand that apprenticeship isn’t something that is easily obtained, but I am willing to do whatever i can to earn apprenticeship. I am 27 years old and figure i have a fair amount of years left in me, so if it takes me the next ten years to complete an apprenticeship i’m okay with that. say for example: for five years i could serve as a serf basically, doing whatever odd labor you need, even if it doesn’t relate to swordsmithing. during that time you would get to know me, and know if you even think i deserve to learn to make swords. After that time, should you think i’m deserving, take me as an apprentice for five years, bringing the time i’ve called you master to a total of ten years. Obviously I wouldn’t expect any pay during those ten years other then the knowledge you instill in me, so i’de have to have a side-job. Like I said, i’m willing to do whatever i can to learn the craft. I’de just like to know that if i drop everything to move to Oregon that there is at least a chance that i’de be able to become an apprentice someday. I love working with my hands, I make armor in a medieval re-enactment group that i’m part of, and also make chain-maille armor & jewelry in my spare time.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Dear Timothy,

      I am in receipt of your letter regarding an apprenticeship at Tomboyama. I am sure you understand that such a relation is almost familial.

      I suggest we get to know one another better by starting with a phone conversation. You can reach me at our business phone number 541 396 3605. Please call at your convenience.

  27. Swords says:

    where would your sword smithing courses be held?

  28. Clayton D. says:

    Mr. Bell I am very interested in Japanese culture, weapons, and martial arts, and though I would love to learn how forge Japanese swords I believe my true calling I guess you could say is more to a European style. Anyway I was wondering if you could suggest a swordsmith that primarily forges that sort of weapons, and possibly armor. I would be internally grateful and would do anything for the information, I even have a design for the first sword I wish to make. If you can or can’t help me out, thank you for you time anyway, and I appreciate it all the same.

    Thank you again.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Dear Clayton,

      Regarding your search for a swordsmith in the western traditions I suggest you look up Jim Hrisoulas. I know him from decades past. He is an experienced masterful smith.

      His shop is called Salamander Armoury. He also has several books published regarding swordsmithing, which you may find informative.

      Good luck in your endeavors.

  29. Jesse Adams says:

    I’ve recently lost the only thing left I held dear to me, traditionally a man of science and dream’t to be Jet pilot, I have started to lose faith in my happiness and lack of motivation in my future career as a Computer Specialist.

    I’ve always wanted to go to Japan, even dreamed of having my own Samurai Armor – ha!

    But I am becoming more and more depressed with lack of “to do” in life, and thought of another dream I’ve had since I was practically a toddler.

    I wanted to be a samurai – but more importantly I wanted a sword, but now that I am older I realize that my OCD in particulates will never settle for a hand me down quality blade or armor.
    With that being said what could be more meaningful and special to ones own life than creating your own legend?
    I’m not entirely sure this is the route I wish to take, but I don’t know what else I want to do with myself anymore, maybe we can speak in thorough depth on what becoming an apprentice means requirement wise (time/cost/money/legality/politics)

    Thank you for you time,
    Jess

  30. Terry Krug says:

    Michael Bell:

    thank you making this article, it has given me valuable insight on the art of forging swords. However, I was wondering if the same dedication is required for learning the techniques of other cultures (even though I am fairly certain it is), such as European and Arabian swordsmithing. Thank you for your time.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Dear Mr. Krug

      You are correct, I believe, that European and other sword making disciplines required the same dedication and devotion as does the Japanese tradition.

      It should be remembered that sword smithing is a profession, inasmuch as one’s life depended on the integrity of one’s blade. Also, the forging of a good sword is actually a very difficult proposition requiring much learning and practice.

      In short, there is no shortcut to making a good sword.

  31. Mike Malone says:

    I want to become a swordsmith but I can’t afford to pick up and leave with my family… Are there any swordsmiths in Alabama that you know of?

    • Michael Bell says:

      Dear Mike,

      It is probably not necessary to find a swordsmith in order to learn the art. My teacher, Mr. Nakajima, had me making many tanto-length blades before I forged a long sword.

      I suggest you contact the Alabama Forge Council to locate a smith in your area. Most of the smiths I met in Alabama are well-versed in forge-welding and heat-treating in the Japanese manner. You might also try Don Fogg, who is, I think in N. Carolina. He is a bottomless well of skill and information.

      The main thing is GET STARTED!

  32. James says:

    My father and I have always had an interest in learning to swordsmith. Are there any course available that would create not only the blade but also the hilt,wrap, and scabbard to create a complete sword? What would the timeframe for a class like that be? We are looking for a future father/son trip into taking 2 weeks to learn and craft somewhere but I also am not sure what is feasible for a 2 week time frame.

    • Gabriel Bell says:

      Dear James,

      Thank you for your interest in our swordsmithing school. We would love to have you and your father attend our swordsmithing school.

      Although we do offer a full curriculum of classes on making all parts of the Japanese sword, it is not possible to make a complete sword and mounting in two weeks, or even in a month of classes, given the time-consuming and demanding nature of the Japanese sword arts.

      One should be aware of that in Japan, generally each part of the sword is completed by a specialist artisan; a sword may pass through the hand of four or more craftsmen before completion. My father’s teacher, Mr. Nakajima, was unique in that he learned all of the aspects of making a complete sword. Undertaking each separate sword art is a challenging proposition in itself, becoming proficient in all of them is much more so.

      In two weeks, it would be only possible take two 5-day courses: our Basic Forging Course, and our Kajioshi-Habaki Combo-Course. Although we don’t currently have any instance of these classes scheduled back-to-back for the 2012 school year, if you are interested in planning 2 weeks of classes we would be happy to accommodate you as best we can.

      Please feel free to contact us by email or telephone if anything on our websites is unclear.

  33. Christian hawks says:

    Hi, I am very interested in the art of sword smithing. I was wondering what the finances would be like? What would a normal day consist of?

  34. Brad Purrone says:

    Dear Michal Bell,
    I have always wanted to be a blacksmith since I was ten. I have started to make my own forge but I am not there yet. I have no formal training or training what so ever and I want to learn how to make blades, I would be ever so thankful if you gave me a rundown on where I could find sword smithing masters, the style i would like to make is that of western blades but the eastern blades are just as good. i have also heard that i must read several book if not more on this subject, please point them out if you could. i would love to become an apprentice I am fifteen at this time. I live in C.T please contact me at this address
    pdp123@att.net
    again i would be ever so grateful for you assistance in this matter and if you cannot assist me thank you for your time

  35. Mark McDonnell says:

    My son is currently 15 years old. He has had an interest in swords and smithing since he was seven or eight.
    We live in Houston, Texas and would like to know how to get him started.
    His primary interest is in the European broad swords. But realizing that the Japanese forging processes were superior, it would be desirable to mix the Japanese metallurgy mixed with the broadsword designs.

    Thank you in advance for any communication,
    Mark

    • Michael Bell says:

      Dear Mr. McDonnell

      Thanks for your inquiry regarding getting your son started in swords and smithing.

      I usually recommend starting at the library or book store and getting a feeling for the process and materials used in the making of blades, including knives. There are some excellent books available, specifically “The Craft of the Japanese Sword” by Yoshindo Yoshihara, “The Complete Bladesmith” by Jim Hrousla, and anything by Wayne Goddard.

      I also recommend taking some of the courses offered by The American Bladesmith Society [ABS] which has a school in Old Washington Ark. They have an excellent facility with top-notch instructors with an interesting and diverse curriculum. I have been a guest instructor there several times.

      You can also take our Basic Forging Course. While we obviously teach the Japanese method, most of what is taught applies very well to western styles as well.

      By the way, the Japanese style of forging is not necessarily superior to western methods. Many of the early broadswords were every bit as complex and sophisticated.

  36. Alex T. says:

    Michael and Gabriel Bell:

    I am a 19 year old African American Mississippian student currently trying to get a minor in Asian Studies; taking classes in Japanese and Chinese thought and am learning the Chinese (mandarin) & Japanese languages, reason being I love the Asian culture. Mostly and mainly those 2 and more so Japanese than Chinese. I have always found that I was drawn to the swords made by the Japanese since I was a kid, even when all the kids around me said that a gun was the best weapon I was the odd ball out of the bunch that always said “No, Katana is the best weapon anyone can shoot a gun with no skills unlike a Katana and a Katana isn’t just a weapon but an art.” Though I have known and idolized sword-craftsmen for their brilliance, artistry, and workmanship in creating such strong and lean swords for years, I never new or gave thought to the process in which they were made except for brief curiosity. And after learning that the same art that I have come to appreciate is dieing out, I wish to learn it myself and do my part in keeping it alive.

    Along with finding out the decline in sword craftsman I also learned that not many craftsman are interested in foreign apprentices for one or more reasons. I am a diligent worker with an obsessive personality (I will get what I have in mind done and will do what I have to to get it done even following orders I don’t like or agree with) and am passionate about things I find interesting or admire but unfortunately I don’t think a craftsman would take me under his belt because of the large amount of Americans coming and quitting because of the hard work.

    I would like to learn how to craft these swords and I think it would help if I approached a master with some knowledge and a few years already under my belt to show that I can hold my own. Now in order to do this I have searched the web for any schools that teach sword crafting and found this site. I have been monitoring this site for at least half a year off and on for post and replies in order to get as much knowledge as possible before asking my questions and to help me make a decision.I have no previous experience in sword crafting and am willing to take regular classes before actually becoming an apprentice. I have read all the articals in the links you provide in replies. I am also planning to become a U.S.M.C officer when I get my first year of college over with so if you know any swords crafters and dojo’s in Okinawa could you let me know cause that’s where I want to and will try to get stationed as a Marine. Don’t get me wrong I know as a marine I won’t have free time and I don’t plan on doing any apprenticeship then but probably train in the art of sword play and do research into who would actually take me, and after my time as a marine is up start as an apprentice.

    I don’t plan on taking classes right away probably in the next 2 or 3 years once I’ve saved up enough money to pay for classes before becoming an apprentice and enough to fly to Japan. Would $60,000 be enough to survive as an apprentice in Japan I know that the master provides everything but I don’t want to put them out taking care of the little things and things that might come up later. If at all possible could you provide any clues to any schools in Japan that teach both how to use a sword and how to craft one I’d like to be able to use the swords that I create and pass it down to my children if and when I have them.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Dear Alex

      Many thanks for your thoughtful and well written letter. I congratulate you on your scholastic efforts regarding Asian culture and language. Many people assume that sword making is a simple matter of hammering a piece of suitable steel into the shape of a blade. It is our view, however, that the successful smith must integrate the cultural, historical and spiritual elements of the tradition to achieve the desired end. My teacher, Mr. Nakajima, said one must know how to use a sword, understand the history, and study Buddhism to be a swordsmith. By the latter he meant that there must be a moral and ethical basis for the making of a weapon.

      As a Marine, you will certainly get the martial arts training.

      I don’t know of any swordsmiths practicing in Okinawa. Gabe tells me that it is a beautiful place, having been there on vacation when he was studying in Japan.

      Apprenticeships in Japan are a possibility. There are some smiths willing to take on Western students. A working knowledge of the language is pretty much required. The minimum time required to obtain a license as a swordsmith is five years, so there are also visa requirements.

      Should you be able to find the opportunity, we would welcome you here to try your hand at the craft and see how you like it.

      Meanwhile, please stay in touch and let us know of your progress.

      • Alex T. says:

        I do truly plan to immerse myself in the Japanese culture as of next week I will be starting classes in Japanese Thought and am so psyched about it that I have already started reading the books for the class: “Code of the Samurai” by: Thomas Cleary (a modern translation of the Bushido Shoshinsu), “Moon in a dewdrop writings of zen master Dogen”, and “Wabi-Sabi for artist designers poets & philosophers”. I have high hopes that this will start me on the path to understanding the foundation of the Japanese culture and life style. I think next semester I will study more on Buddhism I understand little about it and would like to know more.

        If and when I decide to pay a visit to your school I will be glad to have a teacher such as yourself instructing me, even if you don’t take me on as an apprentice and I’m just there for a few weeks or classes.

        • Michael Bell says:

          Dear Alex

          I was glad to hear of your course of study of Japanese culture. I believe this to be as important as hammer technique in forging a good sword. The Daimyo of Mino said that a warrior should have the sword in one hand and a brush in the other.

          I look forward to meeting you one day. Until then, let me know how things are progressing from time to time.

  37. Pingback: Apprenticeship japan | Fotogrint

  38. nathan woodring says:

    would like to apprentice under yoshindo yoshihara , do you know if he acceeeepts older students at all?

  39. john fogarty says:

    i have a question. i am an grade 9 student and i want to know when i do become a apprentice swordsmith how much money can i earn yearly?

  40. cody mewbourne says:

    i live in LA and would love to become a swordsmith but don’t know where to go can someone guide me.

  41. Drew Ivey says:

    Hello Mr. Bell I plan on enlisting in the Marine Corps upon my graduation of high school and I was wondering when if ever is too late too learn.The reason in my inquiry is because I am going to retire with full pension upon the ending of my 20 years of service and that would be when I am 37.

  42. Drew Ivey says:

    Hello Mr. Bell I plan on enlisting in the Marine Corps upon my graduation of high schooland I was wondering when if ever is to late to learn. The origin of my inquiry is that I plan on retiring with full pension at 37. So if you could help me I would most definitely appreciate it.
    Drew Ivey.

  43. Bryce Emmons says:

    Mr. Bell:

    Ever since I was a young child I have loved the Japanese sword. I have trained in aikido, Iaido, european fencing and kendo as well as observed and studied various other cultures’ and as a result of long discipline, have developed my own form of swordsmanship that I continue to polish and strengthen. Of all martial art I have studied, the art of the Japanese sword has shaped my mind and body in the most rewarding way. It would be my sincerest pleasure to study the art of creating swords of excellent quality and to do so I seek an excellent teacher. If your skill as a teacher and mentor is as your reputation accredits you, then I would very much like to begin tutelage under your guidance. As it turns out, I do have family in Oregon and it would not be a large issue to make a change of scenery. Currently I am a resident and native of Las Vegas so the move wouldn’t hinder me too much as I have made the journey before. I eagerly await your response and wish to know the steps I need to take to become an apprentice swordsmith.

    Sincerely
    Bryce

    • Michael Bell says:

      Dear Mr. Emmons

      Thanks for your inquiry regarding an apprenticeship at Dragonfly Forge.

      We don’t accept people into the program that we don’t know. Because of the familial relationship involved it’s important that both parties have a clear understanding of the commitment required and that both student and sensei can work well together. We prefer applicants we have worked with and gotten to know.

      We also look for skills that can be applied to furthering the art and add to the common effort. We are happy to teach but expect something back as well. What skills do you have that might contribute to the success of Dragonfly Forge?

      You are welcome to visit the dojo and introduce yourself. We’d like to meet you.

      Best regards,

      Michael Bell

      • Bryce Emmons says:

        Dear Mr. Bell,

        Thank you for your response to my inquery. I appreciate your stance on acceptance of applicants, I can certainly understand the need for a strong bond between master and apprentice and I would not be against taking you up on the invitation to visit the dojo and introduce myself.

        As for skills, I will not boast or lie and say that I am aquainted with metal work or smithing because this is not the case. I will however point out what I can bring to you before, what you can get out of me during and what I can offer after a committed tenure with your forge. I have a rather extensive knowledge of swords, their parts and functions, and a little of the process of creating them in theory. As I mentioned, I am a practitioner of the sword arts and with that practise I also commit myself to the history and philosophy of the art itself not just the physical aspects. I have a deep love for swordsmanship and swords, especially for the Japanese katana and I hold it in very high regard. This is knowledge I can share with students of the dojo in hopes of making them stronger in mind as well as in body. I am infinitely creative and always have new ideas for improvement. I am educated and well rounded and there is no job or task that I can not undertake if given the right instruction. I am tenacious and I persist in my own developement to reach a higher understanding then promptly I will share that understanding with others so that collectively we may grow. I enjoy teaching as much as learning and when my skills are adequate I would enjoy aiding the dojo in an effort to pass those learned skills on and keep the tradition and the art alive and well. I am certain that if we met and spoke in person I could give a better assesment of myself. I understand that as a part of a symbionic I must contribute to your success as much as I expect to be given the tool for my own success. I hope that this can be achieved.

        Kindest regards,

        Bryce

        • Michael Bell says:

          Dear Bryce

          Thanks for your thoughtful letter. Knowledge of the use of the sword is one of the requisites in learning to make them.

          You are invited to visit us at the dojo at your convenience. I look forward to meeting you.

          Best wishes,

  44. Ryan Meade says:

    Hello Sensei,

    My brother and I might be interested in enrolling in your beginner’s course when the next session becomes available. I am assuming that will not be until 2013. He lives in Seattle and I would be flying in from New York. That being the case, much planning will be necessary in order to make this happen. Will next year’s schedule be published soon?

    Honor and respect,

    Ryan Meade

  45. Michealangelo says:

    Dear, Bells

    I am Michaelangelo. I want to personaly make fantasy weapons. I am not looking to making killing to tools for play. The reasons I want to learn to smith is for a disipline, a new way of thinking, inspiration. I want to make such amazing swords it inspires others. Mostly other artist. I also believe learning the trade will make my own art work jump on to another level. I would also like to keep old ways alive for the future. You never know when the whole world can collapse and you are in need of protection. That is both a joke and partially for real. When you hink about it, anything can happen at any moment of anyone’s lives. Anyway, so if there is a way for me to learn, I would like to find out. There are more details and reasons, it’s just to much to type right now. This week I have a whole lot of responsibilities. People are counting on me this week for a lot. If you read this, than at the least thank you for your time.

    Michaelangelo

    P.S. This is my real name. This letter is no joke.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Dear Michaelangelo,

      Thanks for your thoughtful letter. In these modern times most swords could be called fantasy weapons. Our swords are forged and balanced to cut well and be durable, but we don’t expect that they will be used in actual combat. Nevertheless, they must be made as if they will.

      There is an almost infinite potential for artistic expression in form, steel microstructure, and embellishment.

      There are a number of options for learning the profession. Naturally, we encourage you to take some of our courses. We teach a basic course that covers the universal skills all smiths must master. These skills can be applied to any tradition of blade making. Also, the American Bladesmith Society offers a wide range of instruction at their school in New Washington, Arkansas. One might also find a skilled individual in your locale who would be willing to share their knowledge and experience.

      We wish you the best of luck in your endeavor. Perseverance furthers!

      Best regards,

      Michael Bell

  46. Reuben says:

    Good day Bell Sensei

    I am extremely interested in participating in one of your week long courses.
    I am a South African citizen so before I decide to relocate and become an apprentice, I’d first like to delve into an introductory session.
    Could you possibly forward me information on your course structure, times, and any other relative information that may assist me?

    Thank you.
    Reuben

    • Michael Bell says:

      Dear Reuben

      If you don’t already have forge experience our courses offer a challenging and comprehensive introduction to the arts of the Japanese sword.

      Our Basic Forging Course covers simple forge welding techniques, forging to shape, grinding and filing skills and clay heat treating. Each student forges their own sword of wakizashi length. The blades forged during this course can become the subject of additional courses, including kajioshi and habaki, scabbard and handle making, etc.

      The Intermediate Forging Course covers the folding and welding of a blade using traditional methods. In this case the project is a tanto blade, with emphasis on exploring the various shapes and geometries found in blades of tanto length.

      The above courses and most of the others are from 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday.

      Due to our Oregon winters our classes begin the end of March to late October. We currently have only one opening for the Basic course for the last class in October. We expect to have the class schedule for 2013 posted in October.

      Due to the long distance you must travel from South Africa we might be able to make some special arrangement for you to take a couple of classes back-to-back.

      I hope this answers some of your questions. Please feel free to ask if you have further questions.

  47. Chris says:

    Hi, I am a senior in high school graduating in 2013. The art of sword smithing has fascinated me for years my grandfather was a blacksmith for a very long time and I have learned a thing or two. I would like to request a meeting between me and Master bell. I am prepared to dedicate my self and soul to the art.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Hello Chris

      Congratulations early for your upcoming high school graduation.

      You were very lucky to have been able learn some blacksmithing from your grandfather. There haven’t been many blacksmiths for quite a long time.

      We would be happy to meet you informally, as we frequently show visitors our shop and work. We also suggest you take one of our forging courses, as this will give you a substantial introduction to the art and language of swordsmithing. We accept few apprentices and these only after we have gotten to know one another.

      We expect to be posting the class schedule for the 2013 School year at the end of October, which closes this year’s term. Hope see you next year.

  48. Brandon Ingram says:

    Dear Mr. Bell

    I have read your article cause i’m doing a report for my senior paper on swordsmith apprenticeships. Now i must say i have always been interested in Japanese culture and i have a high heat tollerance so swordsmithing is also a possible future occupation i am looking at. I was hoping if you had a link or if you could email me a list of any apprenticeship class locations that you know are certified from here in the US and in Japan. Thank you for this page for it is and will help me alot and i appriciate your work and love for the art.

  49. Ryan says:

    Dear Mr.
    After reading your article, I would be honored to be legitimately able to call myself your apprentice, but I live in Tampa, FL. I there anyone that you would recommend that may be in a close proximity of me that is skilled as well as passionate about japanese sword making. If there is, that would be awesome. Thank you for your time.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Hello Ryan

      Thanks for writing.

      I don’t know him personally, but there’s a fellow named Walter Sorrels somewhere in the southeast that has done some nice work forging Japanese swords. I think he”s in Florida, but I’m not sure. I’m sure you can find him on the Web.

      Also, there are a number of books available that will aid the prospective sword smith greatly. You can find a list of these on our web-site under recommended reading.

      Good luck in all your endeavors,

  50. Another person named Ryan says:

    I have the utmost respect for the japaneese culture, and with my limited knowledge of blades, love the japaneese swords. I do have a somewhat limited knowledge of smithing (i know how to hold a hammer, and I know how to sharpen blades).

    I would in the blink of an eye abandon all of my current plans if the opportunity were to arise for me to apprentice a skilled bladesmith such as yourself.

    With the current direction the world is headed in, I fear what it would look like if the art of smithing were to die, and i do not want to live in that world. I do have some savings built up, so i am not currently worried about not immediately having money after taking an apprenticeship. I would be more than willing to sleep on a cot next to the forge if that is what it took for me to become an apprentice. I completely understand that my goal can and will take 4-8 years to accomplish, and i still want to peruse this path.

    I have a couple of questions that i would like answered before I would attempt to become an apprentice.
    It may seam kind of a silly question, but is food included?
    How long (on average) would it be before i were to get any forge work?
    What would happen in the following scenario? if i were your apprentice, and I were to cut/burn myself badly

    • Michael Bell says:

      Hello Ryan

      Thanks for your letter in regard to apprenticing at Dragonfly Forge.

      We don’t, as such, offer an apprenticeship program that is open to the general public. The few apprentices I’ve taken on over the years were well known to me and all of them brought skills useful to the endeavor. Some have relocated from other regions, found housing and gotten jobs to carry them through the period of initial learning. We don’t offer live-in accommodations, nor do we provide meals. This is up to the student.

      You might think of Dragonfly Forge as a sort of graduate school. You can learn the basics of forging and heat treating from knife makers, etc. It is also helpful to learn the terminology of the Japanese sword, as well as its history. You should also consider learning how to use a sword; you can’t make a very good weapon if you don’t know how to use it.

      We teach fire safety and sword etiquette as a matter of course and none of us has had a serious cut or burn, but if you do it’s your responsibility to get treatment.

      When you’re ready we will welcome you to take our Basic Forging Course, as this will give you an excellent start and allow you to determine if the profession is right for you.

      Best regards and good luck,

      Michael Bell

  51. stone guild says:

    hello mr bell, it is to my understanding that you dont do apprenticeships, that to me is a complete letdown because i have spent the last few years of my life dedicating myself to the way of the sword. for the longest time i have always dreamed of becomine the worlds best swordsman and sword smith, im not sure if you would ever take on another apprentice,But i can assure you if you took me on i would not let you down. I also would like to find out if you are college acredited for financial aid and that if you by anychance you did accept me, i would be forever gratefull. i would much appreciate it if you could call me sometime and we can discuss classes. 9713885385. i look forward to your call. thank you for reading my message and have a excellent day. STONE GUILD

  52. stone guild says:

    i would also take any amount of training and classes you throw my way, i dont mind if it takes me another 15 years to become your apprentice but i would do anything to forge under the watchfull eye of one of americas most talented and knowlegabke swordsmiths. once again thank you for you time and i look forward to the possible day i call you my sensei.

  53. Connor Hughes says:

    I am 14 years old and I am very interested in becoming an apprentice and becoming a great sword smith just you some day. It has always been my dream to become an excellent sword smith for a hobby that I would in joy doing every day of my life and i will in joy calling you sensei one day. 🙂

    • Michael Bell says:

      Hello Connor

      Thanks for the comments.

      Over the years we have had several students in your age group take our forging course. They have generally done as well as their older counterparts and had a fun time doing it. Taking one of our courses is a great introduction to the art and science of swordsmithing and permits a student the opportunity to get a feel for the craft before committing to an apprenticeship.

      You will be welcome here.

      Best regards,

      Michael Bell

  54. Tyler says:

    hello, I was wondering if you ever name the swords you make? I do plan to become a Japanese sword smith that is recognized in japan,I don’t plan to make swords for money soley I would like to preserve the art and understand the katana better both wielding and making that is my goal, or at least pass it down my family. I was thinking about what I want in my sword and couldn’t think of anything so I decided to give it a name cause things given a name hold more value and the name ultimately shapes the finished product both human and possessions right? Well having thought of that I decided I wanted something with meaning to me, I looked up old Japanese folktales on wolves and found one that really clicked with me “okuri okami” (sending/escorting wolf) and one for a short blade that kinda mirrors the tale of Okuri Okami and its “Okuri Suzume” (sending sparrow) the meanings of these names can be found at http://obake.wikispaces.com/Okami .

    Giving the sword a name like that has already given me an idea of what I want and I want one in a Shibasaya style (white scabbard), I know its unconventional but thats what I want.

    I’m completely ignorant on how to go about naming a sword and have already made put forth effort into learning Japanese and saving money to go to japan in the next 3 yrs I’m 20 so I’ll be 23 when I leave to find a master. I know I should at least find a job also so that I can stay while I search and not waste funds on a hopeless endeavor.

    I’m no idealist I really do plan to make this happen even if it might sound silly to think of a name for a sword I might not get a chance to create. Please let me know if you think this is a good name for a Long and short sword my first creations are always precious to me and I want to have a name waiting for them when their made.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Dear Tyler

      Thanks for your letter and questions.

      In all my years as a swordsmith I have given a name to only one sword. It is a wakizashi forged by a student but heat treated by me some months after class. It was in October , with a big orange moon rising, and in a poetic mood suggested the name “Autumn Moon” to my student. It was so inscribed in kanji on the ura of the nakago.

      Historically, the few named swords got their names for some deed or event in the hands of their owner. It is rare to see a sword-name engraved on the nakago.

      Forging a good sword is a very difficult proposition and most of us require quite a bit of practice in order to do so. I probably would not be choosing a name for a sword I haven’t met.

      I applaud your study of Japanese. It will be necessary if you wish to apprentice. The most usual way to live and work in Japan is to teach English, which allows for a work visa and a small salary. Your time to learn swordsmithing would be limited, however

      I must mention that you needn’t wait to go to Japan in order to learn the art and technology. There is much to learn of the basics of working steel that is common to all blade making traditions. The American Bladesmith Society offers a broad range of courses and you are of course welcome to attend our school, Tomboyama Nihonto Tanren Dojo.

      I wish you success in your endeavors.

      Michael Bell

  55. Tyler says:

    That is a beautiful name for a sword, but seeing as my sword will never see battle nor accomplish a great feet like those in the past I could only hope I one day make a sword under like conditions as you. I don’t think I would be a good teacher in Japan, I’m good in 1 on 1 or a small group setting but a class…….. makes me nervous just thinking bout it, I’m not that much of a social person I associate better with small numbers. I was hoping to find work as a freelance Translator that sometimes works for small companies and it would also give me a bit of income while being tutored (if I find a master) while studying sword smithing as I would need only knowledge of Japanese or another language plus internet access and can pay up to $15 per every 1000 or so words and with greater fluency plus few/less errors and time it takes equal better the pay.

    Though I don’t know if you can get a visa in such a field so I would consider a at home tutor or private lessons instructor role which also pay well from research. But like I said any form of teaching might not be suited for someone like me.

    I might study the basics of the art and technologies as you say in your school or the American association but in order to fulfill my goal of becoming a sword smith recognized by and in the Japanese association I have to study under a native Japanese master for a number of years predetermined by them regardless of how many years I studied under the instructions of another teacher. And my goal is to be the first foreigner to be recognized as an sword smith in decades ( don’t remember how long ago it was the last foreigner was recognized) though learning the basics if not having a finished sword would show that I am prepared to but my all into it.

    Thank you for understanding and educating me, I fill as though I’ve learned much from this exchange and will continue on in my lessons so as to one day have my wish granted. I do have a few other questions to ask you and that is:

    How long does it take to make a sword start to finish in your class?

    could you sort the different types of swords into time periods so I don’t get them confused?

    Do you teach how to make the hilt of the sword along with the scabbard?

  56. Matthew Cook says:

    Hi. It is so nice to hear that there are still apprenticeships in the U.S. for making real traditional blades. I have done a little bit of the basic blacksmithing when I was in Job Corps a few years ago. My welding teacher showed us once a week what it was like to weld using some of the original methods and ever since I have been wanting to learn even more and make beautiful yet functional pieces. I do plan on applying for an apprenticeship with your school in the near future. Thank you for still using the old ways and keeping them alive for my generation.

  57. Andrew Schlieper says:

    Hello Dragonfly Forge and Master Michael Bell,
    I am quite interested in an apprenticeship under your mastery. Unfortunatly i live in deep south texas and am unable to pay the tuition let alone attend classes. I would be willing to work in the shop to pay my way through the class but again I live far away from the forge and am unable to make it out there. I love the craft of forging bladed weapons and armors. Please let me know if there is anyway i can become an apprentice without going through the class.
    Sincerly,
    Andrew Schlieper
    Alamo, Tx

    • Michael Bell says:

      Hello Andrew,

      Thanks for your inquiry regarding an apprenticeship at Dragonfly Forge.

      The reason for requiring the taking of our courses before consideration of an apprenticeship is simply to permit the student to determine if the profession of swordsmith is right for him. Until one has had a chance experience the work there is no way to judge aptitude or determination.

      If one can’t afford the tuition or is unable to raise the sum necessary to attend then I must assume that this person doesn’t have the drive and determination to struggle with the long learning curve with its attendant blood sweat and tears.

      The only person who should become a smith is somebody who already knows that it’s something he MUST do to be content in this life. And even then he would be wise to keep in mind my teachers’ caveat that swordsmithing means “long hour, small pay”.

      As for working in the shop in exchange for instruction, I can tell you that there is little a beginner can do to help, at least for the first year. I don’t make such a big mess in the shop that I need someone to clean up after me.

      My suggestion to you is that you find someone in your area who forges knives and such and learn some of the basics that are universal to all blade making traditions. You will gain valuable experience and determine whether or not you love the work. And you need to love the work itself, not merely its product.

      I’m not trying to discourage you, but I would hate to waste your time and mine.

      Good luck,

      Michael

  58. Jimmie says:

    as far as it being rigorous work smithing swords does your school teach its students how to smith tools um metallurgy how to take raw components and turn it into the finished product ((aka a sword)) im more than interested and could fully commit to said task just one thing im a family man I want to pass a set of skills off to him and I think smithing would be perfect

    • Michael Bell says:

      Hello Jimmie,

      Thanks for your questions.

      Our forging course is comprehensive in teaching good forging techniques as well as exploration into the metallurgical properties of steel as it goes through its’ phases. Most of this is universal and applicable to many styles of knives and tools, not just the Japanese sword.

      We also try to instill some of the historical and cultural qualities that are inherent to the art.

      I don’t know the age of your son, but if he’s at least 12 or 13 years of age you might want to consider taking a course together. It’s lots of fun.

      We hope to see you here next year.

  59. Pingback: On Swordsmith Apprenticeship - Crossed Heart Forge

  60. jeff fontanilla says:

    I would absolutely love to learn the art of swordsmithing and become an apprentice, but, I don’t see how one survives five years with out money.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Hello Jeff,

      You’re absolutely correct, you need an income to be able to learn swiordsmithing. The days when apprentices were housed and fed by the master are long gone, even in Japan.

      My long term apprentices all got part-time jobs to sustain themselves and still allow time for instruction and practice, I did the same while apprenticed to Mr. Nakajima. After a couple of years I was able to start making money from sword work, doing some of the jobs my teacher didn’t want to do, and eventually working full time for clients of my own.

      If you have the requisite passion, you will find a way. Do you have the passion?

      Good luck,

      Michael Bell

  61. Brett Lang says:

    Good afternoon Mr.Bell,
    My name is Brett Lang I currently reside in San Francisco and I plan on attending your Basic Forging class on October Ninth; however, I have minimal knowledge/experience but I have been studying terminology,and history pertaining to evolution of the katana’s shape. I wanted to inquire what should I do during the mean time so that I may excel in your course and next year’s courses as well?
    Thank You for Your TIme Mr. Bell
    -Brett L.

  62. Brett Lang says:

    Good Afternoon Mr.Bell,
    My name is Brett Lang. I currently reside in San Francisco and I plan on attending your Basic Forging class on October 9th. I have minimal hands-on knowledge/experience but I have been studying terminology and history pertaining to the evolution of the katana. I wanted to inquire as to what you would recommend I should do in the mean time so that I may excel in your course, and next year’s courses as well?
    よろしくおねがいしますせんせい,
    -Brett L.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Hello Brett,

      You needn’t worry about actual forging experience as we will get you started in that area with good technique and no bad habits that must be corrected. We use fairly heavy hammers to forge to shape, 3 to 4 lbs, so you might want to exercise and strengthen your arms and hands.

      The other factor is one you’re dealing with already, which is learning the terminology of the blade in Japanese. These terms will be used during class and will become second nature by the end of the session.

      And if you haven’t read it already I recommend “The Art of the Japanese Sword” by Yoshindo Yoshihara and Leon and Hiroko Kapp, published by Tuttle. It has history and technology combined in a very informative way.

      I look forward to meeting and working with you in October.

      Michael

  63. Robert Kratch says:

    I am 17 I’ve been into swords since I was little I would love to learn at your school and I would do nearly anything to become as renowned a swordsman as possible. If this course can really help me get there I will come visit Oregon the week after graduation. I live in Arkansas so this might be hard but probably worth it.

  64. Vante' says:

    I have a question that’s related to my end goal for making my own personal sword (not my last), and that is by taking up forging in your or someone else’s forge would I be able to forge Kogarasu Maru? Its a double edged katana and I haven’t seen any authentic katana-smiths attempt to make this sword. I plan to learn sword-smithing regardless but I’d like to know how hard the road less traveled will be ahead of time, I’m sure there is no one size fits all styles in katana making.

    **The Kogarasu Maru, or “Little Crow,” is a unique Japanese tachi sword rumored to have been created by legendary Japanese smith Amakuni during 8th century CE.-Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kogarasu_Maru)

    • Miles Catropa says:

      Hello,

      My name is Miles Catropa and I just finished my Junior year in High School in Ashland, Oregon.

      I was so excited to find your website – it is exactly what I am looking for. I understand your classes fill up quickly, and I was hoping to take one this summer, but see that they are all full. Is there any opportunity for an apprenticeship?

      Ever since I was young I have been interested in swords and began making them along with bows out of wood in my father’s shop. Over the past few years I have become interested in metal working. So much so that I have my own shop where I have been forging bottle openers, decorative hooks and small knives. I am completely self taught and would like the opportunity to further my craft with proper instruction. I am determined to be a bladesmith. My long term goal is to make bladesmithing a career.

      Please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you for your time and consideration.

      Miles Catropa

  65. Elijah says:

    Hi I live in Portland and have been reading about your forge and for a school while and I have become very interested in taking some classes and maybe becoming an apprentice swordsmith one day. I am wondering though whether age is a possible problem (I am only thirteen now) and when your next set of classes are available since I cannot find any available beginning classes. Thanks!

  66. Jerry Ellsworth says:

    Mr. Bell,
    I have to say that I have always had a great respect for the art of Japanese swordmaking and the culture surrounding it. I recently started learning bladesmithing and my current teacher is about done teaching me all he can with what he knows and I want to learn so much more, especially surrounding Japanese swordmaking. As a disabled veteran, I have plenty of time to learn and contribute to a mentor who is willing to teach me. As a prior military man, I have the discipline to do whatever it takes to get the job done and understand the concept of doing what I’m told. If it is at all possible that you would be willing to take on an apprentice who is willing to commit to whatever time you demand including relocation, I am your guy. Please let me know if you are up coy the challenge as much as I am. Thank you for you consideration.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Hello Jerry,

      Thanks for your letter.

      I don’t offer apprenticeships as such. While I’ve had apprentices in
      the past, both good and not so good, I’ve learned to be very selective
      in taking on new students.

      Most people have little idea of what it takes to forge a good sword or
      how much exacting labor is required, and burn out from tedium and
      frustration.

      I don’t wish to waste my time of yours in an unsuitable relationship.

      One requirement for consideration is getting to know one another and
      whether our personalities mesh. Apprenticeships are long-term and very
      familial. The duty of the sensei is to not only impart the craft to
      the student but to also help build a career and ease his way into the
      broader sword world.

      I’ve come to repect the people with a military background for their
      perseverence and dedication to achievement.

      I would be happy to meet you and discuss posibilities.

      Michael

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