Motohara L6 Katana by Evolution Blades
Today I’m reviewing a Motohara katana from a relatively new brand called Evolution Blades. From what I understand, this is a collaboration between the designer and representative, Jason Yoon in the US and a group of Japanese trained craftsmen in South Korea. Here is the Evolution Blades company profile, as found on their facebook page:
“Welcome to Evolution Blades! Evolution Blades sells the Motohara line of Japanese style swords.
The focus of our swords is on high performance cutting, handling and durability, with traditional koshirae designs, and custom craftsman level build-quality.
Our customer focus is on martial artists practicing the Japanese Sword Arts, as well as enthusiasts and collectors that appreciate high quality modern steel katanas in traditional Japanese style themes.
Blades are produced by skilled, experienced blacksmiths in South Korea. We use premium steels combined with modern technology, tools, and processes in the making of our blades.
Koshirae is made individually for each sword, and assembled by a Japanese-trained craftsman.
Tsuka cores and saya are carved for each individual blade using strong, durable hardwoods. Saya are available in a variety of traditional style finishes and designs. Genuine high quality samegawa (stingray skin) and silk and leather from Korea and Japan are utilized in tsuka construction. Tsukamaki is done in a variety of traditional styles.
Sterling silver is the primary material used for fuchi, kashira, and menuki. Tsuba are made from iron and finished using traditional methods. Other metals may be utilized to create fittings for custom orders.
All processes are managed by strict standards and multiple quality control checks and product testing in Korea and the USA. Mat cutter models are tested on used Japanese tatami, for performance and durability. General purpose and hard target cutters are tested on a variety of bamboo (fresh through dry/hard/brittle).”
They seem to have a small handful of models to choose from, mostly based on steel and target type. The model I’ll be reviewing is the Motohara L6 katana, listed as a multi-purpose blade suitable for medium to heavy targets including mats and bamboo.
The sword came packaged well, rolled up in an ample amount of bubble wrap and styrofoam sheets in a durable, thick cardboard box. First thing I noticed after unwrapping it was the striking black swordbag with large white printed characters. The sword inside felt hefty and solid and my eyes were darting back and forth between a lot of interesting details as I quickly inspected it. Nothing broken, pleasing aesthetics, solid feel, I was impressed and excited to proceed.
steel type: L6
Heat treatment: Differential/clay
Hamon type: chu suguha
OAL: 107cm / 42 1/4″
Nagasa: 73.3 cm / 28 7/8″
Kissaki: Chu/52mm / 2 1/8″
Weight w/saya: 1361 gm / 3 lbs
Weight w/out saya: 1134 gm / 2.55 lbs
POB: 6 1/2″
Tsuka length: 10 1/2″
Nakago: 9 1/2″
The tsuka of this Motohara L6 is wrapped in the common hineri-maki style, using premium imported black leather ito over genuine samegawa panels. The wrap is tight, neat and the diamonds are even; nothing shifts without a decent amount of pressure applied and folded paper hishigami have been used. The end knots are tied tightly and cleanly.
The samegawa panels underneath are very good quality with large nodes in abundance on both sides; an aged patina has been applied for aesthetics. The rikko shape tapers nicely at the waist as well as having proper distal taper from fuchi to kashira, making it very comfortable to grip. The tsuka’s general shape and angle flow well aesthetically with the sword’s sori. Two bamboo mekugi secure the tsuka to the nakago.
The cast sterling silver fuchi adds some flash but without being gaudy. It utilizes color, shape and texture as well as elements of traditional craftsmanship, such as the separate copper cap soldered in place, to add something both attractive and functional . The tapered profile complements the tsuka’s waisted, tensho style.
While you may think a heavy cutter would be better suited with a steel fuchi for strength, worry not, they have you covered in this case with a wall thickness of 2mm! The cast quality and finishing is very good but not without a couple of small cosmetic flaws.
I have been informed that because of these small cosmetic flaws on the fuchi, a replacement will be sent asap.
The pair of what I believe are Sode menuki, are cast in solid silver with real gold gilding. They are sized well for good placement and aren’t too thick or too thin and don’t interfere with my grip. They are good quality and in a theme you don’t see very often on production swords.
This is usually the part I’m most concerned with and want to check out first. Too often you will find all kinds of issues going on under the fuchi of your average production tsuka, so often in fact that it’s practically expected most of the time. This core is in very healthy condition with no cracks or splits or any signs of poor quality anywhere, such as obvious damage, drying or rotting.
The carving looks clean and well executed and there is a sufficient amount of material around the nakago opening without being bulky. While the wrap of a tsuka might need to be changed at some point in a sword’s life, the core should be built well enough to last, unless somehow becoming seriously damaged. With the excellent fit and quality craftsmanship of this tsuka core, it will likely be around for a very long time.
The kashira on this katana is a simple tensho style black horn piece that seems well shaped and sturdy.
The first thing I noticed about the saya was how light it is. I personally like a lighter rather than heavier saya but this one does feel a little fragile to me as far as possibly being prone to surface damage and dents. The “ishime” paint scheme is visually pleasing enough but it seems fairly thin and a bit typical featuring the somewhat commonly seen gloss over matte, paint spatter method.
The fit on the habaki is pretty much perfect, with the pressure on the ha and mune instead of the on the sides and there is zero saya rattle near the kojiri end. The general profile shaping is smooth and flows seamlessly with the tsuka and it is also evenly tapered down the length, which I imagine could make it easier to insert into and withdraw from an obi. I believe the koiguchi, kurikata and kojiri are made of horn but without scraping the paint off to check, I can’t be sure. The saya is perfectly straight with no warping or bends and unlike too many other production saya, there is no sawdust or wax inside that tends to get all over your blade every time you sheathe it.
Perhaps one of my favorite parts of this saya is the set of silver kurikata shitodome. They are simple yet attractive and best of all, they are properly sized for modern thicker sageo and they don’t have sharp burrs to catch and pull the threads. This saya came with an average quality synthetic silk sageo.
Normally I don’t make a special notation of the typical, free sword bags but this one is a little different than most I’ve seen, so here are some pics. I personally like the reinforced end.
The L6 steel blade on this katana is wide and thin and in a shinogi-zukuri geometry with a rather high shinogi ji. The lines are well defined and even and the blade surface is free from any hills, waves or depressions. The edge is very sharp except for the first six or so inches from the habaki but there is also a visible micro-bevel present throughout most of the blade’s length. I have been told by trained practitioners that have cut with this sword, that this bevel doesn’t have a noticeable negative impact on it’s cutting abilities. The blade is perfectly straight down the entire length, with no bends, torques or deviation.
The overall polish is adequate but can make the steel look a bit cloudy and smudged at certain angles, or perhaps it’s a side effect of the acid etching. I would say it seems on par with most production sword polishes I’ve seen, nothing very special but perfectly reasonable for a dedicated tameshigiri blade; the key being the surface is sealed enough to protect the steel but not finished to the point of where you don’t want to use the blade to cut with for fear of marring the polish.
The suguha hamon is one of the most deceptively difficult to do properly and one of the least seen styles in the modern katana market. It’s also one of my personal favorites so I was excited to see it. This chu suguha hamon was nicely executed but shows little activity to the naked eye, possibly due to the polish or the nature of heat treating L6 steel, I’m not entirely certain. You can see that it is relatively straight and even and doesn’t drop off or thin out anywhere along the length.
Designed to be an all around tough cutter, there is some ha-niku present but not a lot of bulk over the rest of the cutting plane. The blending of tough steel and effective geometry allow for a thinner, wider blade without loosing the strength and durability needed for heavy targets.
The kissaki is on the Motohara L6 is considered chu or medium, despite it being over 2″ long, since the profile is wider than usual. It features a geometric yokote and a bold boshi. The polish is decent but could use some refining, at least enough to remove some of the obvious lines I’m seeing. The mune of the kissaki is polished to a different finish than the rest of the mune, which is a rare treat and something only featured on a few other production blades I know of. I personally appreciate these little touches as they make the piece feel a bit more unique.
The Nakago of this blade is beautifully finished in a smooth satin texture and has very even edges all around and burr free mekugi-ana. It was actually comfortable enough to hold with bare hands for quite a while as I was taking pictures and measurements. This is something I can’t do with many other production blade nakago as they are often sharp, uneven and full of painful burrs. The smith’s mei is clearly carved on the omote side. I couldn’t view the ha and mune-machi due to the habaki not being removed.
The tsuba is an Owari style sukashi design in steel with a black patina, approximately 3″ round and just over 1/8″ thick and looks like it could be hand-cut. It fits snugly, with no movement and features two hitsu-ana. I’m happy to see some different fittings being used as it helps separate the sword from the rest of the pack and I also appreciate anything that seems like it could be handmade, making it feel more custom and different.
The seppa are simple, hand-cut copper with gear tooth edges and a natural looking, aged patina. They are sized and shaped for the saya koiguchi and fuchi, as they should be. They fit well with little movement and without being too tight to remove easily.
The habaki is made of copper and features decorative scratch marks in a rainfall pattern. There are also file marks present on the mune and ha and it is finished in a natural looking aged patina. This is a very well made habaki and in addition to the detailed and well crafted decoration, it is also free of large gaps on the top (a personal pet peeve of mine) and has no movement on the blade. It’s actually maybe a bit too tight as I couldn’t remove it by hand for the review but I didn’t want to break out the tools since it wasn’t really necessary in my opinion. Better to have a tight fitting habaki on a heavy cutting sword than a loose one.
The handling and balance
This could be considered a heavy sword at 2 1/2 lbs but not overly so for a dedicated cutter. My first impression when picking it up was that it was going to be difficult to maneuver and manage the edge alignment but once the sword starts moving, I actually found it quite easy to swing around and track and maintaining edge alignment was not an issue as I was able to produce loud and clear tachikaze easily.
I can’t say I would choose this katana for performing daily kata or for training long hours but it’s not designed to be a light iai katana and the weight is necessary for it’s purpose. I don’t doubt it’s capable and efficient for some serious mat or bamboo cutting. The noticeable 6 1/2″ p.o.b puts power in the swing but I didn’t really feel a big strain while pulling it back from a swing, as I thought I might.
Another thing that makes a heftier sword easier to handle other than good balance, is a comfortable and well shaped tsuka; putting less strain on your hands equaling less hand and arm fatigue. In a fantasy scenario, I could imagine literally slicing through the ranks with ease once I got the momentum going on this thing. I’ve been told that in most cases with a dedicated multi-purpose cutter, you want the tool to do much of the hard work while you concentrate on alignment and form. It feels like that would be exactly the case with this sword.
While going over this sword piece by piece, inch by inch, I tried to rationalize the high price point by matching the parts with an equal value until I could reach $1700. While I found many things about this sword to be valuable, It turned out I couldn’t fully evaluate it without the one major element that was missing. The cutting experience. For this, I turn to expert practitioners I trust completely when it comes to actually using the sword. I reached out to John Pope and Scott Kane, known and respected throughout the sword community for many years, for their feedback and opinions on the performance of the Motohara katana they tested.
To summarize, they both told me in no uncertain terms that they could indeed feel the difference between the Motohara katana and the few other high end, high performance brands in similar price ranges they have cut with. They both said that they felt this was a top contender and had very high praise and high hopes for this new product and company. Instead of trying to accurately transcribe their cutting experiences myself, I’ll just go ahead and link their respective cutting videos so you can see the Motohara line in action first hand.
John Pope’s cutting video
Scott Kane’s cutting video
I am very impressed with the aesthetics and craftsmanship of the Motohara L6 katana, inside and out and believe it is one among very few other non-Japanese made katana available at this quality level. Can I justify the hefty price tag based solely from a collectors viewpoint? I’m not sure to be honest since there is so much more to it than aesthetics. I know many collectors, including myself, have a strong appreciation for the performance of a sword in addition to the quality craftsmanship and visual beauty, even though we might not cut with them much. Considering all things, whether I would take advantage of them or not, this sword offers a lot.
On the other hand, This katana comes with so many high quality features that you just can’t find on existing production swords and would otherwise have to commission from an expert craftsman, which based on the cost of high quality individual koshirae and fittings alone, could likely cost around the same price in the end. So basically, you’re getting both a highly customized, attractive, skillfully crafted custom and perhaps one of the best no nonsense, dedicated workhorse in one sword.
I’m sure Evolution Blades will continue to work on some of the minor issues I found lacking as again, the owner seems very eager to improve. To recap, I would like to see better a polish on the blade and the kissaki, a better quality finish on the saya as well as maybe a generally hardier feeling saya. I would also not mind a higher quality silk sageo and a more consistent and coherent koshirae theme. Again, this is my opinion based on my tastes and usage and the fact that I don’t really cut often enough to fully appreciate the functional value of this particular model.
Overall, I give this sword and the brand very high marks for what I experienced myself, as well as the information my trusted colleagues shared with me.
If you are in the market for a heavy duty, purpose built, attractive and impressive keep-and-use-forever, katana that you won’t have to change a thing on, I think you’d be hard pressed to find something better in it’s class than the Evolution Blades Motohara L6 multi-purpose katana.
Excellent aesthetics and craftsmanship
High quality materials
Great balance and handling
Superior cutting performance
The blade and kissaki polish could be better
Plain synthetic sageo
Lightweight saya and thin paint finish
High price tag (based on a collector only pov)
Please check out the Evolution Blades facebook page for more information on their line of high end, semi-custom professional katana.
Thanks for reading and I’ll leave you with some more random pictures.
Follow these links for more cutting videos of John and Scott