Let me first say that I think that giving the name ‘Raptor’ to a manufactured item is fraught with peril. While there are many man made things with this name, such as the General Atomics MQ-1 currently guarding our forces overseas, that fact is there are precious few which can stand up to the force of nature that are the Avian Raptors.
The clean lines of wings extended, holding an updraft, only to fold and form the sleek curve which spells death-from-above for any prey on the ground; these birds have been crafted by the cauldron of evolution into creatures which have inspired mankind since we could look up. The most utilized animal in the history of heraldry, birds of prey have adorned the battlefield of men with majestic grace. In my opinion, the only thing that evolution missed is to have genetically provided them with sunglasses growing straight out of their heads – I think they are that cool. I say this so you will understand that when I first laid eyes on a box proclaiming itself the ‘Raptor’ line of swords, you will fully appreciate my standards.
If you go to the website for the Raptor Tanto, you will see that the MSRP for the 13 ounce, 16 ½ inch weapon is a surprising $245.00. For a blade made of 5160 carbon steel, designed by renowned Asian sword expert James Williams, this is pretty reasonable. What you may not realize is in addition to the weapon, you get an education. If you have never before owned an Asian weapon, specifically something as noble as a weapon of the famed Samurai, you could not ask for better documentation. Having trained in the martial arts since I was eight, I was genuinely surprised at the wealth of information provided by Hanwei along with the weapon for review. To give the Monkey an appreciation of the craftsman ship and historical significance, I found two DVD’s included to assist me. The first entitled ‘Reviving Lost Art’, detailed the background and story of the CAS Hanwei craftsmen from China who trained and worked to produce this weapon. With a history dating back over 1500 years, the regional smiths employed take immense pride in their work, and you will realize this even before breaking the tape off of the foam packing encasing the weapon. The second DVD explains the Raptor series, from the differing styles of Katana, to the humble Tanto. James Williams himself guides you through the line, providing detailed, yet not overwhelming explanations, demonstrations and an insight into his creations. For example, he chose to use the 5160 stainless steel over the more traditional differentially hardened blade due to increased modern durability. Face it, if you or I own a bladed weapon, we might think a nioi or nie lines impress our friends, but are we really going to use it to take a whack at the odd sapling? Nope. Being a more practical person, I appreciate this forethought in design for a true tactical weapon.
So after looking over the DVD’s found in the first box, I then opened the second foam container, and what do I see but MORE information! Now I had expected a single page of ‘hey buy more of our stuff’, having somewhat of a jaded view of marketing departments (there is a special ring of hell reserved for them, right beside the people that talk during the symphony), and was again impressed. Included were four papers dealing with the ‘care and feeding’ of the weapon. Cleaning your edged weapons is a skill I believe should be taught at birth (ask my two daughters) and these go well past the basics. It took me weeks to reset the friction fit on my father’s WWII samurai sword, yet in here I found a step-by-step guide that would have saved me days of frustration.
Thus far on literature alone, I was wholly impressed, and I had yet to open the cloth wrapping around the enclosed blade. The black fabric slid off to reveal sleek elegance, the black scabbard slightly glossed and textured but not garish. The black leather Ito wrapping, covering the gold colored Menuki were the most ostentatious features. Yet the fine detail I experienced in the packaging ‘warm-up’ was still there. Worked gently into both the fuchi and kashira (the top and bottom of the handle parts), as well as the tsuba (cut-guard), a bird of prey looked out at me as if to say, “Yeah, I know I’m cool”. Now my veneer of aloof reserve was seriously shaken, and when I withdrew the blade (I still call my practice katana Kenny, I’m that much of a blade-nerd) I was in love.
As those who know me will attest, I am rough on blade makers. Having myself hammered steel, and watched as a weapons’ point I have worked on for tens of hours blossomed into a shower of sparks, marking its doom; I have absolutely no patience for bluing, uneven grinds and warping. A blade is the reflection of both the mind that conceived it, and the hands that formed it. What I saw was the wing-like swoop of a perfectly formed edge, tapering to a talon kissaki tip. Not a blemish could be seen and clean of adornment, this blade wasn’t for hanging over a mantle, it was for cutting. And cut we did. It tore through our targets with the whisper of feathers diving at 90 miles per hour – the melons didn’t stand a chance. It was like swinging Mercury, but without the nasty toxicity. It felt secure and tight regardless of what we struck, and the slight tip-heavy balance made the motions effortless. The return fit to the scabbard was perfect, even on the hot, humid day we tested. The 5160 stainless steel cleaned up easily (those melons were bleeders, I tell ya), and after reading over the information, I was compelled to treat this weapon with respect even before it earned it. This weapon surpassed even my jaded expectations, and in my less-than-humble opinion has earned its moniker with pride and distinction. I have only one complaint to voice to Mr. Williams – you forgot the sunglasses.
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