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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Marco Polo: The Game of Thrones of the East


Noble house takes on noble house in a no-holds barred blood feud for the control of the realm.

Rebels in a distant court devise intricate plots and schemes to overthrow their mighty ruler and bring an end to his reign, once and for all.

A young foreigner with a mysterious past, and unknown future, takes his place as an unsuspecting hero and rises to the rank of one of the mightiest rulers in all of history.

Sound familiar? One of HBO’s best shows right? Dragons, elf children, resurrections, and strange gods?

Wrong.

It’s historical fiction. It’s as dazzling in its plot twists as anything by Martin, and it’s available to all you Netflix n' Chillers right now.

Its name is “Marco Polo.”


What Is Marco Polo Even About?
We’ve all heard about the intrepid adventures of one of the greatest explorers in history, Marco Polo. But, what this show has done is developed a story around one of his greatest experiences: his time in the court of one of the greatest kings in all of history, the Mongol ruler, Kublai Khan.

I don’t want to ruin anything for you (in fact, there is so much packed into two seasons, I actually couldn’t) but after Marco’s father displeases the Great Khan, Marco is given as tribute and recompense (unbeknownst to Marco) and things kick off from there.

Having just finished their second season (of which I have watched and loved every episode), I can confidently say that Marco Polo is every bit as intriguing as Game of Thrones, and offers just as many incredible characters, plots, cruelties, battles, duels, weapons, love scenes, and of course, what we all look for in a cable show now….

“BEEEEEEWWWWWBBBSSS”

Who Are the Main Characters of Marco Polo?:
Ever seen “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?” There’s some of that in there!

Ever wanted to watch two enormous grizzly bears fight to the death with curved Mongolian sabers? You got it!

Ever thought, “Jesus, it’s all a bunch of white people on TV, with no people of color calling the shots!” Well, I think there are MAY BE TWO white people on the whole show, and they play minor (yes, I’m talking to you, Marco) roles.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a brief look at some of the best players this masterpiece has to offer and see if we can change your mind:

Marco Polo:


Alright, let’s get ½ of the white guys out of the way right off the bat (Marco's dad is the other). Marco Polo goes from Venetian delivery boy to Hand of the King (or Hand of the Kublai) in quick order. 

He is trained by a bad ass Chinese blind monk (we’ll get to him in a moment) named 100 Eyes, and, in proper interloper fashion, dips his Italian pen in some restricted Mongol ink which gets him into some serious trouble.

Will white people never learn?

Game of Thrones Counterpart:
John Snow (of course) and Robb Stark

Kublai Khan:



Warrior, philosopher, husband, father, ruler, family man, comedian – Kublai, even after doing some DESPICABLE things, is one character on this show you can’t help but LOVE. Even when you’re not rooting for him, you kind of are in the back of your mind b/c he takes ZERO shit and mans up – even on the battlefield (even though he’s kind of a big fella).

I won’t go into it too much, but, SPOILER ALERT, in the course of carving out and expanding his kingdom he takes out MOST of his family members. I mean, who wouldn’t right?

Take a look:


If nothing else, you should love Kublai Khan for little lines, like:

“Your skin brings to mind fine parchment, or the rose petals I use to clean my ass.”

Game of Thrones Counterpart: 
Robert Baratheon (young and old), The Mountain, Tywinn Lannister, and Varys. 

100 Eyes:


100 Eyes could be one of the biggest draws of this show. Shaolin Monk-turned-Mongol-servant, 100 Eyes learns the hard way that disobedience has its price, and loyalty – at least in the court of Kublai – has a future. His fighting prowess is unmatched. His temple (that’s right, Kublai builds him his own temple in his court) is incredibly intricate and totally boss, and his help to the military is invaluable.

Again, I don't won’t give too much away about his exploits, but let’s just say he’s the fucking Wolf from Pulp Fiction. He’s “El Duche” from Boondock Saints. He’s the guy you want – even though he’s blind – when things just HAVE TO go your way.

Aside from Kublai, he’s easily the best character on the show, which is why Netflix gave him his own spin off special, aptly named "100 Eyes."

Take a look:

"100 EYES"

Game of Thrones Counterpart:
Thoros of Mir and The Red Viper of Dorne

Ahmad:

He’s the snake in the court. The schemer. With safety, you cannot take him with you or leave him behind. He is the foil to all the great plans of the Khan of Khans, and just a terrific villain all around.

His origins are tragic. His exploits are completely sordid, and he puts some actions in motion that almost topples the whole thing. And, all the while, you just can’t look away!

Without Ahmad, and his SERIOUS family issues, this show loses almost all of its intrigue and some of the most amazing plot twists there are in any series on television.

Game of Thrones Counterpart:
Littlefinger, Cersei Lannister, and Qyburn   

Empress Chabi:
In a brutal man’s world like the medieval court of the Great Kublai Khan, Empress Chabi ABSOLUTELY holds her own. She is the wolf mother you just don’t see coming but you have to respect. She – like most unsung great women of history – controls the court of the Khan, and makes him PAY when he doesn’t listen to her.

She too takes ZERO shit, and will not hesitate to kill ANYONE who stands in the way of her happiness, her family, and her Khan’s power. She is the goddess of all things domestic in the empire of the Khan, and to cross her means a big scary Mongol coming to your yert in the middle of the night to utterly end your crap.

Game of Thrones Counterpart: 
The Queen of Thorns, Olenna Tyrell, Margery Tyrell, and Cersei Lannister

Lotus: 
Remember at the very beginning of this post I promised you some Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? 

Well, I’ll have no one say I can’t deliver!















Michelle Yeoh – Yu Shu Lien from CTHD, and one of the top ladies on my “Broadswords” list – stars on Marco Polo as “Lotus,” the beautiful and deadly love interest to 100 Eyes, and absolutely poisonous thorn in the side of the power-hungry Khan.

She wants to see China freed of the yolk of Kublai and the Mongols, and will do ANYTHING to make that happen. Is she the deadly force that will topple Marco’s ambition? His Khan’s power? And everything the Mongols have worked for? Possibly. But maybe she's something more.

Watch the show. You will not – I promise – be disappointed with anything she does (except 1 thing, sorry).

Game of Thrones Counterpart: Arya Stark, Berric Dondarion, and Brienne of Tarth.

Final Thoughts:
Whether you’re a fan of history, a fan of cinema, a fan of the sword and battles, or just struggling to find GREAT television, you should totally give Marco Polo the binge watching it deserves. HBO and mainstream cable might have Game of Thrones to help them collect their laurels, but epics like this show you that human struggles are not confined to one race, one kingdom, or one timeline.

I would put Marco Polo up against any period piece on the market, and would be completely confident that anyone would rate it the Khan of Khans of TV.









Friday, July 8, 2016

Land Rover Sword Commercial



LOL

This is excellent, and yes, would be my ideal work place (without the whole "take them down" bit):



Also, to be fair, the guy is wearing the katana the wrong way in his belt, so I am not sure he's qualified to have all of those beautiful, functional pieces of steel hanging on his wall.

But, we can all dream. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Modern Experience with Ancient Forge

The Draw:
Have you ever seen something you simply had to have? Like there was a time for you when something could have cost $10k and you were already Googling “how to second mortgage?”

Back in June 2015, it happened to me.

As a member of many of the sword communities on Facebook, I happened upon a newcomer; peddling his wares from somewhere in sunny Soria, Spain. Javier Sole from Ancient Forge seemed enthusiastic, friendly (a must for a lot of sword groups out there), and his work, at first glance, was BEAUTIFUL.

But the one piece that caught my eye almost immediately was the William Wallace Greatsword from 1995’s “Braveheart.” And, while the movie version itself IS NOT true to the actual sword in the museum at Sterling, Scotland, there have been countless reproductions – Ritter Steel, Del Tin, even Albion – that have done collectors true justice.







This one simply captivated me in a way that no other sword really ever had (except maybe for the DSA Guardian. Ok, the DSA 10TH Century Viking, too).



The point is I made enquires.

Shipping to the US? Yep. Sharp? Yep (enough). Price? Less than $500?! Sign me up.

Then came the offer, from Javier, for complete customization:

You can customize?,” said I. Like how? Can you do a bear’s head pommel?
“Sure thing!”
Wait, what? You mean I can have a roaring bear head at the resting end of my sword, so I can name it Mathghamhain (Mahon, “Bear” in Gaelic, representing the famous warrior brother of High King Brian Boru)?”

The price was now hovering somewhere around $600.

Shut up and take my money this instant!


The Wife:
I set to writing. “These are all the reasons and justifications why I need this blade, hun.” Sound familiar? I haven’t purchased a sword in 2 years…It’s not that expensive if you compare it to others…I deserve this because it’s my birthday…You know I love Braveheart.

The list went on.

And so, on a quite night in August, I put PayPal to work. My money was gone. My heart was elated. My anticipation was peaked.

The Wait:
7-12 weeks. Not bad. I accepted that. Maybe even a few more for the customization? For this piece? No problem. I knew hand forged, hand cast materials take time. This isn’t Forged in Fire. I’m a patient man.  So I waited…

And waited…

And waited…

Come November 2015, I sent a few quick messages to Javier to confirm that we were still on schedule.

We weren’t.

The caster had destroyed the mold for the pommel, but Javier neglected to inform me. More time passed. The caster needed to be spoken to, AGAIN.

More time…

February came. Half way through, dejectedly, I told him: “Scrap the pommel project. Return to the original and send me the weapon.” The dream was dead.

Or so I thought…

The Follow Through:
True to the spirit of great customer service, Javier pushed through and DEMANDED the caster fulfill his promise. He saved the sword! More than that, he offered his sincerest apologies, AND made me a gift of a custom Scottish Dirk for my trouble! Wow, was I impressed. 

After much fanfare, and exchange of “in-progress” photos, the weapon was finished and on its way! I received shipping numbers, dates to expect her, everything you need to really get excited about a sword.

She arrived. I wasn’t home.

Fuck.

She was delivered the next day, and my mother in law snagged her up and settled her neatly against the wall of the foyer inside the door.

She was safe (the sword) and she waited for my hand.   

The Look:
I can’t do this weapon justice in words. It’s simply magnificent. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves:

  • The Process:















·   
  •     The Pommel:




·
  •     The Blade:













The Feel:
Handling this sword, I can honestly say it lives up to its BEASTLY name. At a little over 3 pounds, and approximately 49 inches, it feels like a great sword should. It sings through the air with immense power behind it, and generally just jumps when you half sword.

There is no fuller on the blade, but I’m not sure I would want one. Form is tough with this blade b/c it is so long, but I am sure a more experienced swordsman than myself, better trained in Fiore or Talhoffer, could pull it off.   

Now, being made of mild 1045 carbon steel, I’m not sure how it would react steel on steel, but I know that Javier knows his craft and knows what his clients expect. He explained to me, in great detail, how his heat treat went, and it seemed (again, I am no expert) to be up to the standards of the industry.  

As for the balance, it is exceptional for so much blade. It’s about half way up the quarter-length wrap, and is not too heavy like some other weapons I could name (again looking at you DSA Guardian)

The Video:
Ok, enough talk. Let’s see this thing in action, hmm?



The Experience:
The experience with Ancient Forge has to be taken in context. I was excited about the fabulous Celt-inspired design and the custom fabrication of the sword and bear’s head pommel (maybe too much so). I put Javier through the ringer in terms of design of said pommel as well, and because I was paying a high price for my first custom, I made sure that it was turning out my way.







In prefacing all of this, I am going to give you the pros and cons, and let you decide for yourself based on the look of his work from his site, ANCIENT FORGE, and his Facebook Page

Pros:
Aside from the stunning works of art that his swords actually are, Javier offered incredible customer service and live updates (when asked for). He was in contact with me constantly via Facebook Messenger for responses, made payment easy and efficient through PayPal, and converted everything for me from Euros to Dollars, to give me a clear indication of what the upfront costs would be.

More than that, he pushed his caster to get the bear’s head done even at a cost to himself. I am sure when he told me his conversations with his caster were “difficult” and “angry,” he wasn’t lying. He made a promise, I paid him, and he delivered. That is not lost on me.

Even MORE than that, as recompense for my waiting so long, he MADE ME a knife! Who does that? No one gets anything for free in this life, but, for this one instance, I did:






Javier guided me through the process, let me know when things were amiss, and made amends. That’s all you can really ask of a blacksmith/business. Right?

The peen is solid, the sword looks great, and the blade, even semi-sharpened (as international law allows) cuts through water bottles/jugs/my brother in law’s hand with the right swing. I dig it.

Cons:
Even with so much high praise, things were rocky throughout the entire, almost year-long process with Ancient Forge. 

Starting in November 2015, as I mentioned, I needed to initiate contact with Javier about the progress of the sword. It seemed, at times, that no progress was even being made on the sword, like my project was being ignored in favor of other ones. Of course, this could be due to him making up to 20 different weapons at one time, mine included. I never thought I was special (and that’s ok).

The bear’s head pommel was a disaster. It was on again. It was off again. The caster was not working out. It was cancelled. It wasn’t cancelled. No updates at all as he outsourced it to someone else. Things happen, but that was rough. If you say you can do custom work, by God, make sure you have someone who can deliver in a timely fashion.

The wait was torturous. Almost a full year to make one sword? That is too long. I was never worried that he would run off with my money, but when 2015 turned into 2016, I started to get a little nervous.

Finally, from a construction and durability standpoint, the sword is "journeyman" at best. Recently, the crossguard began to rattle and move. I had to make minor repairs to it myself and, to remedy the situation with Javier (which he offered to do), I would have to send it back to Spain. I also learned that Javier is “still perfecting his craft” (which, again, I can understand), so he was more than a little aware things might come loose. 

Bottom line is if I pay $600 for something, especially something that is designed to withstand impact, it better hold up for the longer than half a year (with only sparse use for backyard cutting).

Overall:
While my sword is amazing, and I love the look of it, I would not, personally, do business with Javier’s forge in the future. I am very aware of the capabilities of his forge, his customer service, and the final product. For that price, and that type of headache (worth it, I guess), I will keep my money and my commissions Stateside. 

Perhaps when he has more experience, better materials (5160 steel+), and a solid process to ensure nothing moves, rattles, or falls apart, I may revisit.

Would I recommend him to others? Not before they read this post, and understand what they may be getting into.

Does that make me smart? A bad person? Too particular? A total asshole?

I’ve been called worse…but it's all the truth.

You can decide for yourself.