Blades of the gods

18 May 2016
5 min read
Thomas Bernhard, Ketut, and Ryan Giselheid all met around a burning desire: to revive the Keris, a traditional Balinese blade. More than an exceptional knife brand, it is a true immersion in Hindu culture, a responsibility, and a human story. FOUR finds out more about this modern take on the ancient art of black smithery…
Forging the fate

Canggu Beach.Bali.Indonesia.

Not far from the tourist epicenter of the island, a huge procession moves towards the sea. It is the day of Melasti, the great purification ceremony, before the celebration of Nyepi, Balinese New Year.By custom, all the statues representing the gods of the village, called Pratima, are carried in procession through the village to the sea where they will then be sprinkled with holy water (sea water mixture and that of the temple).Far away in this motley crowd and colorful, a faithful stands by his presence.He holds in his hands a long dagger to the winding and rough blade.Like a magnet, shape, luster, and something indefinable literally hypnotize Thomas Samson and Bernhard Leiner visitors came to see the show.The pair are then caught: what is the nature of this object, how is it designed?What is its creator?This multitude of questions also began a winding that mystical exploration.

Thus begins a continuous quest forThomas Bernhard. Having arrived in Bali two years prior in orderto surf, both Austrians are suddenly overtaken by their entrepreneurial curiosity.They wanted at all know at allcosts the origin of this dagger.For two months, they attendedmeetings, trips, prsentations and conferencesuntil at last they obtained an interview withEmpu Ketut Mudra.The blacksmith caters forthe east of the island in the Klungkung regency, an idyllic enclave between rice fields and the sea. Throughout the interview with the master, the two friends discover a reallyold tradition within the trade.They approached the subjectmore closely, to uncover what isan eminently mystical artwhose origin is linked to forge the Keris; anasymmetric blade that whilst being able to cut is also aspiritual object.Thomas Bernhardthen spentcountless hours discussing the forging techniques, materials and attempted to decipher the hidden symbolism behind the dagger.Their intuition was right as behind the object loomed a whole new world.

The men behind the blade

At 63,Pande*Empu Ketut Mudrarepresents the ninth generation of a long line of Balinese blacksmith.Empu Ketut Mudra has six children, twelve grandchildren and eighteen great grandchildren, and is considered one of the last Keris blacksmiths still operating in Bali.This is the age of his grandchildren, to six, he metalworking and sees his grandfather shape Keris, when he learns gradually creating jewelry.When his father Empu Made Mangku Wija must stop blacksmith activity Empu Ketut Mudra decided to resume the ritual of Keris.He completely immersed in this way and decided to turn to teach it to his own son, Ngurah now thirty-two years.Himself began his teaching to his grandfather, who left in 2009 at the age of 96, after nearly sixty years of practice.In Bali, whether Keris is not bought and transmitted from father to son, it is the same for this as technical as spiritual craft.

* Pande The term comes from the Sanskrit word Pandita literally meaning “spiritual seeker”.From birth, the role of Pande is central and vital in Balinese society.All that makes Pande is undertaken to change the man.One is born Pande most of the time but sometimes can become exceptionally by ennoblement, for services provided to humanity.Only blacksmiths caste Pande are allowed to forge the Keris.The Sanskrit term means Panditya him “scholar”.Without the learned man, no knowledge, without knowledge no learning metals.

It was in 2009 that Thomas Samson, Bernhard Leiner and Empu Ketut Mudra give birth to their project ‘Blades of The Gods.That’s when they created their first blade together with the soleintention to support the preservation of this ancient tradition blacksmith, and to show the world that Indonesia has a livingancestral tradition.

Thomas Bernhard and never acquired special knowledge in cutlery.It was after the decisive and poignant encounter with Empu Ketut Mudra that they decided to launch headlong into the world of blades.At that time, the two travelers had absolutely no idea ofthe immensity of the task, the expertise, the science of elements, and the precision required by this discipline.But they launched regardless with a firmconviction that theyhadfound their way here in Bali. Under the watchful eye of Ketut Mudra, they did indeedprogress andbegan to design viable sketches for their ideas.Although the challenge wasdifficult, they remained determined and continued with the slow process of forging the perfect blade. Even when they were faced with relentless days and nights of working, endless design adaptions, futile meetings, and finacial drawbacks, they still persisted in their pursuit. A few moths later the first blade models are produced and the final stages are set in motion. Now the aim was to create a finish that surpasses common expectations, the the goal is to achieve a level of quality and exceptional finish for these special blades that could cut deep into the soul of their journey.

Solingen, Germany

Back in EuropeThomas Bernhard heads to Germany, about thirty kilometers from Düsseldorf, to a place calledSolingen, or ‘blade city’, as it is commonly known since the Middle Ages.They do not hesitate much before approaching Windmühlenmesser, one of the last traditional cutlery sets inthe country,created in 1872 by Robert Herder. Under the influence of the delicate master hand,Giselheid Herder-Scholz, the factory has retained its original essence. Some knives have kept their ancestral form and most of the manufacturing processesare still performed by hand.The two Austriansfellquickly under the spell of such authenticity.

G. Herder-Scholz is not thefirst attempt in terms of the preservation of traditions. He fought to keep practicing the hammer forging technique, as well asexpertpolishing practices, byfinding mentors for new generations such asRudolf Broch Wilfried Fehrekampf. Even though some of these occupations no longer existed in the records of the local chamber of trades,G. Herder-Scholz, continued with the family tradition by renouncing his job in finance and devoting himself fully to this quest.

As a result, it didn’t takeGiselheid long to become excited about the project ‘Blades of The Gods’ and bring the total of craftsmen to four.With the expertise of world-renowned Windmühlenmesser, the knives quickly accessed a level of quality and recognition from their peers.Indonesian forged andsharpened in Germany, these blades continue to travel the world.After gaining a satisfactory level of quality in production, the two entrepreneurs begin the crucial phase of commercialization.They wentin search of a mentor who can understand the requirement of the object, know the handle and grasp the mystical and historical significance.

What better spokesman thana cook to radiate ‘Blades of The Gods’?After encountering some resistance, they eventually entered into a relationship with chef and owner of Tippling Club in Singapore. The world-renowned chef,particularly known for creating a genuine alliance between kitchen and mixology within its institutions, refuses to be a mere ambassador. Clift is more interested in active participation with the project, whereby agreeing towork for ‘Blades of The Gods’, provided thathe can help in thedevelopment of a custom designed knife. Charmed by his rebellious side, the ‘Ryan Clift series M390 Steel’ wasborn.

The top chefcan then bring togetherhis culinary expertise to help the knife become a tool of everyday life, even making the knife more accessible on a global scale.The knives of this series will be completely designed in Germany by Windmühlenmesser. The M390,will be madefrom the high-tech hyper steel, Böhler, amore resistant type of steel, suitable for the wears and tears of everyday use.Consisting of 1.9% carbon, 20% chromium, 4% vanadium, 1% molybdenum and 0.6% Tungsten, this extremely durable and flexible steel bracket completely has thetraditional look of damask steel, but answers particularly the needs of chefs.The “Ryan Clift Series M390 Steel” then launched into production the same year in Solingen.

The adventure of ‘Blades Of The Gods’is now written five as thefive vital elements prithvl (earth), Ap (water), Agni (fire), vata (wind) and Akasa (space)inseparable from the work the Empu Ketut Mudra for Keris.

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