It seems that on the 6th April the long awaited ban on Japanese swords came into effect in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I don’t know what the situation is in Scotland.
Remarkably, even in the jurisdictions that enforce the new ban, there is considerable confusion about its extent. UTV have reported, totally erroneously, that that all such swords are now illegal. The BBC reported that swords over 100 years old from Japan were exempt.
The Northern Ireland Office stated in their press release that “Following consultation, the ban incorporates exemptions for collectors of genuine Japanese swords and swords used by bona fide martial arts and historical re-enactment groups.” which is extremely welcome.
I looked on the parliament website and found a draft order, and more valuably, an extensive discussion of the issue.
I am not a lawyer, but my reading of these documents (read them for yourself) is that
- genuine nihonto forged under license in Japan are exempt
- there is an exemption for “sporting activities” requiring the use of such swords, e.g. Iaido provided appropriate public liability insurance is held.
So it seems that Iaido may continue for now. What’s not clear, having spoken to someone at Nine Circles yesterday is how such training weapons can be acquired. It may still be illegal for them to sell the weapons, even to those who might legitimately buy them. They have promised news on their front page when they work out the situation.
I think it would be a good idea to seek proper legal advice on these matters, but I think it would be very prudent for students and instructors of martial arts to
- be even more careful about keeping insurance and membership fees up to date;
- keep your license and/or insurance with your weapon at all times when you are traveling;
- ensure your weapon is safely stowed and not easily accessible (e.g. in a bag in a locked boot);
- take legal advice before purchasing an Iaito or other training weapon until the implications of the law are more clear;
- think twice about traveling to and form any other jurisdiction with your weapon, for example, students of ours from the Republic of Ireland should think twice and seek advice before traveling to the North with their sword, the tarrif for the importation is 7 years!
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