Secret techniques of ultimate researchers

You probably heard about people who can pass themselves as pilots, lawyers, doctors, CEOs over substantial periods of time without either experience or training. How do they do it? Well, it looks like the very top class professionals of this kind are for some reason all in our field of arms, armor and archaeology. So let me share 7 simple techniques that are proven to ensure unlimited success.

  1. Proclaim yourself an expert, i.e. “I have been collecting/doing this/curating for 40 years…”.  The weakest and most basic technique of them all. Stronger version – have a buddy to proclaim “he has been recognized as an expert for 40 years”!
  2. Refer to an expert. “The greatest expert on the subject told me in confidence that …”. “No one present is qualified to challenge my mentor John, who by the way said …”. Most commonly used, and comprises 90% of current scholarship.
  3. Risky, but far reaching. Invent your own language. When handed a blade gasp “Ba, this is a real mutan-butan”. Or after “carefully” examining it “well, I see nagamishi, so it’s not all bad”.  When there is existing terminology – double down. If people say mokume, use true mokume versus, say, nagiri mokume. Widely employ little known, useless, but formally sounding names from early publications. Its best if they are not accompanied by pictures – they can mean anything!
  4. It always pays off to go for quiet, strong and unapprochiable type. Short and vague appraisals, most importantly never (!) divulge any underlining reasoning. People respect what they can’t see.
  5. Never apologize, if pushed – double down and shift tactics. Some shifts are more natural – If confronted while doing (4), change to (1). From (3) one typically jumps to (2), but not to (4).
  6. Always have buddies to cover for you! Every argument can be won, if there are three guys willing to start yelling at crucial point “how can such things be asked to a person of such caliber”. Hint: drink more beer with pals. Said pals can be acquired in mutual admiration groups. There are plenty of entities like Collector’s Club for Academic Research (previously known as West London Organic Farming society) or West London Token-kai (much worse).
  7. The ultimate secret technique – Black Dragon, Blue Fire. Become a Museum Curator. The essential nature of all these methods is to shift the argument from evidence, pros and cons to postulating one’s opinion as that of “a recognized expert”. Having official position of an expert is obviously the best card to play in this case.

Nihonto studies – challenges and opportunities

I would begin with making a disclaimer that often, especially in the West, obvious difficulties with nihonto research are attributed to mysterious “Confucianism” or the heritage or early Showa (pre WWII) nationalism. In my opinion it is not true, as very similar issues exist or existed in other regions as well. Some of them are more accented in Japan and some are less, and my understanding of the reasons is provided below.
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Miniatures and Mongol weapons

Much of controversy regarding the early Mongol weaponry to the West of Urals is due to the fact that it is separately researched by those specializing in texts (Kuleshov?), miniatures (Gorelik) and archaeological finds (myself).

The case of miniatures is especially interesting and important. They do present Mongols as exceptionally well armored force, with an emphasis on swordfighting. They also, at least the earliest, 14th century examples, do show evidence of some East Asian influence (helmets with protruding “ribs” which would normally identify lamellar plates, from which almost all East Asian helmets are assembled).


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Masamune, Tbilisi and Geniuses

The question that does not escape any kind of collecting is that of Masters and Masterpieces. What kind of work is recognized as a Masterpiece, who were the Masters who created it, and whether their other creations can be readily identified, are the kind of subjects that get revisited every generation or so, with often conflicting answers. But studying how these are/were resolved in different parts of the World and in different times can be by itself very revealing.

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East Asian and European guilds

After finishing my new work “A Study of the Eastern Sword” I realized that the subject of difference between the organization of East Asian (say, Japanese) and European (which in Arms and Armor tends to mean German or North Italian) manufacturing requires further elaboration. While it can easily evolve into a book of its own, one point needs to be clarified in particular, regarding why in Japanese scholarship transmission of craft is assumed to be strictly from father to son, with no other option given serious consideration.

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Caucasian grease boxes


Gun parts need to be oiled from time to time, which in the XIXth century was often done with grease (animal, usually cow fat), also used to grease paper cartridges. Because of this, many chose to carry a small box containing supply of fat; in Caucasus it would be hanging, together with the rest of similar equipment, on the warrior’s belt. Most of these boxes were strictly utilitarian, made from low grade silver, covered with crude niello or engravings – and very few of them actually survived. High class boxes, such as the ones shown here, are even more rare. Very few were made in the first place, and from those even fewer survived. They are almost never encountered by collectors, and even major museums do not have them: they are small and in the XIXth century collectors preferred to go after larger items. Even is such a piece were to be donated to a museum, it is unlikely to be as strongly appreciated as similarly decorated long sword or dagger – despite tremendous rarity of these objects. So here we have four high end “fat” boxes, as they are often called, courtesy of one of the most important private Collections. It would be interesting to demonstrate how these can be appraised by using the method proposed by us in Arms and Armor of Caucasus.

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Circassian Kindjals

A sample Chapter from my book, Arms and Armor of Caucasus:

…. I could have combined this chapter with the previous one, on kindjals of Western Caucasus, especially as I already included a few Circassian examples there (Figs. 172–173). As I will show, Circassians used essentially the same blades as in Western Georgia, except for Dagestani exports (Figs. 174–175), which were never as popular in Megrelia or Imerethia. However, keeping in mind the profound importance of the Circassian tradition, and that Circassian kindjals evolved in a very different way than those of Megrelia, dedicating a separate chapter to them is appropriate…

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Arms and Armor of Caucasus

Kirill Rivkin’s book, Arms and Armor of Caucasus, presents the most extensive, detailed, and comprehensive study of this subject available in English. As such it is an absolute necessity for collectors, curators, historians and anyone else interested in this fascinating material. In addition, this handsomely produced book will make a fine addition to private and institutional libraries as a reference work and guide to this understudied and, until now, poorly understood subject.

Donald J. La Rocca,
Curator of Arms and Armor,

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Since medieval times Caucasus was one of the most important centers of manufacturing of arms and armor. It played a crucial role on the cultural crossroads between Persia, Ottoman Empire and Middle-Eastern European policies, especially  those of Russia and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Until now, the existing knowledge of this significant region and its cultural influences was not available for English readers. Kirill Rivkin’s book fills long lasting gap for collectors and scholars, paving a new standard in the research on the historical weaponry of the Near East.

Michal Dziewulski, National Museum in Krakow

Kirill Rivkin’s book, Arms and Armor of Caucasus, is a very good book to know a general picture of Caucasus weapon culture. The beauty of sword blade, hilt, sheath, and other design is also given perfectly from many photographs included.

Masahiro Kitada, Prof. Emeritus, Tokyo University of the Arts

I would highly recommend the recently published ‘Arms and Armor of Caucasus’ by Kirill Rivkin. As you know, new solid academic approaches to our subject are few and far between and we seem to be infested with coffee table publications that simply lift off the same old presumptions we are desperate to steer away from. Rivkin’s book approaches his field with a confident hand, and gently lays out the historical and martial side of the Caucasus (first two chapters) which leads to the weapons (chapter three) which dominates the majority of the book. This is not a catalogue, with flowery and meaningless descriptions – this is a true scholarly study of the weapons of the Caucasus and anyone that has an interest in arms from any region in the east will be able to find information here to use in conjunction to their own subject.
The print is good, and there are some impressive unpublished pieces of great importance. All in English but I wish I could read Russian so I can go through the goldmine of references in his bibliography

An Important British Collector

From the publisher:

While the book’s main focus is on the development of arms and armor in Caucasus between the sixteenth and the early twentieth centuries, it does so in a more general context of period Eastern weapons, from those of late Mongol Empires, to Safavid Persia and the Ottomans. Its 328 large format pages are dedicated to providing both the overall classification of Caucasian weapons, as well as being a guide in both dating and attribution of such weapons to a specific culture – Circassian, Georgian, Dagestani, Chechen, Armenian, Azerbaijani and so on. Well illustrated, with 213 photographs, including many unique, never before published items from both private and museum collections, it attempts to demonstrate all major forms of edged weapons and defensive armaments, from exceptionally rare early helmets to such classical Caucasian forms as kindjal and shashka. Most of the photographs were taken by well known still life photographers and are true works of art on their own. Though the book is in English, translations of figure captions into Russian are provided.

Please download the Sample Chapter in low resolution.

The book can be purchased from:
Ken Trotman Books (UK)

Or directly from the publisher’s warehouse. Shipping worldwide is done through Amazon internal service, except Russia and Canada, where it ships by EMS only. Please use the form below to order and we’ll send it right away:

Shipping details

Please note – For EMS shipments, you can order up to 3 books with no change in the shipping price. It can be also be purchased from the following stores – Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hermitage Museum (unfortunately, tends to be sold out) and many others.

Please do not hesitate to contact us at

There are quite a few reviews and interviews regarding this book available online, such as:
Kirill A. Rivkin – official announcement (in Russian):

And couple of interviews (both are in Russian):

Personal introduction

Thank you for visiting my site! My name is Kirill A. Rivkin, and I specialize in historical Asian weapons, with the emphasis on:
a. Caucasus, edged weapons and armor in XVI-XIXth century.
b. Medieval nomadic cultures – from Pontic-Caspian Steppe in the West to Japan in the East.
c. Middle East.

What you will find here is various short articles written by me over the years (in English, Russian and Japanese), reviews and purchase information regarding my books, as well as a number of photographs, both of weapons and other beautiful things.

You are welcome to contact me at any time at and I hope you’ll enjoy my work. You can also find on my facebook page various short updates and announcements.