The Alien of Extraordinary Ability

46 Comments

“Just because you use your eyes, doesn’t mean you see what’s actually there.”
– Murray Carter

Murray Carter (@CarterCutlery) is a Canadian craftsman like no other. At eighteen, he fell into an apprenticeship with a sixteenth generation Yoshimoto bladesmith that lasted six years — and was asked to take the position of number seventeen in the Sakemoto family tradition (perhaps the only Caucasian ever to have the honor and privilege of this position).

Murray continued forging blades in Japan for twelve more years, and in June 2001, he was awarded the rating of Mastersmith by the American Bladesmith Society, thus proving the highest degree of competency by Western standards. In 2005, he moved to the United States (as an Alien of Extraordinary Ability, no less) to start Carter Cutlery; he has continued forging blades in Oregon.

This is a fascinating episode on many levels, so please enjoy!
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Want to hear another podcast about a unique art? — Listen to this episode with Marie Kondo. In it, we discuss how her practice of organization can improve your state of mind, Shintoism, specific details of her method, and much more (stream below or right-click here to download):

#234: Marie Kondo -- The Japanese Tidying Master


This podcast is brought to you by Headspace, the world’s most popular meditation app (with more than four million users). It’s used in more than 150 countries, and many of my closest friends swear by it. Try Headspace’s free Take10 program — 10 minutes of guided meditation a day for 10 days. It’s like a warm bath for your mind. Meditation doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive, and it’s had a huge impact on my life. Try Headspace for free for a few days and see what I mean.

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Selected Links from the Episode

  • Connect with Murray Carter:

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | YouTube

Show Notes

  • A fantasy realized. [08:56]
  • How did Murray go from class clown to Yoshimoto bladesmith in Japan? [10:01]
  • Our shared fascination with Japan. [12:55]
  • An around-the-world indulgence in wanderlust interrupted by karate injuries and an introduction to the Japanese language. [14:54]
  • The life-changing opportunities and appreciation for culture discovered by acquiring a new language. [23:59]
  • A happenstance introduction to bladesmithing and Japanese hospitality. [31:47]
  • On knocking out four years of academic course load in twelve months. [41:01]
  • Apprenticing for Sakemoto Yasuyuki, traveling the country to learn everything about bladesmithing, and being asked to take over the family business. [51:55]
  • What makes Japanese bladesmithing unique? How does it differ from western bladesmithing? [56:09]
  • Murray explains the benefits of a laminate blade and the process of forge welding one from scratch. [59:38]
  • What can Murray teach you in a week that he’s learned over eighteen years? [1:11:04]
  • What attributes make a good bladesmith potentially great? [1:15:20]
  • How does Murray test for aptitude in aspiring bladesmiths? [1:16:48]
  • What is the function of the “dimples” found on the side of some Japanese style knives (and what does Murray have against them)? [1:19:34]
  • Favorite Japanese proverbs. [1:23:42]
  • Most gifted books. [1:27:30]
  • What is Murray’s go-to gift knife? [1:30:08]
  • What would Murray’s billboard say? [1:32:05]
  • Parting thoughts and advice for people who get a new piece of cutlery. [1:34:26]

People Mentioned

Posted on: April 26, 2017.

Please check out Tribe of Mentors, my newest book, which shares short, tactical life advice from 100+ world-class performers. Many of the world's most famous entrepreneurs, athletes, investors, poker players, and artists are part of the book. The tips and strategies in Tribe of Mentors have already changed my life, and I hope the same for you. Click here for a sample chapter and full details. Roughly 90% of the guests have never appeared on my podcast.

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46 comments on “The Alien of Extraordinary Ability

  1. Awesome to hear someone on the podcast who physically labors.

    Am a 10 year long follower/stalker. You’ve repeatedly talked of your allergy to politics and religion. With Cory recently and Ezra Klein, you’ve done good to discuss actionable insights on politics.

    You’ve briefly mentioned you’re an atheist and always said to have uncomfortable conversations each day, but you’re dodging one topic. The closest you’ve publicly become to religion is letting Sam Harris go after it and ever-so slightly with Shay.

    I suggest you interview Timothy Keller or Ravi Zacharias. You can watch Keller’s recent Talks with Google. While both are wise Christians, each will give you insight into intelligent religion in today’s age, answer your questions on monogamy, or apologetics.

    Side note that may interest you: Seneca’s brother Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeanus is mentioned in Acts of the New Testament.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A Tim Ferriss Timothy Keller interview would be a dream come true. Kellers insights into relationships alone be very personally impactful for Ferriss. Love the idea!

      Like

    • To truly connect the dots between science and religion, remain an atheist and yet fully bring the power of pure spirituality into your life, there is only one man to turn to and that man is Ken Wilber.

      Like

    • An Interview with Dr. Jordan B. Peterson( Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, has amazing lectures on mythology,philosophy, psychology, etc on his youtube channel. Prof at the University of Toronto ) would be amazing. He’s been on sam harris’s and joe rogan’s podcasts, so Tim could contact him through them.

      Like

  2. I love listening to anyone who has experienced Japan deeply. Japan really changes the way you see people and the world. May I suggest someone who might interest you for an interview? Nicholas Pettas. I saw him a few times on Japanese TV, but never paid much attention until I heard more about him on another podcast called ‘Bilingual News’ (バイリンガルニュース) with Mamy and Michael. He has all interesting points for you: Japan and martial arts. Love your podcast and have a few saved in my iPhone, thank you for doing what you do!

    Like

    • Rosalina, I have always wanted to spend time in Japan. Your comment
      “Japan really changes the way you see people and the world” made me curious…in what way, for you? Kevin

      Like

      • Hello Kevin,

        Sorry for my late reply, I saw your comment just now. Japan changes you in a lot of ways, but for me personally after knowing a lot of Japanese and foreigners living there a long time, I realized I was taking a lot of bullshit from ex-friends here in Brazil. I was so well treated and people in Japan were always like you first than them. In the western world is more like me before you. This good documentary also points out a lot of things you learn and live in Japan, worth watching because I can relate to it in a lot of ways:

        I hope you have the chance to experience Japan the way I did. Japan can teach so much to the world!

        Like

  3. Love this episode. Only problem was it’s too short!
    Crystal clear that this was a meet between two very compatible people, and was very fun and interesting to hear you two geek out on Japanese, living abroad, and learning more about knives.
    One questions I’m left with though (that I’ll now go research) is whether Murray makes swords as well…

    Like

  4. Thank you Tim and Murray!
    It was like music to my ears – Japan, Japanese, mastery and skills – it was a real joy to listen to the conversation of kindred spirits!

    Besides knowing so much more about knives now, the biggest lesson I took away – fascination, the need in my personal life to dig deeper into things that truly fascinate me, take time to explore and master, even if it makes no sense or obvious purpose/reason – that’s how we get connected to life and our talents, that’s where our spirit and most satisfying and meaningful destiny lives.

    Another big one,

    “Stick to the plan”

    I’m definitely guilty of changing my plans too often – I get fascinated with too many things too often! 🙂

    どうもありがとうございます

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Tim I really enjoyed this episode. I’ve followed you and Murray for years and it’s really awesome to see you two connect. I have one of Murray’s neck knives and it is by far the highest quality blade that I have ever seen.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Tim Story would be a great interview. He is a local composer of acoustic music. I don’t feel capable of doing his story justice.

    Like

  7. Tim

    Loved this podcast. Was as intriguing as ever, Murray is such an extraordinary human and you interview techniques nail it every time. Amazing effort.

    Like

  8. Great podcast and one of my new favorites. A question to Murray: Since it seems that bladesmithing is very rooted in tradition, (which is great) does Murray ever feel that tradition can limit experimentation? For example does Murray ever experiment with new blade materials? Are there any newer alloys or metals that he has experimented with (Titanium comes to mind)? Also I second the question about swords, does he make them too?

    Like

    • He teaches a class on sword making so we can assume yes, as well as he probably learned it through his master in the same way he was taught other aspects of bladesmithing: go here, they are known for their swordmaking, and learn. If you dig into the master’s history it should reveal this as well.

      Like

  9. Tim you’re an inspiration man! I’ve learnt so much from you and your blog, you’ve inspired me to start my own, I’ve written about you and your stoicism lol if that makes sense. Keep up the great work. Maybe as you one day dreamt of having Dorian Yates on your blog, I might have the opportunity to interview you on mine! Take care!

    Like

  10. Dear Tim

    Thank you so much for that outstanding podcast.

    It is wonderful to hear you both talk about your experiences of Japan, language learning and culture. The key that judo textbooks had in your language development is such a valuable throw-away comment.

    I knew nothing about Japanese knives before this but the process (and the personality drawn to that process) is fascinating.

    I do hope you one day have a tango expert from Buenos Aires on the podcast. It would be great to hear you speak Spanish, discuss that amazing city, and talk about training for an incredibly complicated art form.

    Also wonderful to hear you are still in contact with your host family.

    Like

  11. Tim and Murray – thank you for going deep on all those tiny energies and directions in the early days. In these questions and stories, sits the answers to the ‘flap of a butterfly wing’ in us that sets us off on a flighty path that is more right than other choices.

    Highlights: Murray’s story of academic conversion, and four years in one (reminded me of Richard Betts episode). Tim’s commentary: “the ability to improvise is more valuable than the planning you do on the front end”.

    The Jon Favreau episode led me to take a knife skills course, and buy a Wusthof…now time to explore Japanese knives a little more. Oh, the influences you weave Timbo…

    Like

  12. Tim

    You might consider talking to George Gilder..Google him if not familiar. He is an interesting guy and I think he would be interested in talking with you

    Like

  13. Only recently found your Podcast and I love it! You have some amazing conversations with some incredible people. I do notice as I peruse the list I am working through, that there seems to be a preponderance of male voices. Please understand that several of these voices are those I adore (Mike Rowe and Phil Zimbardo in the same podcast!!). However, you have stated in several interviews that the majority of your listenership is male, that seems a shame since your interviews are so incredible, and the long interview brings out a quality that shorter interviews just don’t get. A few female ideas: Barbara Kingsolver, Mary Roach, Oprah, Ursula Leguin, Jane Goodall. And just so as not to be sexist,on the male end John Gottman, Jimmy Buffett, Joel Salatan, Salman Khan. Keep up the great work!

    Like

  14. That was great. I’m a big knife fan and collector myself, not specifically Japanese knifes, but I do have an appreciation of their design and purposefulness, over the western style of one knife for all eventualities type thing.
    I have around six or eight knifes I use every, or almost every day, among other cutting tools with sharp edges, and take great care in sharpening them properly.
    It’s nice to hear this guy talk, and would love a round two, where he just talks about knifes.
    Sadly, knifes have been demonised by the media, here in the UK. Unless it’s two inch Kitchen Devil, for doing the carrots, it’s automatically a murder weapon. The law even carry out knife amnesties, where innocent folk hand in magnificent blades, (In amongst the cheap Chinese rubbish), in case a terrorist gets hold of it.
    I believe the Japanese media did a similar thing, after a school pupil stabbed his teacher, but the Japanese seem to have kept some pride in their industry and traditions, where as in the UK, you really don’t announce publicly that your a knife fan, and certainly don’t bring a knife out in public, even a sub three inch, legal, non locking folder. It’s just not the done thing.
    Long live the sharp edge, the metal that sits behind it, and the folk who make great blades.

    Like

  15. Murray is a fascinating guy. A really fascinating guy.

    To gain this rank/honor in Japan you got to be all in, to be accepted to a degree by the Japanese to that level. Amazing. Takes a great deal of commitment to make that happen.

    My wife spent 9 months in Hiroshima teaching English some 8 years ago. She loved the place. Unlike any country on earth. But she also recalled how the country is culturally closed. Friendly folks and kind and helpful but to work your way in and gain trust you really have to integrate as much as humanly possible.

    From his studies to his dedication, Murray was all in and became….an alien 🙂

    Thanks for sharing.

    Signing off from Thailand.

    Ryan

    Like

  16. Hey Tim! Love the podcast! Please please please interview Ryan Seacrest!!! This guy is fierce and I bet many of your listeners, including me, want to hear you, specifically YOU, talk to him about how it all goes down! You probably already have him scheduled for sometime in 2021 LOL

    !!!

    Like

  17. Tim – longtime, massive fan. Great episode.

    Carter – fellow Oregonian! I grew up in Tigard, Oregon. Love that you settled there, seems it’s a bit of a knife mecca with Gerber, Kershaw etc…

    Took a look at your site (cartercutlery.com) and wanted to offer a free site optimization for you. I can help you 1) Drive more sales, 2) Collect a LOT more email addresses.

    If that would be valuable, I’m happy to do it.

    In any case, look forward to seeing what you do in the future.

    Like

  18. Will you think about a podcast with Doug Cutting of Cloudera?
    a brilliant understated architect of the current internet. For 20 years, my internet searches have been better when I approach a search as “what would Doug ask?”

    Like

  19. Fun proverbs! “Hara hachibu” 腹八分 is also a good one (“only eat ’til you’re 80% full). It’s most often remembered after one has just eaten to 110% of capacity 🙂

    Like

  20. Tim,
    I started listening to the podcast a few weeks ago while in the midst of some horrific emotional turmoil, and you have helped me so much. Thank you for the way that you show up in the world. The best teachers teach by example, and the example you set is humbling and beautiful. I don’t know if you’ll ever see this, but in any case, much love to you. You have inspired me greatly.

    All the best,
    Wyn Evans

    Like

  21. Hi Tim, Thank you for doing what you do. You’ve really changed the lives of myself and my husband. I wanted to make a request for some future interviews. My daughter, Maya is 15 and has decided she wants to be a top soccer player. We live in Northern Michigan where we do not have access to the most superior competition needed for her to compete someday at a Division I college. Last summer she joined a team downstate and so we drive her 5 hours round trip two school nights a week for practice and 12+ hours each weekend for games during the season. My husband and I started listening to your podcast with earbuds on our LONG drives. We were constantly raving to her about you and so one day she asked if she could listen. I happened to have your Sean White interview up next. She loved it! Wondering if you could do some more athletes, in particular women athletes if possible (maybe even a soccer player like Abby Wambach or Carli Lloyd :). My daughter has pretty much given up a social life to pursue this dream of hers, constantly being on the road and using every spare minute to train even when at home. She would love to hear more inspiring stories of how others achieved their sports-goals 🙂 Thanks!

    Like

    • Love the soccer reference. I lived in GR for a little while may years ago. Now in Sydney where I find myself driving my 12 year old daughter across Sydney for 4 trainings and 2 games per week for a similar hourly quota. She loves the Amelia Boone podcast and now appreciates the meaning of hard work and sacrifice!

      Like

  22. Really enjoyed this podcast – I love the shows where you delve deep into the artistry and neuances of particular crafts, often ones that I have little or no previous knowledge of, yet through your podcasts and the description and experience of your guests, provide a spark intrigue and fascination.
    The other similar one that springs to mind was the Whisky tasting with Richard Betts.

    I think both could have great follow ups to go deeper still for those interested.

    Like

  23. Great show! I’ve always had a fascination with blades and the beauty and science of making them. Specifically, Japanese forging. Looking forward to part 2.

    Like

  24. My favorite lesson from this episode was how Carter answered so quickly about the bridge stone tapping Japanese proverb, after you asked him how he applies it: “Business decisions.” It was similar to your conversation with Ricardo Semler on asking “three whys in a row.” [23:10]

    Another tidbit on hand crating that you might find useful…my favorite purchases for less than $100 over the past few years (aside from my audible subscription) have been a $9 corded drill from a pawn shop (the cheapest one I could find), an extension cord, a wood hand saw and a box of 500 screws, 1.25″ long. With those tools, a few random things from the local hardware store and lots of scrap wood from dumpster diving, I built a pottery studio to support my livelihood full-time. They’ve lasted for four years and I used them yesterday to build three shelves. Home Depot also sells and cuts boards to your exact size requirements if the hand saw and dumpsters defeat you.

    Like

  25. This is amazing. As an aspiring furniture maker, I am utterly inspired. If you do ever talk to him, I’d love to hear more about his business and his marketing. Murray picks out such appropriate words. Thank you Tim!

    Like

  26. This Pod cast was fantastic! I’ve been watching Murray’s videos for a few years and I have his book 101 knife designs. The guy is crazy good at sharpening….anything it would seem. Someone else that you would really dig are Adam and Haley Desrosiers They are an awesome couple and both are Master Smiths.

    Like

  27. Always nice to hear about physical mastery and culture. Was also nice to get a good explanation of why knives like these https://www.togknives.com/ have all the visible stripes in the blade. I’d kind of assumed it was mainly aesthetic reasons.

    I also totally get why you body swerve any religious topics. I’d do exactly the same. There’s plenty of sites catering to that if folks need it.

    B.

    Like