Big Island man wins ‘Forged in Fire’ reality show competition

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KAILUA-KONA — Eight months. Seventy-two knives.

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KAILUA-KONA — Eight months. Seventy-two knives.

That’s all the experience Kailua-Kona resident Neil Kamimura said he had in bladesmithing before competing to create one of history’s most iconic edged weapons in the History Channel’s television show “Forged in Fire.”

On Tuesday, Kamimura’s episode debuted with the Big Island native going up against three others who each had at least five years experience in smithing to emerge the Forged in Fire Champion. He also took home $10,000 after eliminating the other contenders in three rounds in the reality show that pitted weapon-makers against one another in advance-or-go-home competition.

“It was intimidating, but also at the same time, they’re not expecting much from you because you have such little experience,” Kamimura said. “I was coming up as the underdog, so, it was a great position to be from.”

Kamimura may be newer to the smithing scene, however, he said he’s been doing metal fabrication on cars his entire life. He’s the owner of local pumping company Rydix Pumping and Maintenance on Hao Kuni Street and member of Severed in Hawaii, a chapter of the worldwide auto club Severed Ties.

“I had never blacksmithed ever,” he said, noting that his experience with welding and grinding helped him along.

His great-grandfather, Teiji Kamimura, after whom Neil is named, was a well-known blacksmith in Hilo with a shop open from the 1930s to the 1990s. The sign from Teiji’s shop is even located in the Japanses American History Musieum in Los Angeles.

The 36-year-old has little memory of his great-grandfather, who died when he was just 9 years old. He never had the chance to learn forging from him. Neither his father nor grandfather took up the craft.

“He didn’t speak English, we could only watch from the door,” Kamimura said of his great-grandfather.

But when the History Channel show premiered in 2015, Kamimura got interested in forging. After watching the first few seasons with his son, Maddix, now 9, and thinking about it, he decided to give bladesmithing a go. He watched videos, including of master bladesmith and Forged in Fire judge J. Neilson, and taught himself, learning through trial and error.

“A close friend gave me a forge and broken anvil and I ended up starting,” Kamimura said, “and since then to the time I went on (the show) I did about 72 knives in eight months,” he explained. “I just like started blasting them out, ended up getting a shop.”

However, getting on the show was a surprise — Kamimura never himself signed up.

“It’s funny. When we’d watch the show, my girlfried would say I should stop talking about it and just do it,” Kamimura said.

Well, that happened when she she took the liberty to sign him up secretly. And one day, he got an email from an agency about possbility being considered for the show.

“She was just like, ‘Surprise.’ They video interviewed me and it just went from there,” Kamimura said.

Now in its fourth season, Forged in Fire is a series in which each episode pits four master bladesmiths against each other as they recreate history’s cutting-edge weapons. In the first two rounds, competitors work to construct a cutting edge that’s tested to be tough enough to take them to the next round. Ultimately, two survive elimination and are tasked with forging a special piece over five days at their own shop.

In the first two rounds, Kamimura fashioned from a pickaxe a kukri-style knife, which features an inwardly curved blade, similar to a machete. It passed the judges, and chopped through three husked coconuts and held its edge in a ratchet strap slice.

“Nice job, Neil,” said judge J. Neilson in the episode.

“Meeting someone that I looked up to and being able to be friends with them now, it’s nice,” Kamimura said of the experience.

The final round set him up against a six-year, part-time blacksmith to craft a cinqueda, a deadly double-edged short sword developed during the Italian renassance of the 15th and early 16th centuries and carried on the hip. At home, in his shop in the Old Kona Industrial Area, Kamimura spent five days creating his winning heavy sword from junkyard metal.

“It’s overwhelming,” Kamimura told the judges after being told he was the Forged in Fire Champion.

Though Maddix wasn’t able to be there, he was featured in the episode. And, when Kamimura was finally able to tell him he’d won, his son was ecstatic.

“It was great,” said Maddix on Saturday while helping his father craft a blade at his shop in Kailua-Kona. “When he told me, I was so excited.”

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With his winnings, Kamimura plans to buy more equipment for his shop. He’s also be inundated with hundreds of messages from well-wishers as well as about 100 orders for knives since Tuesday’s show.

Follow Kamimura’s work via Instagram @rpm_neil.

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