‘Forged in Fire’ champion is a Pinoy ‘panday’
Another Filipino emerged as a champion on History Channel’s reality TV competition “Forged in Fire” after the bladed weapon-maker from Pampanga battled it out in building the best axes, swords, daggers, and other weapons amid challenges to test their craftsmanship, all within a specified time limit.
Filipino professional blacksmith Ryu Lim emerged victorious on December 11, outshining the work of other foreign contenders.
“I never expected to win… But also, I really had nothing to lose if I did. This is what kept my mind calm and unaffected by the pressure of the short time restraint and the thick tension in the air,” shares Lim.
In an exclusive interview with the Manila Bulletin, the 28-year-old panday who grew up in Arayat, Pampanga, shared his beginnings and recounted the scenes not shown on television.
Lim, also known as “Big Boss” in spite of his 5’3 height, never got formal blacksmithing lessons, only
careful observation and exposure to the forge supplied him with the skills needed to win the international contest.
The passion of this generation’s panday was sparked when he was eight years old when he watched a blacksmith from Pampanga forge an itak (or bolo). He was able to forge his own bladed weapon at the age of 10.
“I was so deeply fascinated. I was hypnotized by the fire and completely taken by the whole process. The smell of the burning charcoal, the sparks flying up from the forge, the ringing of the anvil as the blacksmith struck the glowing steel that shot sparks out from underneath his hammer. I knew right then that it was something I wanted to do,” recounted Lim.
Compared to the complicated blades that he is now crafting, Lim started his forge work by hammering darts out of nails when he was young. He helped out the blacksmiths in his town by moving charcoals and working bellows, and then gradually, shop owners allowed him to pick up the hammer and do actual work.
When asked on what inspired him in his craft, he answered: “I don’t believe that I need inspiration to work because I am fueled by the passion and love for my craft.”
As for his favorite item, he shared that he doesn’t have any as each forged blade has its own soul.
“That’s like saying you have a favorite child among all your children. Each piece is unique in its own way and cannot be compared to anything. I make my blades one at a time and I never make the same thing twice. It cannot be done even if I tried,” explained Lim.
Owning up to his name “Ryu” which means “dragon” and “Lim” which means “forest,” thus, he is dubbed the “Dragon of the Forest;” a panday who has spent much of his time camping in the wilds.
“Outdoors survival is a hobby of many, but it is my lifestyle. Also foraging for wild edibles, trapping, fishing, and hunting for food, building fire to keep warm, and forging all the tools I needed to build temporary shelters against the wind, the snow, and the rain,” says the panday.
He now lives at his shop in Union, New Jersey. However, he wishes to visit his family and friends in the Philippines soon and that he thinks about his homeland every day.
Lim also identifies himself as a “nomadic blacksmith,” given that he “never stays in one place for too long,” with only his forge, anvil, hammer and other tools with him wherever he stays.
Burning passion for his craft
What sets Lim apart from other contestants is his lack of a permanent shop and proper tools. However, the Filipino blacksmith was successful in turning these “weaknesses” into strengths.
“This enabled me to adapt in any working condition, any working place, and be able to use unfamiliar tools and unfamiliar items to overcome the unfamiliar challenge,” said Lim.
He also narrated how hard the competition was for him at the start. Given the lifestyle he was used to, Lim said he had a hard time sleeping at the hotel room for participants, and that he had to go in the competition without any sleep and was extremely fatigued. There was also a challenge on the time limit and weather condition that badly affected his work, although he knew he had to carry on.
Lim said he entered the competition to represent the pandays in the Philippines.
“I wanted the world to see how they work with very limited and minimal tools and still accomplish the given task and was able to create beautiful, functional art, that are forged by the fire of passion, hammered with the drops of their sweat, and quenched in their life blood to give birth to a blade that possesses a soul,” explained Lim.
During the final challenge where they were tasked to create a Viking Battle Axe – a weapon that Lim has never created, Lim took down a satellite dish and used it as a forge extension in order for the metal axe head to fit.
“After being hailed as a Forged in Fire champion and winning the $10,000, my plan was to give away the $7,000 to those who needed it… invest the rest of the money into renting a place where I can set up my shop, away from the winter weather. That was my plan and that is exactly what I did,” said Lim.
He also advised everyone who would like to become blacksmiths to “get up and start right now! Don’t let your dreams stay as dreams. Turn them into reality and live those dreams. Nobody is stopping you from accomplishing great things but yourself. Allow yourself to be great.”