Since the New World Oda held Zoro’s development back because it wasn’t the time nor the place for it. Now that we finally reached Wano, Zoro will learn how to master swordsmanship fully and reach a high that only two before him reached.
Against Mr. 1, Zoro was able to reach the “the mightly blade” but wasn’t able reach it again. Even Luffy is currently learning the “mighty blade” because it enables one to penetrate Kaido’s defense. Though for Zoro this will not only be mandatory because he has to create a black blade, he can’t defeat Mihawk and become the best swordsman if he doesn’t match Mihawk’s swordsman skills. Without further a do, let’s go!
Hardening & Flowing
There are two elements to Armament Haki which are essential in creating a Black Blade. One is the obvious one because they share the same color, that is the “hardening” process of Armament Haki which is illustrated as black. The other is the “flowing” process that we have learned about the last few chapters, which is illustrated as white/transparent. If we understand how they differ and what both truly are we can determine how black blades are made.
There are many misconceptions of what Armament Haki is because Oda left it open to our interpretation. “Hardening” implies that there is an agent that is to acted upon, which in the process gets hardened.
If you use “hardening”, you yourself become hardened. It looks like you have a black armor on your skin but you don’t, your skin itself and everything within your body gets hardened. That includes internal organs and everything that is blackened.
When Vergo used full body black clad Armament Haki his entire body is hardened. Not his skin, not something outside his body, his entire body including everything within him is hardened. I know this might sound redundant but understand, that whatever black Armament Haki influences, it changes its properties to be hardened. For swords this means that the blade itself becomes black, not something around it but the thing itself. Though there lies the entire problem, nobody in the series who uses black Armament Haki with a weapon changed it into black other than Ryuma and Mihawk. We have seen black Armament Haki used many times but only the real god of swordsmen are able to accomplish this feat. This is where the next form of armament haki comes into play.
This is were the big difference between hardening and flowing become apparent.
This form of haki that is being used in Wano is called “ryou” which means “flowing”. That means your aura flows from your body outside of it, hence why it is an external ability. That is the main difference between the two forms of Armament Haki. The “hardening” is an internal process that changes the properties of the influenced objects and subjects. “Flowing” emits an aura that is outside of your body and we can see this clearly when Luffy is using both against one of the wardens.
This is why he states that he wants to knock them them out “without hitting ‘em”. This difference explains why swordsman are able to cut anything or nothing.
Before this revelation this was one of the biggest plot holes in swordsmanship. After all how could you dull your blade through your will? The “hardening” of your blade would only make it sharper and stronger, so it doesn’t help you to not cut anything but only to cut better. Though with Ryou your will flows from your body around your blade and you can decide how dull or sharp the coating of your blade is. Your blade stays the same but the flow around it can be manipulated which results in “Goken”(the mighty blade). Having absolute control that is to cut anything and nothing require complete control. This idea was hinted on in the early stages of haki exposure.
Rayleigh used Advanced Armament Haki and explained this to us before “hardening” was introduced. He therefore was talking mainly about “Ryou” and that it is a kin to wearing an invisible suit of armor. Which of course has nothing to do with hardening your own body and demonstrates that this form of haki is external, hence why he describes it as an “suit of armor”.
This is probably the most controversial part of the theory and it is about Zoro not being invested in the plot of the New World. The reason is that Oda wanted Zoro’s development being about him accomplishing something only the best swordsman could do, the creation of a black blade. This was set up in Thriller Bark, where we learned about Wano, the swordsman and even met Ryuma who gave Zoro his famous blade. After Thriller Bark there was no room until the New World begins to further Zoro’s development in swordsmanship. Once we reached Dressrosa, Oda gave us the first introduction to a way that Zoro could match a feat Mihawk performed.
It was the moment that Zoro used Armament Haki on his swords and a truth about “hardening” was revealed. We weren’t used to seeing the influence of “hardening” on swords but now we had a chance to see the transformation ourselves. The black “energy” is not perfectly contained within the blade and leaks. Which makes sense because the energy will disperse to the outside when it isn’t contained.
We get told by Mihawk himself that Haki is involved in creating black blades, which the black coloring almost gives away alone but he goes into more detail. Mihawk tells us that you have to “coat” your blade to transforming your sword. We know which of the two forms of haki refers to coating and that is the “flowing” of ones aura, hence “Ryou”. Zoro had a very though fight against Mr 1 and was thinking about the level he reached up until Thriller Bark. He didn’t understood what happened to him and how he could replicate “goken”.
This is what Koshiro(almost certainly from Wano) explained to Zoro before we even knew its name. The legend of Ryuma is about a man who reached the highest mark of swordsmanship, the creation of a black blade which goes even beyond “Goken”. Even people like Koshiro could reach “Goken” but only a few could blacken their blade.
Gyukimaru tells us that Ryuma was able to settle any match with a “single flash”. That is because he coated his sword with a white aura by letting his aura flow around his weapon and him reaching “Goken”.
This is why Luffy is learning “Goken” to penetrate Kaido’s defense. What does it mean to be able to cut anything? It is the ability to penetrate anything and hence why Luffy is learning it in the first place.
Ryuma’s sword has legendary strength and Zoro replies mockingly with “too bad none of that really matters to me.” when nothing could be further from the truth. Zoro realizes so himself soon enough.
Gyukimaru is fed up with Zoro’s attitude and tells him that black blades are created through many battles. Zoro confirms that this has been bugging him and wants to inquire about black blades. Something else comes in the way that gives insight into what Zoro has been missing.
Zoro’s “hardening” is still leaking and he is not incorporating “ryou” into his fighting style. He has to learn how to use a certain process continuously. That is to seal your “hardening” haki with the usage of “ryou” within your blade. If he would have reached “goken”, which is the perfect control of ones “ryou”, he would have been able to maintain the “hardening” within his sword and forge a black blade.
It’s a simple principle of finding the balance between the two forces. “Hardening” is somewhat known to the world and some cultures have their versions “ryou”, like “deflection” in Amazon Lily. Though the usage of “ryou” in swords has only been used by people of Wano or those that have been taught by them. One of these exceptions are the Roger Pirates, who learned “ryou” from Oden and his men. This is how it goes full circle because Zoro learned it from Koshiro and Luffy from Rayleigh. They began their haki journey with it and it will master it ultimately.
*Theory by Donal D. Trump