San mai has become super crafty and expansive, but the very reason of this kind of build is economy. Nice hard steel are hard to come by in medieval japan. So a tiny piece would be placed in a bar of lesser steel and forged together. Plus, yes, the high ductility soft steel on the outside give it strength (does nothing against chipping though). Nowadays, this is synonym to high-end custom knives. But when you look at properties, low alloyed steel, ranging from .75 to 1.35 carbon, while possibly offering higher hardness - which can be useful in certain applications - are low in toughness and low in edge retention. Generally speaking, under 5/10 in both categories. 3V is 8 and 4.5 respectively. Of course, you can have supersteel san mai in really high-end blades, but that is another game, and atm the best commercially available san mai is ZDP189, SG2 and the lesser VG10. Those are for kitchen knives. For tougher blades, prefer a plain steel with desired properties. High toughness 1 Magnacut, 2 Cruwear, 3 3V, 4 M4. 3V has the lower edge retention of the lot, M4 the highest, toughness the other way around.