A Very Valuable Talk on Test Cutting

This Forum is a place for students of swordsmanship to ask advice from moderators Paul Champagne & Scott M. Rodell on how to practice test cutting in a manner consistent with how swords were historically used in combat. Readers use this Forum at their own risk.

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KyleyHarris
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A Very Valuable Talk on Test Cutting

Post by KyleyHarris » Fri Jul 02, 2010 5:49 am

I was browsing the web, (as I do) researching and looking for useful information. I stumbled across this very interesting Background story of Tameshigiri written by Obata Toshishiro.. Now.. Clearly this is Japanese, but the significance of what he says I think plays an important role in the ressurection of Historical Cutting arts of any culture.

The Article "Why is Tameshigiri Necessary" is Good Article here.

I especially like the finishing quote "Test-cutting is enjoyable, however there is no meaning behind it when it is reckless and thoughtless." Whick are words to remember I think.

One Especially interesting Fact there is (As Dated back to 1977)
In the earlier seminars, there were participants who would exhibit extremely poor control by cutting the floors, hitting the targets with the side of their blades (hira-uchi), cutting their palms, or even throwing their swords. Seeing all these instructors make such considerable mistakes made me realize that kata practice was not enough to master the techniques of tenouchi (grip) and hasuji (edge alignment), and that tameshigiri practice was a necessary part of swordsmanship.
He is talking about Instructors and high level martial artists who exhibited such poor form as to hit floors and cut themselves. This is only 20-30 years ago. This tells me that the modern myth of the Japanese art cannot be factually correct. In reality, only 30 years ago they were in the same boat as the Chinese arts, that they may have had perfect application of Kata, but zero real world practical application was left by the majority.

Another very interesting quote
There were of course people who didn't understand what tameshigiri was, and some people who thought it was only consisted of cutting materials. Others started teaching tameshigiri from what they thought they knew from my videos and books.
This stems back to my opinon that too many people are enhancing the art of cutting the mat, and loosing the art of actually fighting, and this is certainly clearly prevalant in the Japanese arts.

Please read the original article and comment on how you see this in relation to ressurection of chinese historical cutting.
One especially pertinent fact is that its almost impossible to obtain the service of someone like Laoshi Rodell in daily practice.

In some ways, I can see value in some of the strict formality of the Japanese approach to their weapon and cutting. if nothing else, it enters the mind into the role of responsibility to the sword, and to onesself before attempting to make firewood.

What routines do people enter into before starting their cutting practise?

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Re: A Very Valuable Talk on Test Cutting

Post by Nik » Fri Jul 02, 2010 7:28 am

I think, the first prerequisite is to train AT ALL. I don't even want to know how many "practitioners", of sword or other arts, were in fact just at times playing in the garden for a couple of minutes, instead of training hours every day. I see kind of a similar deterioration of skills and shape in myself like I saw on other "players" on video, and I am 10 years out of practice meanwhile.

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Re: A Very Valuable Talk on Test Cutting

Post by KyleyHarris » Fri Jul 02, 2010 8:38 am

Nik wrote:I think, the first prerequisite is to train AT ALL. I don't even want to know how many "practitioners", of sword or other arts, were in fact just at times playing in the garden for a couple of minutes, instead of training hours every day. I see kind of a similar deterioration of skills and shape in myself like I saw on other "players" on video, and I am 10 years out of practice meanwhile.
Nik, The main point of this article was the fact that most of these people who couldn't cut, and were fumbling and hitting the floor were the Masters and Instructors of Japanese arts doing it all their lives. The point in fact was that they trained, and did nothing but train.. And this left them incapable of "doing". Their training was not preparation for real activity.

My personal opinion is that its far more risky and damaging to train for years without doing test cutting.. I feel that from Day 1 that you pick up a sword you should be learning forms, and cutting at the same time. the 2 things are building up in harmony. reading the manual to drive a car does not in anyway prepare you for actually driving that car.. The moment you put a person in a car to learn, you have to accept that they can crash and die a moment later. What stops this happening is the fact that we have a skilled instructor, and a willing listener in the car at the same time.. The reality is that you only need 5 times instruction before you spend the rest of your life developing you skill as a driver ON YOUR OWN.. We do not have that many deaths on the road because of learners.. but its not unheard of.. That doesn't mean coddling them more is a good answer. it is not Training that keeps people alive on roads as beginners.. it is rules that they must adhere to while weilding the deadliest weapon (Car) that keeps them and everyone alive.

I've shot guns, rifles, olypic air pistol, Archery, swords, cars.. you name it.. all can kill you in a moment if you are not careful. All these skills are good if you have a trainer, but its not a pre-requisite.

What I got out of this article is that while training is a crucial milestone.. Only Doing creates a skill.. it is important to create a safe environment, but you must CUT to become a good cutter.. I dont walk around my garden worried about saftey and spend hours training to use my 15" long machete.. I walk into the bush and I cut a trail.

How do you see using a sword as any different from using a 17-20" machete, which is something people do day in and day out. The reason they dont get hurt is because normally their father (or someone) explains the basic logical safety of the blade, and its technique, then the doing of the act is what makes you good at it. No matter how long you practise forms and Kata, and play safe.. Experience is the only lesson that will make you ready.

This is the lesson I gained from reading that. if Sensei of 20+ years training in sword in the 1980's could barely even cut a single tatami without any particular skill then it demonstrates fully to me the disadvantage of that type of training for real warfare and historical cutting.

In the old days I daresay life was less precious, and the accidents that happens in training was the method of weeding out the people that might help loose the battle..

I'd go back again to the simple fact that in WW1 and WW2 conscripted people where handed a gun, and some ammo and shown what to point and shoot at.. They were not provided hours of training. I would say in the old days the same happened.. People probably got a good day of solid instruction on the sword and then were pushed into the field. Experience is a fast way to learn.

So I'd go back to the question.. How do people here prepare mentally and orientate themselves towards improving their skill in true swordsman ship. As Obata said in the article.. Accidents happen because they are not really accidents but innatenive or illogical structure.

When you are training alone.. what do you do to make sure you do not have an accident.. I disagree that Donning sheetloads of armour and protective safety gear is the answer.. infact.. I completely disagree that weilding a sword is any less safe than going into the bush with a machete, or taking out a knife to use.. I've cut myself more in the kitchen than swinging a 40" blade.. its all about attention to detail and focus.

So I have to say TRAINING AT ALL is important.. but the Cutting is the training.. Sitting behind the wheel of a car is not driving, and swinging a sword without a target and goal is not swordsmanship. That is what I gained from the article.

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Re: A Very Valuable Talk on Test Cutting

Post by Nik » Fri Jul 02, 2010 10:15 am

Ok, if it's always in the air, you have a point. However, if there is striking targets with blunts and sword sparring involved, I cannot believe that a "master" would lose his sword easily who did not simply skip training a lot. However, I can assure you that changing from outside to playing in a flat causes you to occasionally hit the furniture or ceiling, cutting or no cutting. ;) I have seen very capable people who did nothing but bokken sparring, but that for a long time, and with some intensity.

Oh, and btw, I have also seen on documentations folks who changed their "practice" to something artistical, "mental". They would stand infront of each other going through the moves very slowly, doing lots of posturing doing kind of healing sounds, thinking this would make them unbelievably strong. Unfortunately, when other folks asked them for bokken sparring, they couldn't do anything in real speed.

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Re: A Very Valuable Talk on Test Cutting

Post by Nik » Fri Jul 02, 2010 10:22 am

BTW, a side issue - how fast does bamboo grow in colder middle european climate ? If doing regular cutting practice, it could get expensive if needing to buy bamboo for that.

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Re: A Very Valuable Talk on Test Cutting

Post by Linda Heenan » Fri Jul 02, 2010 9:00 pm

Since I usually have students aged between 5 and 18 with me in a cutting session, we prepare quite well. The students need to study and understand all the information here http://www.chinese-swords-guide.com/sword-cutting.html In the weeks leading up to our cutting sessions they are questioned on the safety, reasons for cutting, and tested on basic cuts with wooden swords. I have parent helpers for the day, to act as marshalls. Everyone sits and watches quietly until their name is called. Often we all practise a cut together with training swords. Then explanations and corrections of technique are given. Each student tries the same cut with feedback on their technique.

I never chat to people around me but concentrate only on the student with the sharp sword and what they should be learning - same as any class really. It's full on concentration for whoever is leading the class.

I have a senior first aid certificate. We are covered by the insurance on our property, so we always cut there. We warm up and stretch before the cutting session.

One of the most important things to be sure of is that the student is using the correct grip and has trained enough to be strong enough to control the sword. Younger ones use a light Kris Cutlery jian and they use it two handed.

Before a session, we do a risk assessment together and modify any conditions perceived as dangerous. That and other legalities are explained here http://www.chinese-swords-guide.com/tea ... -well.html Involving the students in the risk assessment helps them to keep on task and be serious about the training session. There must be no distractions. We use goggles to prevent splinters flying into the eyes, and light gloves to prevent a cut from someone accidentally touching an edge. The students are trained in handling sharp swords regularly - cleaning them, passing them, etc. If someone is very new, I cut with them, hand on the hilt with them.

We make sure limbs do not get in the way. No one is cutting towards their leg. In dao cuts, they are taught to keep the off hand right our of the way, or use both hands.

The test area is marked off and everyone is seated and calm. If we are taking photographs, it is the job of one adult to do that from a safe distance. The more senior students are seated in the entrance to the cutting area. One hands out googles. One hands out gloves. One writes my comments for each student. If any child is showing tiredness or disturbed concentration or emotions, they do not cut that day. No one is allowed to look at their friends for approval after a cut. No one from the seated group is allowed to call out or make a comment unless they are asked.

When I am practising my own cutting and not in charge of other students, I never do it alone. There is always another adult in the house who knows what I'm doing and can be called in a moment if there is an accident. There never has been an accident. We learnt our lesson from the very first cutting practise at my home, where one student almost ran into my sword. It might be fun but it isn't a game. It's serious training and should be treated as such.
Contributions welcome at the Chinese Swords Guide - now with RSS http://www.chinese-swords-guide.com

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Re: A Very Valuable Talk on Test Cutting

Post by KyleyHarris » Fri Jul 02, 2010 9:02 pm

Nik wrote:BTW, a side issue - how fast does bamboo grow in colder middle european climate ? If doing regular cutting practice, it could get expensive if needing to buy bamboo for that.
I have no idea. I'm in Australaisa and it doesn't get very cold relatively here. 0-31degress over the year

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Re: A Very Valuable Talk on Test Cutting

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Fri Feb 11, 2011 9:51 am

Nik wrote:... how fast does bamboo grow in colder middle european climate ?... it could get expensive if needing to buy bamboo for that.
I can't answer that, but there is a large bamboo garden in Netherlands where we held a cutting practice a couple of years ago. They get over grown & were happy to have us come & cut some down. It was in the countryside & don't recall the location (perhaps Peter does?), but if you went there, I think they would give you all the bamboo you could haul away. They didn't have the really thick stuff, but did have 1 1/2" diameter stalks & you can bundle together the smaller stalks.

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Re: A Very Valuable Talk on Test Cutting

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Fri Feb 11, 2011 10:17 am

First let me start by saying Kudos to Linda for stressing preparation & safety at the cutting practices she leads. Well done.

Concerning the questions this thread brings up, it has been my observation that the reasons why the test cutting practiced today is so poor is that it is divorced from historical swordsmanship. In other words, it lacks any context.

Most of the people cutting in the now 100s of youtube vids are cutting just to cut, it's more ego driven than training oriented. What I mean is they are not cutting to understand specific techniques better, but just to cut thru something. So there is no thought as to the starting position. For example you often see the cutter cock his or her arm so far back that the point of the sword is actually on the opposite side of their body. Likewise, there is absolutely no understanding of controlling the follow thru. This typically means the sword ends up pointing way off to the side or almost hitting the ground. The dangers inherent with this are obvious to anyone who gives it a moments thought. For those practicing historical swordsmanship from any traditions, the test cut should be no different than a cut from one of their forms or how the cut could be effectively used in free swordplay. Yet, these, let's call 'em "experts," think they've got it right & post their vids as proof of their skill. (Of course these "experts" are also only cutting plastic bottles & card board, not thick, old bamboo or other hard targets). They don't even consider that there is anything to improve in their technique & if anyone to dare offer advice, they take it as an offense.

Overall I'd say that this is indicative of the state of world today. It's a world of pop culture, instant experts. "Students" don't want to take the time to learn properly, they want it now. Hell, it does seem that people want to even be students, they want to go right to being masters. So what can we do? Speak our minds clearly, honestly & politely & work to bring together the real students of the arts to help each other.

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