controversial 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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yowie_steve
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controversial test cutting

Post by yowie_steve » Sun Jun 04, 2006 7:37 pm

I might get some criticism for this, but here goes.

A group of us went "spotlighting" Saturday night to shoot some nuisance kangaroos and to cut them up for meat for the dogs.

Some (well most) shots didn't kill the roos immediately, and they needed to be finished off since it's a bit cruel to let them bleed and hop away and die a painful death.

This was a really good opportunity for me to try some test cutting on a literal live subject. So for one roo in particular who was injured badly, we chased him down and with my trusty ebay monosteel katana I went for a hack at a real, live, bouncing roo.

My experience:

I feel pretty confident with chopping up milk cartons and have been at it for a couple of months or so. Yet slicing up real, warm, flesh and bone was something else. The thing was moving so much it was hard to get a precision cut in. I went to decapitate him, but when he moved I chopped him in the back. I didn't cleave through his whole body with ideal samurai finesse, only made about two inches into his back through his spine. The roo dropped to the ground needing a second killing blow. This time I was able to cut off his head and he was dead immediately.

My observation:

Because katanas are so popularised and romanticised by the media a relatively useful one for cutting is easy to get. I really wish I could use a jian cutter. Since I'm poor I opted for a dodgy chinese forged piece that cost $200 aus. And the thing bends on occasion if your cuts are not good enough. It's sharp but not super sharp, however it did the job well enough and cut through flesh and bone.

I would rather cut with a jian. Maybe I'm biased because I think Chinese weapons are superior, but cutting with two hands is restrictive. It's not as powerful as it seems to be. Maybe for a baseball bat horizontal slice, but a chop striaght down would have more power with one hand I think due to having less restriction of movement.

Also there is a psychological aspect to cutting a living thing. A milk carton does not look at you with scared, pooky, cutesy mammal eyes. So your humanity adds to some hesitation for making a cold, accurate cut.

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Re: controversial test cutting

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Mon Jun 05, 2006 10:27 am

A blade can often kill more quickly that a bullet, so if you are going to hunt & kill animals, I don't personally see any difference between one method of killing or another.



As a young man I hunted deer. I know from my experience hunters are separated not by the method by which they take their quarry (I hunted with a bow), but by their attitude toward the animal, by what is in their heart. I find this to be little different than facing an armed duifang with my own sword. Is one calmly in the moment or do emotion & ego rule?


yowie_steve wrote:...to shoot some nuisance kangaroos and to cut them up for meat for the dogs...


May I first suggest that you hunt non-native species, such as rabbits & cats, as food for non-native dogs. You Aussies know better than any Yank what havoc imported animals have done Down Under. Its aint the 'roos that are a nuisance...


yowie_steve wrote:... went for a hack at a real, live, bouncing roo.

My experience:

I feel pretty confident with chopping up milk cartons and have been at it for a couple of months or so. Yet slicing up real, warm, flesh and bone was something else.


Before atempting this type of cutting, it would have been best if you had first practice your cutting on hard targets, such as bamboo. Soft traget practice is only for checking the angle of your blade at the moment of cutting, etc.


yowie_steve wrote:... it was hard to get a precision cut in... went to decapitate him... moved I chopped him in the back. I didn't cleave through his whole body... only made about two inches into his... spine. The roo dropped to the ground needing a second killing blow. This time I was able to cut off his head and he was dead immediately.


If you think back to your free swordplay training, this is what you should have expected would happen. During drills, it is always easy to land that one pwoerful blow that would finish a man, but in real, live free play, facing a seasoned played, you are more likely to get a debilitating blow that requires a follow up cut.


yowie_steve wrote:... katanas are so popularised... relatively useful one for cutting is easy to get. I really wish I could use a jian cutter... opted for a dodgy chinese forged piece.... the thing bends on occasion if your cuts are not good enough. It's sharp but not super sharp, however it did the job well enough and cut through flesh and bone.


Sounds like you need to be careful using this sword, it could be unsound & break or have the blade come loose & fly off hurting some one, perhaps seriously.



Your cutting also illustrates that one doesn't need a sword made by the finest smith in the land to deliver a fatel blow. A better quality sword will last longer & has a better feel in the hand, but a plain old rusty bar of iron with an edge put on with a file, will cut just fine.


yowie_steve wrote:I would rather cut with a jian... cutting with two hands is restrictive... not as powerful as it seems to be...


Your cut thru the spine was more humane than perhaps you realize. The animal should have felt no pain from the area below the cut, after the blade passed thru its spine.



This cut also illustrates that one does not have to deliver a cut that cleaves the target in two to be effective. A small cut at the right place saves energy & keeps one's blade online for counters as needed. Contemporary test cutting has tended to focus on power, seeing who can cut the biggest roll of matts (see: http://www.angelsword.com/videos/14_tatami_cut.mov & http://www.angelsword.com/videos/nine_and_half.mov). This type of cutting has almost nothing to do with test cutting for historical swordsmanship. Rarely does one have the opportunity to cut in this manner in a real match & it leaves one open for an easy counter when misses with such a big swing.

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the hunt

Post by yowie_steve » Fri Jun 09, 2006 8:11 pm

Thanks for the reply Scott.

I didn't realise this thread would have got the attention it did from swordforums. I just wanted to clarify a few things for those who found offense at such a 'barbaric' death.

The practise with a sword was a one off, and it may have come across that I went at all roos with a sword. I don't intend to bring one out every time we go for a hunt. I was pretty wary at the risk of injury should something go wrong. So perhaps some young man bravado gave me impetous to do it anyway just once off to see what it's like. If I don't have control over it in future, it will be the death of me. :)

Most of the other roos were killed by driving up closer for a better aim and making a second shot to the head. Some roos just hopped away and fell down dead by the time we arrived close enough for a second shot.

The hunt was carried out on the owner's property who drove the truck around while we sat in the back. And as some Aussies have pointed out, roo's are a menace to farmers and roam in plague proportions. We also made an effort to kill any pigs and foxes and rabbits that are also a pest. We were pretty determined also to avoid shooting anything that moves and made sure that our targets were not protected species.

As you pointed out Scott, 100% instant kills during hunting (and I suppose in war) is unrealistic. We had to come up close to finish them off quickly. We had to come up extra close to inspect them to make sure and to cut them up for the dogs.

Hunting I suppose can make one come across as a barbaric animal hater. Buying faceless bits of meat at the supermarket probably has subdued a part in all of us that has the instinct to hunt and kill. Killing animals (for a purpose of course not for fun) and seeing their limbs get cut off and thrown into the back of a truck can resurrect that.

When it comes to historical re-enactment or historical Chinese swordsmanship, I think the same applies. When you are swinging a sword onto a helmet on someone's head, or performing a drill or a routine - you are reliving that primal part within us that has to fight and kill at times (for a purpose of course not for fun).



I hope that helps explain that I'm not an uncivilised barbarian.

Or am I just digging my hole deeper.



Steve - the kangaroo assassin :)

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Post by PaulC » Sat Jun 10, 2006 7:47 am

The knowledge gained from cutting real meat and bone is not something most swordsmen will ever experience. so sharing the details for those that cannot is important to continuing and understanding the historical use of a sword.



From a safety standpoint- A sword needs to be tested in an incremental and controlled fashion before testing on med/hard targets. A sword bending may save you from it breaking and flying back in your direction. There is a reason swords should bend before breaking. please be careful with untested blades especially blades that may have never been intended for anything but hanging on a wall.



Penetration and targeting

When cutting medium to hard materials it doesnt work just cutting with the blade near the tip. you need to cut closer to the middle of the blade. this allows the momentum of the material sticking out past the impact point to act like a lever and help carry the cut deeper into the target. When watching people train/ spar its common to see everyone stay at the limits of the swords reach. it feels safer farther away. but in reality too get a strong cut you and your opponent would have to close a bit. This doesnt mean every cut has to try to cleave completely through the target - that can be unrealistic, situationally undesirable and many times just plain impossible in a real battlefield situation.

Oh, by the way I'm not saying this is what happened to your first cut, in fact 2" deep on a moving target covered in thick hide and severing the spine is very good. I'l bet you already have things in your mind you would do differently next time.



2handed vs 1 handed

2 handed cutting swords are inherently capable of stronger cuts than with a single hand. Some reasons for this are:



you can handle a heavier blade and maintain the same speed with 2 vs 1 hand



a 2 handed grip helps quite a bit to keep your blade angle consistent through a target



the second hand also acts to stop the sword from rebounding off the target. one hand alone can act like a pivot point allowing the force of the cut to rebound off of the target. ( especially with tip cuts)



all of this does not in any way mean that 2 handed swords are better than one handed. not at all. there are advantages and disadvantages to both.



superiority of one style/cultural sword over another

... I have handled,used and made Japanese, European and Chinese style blades and they all seem to work very well for their intended purpose. Historically there would be good swords and swordsmiths and sub par ones in all cultures. I've seen some pretty awful antique katanas and jian and some others that just inspire me.



Thanks again Steve

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Post by yowie_steve » Sun Jun 11, 2006 1:22 am

I do feel abit more controlled with using two hands, particularly with stopping the cut. In the very brief medieval swordplay I had exposure to, I perhaps felt the one-handed downward chop had more power. The way I was showed was a simple throwing action like pegging a tennis ball. This action however is different to the duo I learned from laoshi Scott. There is more control in it, but I'm not experienced enough to feel any power from it yet.



After reading the responses on SFI, I should explain abit about roo shooting. Head shots are ideal. However if you look at the anatomy of a kangaroo their heads are somewhat small and difficult to hit at a fair distance. We aren't on a bench rest or snipering from the top of a building. We're on the back of a truck where the engine is vibrating, wind direction changing each time your aim changes, and other things. Accuracy is tricky to get perfect. It's nice to aim for the head each time but you don't want to waste ammunition and scare the herd (flock?) away after a shot that has a higher chance of missing. The next best area to aim for is the chest/heart region which has a pretty good chance of fairly instant death. Again, shots miss and you'll hit their large hind quarters, scaring them and hopping away. From then you chase them down, waiting for them to slow down. Sometimes they keel over, sometimes they stop again for a better shot.

We prefer an instant kill. Some of them died immediately. Watching your target jump in the air and fall to the ground instantly dead is the most ideal kill which gets the 'good shot mate!' from your fellow hunting crew. We take turns in shooting and the instant kills are more - well honourable and admired the most.

We're not in a helicopter annihilating hordes of roos without a care if any die slowly. Each subect was considered thoughtfully and killed as quickly as possible. We behaved humanely and didn't 'toy' with them.

I've never killed a large - and cute - mammal up close before with a sharp device. If I went fishing I won't feel the "aww poor thing" as much when the fish suffocate in a bucket. Call me strange, but after the roo fell to the ground after the first strike I feel the roo and I connected briefly as it turned its head and looked at me trembling from pain and fear. A similar (although less sentimental) connection I get when I spar with other boxers or sword fighters. I didn't wait for a long time enjoying its misery. The second killing blow was about 3 seconds following the first cut. I hesitated a little because it was a cute living thing staring right at me.

There is an honour and respect there that I never had from mere target practice 'gun zen' when eyeing an animal down a scope. The next steak I have, or the next time I put on my leather jacket, I have a new-found appreciation for what they are. I don't regret the experience of dealing out such a "swordish" death. Call me a cowboy. I am after all out in the bush in the middle of NSW. It is no reflection on the other members of GRTC, they are intelligent, civilised, and very welcoming.

Steve

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