PDA

View Full Version : Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu


Please visit our sponsor:
 

AikiWeb Sponsored Links - Place your Aikido link here for only $10!


DH
02-07-2011, 12:52 PM
From the Japanese section of The Sword Forum
In hopes of answering some of the questions:
It has Meik Skoss, our own Keith Larman and little ol me starting in at post #45
here (http://forums.swordforum.com/showthread.php?t=95318&highlight=Dan+Harden&page=4)

It is actually a pretty good discussion of the more technical aspects of it.
Included are:
Why it is not widely practice-or needed in Koryu
Some fun debates about showmanship rising up around it
(and what Koryu people think of that!!)
Sword testing
sword forging

Let's keep it clean fellas, though I don't really see a need to talk much- this thread covers a lot of ground. It ...is...an interesting topic covering displays and public cutting and what not.
Anyway..please play nice and stay ON TOPIC!!.
All the best
Dan

Chris Covington
02-07-2011, 01:32 PM
George McCall's Kenshi247.net is becoming one of the best resources for Japanese swordsmanship online in my opinion. It has great translations, articles, blogs etc. Much higher quality than most of the forums these days. They recently posted some thoughts on tameshigiri by two of the most important Japanese swordsmen of the 20th century Takano Sasaburo sensei and Nakayama Hakudo sensei. Mr. Richard Stonell did the translations. http://kenshi247.net/blog/2011/01/28/thoughts-on-tameshigiri-from-famous-swordsmen/

As a side note look at the forearms on Takano sensei and also Nakayama sensei. These are guys who lived their arts and the sword.

Best regards,

statisticool
02-07-2011, 04:47 PM
Great idea for a thread.

I submit these for discussion:

http://vimeo.com/4641270

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3019556857367004918&hl=en#

I've fenced this sifu's son in not Chinese jian but Olympic style foil fencing...and let's just say I died at least a dozen times.

Justin

DH
02-07-2011, 06:08 PM
This is a thread about Japanese Koryu and test cutting.
Please keep it that way.
Use the "start a new thread" button-it's at the top of the forum list- when you want to talk about subjects different than the thread.
Thank you
Dan

Cliff Judge
02-07-2011, 06:30 PM
I am not a professional test-cutter, but I hope I can ask a question in this thread anyways.

Is there actually any test cutting in koryu?

As far as I know from reading on the internet, tameshigiri was not really a budo practice until after Meiji.

Sword drawing was practiced as a form of budo before the Restoration, but was there any curricular study of test cutting in any koryu school we know about? The Hayashizaki Ryu descendant arts seem to have added it after Meiji. There is Sekiguchi Ryu and the Kage Ryu that uses the humongous swords - did they practice test cutting as part of their training before Meiji?

DH
02-07-2011, 07:38 PM
Due to the nature of Koryu it is difficult to say with any absolutes. To my knowledge there were many cases of test cutting...swords, Entire arsenals of them-which sometimes did not end well. Due to the rarety of good steel there was quite a bit of "make due" swords made. There wasn't any widespread test cutting of swords(men) that I am aware of-again though even the experts and historians seem hedge their comments too. One area of exception were the executioners who were sometimes given blades to test because they were so good at it...ouch!
If you consider reading that thread on Sword forum you will see why. No sense in repeating it all here.
One example I sited was a group of koryu adepts being given blades instead of bokuto, and they were cutting trees, not grass. with no trouble. Why?
If you are training properly in an art, then cutting should be really no challenge at all. Particularly something that is not cutting you back and is just sitting there.
Real key differences are what ...you..are and are not doing and paying attention to while cutting, which just about every modern video display does not even begin to address or demonstrate, hence so many of the more experienced guys all agreeing on certain points that others just do not cover.
As Keith stated..anyone can walk up and cut,, which has nothing at all to do with the topic of test cutting contained within a martial context in a Japanese art.
For me, its perfectly okay that so many think they get it!
That's another old school budo mindset as well. ;)
Cheers
Dan.

DH
02-07-2011, 08:47 PM
George McCall's Kenshi247.net is becoming one of the best resources for Japanese swordsmanship online in my opinion. It has great translations, articles, blogs etc. Much higher quality than most of the forums these days. They recently posted some thoughts on tameshigiri by two of the most important Japanese swordsmen of the 20th century Takano Sasaburo sensei and Nakayama Hakudo sensei. Mr. Richard Stonell did the translations. http://kenshi247.net/blog/2011/01/28/thoughts-on-tameshigiri-from-famous-swordsmen/

As a side note look at the forearms on Takano sensei and also Nakayama sensei. These are guys who lived their arts and the sword.

Best regards,
I'm just starting to look at this Chris, thanks
Cheers
Dan

Kent Enfield
02-07-2011, 10:06 PM
Is there actually any test cutting in koryu?Tennen Rishin Ryu does tameshigiri at some of their demonstrations. I don't know how long the practice has been part of the ryu.

Cliff Judge
02-08-2011, 10:41 AM
Mr. Harden,

Test cutting must have been a crucial part of the sword smithing process. Whether it was done by the smith or the polisher or if one of them had a man to do it. And you can bet there was an art to it, because in Japanese life, there is an art to anything that can have an art to it.

But if test cutting is part of a koryu, that would be a documented fact, right? I am still not clear what connection between test cutting and koryu we can discuss here.

I don't think if a student goes out in his spare time and whacks some bamboo, that that's got anything to do with koryu. Possibly not even if his teacher told him to do it in his spare time. However they train in Toyama Ryu, Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu, etc - if it turned out that that type of training was conducted before Meiji I think we'd have a topic to discuss. Otherwise, I'm just curious what we should be dicussing here.

Thanks,
Cliff

DH
02-08-2011, 11:13 AM
Mr. Harden,
Test cutting must have been a crucial part of the sword smithing process. Whether it was done by the smith or the polisher or if one of them had a man to do it.
Crucial? No it wasn't. In fact it was uncommon, and sometimes when it was done it was recorded on the tang.
Japanese swords-just like other cultures- had many, many failures due to poor forging and/or poor materials.

And you can bet there was an art to it, because in Japanese life, there is an art to anything that can have an art to it.
Well, that's covered in the Sword forum thread, no sense repeating it here.

But if test cutting is part of a koryu, that would be a documented fact, right? I am still not clear what connection between test cutting and koryu we can discuss here.
Well, may I ask,, did you read that sword forum thread?
Perhaps if you did there would be no need for the discussion, or we might have a better one.

I don't think if a student goes out in his spare time and whacks some bamboo, that that's got anything to do with koryu. Possibly not even if his teacher told him to do it in his spare time. However they train in Toyama Ryu, Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu, etc - if it turned out that that type of training was conducted before Meiji I think we'd have a topic to discuss. Otherwise, I'm just curious what we should be dicussing here.

Thanks,
Cliff
I think the point is that whacking bamboo is rather easy and requires no skill whatsoever. Cut water bottles and watermelons ..anyone can go for it.
It just doesn't have anything to do with using a Japanese sword in a combatively rational way. I am unclear as to what they'd be learning if anything,,but ...okay.

What are we discussing here?
Test cutting
How and why it can be either completely inane, even stupid, and dangerous and by itself no matter how much was cut , no matter how deep the gash in a helmut...can be totally unrelated to viable combative use of a blade.
Or
It can be done well.
That most of the time it was more about testing the blade...not the man wielding it. IOW, big power cuts are relevant to fighting in armor exactly how? Related to fighting without amor how?
They're not.
Test cutting and it's relation to koryu.
How a succesful test cut can be the RESULT of excellent training and would have not one thing to do with a big power cut.
If you were trying to address the koryu that were more prevalent to Bushi and martial pursuits, I think you would probably be better off discussing the sogo bujutsu schools that embrace a fuller spectrum of combatives.

I didn't really intend it to be a discussion, but rather more informative.. The thread I referenced has some varied opinions, well expressed. While they mostly agree, even where they didn't several of the rebuttals were well written and expressed a sound logic as well. Chris's post connected to some other controversial and interesting opinions as well.
Hope that helps
Dan .

Keith Larman
02-08-2011, 11:18 AM
I am slammed with a couple deadlines in the next few days but I *really* want to post. Let me just say there is an entire area of history of professional sword testers to consider as well. And some cuts done today at tai kai relate more to a historic approach taken by those guys on human corpses or sometimes live prisoners (dodan-giri for example).

There was also the practice of a samurai "testing his sword" on some poor peasant who had the unfortunate timing to be around when the mood hit.

Lots to talk about here.

So anyway, there is test cutting in the sense of testing the abilities of the swordsman and then there is test cutting in the sense of validating the weapon as a "good" sword.

But... Gotta go do stuff that pays the bills first. This way I'll have some time to think about it and remember more details.

Cliff Judge
02-08-2011, 03:30 PM
Mr. Harden,

I have read through this thread on swordforum a couple of times now and am I correct that your point here is that there is no test cutting in Koryu, and that the two methods of swordwork are antithetical? Or that, at least, the gendai sword arts represent a kind of devolution of swordwork and are maybe a little nonsensical, at least from the perspective of combative effectiveness?

That seems to be what you are saying in most of your posts on that swordforum thread, at least the ones I found when searching the thread for the term koryu.

Thanks,
Cliff

Cliff Judge
02-08-2011, 03:31 PM
Tennen Rishin Ryu does tameshigiri at some of their demonstrations. I don't know how long the practice has been part of the ryu.

I took advantage of a brief and rare flaring interest in budo on the part of my wife to have her look at the Tennen Rishin Ryu website for me, and I believe we read that they did, in fact, add iai and batto recently and these are optional parts of their curriculum.

Cliff Judge
02-08-2011, 03:33 PM
And some cuts done today at tai kai relate more to a historic approach taken by those guys on human corpses or sometimes live prisoners (dodan-giri for example).

There was also the practice of a samurai "testing his sword" on some poor peasant who had the unfortunate timing to be around when the mood hit.

Really? No disrespect intended, but I thought this business about test-cutting on prisoners and peasants was a de-bunked myth? Can I ask where you have heard about this?

Keith Larman
02-08-2011, 03:54 PM
Really? No disrespect intended, but I thought this business about test-cutting on prisoners and peasants was a de-bunked myth? Can I ask where you have heard about this?

In English, Joly's translation of the 8th volume of Honcho Gunkiko by historian Arai Hakuseki (mid 17th century to early 18th) has a large section on tameshigiri and the professional sword testers. Tokugawa had regular executions and the most common means of execution was decapitation. But like I said before, I don't have a lot of time right now to get into it. From my memory Hakuseki also quote Masahide quite extensively. And if I remember correction Hakuseki was quite famous as a historian as well as an adviser to Tokugawa. So he was a "man of letters" who had direct access to what was going on.

The book also had detailed drawings of the various cuts, etc. Also how to build the stand for stacking bodies for Dodan cuts. Really gruesome stuff.

Also, it was quite common at that time to have special swords tested. The result of the test would be inscribed on the nakago, often filled with gold. It is called a tameshimei and there are quite a few extent examples around. A few years back Ted Tenold and I did a presentation for the NBTHK American Branch at one of the West Coast Tai Kai. Mike Yamasaki came out and gave a presentation showing (I think it was) seven blades with tameshimei. Very cool stuff.

But... Gotta work right now.

Keith Larman
02-08-2011, 04:05 PM
A quick quote since you made me look... ;)

According to the rules of execution, of the Tokugawa, when a man was sentenced to death his head was to be cut, and the corpse thrown away and used for testing swords, except in the case of murderers (geshunin). The TOkugawa Bakufu Keiji Zufu mentions that when a prisoner has skin disease or is tattooed his corpse must not be used, but later the bodies of tattooed men could be used, at any rate it was so in the Kwansei period.

The Sword and Same, Arai Hakuseki and Inaba Tsurio, Translated by Henri L Joly and Inada Hogitaro, first published 1913. 1979 edition, Holland Press. Page 119.

That's just a pretty typical paragraph.

The book quotes any number of documents from the actual time period describing different "schools" of sword testers (Nakagawa school, chokushi school, Yamada, etc), different methods, different ways of preparing the bare blade, even describing what order to do the test in to "maximize" the number of tests you could get per corpse. One fella even wrote a full book on the methods used.

The practice of striking down a stranger is one that has long been debated. I do not know if there has been any consensus on that topic.

The test cutting of prisoners and their corpses, however, is extraordinarily well documented in part because it was an "official" thing. The Japanese do not do anything officially without records.

Keith Larman
02-08-2011, 04:09 PM
I should also mention that the same book does mention "stories" of samurai testing swords on peasants due to their "disdain" of common people. Or I think he used the term "swashbucklers" for those who sometimes tested their swords on passersby. I remember that because I immediately flashed on the image of Error Flynn in tights with a katana. Interesting translation. :) However, I don't think that book goes into any detail about the "cutting down strangers" idea.

Fred Little
02-08-2011, 04:16 PM
Really? No disrespect intended, but I thought this business about test-cutting on prisoners and peasants was a de-bunked myth? Can I ask where you have heard about this?

Hi Cliff,

Have you ever heard of Unit 731 or the Kenpeitai?

Let us say that their activities in Manchuria and elsewhere, although using modern methods and somewhat more protracted than a simple death by sword, came with a venerable historical provenance that was noted by early visitors to Japan (http://books.google.com/books?id=qtjiNeRJXmsC&pg=PA28&dq=test+cutting+prisoners+japan&hl=en&ei=Ur5RTc7NM4LagAfPvqXmCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=test%20cutting%20prisoners%20japan&f=false) whose testimony has been accepted by first-tier contemporary historians.

Best,

Fred Little

Keith Larman
02-08-2011, 04:22 PM
To add to Fred's comments --

I can't remember where I saw them, but there were some pretty gruesome early photographs of European visitors to Japan who had the unfortunate experience of having upset some samurai.

There is no doubt they often used their swords on peasants for the slightest of provocation. What I do know people debate is whether samurai would go out to randomly kill some fella just to test their blade. But given the class differences and many of the accounts, I'd put money on it happening on occasion. Whether it was a widespread and common practice, however, I do not know.

Cliff Judge
02-08-2011, 04:39 PM
I should also mention that the same book does mention "stories" of samurai testing swords on peasants due to their "disdain" of common people. Or I think he used the term "swashbucklers" for those who sometimes tested their swords on passersby. I remember that because I immediately flashed on the image of Error Flynn in tights with a katana. Interesting translation. :) However, I don't think that book goes into any detail about the "cutting down strangers" idea.

Thanks Keith.

Whenever i search around on this topic, I invariably find my way to Karl Friday's comments in this thread. (http://http://www.e-budo.com/forum/showthread.php?t=3795)

He seems to come out strongly against the notion that test-cutting on unlucky peasants was common, and that test cutting on corpses was something a swordsmith would do, but wasn't a habitual activity of the warrior.

Keith Larman
02-08-2011, 04:54 PM
I have little to disagree with on this topic. I was talking about professional sword testers. I wanted to point out that many of the practices we see today in "tameshigiri" practice seem to relate to cuts and tests done by these "professionals".

But they were tested. And on criminals, prisoners and others. That said, nothing here implies anything one way or another regarding an individual ryuha's practices in terms of test cutting. I just find it interesting that modern tai kai will have cutting patterns and tests that have names similar to the descriptions used by the sword testers of old.

My very limited experience with my customers is that those who do periodically test cut do so simply to validate their form. Some more than others. Someone out there who's involved with Toyama could probably shed more light since they seem to do a lot more test cutting. Of course this is a much more modern group (as I understand it -- I don't want to speak for something I don't practice).

Just trying to toss out a larger context to help folk understand...

Fred Little
02-08-2011, 05:02 PM
To add to Fred's comments --

I can't remember where I saw them, but there were some pretty gruesome early photographs of European visitors to Japan who had the unfortunate experience of having upset some samurai.

There is no doubt they often used their swords on peasants for the slightest of provocation. What I do know people debate is whether samurai would go out to randomly kill some fella just to test their blade. But given the class differences and many of the accounts, I'd put money on it happening on occasion. Whether it was a widespread and common practice, however, I do not know.

Somebody, ever and always, is looking to reality test the product.

There was an attack on the British Legation in 1861 covered in this contemporaneous NY Times account (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F50B14F73B5B1B7493C0A8178BD95F458684F9). This is a bit different than simple "test-cutting," though, and a bit more like a classic "black flag " operation that was officially approved but sub-contracted to maintain deniability.

One excerpt of an eyewitness account (I encountered this text last year while going through a large quantity of private correspondence by late-Victorian British diplomats who had served in East Asia, I believe it was in the letters between Ernest Satow and F.V. Dickins, but don't have the volume at hand and can't be sure) told of one unfortunate man who, in the course of the 1861 attack, was struck by a sword in the skull with the result that a cleanly cut bowl of bone containing a substantial section of his brain fell straight away and he died instantly.

Well, at least it was quick. The same account told of fellow took a transverse cut from shoulder to hip across the back and it was a rather slower affair for him....

FL

DH
02-08-2011, 05:06 PM
Well we could also include Singapore and pregnant women being run through..as well as people being beheaded Or the 20,000 English troops imprisoned who reported men being slaughtered in the camps. Some who were hung up and run through with bayonets to die over night wailing while they drowned in their own blood.
Yuck.

Karl Friday has forward several interesting theories and ideas that he knew ere going to be deemed controversial..
I thought a more simple discussion of why test cutting

But none of that is really where I thought we were going to go.

Mr. Harden,
I have read through this thread on swordforum a couple of times now and am I correct that your point here is that there is no test cutting in Koryu, and that the two methods of swordwork are antithetical?
Is there a reason you are separating my comments out from a rather lengthy discussion?

No test cutting in Koryu? Tose are your words. I gave many qualifiers, to what I actually did say. You really have to with this topic..Moreover I stated several times that no one really knows the full extent of the subject.

Or that, at least, the gendai sword arts represent a kind of devolution of swordwork and are maybe a little nonsensical, at least from the perspective of combative effectiveness?
Never said that either,I have no issue with Gendai arts.

That seems to be what you are saying in most of your posts on that swordforum thread, at least the ones I found when searching the thread for the term koryu.

Thanks,
Cliff

To be clear No..it most certainly does not.
I think you are confusing the points.
I attempted to lay it out for you. I will try one more time.in a shorter format

Koryu
1. Its too difficult to say what EVERY Koryu did or did not do because they don't all talk about it and even the history of them is not definitive..
2. Test cutting was not discussed as being typical.
3. Public displays of it were / are rare and sometimes they were "events" such as helmut cutting. And those -were- public.
4. There are reasons that several teachers don't like the current types of displays. Meik Skoss touched on a major reason why in that thread.
5. Correct training in Koryu leaves test cutting somewhat unnecessary and the displays typically shown somewhat ...er....unrelated to functionally cutting with a blade.

Legitimate Gendai test cutting-not the falderal with kids playing
1. I.and several others took exception to some of the cutting demonstrations as being showy and demeaning and drawing the wrong type of people to the art. Others do more restrained demonstrations (the mindset being laid in the article Chris Convington linked to and Meik Mentions as well).
2. The essence of so many of these modern displays do not demonstrate skill with a sword or things that are essential for fighting with a blade
3. Some (not all) modern practitioners confuse the issues between sword testing and -people skill- testing. Thus they stress too much on cutting more things and cutting harder things as if they matter. It is worth having discussions with some of the well known cutters-they most certainly know the difference between what they are showing and what is involved in combatives .

Questions for you to consider
1. Does cutting more items mean anything relevant to fighting with a sword
2. Does winding up and using your body in a certain way have anything to do with fighting with a sword
3. How would ..that athletic display...train your body...in any meaningful way to develop a bujutsu body for skill in using weapons?
4. How would containing your study to the movements within a koryu actually aid in developing that bujutsu body?
5. At what point is a sword testing display different than askill testing display?
6. At what point are certain *power displays* not only irrelevant, but counter productive to a bujutsu demonstration?


The answers to those can be very defining. And please note the qualifiers; some, many. most, etc. It is a difficult subject.
Cheers
Dan

Keith Larman
02-08-2011, 06:16 PM
Part of my rationale for going into all of that was that tameshigiri (as a term) was historically about testing the blade itself and had nothing to do with an individual's training or style. I'm sure most samurai at some point or another got curious and cut a sapling from a tree, or took out a bamboo stalk. Of course depending on the era historically samurai had ample opportunities to do it for real, so for those souls, well, they really didn't need any sort of "cutting" training. They needed "how to stay alive" training. The mechanics of cutting part tends to take care of itself.

What I wonder about is how much modern cutting practice (what people call tameshigiri today) is more a reflection of Nakamura Taizaburo's influence. Toyama lineage guys seem to do a lot of cutting practice. And over the years I've noticed some groups in iai, for example, that never used to cut are now doing it on a limited basis.

I will add that I've had people over to my house to try it out. A few I've invited over simply to make the point that the kinda fluffy way the swing their bokken really wouldn't work. Others just because they've never had the opportunity to cut for real. In arts like Aikido there are many who would actually benefit from a reality check on the quality of their cuts.

But this is off the topic again.

My experience is that most consider cutting practice to be at best a minor part of their training. And many I know consider most of the "stupid sword trick" stunts to be wholly inappropriate and disrespectful.

But I'm just rambling on ... Back to work.

Josh Reyer
02-09-2011, 01:26 AM
Burei-uchi and the kirisute-gomen must be one of the most misunderstood aspects of samurai culture.

There is no doubt they often used their swords on peasants for the slightest of provocation.
Yes, there is plenty of doubt. What you describe, a samurai cutting down a peasant for a slight provocation, just to test his new sword, never happened. When I say "never" I mean, it wasn't the done thing by law abiding samurai living their lives. Samurai who cut down peasants for no reason were psychopaths and murderers -- they were definitely not sanctioned by the domains and the Shogunate. The kirisute-gomen was permission by the samurai, as a representative of the Shogunate (as all samurai were) to render summary judgment in the event a person challenged the authority of the Shogunate (represented in the person of the samurai). It was not carte blanche to kill commoners at will.

A samurai who did burei-uchi (striking for insult) was required to immediately go to the local authorities and report his action in writing. His sword would then be confiscated as evidence. He would be under house arrest for at least 20 days while the matter was investigated. He required one witness to attest that the matter was grave enough to merit burei-uchi. If he did not fulfill the above conditions, he was beheaded. He was not given the honorable execution of seppuku, but beheaded as a criminal. His property would be confiscated and his family would lose buke status. Even if he did fulfill all the conditions, if the investigation found that burei-uchi was not warranted (because the samurai instigated the altercation, or because it was felt the offense could have been beared, etc), he still faced punishment ranging from demotion from rank, to stripping of buke status, to being ordered to commit seppuku.

If the samurai drew his sword for burei-uchi, but his intended target escaped, he could be charged and punished for needlessly drawing his sword and causing a disturbance. Further, the commoner in question had an absolute right of self-defence, and if he in turn killed the samurai he would not be punished. And in the event that the burei-uchi was successful, and found justified, there was even a chance that the samurai in question would find himself in hot water with the domain in which it happened, and while he might not be punished, there would be non-legal repercussions.

As a result, there are very, very few, if any, records of samurai using the kirisute-gomen. Furthermore, like other samurai rights like last names and permission to carry a katana, the kirisute-gomen could also be given to favored merchants or artisans, or other commoners.

Here are some links:
Japanese Wikipedia (http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%88%87%E6%8D%A8%E5%BE%A1%E5%85%8D) on "kirisute-gomen".

Abstracts (http://www.univie.ac.at/eajs/sections/abstracts/Section_7/7_2a.htm) to some interesting papers.

Demetrio Cereijo
02-09-2011, 03:06 AM
Testing what?

if the blade works?, if the swordsman has good technique? if he can kill withouk blinking an eye?

Josh Reyer
02-09-2011, 04:25 AM
Testing what?

if the blade works?, if the swordsman has good technique? if he can kill withouk blinking an eye?Yes, yes, no.

Keith Larman
02-09-2011, 08:50 AM
Yes, there is plenty of doubt. What you describe, a samurai cutting down a peasant for a slight provocation, just to test his new sword, never happened.

I added the emphasis. I admit I didn't word it well but adding the last qualifier of "just to test his new sword" was most certainly *not* in what I wrote (or meant). I already acked that many argue that never happened or that if it did, it was exceedingly rare (and not condoned.)

What I meant is that there were violent events and the stratification of society due to class didn't exactly help and that there are no shortage of accounts of killings, bodies found in a ditch, etc. Sometimes they were killed rather, um, skillfully. That does not mean it was "okay" in any sense of the word or condoned, just that sword violence happened and that most, at least in certain time periods, would be familiar with the damage the sword could do. Not that they all ran around killing people, but that the notion that a sword cuts easily and efficiently wasn't just some abstract principle that required extensive test cutting to be aware of.

phitruong
02-09-2011, 09:02 AM
don't know anything about test cutting other than using my cleaver on various domesticated animals.

i am curious on the diagonal cut from the shoulder to the side of the hips, kesa geri. would that a really good idea to make that cut since it goes through lots of bones at various angles and covered with muscle and sinew? and how would folks test cut something like that?

Toby Threadgill
02-09-2011, 09:33 AM
Hi

I'm very happy to see Mr Reyer's comments about Burei-uchi and the kirisute-gomen. I once asked Takamura sensei about this phenomena. He ridiculed the idea as typical western nonsense befitting James Clavel's novel "Shogun". He reiterated that samurai faced intense scrutiny for even drawing their swords in public, much less killing some poor peasant for a cultural sleight. He told me that the stories of westerners killed by samurai prior to the Taisai Hokon were factual but to remember that this was an era of intense political conflict related to western influence in Japan's political structure. Drawing a sword and using it in public was rash behavior and never common practice by a samurai in the service of a lord.

On Tameshigiri...Meik Skoss and Takamura sensei would be in lock step agreement on this. Tameshigiri is the ceremonial use of a sword in a manner simulating killing. It is not a game. In TSYR, tameshigiri is seen as no more than an infrequently used technical check. The way it is employed is no different than our regular performance of kata. There are no flashy attempts at multiple cuts and no grandiose posing. We simply execute a portion of our kata with a target in cutting range to make sure our cutting dynamics are being properly maintained. There is nothing more to it. So, in our koryu, tameshigiri is part of our training but it bears little similarity with what is commonly associated with the practice today.

Takamura sensei and I once walked out of budo embu in San Franciso where a supposed exponent of ninjutsu began a public demonstration of tameshigiri. That this "ninja" was utterly unaware of the reigi demanded in such a situation irritated Takamura sensei to the point exasperation. Had Takamura sensei witnessed the following demonstration of tameshigiri, someone would have experienced a severe ass chewing. It is unfathomable!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPPZPglKhw0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNtDZ0sStEU

Toby Threadgill / TSYR

Cliff Judge
02-09-2011, 10:33 AM
The Judicial Chopping of Heads
I don't think there is any disagreement that executions were often performed by designated swordsmen. It seems a logical, expedient way to take care of it, given that a whole caste of folks is walking around with the tool for the job on their hips.

Now in Japan, like other societies, the job of headsman is not respectable, and carries a considerable stigma. The passage in Memories of Silk and Straw about the executioner depicts the fear people feel for this kind of man. In cases where headsmen were drawn from the general population of warriors, they were probably guys who were really good in the dojo but didn't like people much.

In cases where the job was passed from father to son, maybe there was some form of systematic education on how to cut a bound man's head off. There's a chance that the sons of the town carnifex didn't have access to the best dojos, so the maybe a family art would be developed of neccessity. I don't think you'd see it performed at the Meiji Shrine in the fall, but who knows, perhaps somewhere in Japan there is some family that still loyally passes along a family art that everybody involved deeply loathes.

Testing Swords on Peasants
I think we've covered this - was it done? Probably. Was it done often? Definitely not.

Testing Swords on Corpses
This is also something i swear I have read that was more myth than fact, but I have been unable to find any sources, and Keith has produced some sources that it was done. But Keith's mention of this was that is was done by smiths / polishers. So first of all, that would be outside of the realm of budo.

I suppose there is a chance it would be part of systematic instruction of swordmaking, but I find it hard to believe this was a common practice. My reasoning for this is based on my understanding of the Japanese concept of cleanliness vs impurity, with blood, viscera, and dead bodies being about as impure materials as you can find in the world. if you felt that physical impurities like this brought with them a very serious spiritual impurity, would you pay money for a sword that had been tested on a dead body? I'm not reasoning from historical sources here but it seems questionable.

Other Swordsmith Test Cutting / Testing the Sword
I think if we knew anything about this it would have come up in the thread already. I'm talking about whether or not there was a taught art to test cutting as part of the swordmaking process...i.e. not by a prospective bushi buyer, but by the smith, polisher, or one of their men.

I had a conversation with Mr. Covington's teacher about the period extending from pre-Edo to the first generation or so of the Edo period, when combat skills were still relatively good, that "Samurai didn't test cut themselves - they had people to do it for them."

Other Testing of the Swordsman
Well the first thing about test cutting is that it really is cool to watch when it is done well. I'm sure that's why it is so commonly circusified. And I understand that, if you practice a martial art that uses a sword, it can be a useful tool for telling you a strict set of things about your cuts.

But in another conversation I had with Mr. Covington's teacher, it was explained to me that the ability to cut cleanly through a cylindrical mass is not particularly valuable in actual combat with a skilled opponent. The point he made was that quite simply, it requires you to enter a certain distance from your opponent, and in so doing you have offered him a large number of vital targets.

Test Cutting Straw Mats / Koreans / Chinese as a means to inspire fanaticism in your troops and terror in your enemies
This part honestly, truly makes sense to me as the place where systematic study of test cutting intersects with budo.

Once the bushi class was abolished, the Samurai became a symbol that gradually shifted towards something that, in my opinion at least, was more and more perverse leading up to WWII. The Japanese people found their world changing at steam locomotive speed, the zeitgeist was marked by doubt that it was for the best, and the industrialists and planners used the icon of the proud warrior of the past to engender a nationalistic spirit to justify pushing away the influence of foreign powers and conquest of neighboring Asian nations. As militarism increased, the concept of a samurai's unquestioning loyalty and willingness for self-sacrifice was used to inspire zeal and justify depredation of the population.

Budo, really became a tool for the predatory enforcement of group-think in early 20th century Japan. One of my mother-in-law's stories of growing up in Japan during WWII was that the girls would all grab a bamboo naginata from the shed and file outside and do group kata where they practiced cutting open the bellies...of B-29s passing overhead. Obviously this was not training that was particularly useful in a combative context.

I personally have a tough time in my own head, separating the systematic cutting arts from this phase of Japanese history, which I consider to be the most dark. I don't mean any disrespect to people who practice any of the gendai JSAs - particularly Toyama Ryu which was straight-up developed by the Imperial Japanese Army - but how do you reconcile these issues? Again, I don't mean to offend, I am sincerely curious.

I am not saying the Samurai themselves were nice people, or that there weren't plenty of atrocities committed in Korea and China before WWII or even before Meiji, by actual Samurai. And i am well aware of Ueshiba's ties to WWII war criminals. I just feel like there is a (personal, for me) moral line there, and gendai sword arts designed to teach officers how to cut tameshigiri in front of their troops are on the opposite side of the line from where I want to be.

This is something that I never get around to talking candidly about with people who do lots of systematic test-cutting but I guess I have a real need to hear more of their perspective on it, so I've been meaning to bring it up somewhere on the internet for awhile now.

Cliff Judge
02-09-2011, 10:42 AM
In TSYR, tameshigiri is seen as no more than an infrequently used technical check. The way it is employed is no different than our regular performance of kata. There are no flashy attempts at multiple cuts and no grandiose posing. We simply execute a portion of our kata with a target in cutting range to make sure our cutting dynamics are being properly maintained. There is nothing more to it. So, in our koryu, tameshigiri is part of our training but it bears little similarity with what is commonly associated with the practice today.


Mr. Threadgill,

Thank you for the very informative and on-topic comment.

Can you comment on whether or not this type of tameshigiri training was commonplace among koryu, or even just in Shindo Yoshin Ryu, before the Meiji Restoration?

I'm still wondering if this type of practice took place within the official training context during the koryu period or if it was an informal extracurricular practice that was later brought in after the abolition of the samurai class.

Thank you very much,
Cliff

Keith Larman
02-09-2011, 11:20 AM
Clarification.

I don't recall saying it was smiths or polishers who did the test cutting of corpses. My understanding was that there were professional test cutters who did that service. A samurai *or* a smith would take a blade to this person to have it tested.

If I get some time tonight after I finish killing myself redoing a naginata foundation today I'll scan a few "technical" drawings. They show the cut locations for corpses which included labels and a ranking of cut difficulty. There are also drawings of the various stands/etc. used to "pose" the corpses for the cuts.

Certainly it was gross, disgusting stuff.

Keith Larman
02-09-2011, 11:22 AM
Oops, to further clarify so I don't end up reading somewhere else that I said smiths don't test cut with their blades... Smiths most certainly test their blades. All the time. Whacking them on the mune on anvils, going edge against an iron plate to test the steel/heat treat/edge geometry, etc.

Cliff Judge
02-09-2011, 11:34 AM
I don't recall saying it was smiths or polishers who did the test cutting of corpses. My understanding was that there were professional test cutters who did that service. A samurai *or* a smith would take a blade to this person to have it tested.

I apologize for misrepresenting you, you were indeed speaking specifically of professional sword testers.

The book quotes any number of documents from the actual time period describing different "schools" of sword testers (Nakagawa school, chokushi school, Yamada, etc), different methods, different ways of preparing the bare blade, even describing what order to do the test in to "maximize" the number of tests you could get per corpse. One fella even wrote a full book on the methods used.

...and you even named particular schools of sword testing! Thanks very much, that answers a lot of questions I had.

Toby Threadgill
02-09-2011, 12:01 PM
Mr. Threadgill,

Thank you for the very informative and on-topic comment.

Can you comment on whether or not this type of tameshigiri training was commonplace among koryu, or even just in Shindo Yoshin Ryu, before the Meiji Restoration?

I'm still wondering if this type of practice took place within the official training context during the koryu period or if it was an informal extracurricular practice that was later brought in after the abolition of the samurai class.

Thank you very much,
Cliff

Mr Judge,

I'm led to assume it was practiced in TSYR and Yoshin ryu Iaitachijutsu much that same as we practice it today, as a simple technical check. In TSYR, the specifics of tameshigiri reigi and practice is kuden, consequently it not listed on any of our densho. Interestingly however, Shinto prayers used in conjunction with our tameshigiri reigi are listed on one of our densho. One prayer in particular is directly associated with a sword purification ritual performed before and after tameshigiri.

I have a large collection of densho that belonged to my teacher. Over the years I have added to it. In the process of searching out densho associated with the various lines of Yoshin ryu I have seen an old Akiyama Yoshin ryu Iaitachijutsu densho that illustrated how to make straw cutting targets and construct a proper cutting stand. If memory serves me right this densho dated from the Genbun era so this indicates some schools were practicing tameshigiri in some form or fashion as far back as the mid 1700's.

It is my impression from discussions with my teacher that tameshigiri was first conceived during the Edo period several decades after the Warring States period had ended. Its use was utterly utilitarian. Following the Meiji Restoration public budo demonstration's like the Kankyo Gekkenkai became quite popular. It's seems logical that with such theatrical influences afoot, flashy examples of swordsmanship, including overly dramatic tameshigiri displays would be inevitable.

Toby Threadgill / TSYR

DH
02-09-2011, 01:07 PM
The Judicial Chopping of Heads
I personally have a tough time in my own head, separating the systematic cutting arts from this phase of Japanese history, which I consider to be the most dark. I don't mean any disrespect to people who practice any of the gendai JSAs - particularly Toyama Ryu which was straight-up developed by the Imperial Japanese Army - but how do you reconcile these issues? Again, I don't mean to offend, I am sincerely curious.

What some swordsman in the Japanese Army did in WW2 would have more than likely gravely concerned the actual Samurai who came before them.
I probably would not be overly concerned with offering offense to their efforts.

This is something that I never get around to talking candidly about with people who do lots of systematic test-cutting but I guess I have a real need to hear more of their perspective on it, so I've been meaning to bring it up somewhere on the internet for awhile now
Well. I am one of the ones Keith refers to who tests his blades, mune to mune, edge to edge, edge to mune..destroying them and others swords, bending in vices, cutting brass rod and cable, and cutting trees.
My concerns and interests lie in what constitutes in-service use of a sword as a tool. Realize the same holds true when forging other tools, machetes, bowies, kukris, hunting knives and so one; different tools, different demands. However this is not to be misconstrued with other discussions or practices of test cutting by gendai arts, Iai arts or held within a koryu. A smith he has once set of of concerns; the swordsmans concerns have to encompass those of the smith and much more. So, it is a different topic all together.

That said my interest in cutting with a Japanese sword, are based on two fronts, one as a smith, one as a Japanese art practitioner.
Cheers
Dan

Josh Reyer
02-09-2011, 04:05 PM
I added the emphasis. I admit I didn't word it well but adding the last qualifier of "just to test his new sword" was most certainly *not* in what I wrote (or meant).

That was the gist that I got from your post #11.

Of course violence occurred, even in the peace of the Edo period. But it was samurai-on-samurai, samurai-on-peasant, peasant-on-samurai, and peasant-on-peasant. The only thing I'm objecting to is the idea that the kirisute-gomen meant that commoner's lives were not valued, and thus samurai went around cutting them down if the mood struck. From the point of view of the government, all violence was undesirable, including burei-uchi, even though it felt maintaining the right was an important part of keeping orderly rule.

Keith Larman
02-09-2011, 07:00 PM
That was the gist that I got from your post #11.



Ah, I get it now rereading what I wrote in #11. Yeah, that wasn't really what I meant. I was trying to separate the notion of test cutting as done by specialists with the (likely apocryphal) "accounts" of random peasants being cut down on a whim as another form of test cutting. I've heard people toss both out as simply stories when there's ample documentation of the former.

But I'll stop now, I've muddied things enough.