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Old 02-07-2011, 12:52 PM   #1
DH
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Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

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

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

Last edited by DH : 02-07-2011 at 12:59 PM.
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Old 02-07-2011, 01:32 PM   #2
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

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...ous-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,

Chris Covington
Daito-ryu aikijujutsu
Kashima Shinden Jikishinkage-ryu kenjutsu
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Old 02-07-2011, 04:47 PM   #3
statisticool
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

Great idea for a thread.

I submit these for discussion:

http://vimeo.com/4641270

http://video.google.com/videoplay?do...7004918&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

A secret of internal strength?:
"Let your weight from the crotch area BE in his hands."
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Old 02-07-2011, 06:08 PM   #4
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

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
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Old 02-07-2011, 06:30 PM   #5
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

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?
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Old 02-07-2011, 07:38 PM   #6
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

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.

Last edited by DH : 02-07-2011 at 07:47 PM.
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Old 02-07-2011, 08:47 PM   #7
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

Quote:
Chris Covington wrote: View Post
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...ous-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
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Old 02-07-2011, 10:06 PM   #8
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

Quote:
Cliff Judge wrote: View Post
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.

Kentokuseisei
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Old 02-08-2011, 10:41 AM   #9
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

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
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Old 02-08-2011, 11:13 AM   #10
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

Quote:
Cliff Judge wrote: View Post
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.

Quote:
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.

Quote:
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.

Quote:
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 .

Last edited by DH : 02-08-2011 at 11:27 AM.
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Old 02-08-2011, 11:18 AM   #11
Keith Larman
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

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.

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Old 02-08-2011, 03:30 PM   #12
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

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
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Old 02-08-2011, 03:31 PM   #13
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

Quote:
Kent Enfield wrote: View Post
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.
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Old 02-08-2011, 03:33 PM   #14
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

Quote:
Keith Larman wrote: View Post
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?
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Old 02-08-2011, 03:54 PM   #15
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

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Cliff Judge wrote: View Post
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.

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Old 02-08-2011, 04:05 PM   #16
Keith Larman
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

A quick quote since you made me look...

Quote:
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.

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Old 02-08-2011, 04:09 PM   #17
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

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.

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Old 02-08-2011, 04:16 PM   #18
Fred Little
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

Quote:
Cliff Judge wrote: View Post
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 whose testimony has been accepted by first-tier contemporary historians.

Best,

Fred Little

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Old 02-08-2011, 04:22 PM   #19
Keith Larman
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

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.

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Old 02-08-2011, 04:39 PM   #20
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

Quote:
Keith Larman wrote: View Post
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.

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.
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Old 02-08-2011, 04:54 PM   #21
Keith Larman
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

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...

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Old 02-08-2011, 05:02 PM   #22
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

Quote:
Keith Larman wrote: View Post
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. 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

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Old 02-08-2011, 05:06 PM   #23
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

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.

Quote:
Cliff Judge wrote: View Post
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.

Quote:
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.

Quote:
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

Last edited by DH : 02-08-2011 at 05:21 PM.
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Old 02-08-2011, 06:16 PM   #24
Keith Larman
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

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.

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Old 02-09-2011, 01:26 AM   #25
Josh Reyer
 
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Re: Professional discussion of Test cutting in Koryu

Burei-uchi and the kirisute-gomen must be one of the most misunderstood aspects of samurai culture.

Quote:
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 on "kirisute-gomen".

Abstracts to some interesting papers.

Josh Reyer

The lyf so short, the crafte so longe to lerne,
Th'assay so harde, so sharpe the conquerynge...
- Chaucer
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