"Yamamoto Kichizaemon was ordered by his father Jin'emon to cut down a dog at the age of five, and at the age of fifteen he was made to execute a criminal. Everyone, by the time they were fourteen or fifteen, was ordered to do a beheading without fail. When Lord Katsushige was young, he was ordered by Lord Naoshige to practice killing with a sword. It is said that at that time he was made to cut down more than ten men successively.
A long time ago this practice was followed, especially in the upper classes, but today even the children of the lower classes perform no executions, and this is extreme negligence. To say that one can do without this sort of thing, or that there is no merit in killing a condemned man, or that it is a crime, or that it is defiling, is to make excuses. In short, can it not be thought that because a person's martial valor is weak, his attitude is only that of trimming his nails and being attractive?
If one investigates into the spirit of a man who finds these things disagreeable, one sees that this person gives himself over to cleverness and excuse making not to kill because he feels unnerved. But Naoshige made it his orders exactly because this is something that must be done.
Last year I went to the Kase Execution Grounds to try my hand at beheading, and I found it to be an extremely good feeling. To think that it is unnerving is a symptom of cowardice."
— Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunetomo 「山本 常朝」
Needless to say Yamamoto was a way to drastic even for his age. However, it is quite interesting observation that starting from the beginning of the XVIII century Japanese society mainly were against cutting human beings as tameshigiri puppets. It is possible though Tsunetomo was correct with his words concerning bushi of the XVIII century who became "men whose spirit had weakened and that they had become the same as women
Considering lack of professional warriors skilled in execution of felons, no wonder that those who succeeded in this craft had made it to the top and secured work for hire to future generations.
Since execution by the sword had become a particular specialty it turned possible for several families to be honored with a title of hereditary executioner shikei-shikkounin
[死刑執行人; 死 刑 —
an execution, 執行 —
to perform, 人 —
a man] by a daimyo or a shogun. Yamada Asaemon [山田 浅右衛門] was one of such hereditary executions, portrayed as Ogami Itto [拝 一刀] in a famous TV drama Kozure Okami [子連れ狼 —
lone wolf], alias Asaemon Decapitator. Secrets of the craft had been inscribed and preserved within illustrated scripts and books to teach future apprentices same way every traditional Japanese art does. Reading these illustrated scripts one can clearly understand that not only alive prisoners but dead bodies were used for test cutting.
Many traditionally-oriented people disapprove practice of tameshigiri noways due to number of pointless manslaughter performed by Japanese military forces by the means of katana swords during 1935-1945. Most recent books on this subject as "The Rape of Nankin" (1997) and other Japanese brutality during World War II are rich with detailed illustrations of mass decapitating. Interviewed Japanese war criminals tells us stories about their experience with tameshigiri practice on Chinese captives provided newly-flagged officers could learn how to use swords. Nakamura sensei had always told that "katsujinken (a forgiving sword) was put aside and a satsujinken (a killing sword) was taken up during the wars of Meiji, Taisho and Showa"
.PURPOSE OF TAMESHIGIRI:
Tameshigiri practice serves the propose of:
- to test cutting capacity of a sword;
- to experience cutting targets with density of material which equals to approximate that of bone and flesh;
- to improve one's timing [律動 — ritsudo], distance [斬間 — kirima], cut angle [刃筋 — hasuji] and grip [手の内 — tenouchi].
Every kenshi must practice tameshigiri. However, it is reckless and pointless to practice tameshigiri whilst one lacks sufficient knowledge or experience and disregards the principle of toho
the principle of the sword], moreover it will not improve one's technique. Kenshi have to learn essential techniques (e.g. koryu kenjutsu, battojutsu or iai), understand safe positioning, know the sword and cutting materials, feel mental mood of people around him and follow the etiquette of Japanese sword and martial art in order to practice tameshigiri right manner.
Safe tameshigiri means kenshi restrains from injuring either himself or people around him, spoiling his equipment or equipment of the others. The most disgraceful act for a swordsman is to be injured by own sword. Reasons around injuries from drawing of sheathing the sword are simply lei behind kenshi follows unessential techniques, lacks of practical experience, duly instructions or concentration. Therefore, kenshi should only commence tameshigiri practice after mastering one of the budo above and achieving a dan grade respectively. At this time kenshi is skilled enough with the sword and ready to improve his technique by the means of tameshigiri.Tameshigiri is the way of the sword for modern warriors. The way of the warrior.
Katana serves the purpose of slicing none other. The curve of a blade is balanced and well-calculated to perform a cut if swing is made properly. Persistent waza training makes a cutting slice more accurate, whereas tachiuchi no kurai [太刀打の位] develops foot work and positioning, balance and distance. You should always pay attention to tenouchi (grip), hasuji o tosu (strait blade line) and enshinryoku (centripetal force). Notwithstanding to the contrary, the key component of balance and distance is a vigorous hip motion in the end and a cut made with the part of a blade called monouchi.
Monouchi is section of a blade 20-25cm long starting 10-15cm from kissaki. This section combines utmost durability and a right cutting curve to the best advantage. The cutting edge should be slightly higher against the centre of a blade in order to perform a cut naturally by especially designed curve. In case a cut is performed to the utmost near the blade point you may face spoiling the kissaki or performing a shallow cut.
An accurate technique is the key in contrast to brute force while preforming a proper cut. If you master proper kihon [基本 — basics] when the time is right you will be able to perform a cut without any trouble. Curiously enough, tameshigiri comes easily to women and children in comparison with most men because they just "let a sword go" and do its business itself instead of applying much effort into a swing. You should remember that the sword cuts not you.
A makiwara [巻藁 — wara - rice straw, makiwara - firmly tied and soaked straw mats], bamboo and bamboo wrapped with makiwara are utilised as tameshigiri targets. Prior to 1970-s a makiwara corresponded to a rice straw sheaf of different thickness and density. These days we use a top cover of straw tatami (called tatami-omote and similar to beach mats) because these mats are of flat density and easy to buy. In order to prepare a tatami for tameshigiri practice you should place it in water and leave it to soak over night. As the result a tatami will become a substance equal to human flesh.
Once Nakamura Taizaburo [中村泰三郎] sensei entered his dojo with excitement and lectured his apprentices on tameshigiri, responsibility and common sense. The reason for burst of indignation was an article in a local newspaper — a doctor who had never attended any swordsmanship bought a sword and went to the nearest bamboo groove where he managed to cut as many boles as he could. The first thing sensei pointed out that anyone can cut through bamboo with a sword, but this plain cutting does not end in itself. Tameshigiri should be practiced only as an instrument of developing one's fencing skills. Sensei also commented that the doctor displayed undue manners by cutting bamboo without permission and went beyond the principle of budo-seishin [武道 精神 — the spirit of the way of martial arts]. Doctor's actions went far beyond the common sense since he could injure himself in the event the blade would had chipped, cracked, bent or bounced. Tameshigiri must not be practiced without a qualified instructor.
Some people practicing Japanese swordsmanship are still highly suspicious towards tameshigiri. I wonder, do they have any idea that a kensei [剣聖 — sword saint] Nakayama Hakudo
[中山博道] had been practicing tameshigiri on usual basis? Nakayama sensei tested swords on swine carcasses for the Imperial Guard. There is a footage from 1930s of him performing tameshigiri in front of Showa emperor. Nakakura Kiyoshi
[中倉清], one of the most prominent Nakayama sensei's apprentices, had recalled:"I had seen numerous times how Nakayama sensei performed horizontal cut. Following iaido training he fixed two makiwara across and put one upright. Then he cut them by three motions — "pam... pam... pam...", like this.
Once he and I took part in enbu [budo demonstration] in Korea. Nakayama sensei was going to perform tameshigiri as I had anticipated. Afterwards we were checking on makiwara and someone noted that the bottom sheaf had been in one piece. Sensei replied: "It is advisable to cut to the very bottom, thus, I restrained my technique.". He truly was a meijin (a master) of tameshigiri.
At the time Nakayama sensei had been in his sixties he performed tameshigiri against two makiwara, on the left and on the right. He made a cut on the right and on the left with one simultaneous swing. This cut was particularly well performed. He ended with his sword above his head while sliced pieces were standing still without falling to the ground."
A book "Military Swords of Japan, 1868-1945" by Ron Gregory and Richard Fuller contains a photo of a katana tang [茎 —
nakago], which is engraved with a an entry [押形 —
oshigata] regarding a test cutting performed by Nakayama Hakudo of a sword made by Hisasuke Mori: "Superior quality of cutting capacity. Tested by Nakayama Hakudo on this fortunate day of November 1942
Tameshigiri is a budo which focuses on testing the sword's cutting abilities. Practitioners of tameshigiri
sometimes use two terms Shito
sword testing] and Shizan
test cutting] to distinguish between the historical and the contemporary practice. Shizan focuses on testing one's cutting ability, whereas shito focuses on testing sword's quality, sharpness and balance. Both forms of tameshigiri practice differs by techniques and targets. Kenshi should always distinguish these two forms of tameshigiri in order to prepare proper targets and safe layout prior commencing either form of tameshigiri.SHITO-NO-TAMESHIGIRI — TESTING SWORD'S QUALITIES
Shito-no-tameshigiri contains of two basic elements – testing sharpness and durability of a sword. Both tests are potentially dangerous and should only be performed by a professional sword tester – shitoka. In the event shitoka engages a test cutting of solid materials the overall performance should be held at right and safe place and done with accuracy. Otherwise, there is always a chance a sword may chip, crack or swing in the direction of audience. Kiridzuka (a special handle) usually mounted onto nakago prior commencing any shito practice. In addition, there are a wide variety of cuts used on carcasses, from tabi-gata
(ankle cut) and ryu guruma
(hip cut) to o-kesa
(diagonal cut from shoulder to opposite hip). The names of the types of cuts on carcasses show exactly where on the cut would have been made on a cadaver. Older swords can still be found which have inscriptions on their nakago
that say such things as; "5 bodies with ryu guruma
". Such an inscription, known as a tameshi-mei
[試し銘] or saidan-mei
[裁断銘 — cutting signature] would add greatly to a sword's value, compensating the owner somewhat for the large sums of money typically charged for the test. Aside from specific cuts made on carcasses, there are the normal cuts of Japanese swordsmanship, e.g. downward kesa-giri
(upward diagonal), yoko
(horizontal), and jodan-giri
or dottan-giri (straight downward
).SHIZAN-NO-TAMESHIGIRI — TESTING SWORDSMAN SKILL
Shidzan-no-tameshigiri usually aimed on testing swordsman's skills and efficiency of cutting tatami-omote or bamboo as targets, either bundled or rolled into a cylindrical shape. They may be soaked in water to add density to the material. This density is to approximate that of flesh. Green bamboo is used to approximate bone. Needless to say it is a reckless act to cut solid materials such as wood, plastic or iron due to high risk of inflicting damage to the sword. Safety is the key priority during shidzan. Safe shidzan defines as one should not harm oneself, people around, environment and the sword. One should acknowledge and obey the principle of shidzan-no-kokoroe-jukaze [自然の心得 十か条 — ten essential rules] in order to adhere to safe shidzan practice. Consequently, any kenshi practicing any art of Japanese swordsmanship should follow all ten rules of toho-ju-no-ri [刀法十の 理 — ten basics of swordsmanship] to be able to perform tameshigiri .
- Grip [手の内 — tenouchi];
- Posture and balance [姿勢 — shisei]; proper width and weight distribution;
- Timing coordination [律動 — ritsudo], swing coordination [素振り— suburi] and footwork [歩み — ayumi];
- Swing arc [振り刀線 — furitosen];
- Cut angle [刃筋 — hasuji];
- Swing angle [角道 — kakudo];
- Distance [斬り間 — kirima];
- Balance and weight shift [重心移動 — jushinido];
- Proper swing stop after the cut [止め — tome];
- Continues, smooth swing: rotation [捲くり— makuri], return swing [返し— kaeshi], alteration of one swing arc to another [流し — nagashi].
During tameshigiri practice makiwara can be mounted in different configurations
- Kesa-giri [袈裟斬り: 袈裟 — Buddhist cassock with one strap, 斬り— cut down) — a downward diagonal cut.
- Kihon-toho [基本刀法: 基本 — basics, 刀法 — sword principle) — a downward diagonal cut, following an upward diagonal cut, ending with a horizontal cut.
- Kasumi [霞 — haze] — a cascade of two diagonal cuts, where the second cut should be performed prior the cut off piece falls.
- Mizu-gaeshi [水返し: 水 — water, 返し — return] — a upward diagonal cut following a horizontal cut, where the second cut should be performed prior the cut off piece falls.
- Tsubame-gaeshi [燕返し: 燕 — swallow, 返し — return] — an one handed downward diagonal cut following a right to left cut, then an upward left to right diagonal cut, ending with a right to left horizontal cut, where the second cascade of cuts should be performed prior the cut off pieces fall. Next the second right to left horizontal cut (including body and shift and footwork). This technique can be mirrored.
- Yoko-narabi [横並び: 横— aside, 並び — one line] — a single cut of several tatami-omote. A downward diagonal cut, following an upward diagonal cut, ending with a horizontal cut, or any other kihon-toho-yoko-narabi combination [基本刀法横並び].
- Dodan [道段: 道 — way, 段 — footstep] — a single cut of several tatami-omote in horizontal position.
- Konami [小波: 小 — small, 波 — wave] — a cascade of two downward diagonal cuts, where the second cut should be performed prior the cut off piece falls.
- Kenhashira [軒柱: 軒 — lean-to roof edge, 柱 — pole] — a left to right horizontal cut, immediately following a right to left upward diagonal cut, where the second cut should be performed prior the cut off piece falls.
- Senko [潜戸: 潜 — hidden, 戸 — door] — passing through the doorway, quickly turn around and perform a left to right upward diagonal cut, immediately followig a single right to left horizontal cut of two targets, where the second cut should be performed prior the cut off piece falls.