Tameshigiri (試し斬り, 試し切り, 試斬, 試切) is the Japanese art of target test cutting. The kanji literally mean "test cut" (kun'yomi: ためし ぎり tameshi giri). This practice was popularized in the Edo period (17th century) for testing the quality of Japanese swordsand continues through the present day.
During the Edo period, only the most skilled swordsmen were chosen to test swords, so that the swordsman's skill was not a variable in how well the sword cut. The materials used to test swords varied greatly. Some substances were wara (rice straw), goza (the top layer of tatami mats), bamboo, and thin steel sheets.
In addition, there were a wide variety of cuts used on cadavers and occasionally convicted criminals, from tabi-gata (ankle cut) toO-kesa (diagonal cut from shoulder to opposite hip). The names of the types of cuts on cadavers show exactly where on the body the cut was made.
In modern times, the practice of tameshigiri has come to focus on testing the swordsman's abilities, rather than the sword's. Thus, swordsmen sometimes use the terms Shito (試刀, sword testing) and Shizan (試斬, test cutting, an alternate pronunciation of the characters for tameshigiri) to distinguish between the historical practice of testing swords and the contemporary practice of testing one's cutting ability. The target most often used at present is the goza or tatami "omote" rush mat. To be able to cut consecutive times on one target, or to cut multiple targets while moving, requires that one be a very skilled swordsman.
Targets today are typically made from wara or goza, either bundled or rolled into a tubular 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.
Once the goza target is in this tubular shape, it has a vertical grain pattern when stood vertically on a target stand, or horizontally when placed on a horizontal target stand (dotton or dodan). This direction of the grain affects the difficulty of the cut.
The difficulty of cuts is a combination of the target material hardness, the direction of the grain of the target (if any), the quality of the sword, the angle of the blade (hasuji) on impact, and the angle of the swing of the sword (tachisuji).
When cutting a straw target that is standing vertically, the easiest cut is the downward diagonal. This is due to a combination of the angle of impact of the cut against the grain (approximately 30-50 degrees from the surface), the downward diagonal angle of the swing, and the ability to use many of the major muscle groups and rotation of the body to aid in the cut.
Next in difficulty is the upward diagonal cut which has the same angle, but works against gravity and uses slightly different muscles and rotation. The third in difficulty is the straight downward cut, not in terms of the grain but in terms of the group of muscles involved. The most difficult cut of these four basic cuts is the horizontal direction (against a vertical target) which is directly perpendicular to the grain of the target.
Instructions for using the Mats:
1. Roll mats as tightly as possible and tie off.
2. Soak the mats in water for twenty four hours.
3. After the mat has been rolled, tied and soaked it should be about the width of a mans thigh.
4. Mount on a cutting stand.
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