Tameshigiri, History, and Present
If you are unfamiliar with the art of Tameshigiri, it mainly focuses on cutting tests against different objects with a Japanese Katana sword. The Tameshigiri has been in practice in Japan for a long time and is still widely practiced in the country and worldwide. If you are curious about the history and present state of Tameshigiri, I will share it in this article.
The Tameshigiri is a Japanese art form involving cutting tests with a katana sword against objects like tatami to perform the cleanest and most elegant cuts possible. Initially, samurais employed this centuries-old practice to sharpen their katana swords. However, with the time and growth of Japanese martial arts, it has become significant enough to create its own culture.
Tameshigiri has a long and rich history, and it’s impossible to cover everything about it in a few sentences. However, in the rest of the article, I will try to cover as much as possible about this centuries-old art form still being practiced today. So in the rest of this article, you can find all about its darkest history to the elegant and sophisticated practice it has grown into today.
A Brief Introduction to Tameshigiri
In Japanese, the translation of the Kanji for “Tameshigiri” means “Cutting Test.” However, Tameshigiri is not only a cutting test that determines the quality of a sword but also of one’s martial art. On the other hand, it is also a common practice among sword collectors whenever they obtain a new piece of a katana sword.
The Tameshigiri is the most accurate technique to determine how sharp, resistant, and balanced a sword is. Then again, it can also be called a sport. So you will commonly find numerous videos and pictures of iaido practitioners performing these cutting tests with tons of tatamis up for demonstration.
They are visually appealing demonstrations of what a samurai sword is capable of. Swordsmen perform a public performance of Tameshigiri to show off their sword skill. One has more excellent skills if they can perform precise and successive cuts if the tatami barely moves when the sword goes through it.
The History of the Tameshigiri
At present, people mainly recognize Tameshigiri as a sword-cutting technique that swordsmen perform on inanimate items. However, once upon a time, people were used in place of objects. It’s important to note that samurais performed this technique exclusively on corpses. They hardly ever performed it on a living body.
The best way for a samurai to determine whether a katana sword was good for taking down an enemy in a battle was to test it out on an actual body. Such practice was mainly common among criminals who were still exceptionally strict about it. If they found a “decent” enough body, they inspected it carefully to ensure it was free of any disease that may taint the katana’s purity.
The Tameshigiri was primarily a form of judicial punishment. It was a method of punishing and humiliating a criminal by utilizing his body as a cutting test item. It was common practice throughout the Shogunate to behead anyone that committed serious crimes. When the criminal’s body was ready, only exceptionally trained samurai could carry out the Tameshigiri.
As a result, the samurai’s skills as a variable were reliable enough, leaving only the sword’s quality as a variable. The blade would cut well if it were of good quality and wouldn’t if it was of bad quality. The samurai could use different cuts to determine the sword’s quality.
To test out the swords renowned blacksmiths crafted, they would stack bodies on each other to test how many the blade could cut through. After finishing the test, the standard practice was to write down the results on its tang. They inscribed the swordsman’s name, body’s position, and how many bodies the sword slashed through in one blow, all on the tang.
Thus, there are infamous records of a sword’s ability to cut down seven torsos in a single blow. Such practices may sound disturbing and terrifying. But they are also interesting nonetheless to find out the capabilities of a good blade in the right hands.
Fortunately, authorities outlawed performing Tameshigiri on human bodies at the start of the Meiji period. All that remains of the dreadful history are documents.
Tameshigiri in the Present
As you already know, swordsmen would use Tameshigiri in the past to test their blades and determine their efficiency. But times have changed, and Tameshigiri does not remain the brutal practice it was before. People now practice modern Tameshigiri as a way to test out their swordsman abilities. In other words, it follows an entirely different approach compared to before.
Practitioners also employ inexpensive swords in Tameshigiri now. Sometimes, you may find many people using the terms “Shizan” and “Shito” that refer to sword testing and test cutting. These terms are the alternate pronunciations for the characters of Tameshigiri. These terms refer to the differences between the traditional and present practice of Tameshigiri or “Test Cutting.”
Tameshigiri practitioners nowadays use the Tatami Omote or Gyoja as their target. Modern Tameshigiri employs Tatami Omote to cut a single target multiple times or cut down multiple targets when moving. Only a highly-skilled swordsman can perform this act.
The difficulty of Tameshigiri as a practice will depend on how hard the target’s material is and their grain pattern’s direction. Other than these, the difficulty will also depend on the sword you use. The blade’s quality, Hasuji or contact angle, and Tachisuji or swing angle can significantly impact your cutting.
The art form of Tameshigiri has been common practice in Japan for hundreds of years. For those interested in the fascinating world of the Katana sword, the history and present of Tameshigiri can also be an equally intriguing topic.
Thus, I have covered it in extensive detail in the article. I hope it can help you quench your curiosity about the practice. Thanks for reading till now.