Tameshigiri: the test of the cup in Japan

tameshigiri banniere

The term tameshigiri literally means a “cutting test“. It allows to evaluate many aspects of a sword such as:

  • the resistance of the blade
  • its sharpness
  • its handling & maneuverability

For this test, we will use a variety of targets that can range from simple bamboo to a warrior’s helmet.

The tameshigiri has a bloody history involving the development of an art made to prepare for battle…

The origins of the tameshigiri: a morbid tale

The tameshigiri was intended to know the effectiveness of a blade on the battlefield. It was greatly popularized during the Edo period. Samurai regularly fought against other rival clans over political and territorial issues.

And what better than a human body to know what his katana is capable of? Thus, the samurai used the bodies of executed criminals for their cutting exercises. However, not all the bodies were intended to be used for the tameshigiri test.

The samurai believe that their katana has a soul that they must preserve. Thus, the bodies of low-caste people, priests or sick people were not cut. The samurai carefully examined the bodies to make sure that no disease had infected the criminals.

The tameshigiri was reserved for an elite samurai

The art of tameshigiri requires a certain technique on the part of the swordsman who performs it. The main purpose of this activity is to test the Japanese sword and not its carrier. In order to minimize the variation in results, only the most skilled samurai were allowed to try a sword.

After testing a katana, we examine the sharpness of the cuts, the depth of the slashes, and the condition of the sword.

The more easily the sword slices through its target without damage, the better the quality of the blade. ⚔️

The katana with very thin blades were tried on a pile of bodies whose number could vary. According to some legends, a samurai managed to cut cleanly 7 bodies hanging together.

The transitional period of the tameshigiri

With the evolution of morals, the traditional tameshigiri with executed body cut has quickly become a vague memory. It is during theMeiji era that Japan was greatly modernized, as well as the practice of tameshigiri.

Japan eventually banned cutting on bodies which were replaced by rice straw which is called “wara”. To create a prime target, the wara is soaked and bound into a consistent pile. To give it a certain hardness and hold, it is wrapped around a bamboo core.

These elements were not taken at random. Some samurai tested their katana on both:

  • rice straw targets
  • on human bodies

The targets proved to be almost identical in terms of consistency.

But the choice of this material has a significant disadvantage: it is difficult to obtain.

The ideal placement of the target

In general, targets are placed vertically. But they can also be placed horizontally to make specific cuts.

The quality of the cut depends on many factors that can influence the results of the samurai:

  • The density of the target
  • Grain direction for rice straw
  • The quality of the blade
  • The angle of attack

Each angle of attack has a given difficulty for a samurai. From the easiest to the most difficult, this gives :

  • Diagonal downwards
  • Diagonal upwards
  • Vertical
  • Horizontal.

For more spectacular demonstrations, you can choose moving targets. It will not be unusual to see tameshigiri sessions using apples. Samurai then wish to demonstrate their sense of proprioception rather than their ability to slice deeply into dense targets.

Tameshigiri demonstration

The tameshigiri with tatami omote

Since wara is hard to find in Japan, well-known samurai Toshishiro Obata has found a brand new target for successful tameshigiri sessions: omote tatami.

The principle is simple, we wrap a tatami mat around a bamboo core for the tameshigiri cut. The latter is supposed to have a very similar consistency compared to a human arm or neck. The omote tameshigiri is now widely used by practitioners .

For the realization of the target, we roll up the tatami while taking care to leave a light space between the layers. It is left to soak a little less than 24 hours. Then, we let it dry for about 30 minutes and our target is ready for a tameshigiri session!

Tatami omote

The tameshigiri: an essential element of katana practice

Tameshigiri is still practiced a lot in dojos all over the world. It measures many elements such as speed, blade angle and the power of the swordsman.

But Obata Soke believes that this practice goes much further than that. It brings an extra dimension to the practice. Without it, it would not be possible to fully understand the handling of the katana without tameshigiri!

The tameshigiri addresses a physical and mental aspect to be mastered by any practitioner. The art of swordsmanship is learned through practice on a physical target which requires the development of mental strength which translates into determination and a hardened mind.

The tameshigiri avoids making the practice soft by training on empty space. It takes into account the quality of manufacture of the katana. The forging and polishing of the blade will greatly determine the cutting quality of the katana.

Feel free to browse our katana store to find the sword you need.

FAQ

What is the tameshigiri?

Tameshigiri is an art that allows to evaluate the quality of a blade. We test the cutting quality of the sword on bamboo, rice straw or omote tatami targets. Swordsmen follow a very ritualized process for this practice.

What is a good katana for tameshigiri?

All katana can be used for tameshigiri. For good results, we advise you to select a quality katana like those present on our store. These must be strong, sharp and have a good grip.