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Tameshigiri safety and etiquette

Tameshigiri safety and etiquette

photo by Alpha Geek

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Rules for conducting a safe test cutting exercise vary widely between different schools and styles. Some provide extensive lists of rules and regulations which both participants and observers must follow, much as would be practiced on a gun firing range. Other schools take a more traditional approach, following highly ritualized traditions to ensure safety, with the cutting site being under the direct control of the senior instructor.


As the following video shows, even the most expert of tameshigiri practitioners can have accidents. As with any dangerous activity, such incidents can be limited by extensive training and following safe etiquette and sword handling.



With this in mind, I’m going to have a look at the common safety rules suggested or followed by various sources and martial art styles.


Books and Event Rules

There several books on tameshigiri which provide safety rules, from simple guidelines to detailed regulations.  Most of these books are available through major book sellers or e-book publishers;  these include  (listed alphabetically by title):

  • A Practical Guide to Test Cutting for Historical Swordsmanship, by Scott Rodell;
  • Cutting Targets With The Japanese Sword: Practical Tameshigiri and Battodo, by Richard Babin and Bob Elder;
  • Samurai Swordsmanship: The Batto, Kenjutsu, and Tameshigiri of Eishin-Ryu by Carl Long and  Shimabukuro, Masayuki;
  • Shikendo Tameshigiri, by Toshishiro Obata

In reviewing these books, as well as looking at the rules for several public taikai (competition) events, as posted by various styles, I’ve found there are some common practices.  Generally speaking, these can be broken down into two, and sometimes three categories: sword safety, participant etiquette, and —  in some cases — observer etiquette, as observers can also asked to abide by certain rules.

All this said, here are some of the most common points listed or suggested by these sources:


Sword Safety

  • Swords must be made for cutting by a recognized smith or foundry;  no home-made blades allowed
  • Swords must have a full-length tang (nakago), and be double-pegged (mekugi)
  • Swords must be inspected by a qualified instructor / judge before each event for the tightness of the pegs (mekugi), and for any signs of cracks, chips, rust, or signs of wear


Participant Etiquette

  • Cutting participants must either not wear their blades unless they are up for cutting, or — where the wearing of  blades is allowed — students must not draw their blades without permission from an instructor / judge
  • Participants may only approach a cutting area when they are given permission by the cutting instructor / judge
  • Participants may only begin cutting when given permission by the instructor / judge
  • Upon a verbal command (varies: Yame, Stop, Halt), the cutter must freeze in place – this command usually indicates the instructor / judge has seen a danger which the student is not aware of.  If needed, the instructor / judge will tell the student to sheath their blade (noto).
  • If the instructor / judge approaches, the participant must drop their arm and blade flat down beside their leg, with the edge (ha) of the blade pointed back, to ensure the safety of all participants
  • In many styles, a cutting student is instructed not to straighten a target or remove obstacles themselves, but should request assistance from the instructor / judge or an assigned assistant, taking above mentioned safety position while waiting for the instructor / judge to give the order to resume.


Event / Public Etiquette

Normally, the public is assigned a place to safely watch the event.  For safety of the observers, according to various authors, there are two areas considered most in danger should a student lose their grip on their blade:  these are directly in front and behind the cutting student (as is seen in the video above).   The areas in most danger of receiving flying bits of target are to the left and right of the cutting student.  Thus most of the sources reviewed suggest there be considerable distance provided in all directions around a cutting participant, keeping in mind that small bits of target can be hurled quite a distance by an improperly performed cut.

In public demonstrations or events, observers are often asked not to do anything which might distract a cutting participant, including avoiding shouting or taking flash photographs.

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