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Swords, Cutting and Military History

Thoughts on cutting patterns

Thoughts on cutting patterns

photo by Keith Putnam

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When a student first learns cutting in their particular art, they focus solely on making proper single cuts, using appropriate techniques.  As their technique and confidence improves,  they expand their skill to include more difficult single cuts, or — in some arts — cutting from the draw.

Eventually, whether under the tutelage of an instructor or through developing confidence on their own, students generally move towards learning combinations of multiple cuts in what is known as “cutting patterns”.  Many of the Eastern martial arts strictly define these patterns, based on their level of difficulty, and the amount of technique and control required to perform them properly. Proficiency in these patterns are required for advancement, and also provide a standard by which competitions can be judged.

We’ll look at some of the more frequently used sets of cutting patterns from various disciplines.   Martial rts include the practice of tameshigiri for different reasons:  in some, the student is expected to take the lessons learned in cutting and incorporate them into their dojo kata technique.  In other systems, tameshigiri is a fully separate but connected art to study.


Toyama Ryu

Gyaku Inazuma GiriOne of most frequently used sets of cutting patterns are those created and used by Toyama Ryu Battojutsu.  This “Ryu”, or school, developed from the form of kenjutsu taught to Japanese officers prior to and during World War Two.  It was considered a streamlined form of combat training for officers inexperienced in sword training.  It stressed the practical use of the sword, thus cutting was an integral part of training.

The Toyama Ryu Batto Do Konjaku Kioi Dojo website provides graphic images and descriptions of their cutting sequences, from multiple simple single cuts, through continuous cutting, up to complex single and continuous cuts though wara (targets) of various thicknesses.

Toyama Ryu teaches tameshigiri both as a requirement for advancement, as well as for standardization of cutting at demonstrations or competitions (taikai).

Here, an Australian sensei demonstrates some of the more advanced cutting patterns used in Toyama Ryu, as well as adding his own variations for difficulty.



Eishin Ryu

The various branches of Eishen Ryu  also teach cutting patterns as part of their testing requirements, though the required cuts vary slightly from ryu to ryu.  An excellent resource, including all basic cuts patterns is  Samurai Swordsmanship: The Batto, Kenjutsu and Tameshigiri of Eishin Ryu, by Masayuki Shimabukuro and Carl E. Long  (available via Amazon).


Modern Eastern Martial Arts

There are several modern martial arts which focus on cutting as a mainstay.  These include, but are not limited to:  Shinkendo and  Ryuseiken Battodo.   An excellent resource on Shinkendo’s form of tameshigiri is Shinkendo Tameshigiri – Samurai Swordsmanship and Test-Cutting  by Toshishiro Obata (available via Amazon USA and the Shinkendo web site)



Modern Western Martial Arts

That test cutting is used by the Western Martial Arts is indisputable;  indeed practical cutting is an integral part of WMA exhibitions and tournaments.  In general, the literature on such test cutting indicates the nature and style of cutting patterns used are not — at this point — standardized.  Instead, they are guided by:  1) the type of weapon being used, and 2) by the historical source / weapons-master a particular student or branch has drawn their style from.

As an example, a large number of Western Martial Artists have written a detailed treatise and manuals defining what cuts should be made (and how) when following the concepts of sword-master Joachim Meyer. Indeed, students of his work have compiled detailed treatises on precisely what cuts he would have taught: examples are Longsword Techniques and History.   The Historical European Martial Arts Association maintains a list of online original source documents used in studying / re-creating various fighting styles.

At least one Historical Swordsmanship group identifies skill in specific cuts and combinations required to advance in grade.  While similar to many tameshigiri patterns, there are subtle but distinct differences in style to be observed.   Some of the stylistic differences in cutting can be seen in the following training session, following the Meyer square as a training tool



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