Have you heard about Tameshigiri? If you are a fan of swords, especially Japanese ones, you must’ve heard of it. Tameshigiri means test cut or the art of cutting, literally the art of test cutting. It became popular in Japanese Edo period as a way of testing a sword’s quality. However, as time passed by, Tameshigiri became a martial art, which, instead of focusing on the sword quality, it focuses on testing the skill of the cutter. Let’s delve deeper and learn more about Tameshigiri.
Origin of Tameshigiri
During the Japanese Edo period, swords were tested by sword masters for their quality. It is important to note that only chosen swordsmen were allowed to test the swords to make sure that it is indeed the sword was being tested and not the cutting skill of the wielder.
The materials used for testing varies greatly during that time. Some of the common materials used were wara (rice straw), goza (top layer of tatami mats), bamboo and thin steel sheets. A well-crafted sword should be able to cut these materials with ease.
However, those cutting materials weren’t really the center of attention for sword testers. The most popular testing material was a human cadaver, especially of a convicted criminal. Yes, you read that one right. When a sword is tested using a human cadaver, they would acquire a “saidan-mei” or cutting signature. Nowadays, there are still swords marked on their nakago (tang) which says things such as “5 bodies with Ryu Guruma (hip cut)”. Take note that those inscriptions greatly add to the value of the sword.
However, not all human cadavers can be used as a test target. As you may have known, the Japanese are very ritualistic, and thus, they carefully inspect each cadaver for any signs of diseases or any signs of diseases. In addition to that, they don’t use bodies of lower caste or of priests because they believe that it will warp the blade’s soul.
With the reformation of the Japanese law, Tameshigiri slowly removed and ultimately banned the use of human cadavers. It’s replaced by wara, which is proven to be of the same consistency and density as the human body.
Then, moving on to the present day, Tameshigiri changed from being a way to test a sword to being a way to know how skillful a swordsman is. Modern targets are usually tatami omote (which consists of the outer covering of a tatmi mat popular in Japanese homes), also known as goza or wara. They are bundled or rolled into a tubular shape – and can be soaked to add density. The additional density makes it sure to have approximately the same density as of human bone and flesh.