(試し斬り, 試し切り, 試斬, 試切) is the Japanese art of target test cutting
. The kanji
literally mean "試 切
: ためし ぎり tameshi giri
). This practice was popularized in the Edo period
(17th century) for testing the quality of swords
and continues through the present day.
During the Edo
period, only the most skilled swordsmen were chosen to test swords, so that the swordsman's skill was not a variable in how well the sword cut. The materials used to test swords varied greatly, but the generally preferred targets were condemned criminals and cadavers
. The other substances were wara
(rice straw), goza
(the top layer of tatami
, and thin steel sheets.
In addition, there were a wide variety of cuts used on the cadavers, from tabi-gata (ankle cut) to O-kesa (diagonal cut from shoulder to opposite hip). The names of the types of cuts on cadavers show exactly where on the body the cut was made. Older swords can still be found today that have inscriptions on their nakago (tang) that say things such as, "5 bodies with Ryu Guruma (hip cut)".
Aside from specific cuts made on cadavers, there were the normal cuts of Japanese swordsmanship, i.e. downward diagonal (Kesa), upward diagonal (Kiri-age), horizontal (Yoko), and straight downward (Jodan-giri, Happonme, or Dotan). These cuts would then be cut on the cadavers (ex: A swordsman would do a Jodan-giri cut on 3 bodies at the hips. The inscription would then be, "3 bodies Ryu Guruma"). The easiest cut is the downward diagonal, followed by the upward diagonal, followed by the straight downward cut, and finally the hardest cut, the horizontal.
In modern times, the practice of tameshigiri has come to focus on testing the swordsman's abilities, rather than the sword's. Thus, swordsmen sometimes use the terms Shito
(試刀, sword testing) and Shizan
(試斬, test cutting, an alternate pronunciation of the characters for tameshigiri) to distinguish between the historical practice of testing swords and the contemporary practice of testing one's cutting ability. The target most often used at present is the goza
"omote" rush mat. To be able to cut consecutive times on one target, or to cut multiple targets while moving, requires that one be a very skilled swordsman. There are a number of swordsmen who have recently set records in this field of tameshigiri, such as Russell McCartney of Ishi Yama Ryu, Saruta Mitsuhiro of Battodo Ryu Sei Ken, and Toshishiro Obata. In 2000 Russell McCartney set a new world record when he broke the record for Senbongiri (千本斬り, Lit. "1,000 cuts") with 1,181 consecutive cuts on igusa goza
mat in 1 hour and 25 minutes. Toshishiro Obata holds the record for Kabuto Wari
, or helmet cutting, for his cut on a steel Kabuto
(helmet). Toshishiro Obata also holds the Ioriken Battojutsu speed cutting record for 10 cuts on 10 targets over three rounds. His times are 6.4, 6.4, and 6.7 seconds respectively.
Also, there are now specific cuts that can be performed on targets to test one's ability. An example is Mizu-Gaeshi, where one cuts a diagonal upward cut to the right and then cuts a horizontal cut on the cut piece before it has fallen.
Sword Schools (Ryu-Ha)
Today, there are a number of schools, or Ryu, of swordsmanship that incorporate tameshigiri. These schools include Ishi Yama Ryu, Shinkendo, Battodo Ryu Sei Ken, Toyama-ryu, Nakamura Ryu, Mugai-ryu, MJER under the Jikishinkai, Sekiguchi Ryu, and others.
Haidong Gumdo also places much emphasis on cutting.
Dodan — A single downward cut through multiple targets stacked horizontally.
Kasumi — Two consecutive horizontal cuts, the second cutting the first piece before it has fallen.
Mizu Gaeshi — A diagonal upward cut to the right and then a horizontal cut on the cut piece before it has fallen.
Yoko Narabi — A single cut through multiple targets set up vertically side by side. Either diagonal downward, diagonal upward, or horizontal.
Western martial arts
Historical European Martial Arts
reconstructionists under the term "test cutting" (a loan translation
of "tameshigiri") engage in similar exercises with various European swords
. The preferred target substances are various gourds (pumpkins, squash, etc.), water-filled plastic bottles, synthetic targets, wet clay, and sometimes tatami "omote".
- Obata, Toshishiro. Crimson Steel. Essex, UK: Dragon Books, 1987. ISBN 9780946062195
- Obata, Toshishiro. Naked Blade. Essex, UK: Dragon Books, 1985. ISBN 9780946062188