Western Martial Arts

Western Martial Arts...
and Cutting Practice

Quotes from Western Martial Artists

-Bob Charron; Instructor, St. Martins Academy of Arms, USA

I believe cutting practice is essential to a complete understanding of any Western Martial Art that employs an edged weapon. I believe it essential to informing proper actions with the blade. I have found the tatami mats supplied by Mugen Dachi to be the most effective and versatile material for my test cutting, and their customer service and support of Western Martial Arts are among the very best.

- The value of cutting practice in the WMA's.
The practice of the art of cutting with the weapon is essential to the student of Western Martial Arts. One must participate in test cutting periodically to ensure that the techniques studied from the ancient masters see proper expression in their interpretation. Blade orientation and cutting mechanics relative to the weapon being used should be learned and carefully considered. Each weapon may have some cutting mechanics unique to it, and the manner in which each weapon best accomplishes its task of cutting must always be part of the equation in proper interpretation of the treatises.

-The value of cutting seminars at WMA events.
Cutting seminars taught by those who are accomplished in proper cutting techniques should be on everyone's list of "must sees" during their course of study in Western Martial Arts. Such seminars help inform the student and aid in proper interpretation of the ancient masters. This knowledge can then be used by the student in periodic cutting practice during individual study, and shared with others to foster a better understanding of cutting mechanics within the community.

-St Martins Academy-

-Guy Windsor; School of European Swordsmanship, Finland

Cutting practice is essential for most European sword arts; Mugen Dachi provides the best cutting targets I've ever used and first-class training to go with them. Excellent instructors and a first-class product.

The best, most consistent, cutting medium I've come across, really useful, safe training, and lots of fun.

-School of European Swordsmanship-

-Robert Holland; Instructor, Schola St. George

I recently had the pleasure of participating in a cutting workshop using targets supplied by Mugen Dachi. I have had extensive experience using water-filled plastic bottles as targets, and I definitely found the Mugen Dachi tatami targets to be far superior. They are more challenging to cut, requiring that your blade angle and body mechanics be precise. Even having over 21 years experience in western sword arts, I found it took a great deal of focus to cut the targets. I highly recommend these targets to all students and teachers of western swordsmanship as an excellent training tool.

-Schola St. George-

-Gus Trim; Owner, Angus Trim Swords and Knives

Cutting practice is an important part of any sword martial art. Using something that is relatively dense, and can test both swordsperson and sword can be quite instructive, can tell you how your edge alignment holds up, and tell you how much power is needed for an effective cut.

I find Mugen Dachi mats very good for this purpose, and they are my favorite for cutting practice, and testing purposes.

When Brian Price told me of this part of the event, I was quite intrigued. And made the decision to bring a few swords, just for the cutting........ extras that I wouldn't miss to much, if they became damaged.......

The gentlemen that put on this, teach JMA, and also run a small import business, bringing in new tatami mats from Japan. When I met Jim Alvarez and his partner Dave Wilson, it was obvious that both gentlemen are devoted martial artists, and charming gentlemen. It became obvious later that they were quality instructors..........

After a discussion of some of the rules for this class/demo, both Jim and Dave took turns slicing up a mat, with katanas they had brought with them. Before actually starting participants cutting the mats, both took a turn with an AT. The same result, mats were sliced evenly and cleanly.

Swords used by the students/participants, ranged from a couple kats that Jim and Dave brought with him, to a 5 year old Tinker Viking sword, to an antique saber, to the CF Ranger, to the previously mentioned AT's, and some assorted other pieces.....

I'm not going to try and do this blow by blow, but I would say that even though there has been a lot of discussion about how different the kat and western sword cutting techniques are, they are more similar than different. It took this demo for that statement to really sink in for me...... The discussions we get into make it seem like tremendous differences, but in application the differences were slight. It became obvious to me, that getting technique assistance from experienced JMA practitioners, wouldn't be a bad idea for inexperienced longsword students......... in cutting practice.

I see a lot of value to adding the tatami mats to our cutting regimen here in the NW. I would highly recommend that anyone involved in the WMA think seriously of adding this cutting medium to what they are already doing.

It does need a good sword in that the edge geometry must be reasonably good. But this sure shows technique problems, and the mats seem to be easier on a sword in a "pooched cut" scenario, than plywood or water filled 2 liter bottles.

Since affordability is an issue for mats, I highly recommend Jim and Dave's little import company, for acquiring mats for test cutting.

-Angus Trim Swords and Knives-

-Eric Blacksmith; Director, Olympia Sword Fighters Guild

I believe the key to being a proficient swordsman is to utilize many forms of training. The reason this is necessary is because we actually do not kill people with swords these days. When we practice against each other, there is safety equipment, and standards we adhere too that are involved. We do not fight with the intensity or power that we would use in a real fight. If we did that, injuries and death would be a common outcome during practice.

In a different sense, we can also strike at a pell (a wooden pole or cross affair used to train striking techniques) with our practice swords, yet get no sense in for a true cut. If we use these techniques, along with drills and careful academic study, can we recreate the art in entirety? No. To learn how to cut you must actually cut something. You must practice to build the skill to a point where you can integrate it in with the rest of your training. Now we have brought a bit more completeness to our training.

The swords that we use are also important to how well you can cut certain mediums. Having a good edge is paramount to successfully completing a cut. Blade profile is also important to the efficiency of ones sword. The myth that a good European sword is heavy, and the edge really does not matter, has pretty well been blown. The swords with a proper edge and correct profile and taper would go through the mats just fine. However, even a sharp edge may not cut it (sorry). Edges that blend in with the profile of the crossection do better than an edge that has a steep angle away from the parallel blade profile. While they may be sharp, they just do not cut that well through the complex organic weave of the tatami mats. Good edges and profiles, along with proper distal taper make a huge difference in the performance of any Euro sword.

The above tidbit of information leaves us with the fact that European swords are complex fighting tools. Swords changed and evolved throughout the ages to take on an evolving war field. Civil society played a large role in the development of the sword, and the fighting styles also. This added to the complexity of western martial arts and the equipment they used.

As to the mentioned mat cutting experience, would the Europeans have used this method to train with? If it was practical and affordable to do so, yes. The people of Europe were pragmatic, and if something helped them to achieve their goals in a more efficient and cost effective manner it was used.

That's why Mugen Dachi Companies tatami targets for cutting practice really fit the bill for today's learned swordsman. Its cheaper, and less harmful to your swords than some of the mediums we currently use such as plywood and water bottles. Plywood tests tracking well, but still encourages bashing instead of cutting. It can damage the hell out of your sword and your body if you really mess up a cut.

Water bottles are the same, although they require more skill than plywood whacking. The mats will test your tracking and your cutting ability to a much higher degree. They tell a clear story on what you are doing by how they react to your cut. I wish I knew about these tatami mats sooner. You cannot beat the price, even if you make your own targets. To top it off, Mugen Dachi tatami targets are just the best medium to use for developing advanced cutting skills.

-Christian Fletcher; Owner, ChristianFletcher.com

It was a real pleasure to speak with you at the Schola, and to gain some insight into the techniques of the EMA. I was very intrigued to find that there appear to be many similarities between the two fields of study.

I believe that cutting practice is an invaluable part of the practice of any martial art involving swords. In my opinion, a sword which does not cut is not truly a sword, although blunts and wasters have their places in the teaching of technique. One must understand the process of cutting in order to understand the nature of the weapon. Personally, I am committed to this learning process.

With this core thought understood, European swords vary greatly in design and intended use. A light tapered riding sword will not handle in the same way as a heavy wide single hand blade, or as a longsword because the swords were designed for different combat styles. Test cutting with different designs allows one to appreciate those differences on a very fundamental level. Since practitioners of the WMA tend to focus on areas of personal interest and the specific style and equipment complimenting that interest, it may be difficult to have enough swords in a personal collection to experience these differences. Test cutting at seminars will expose one to a variety of cutting experiences, while allowing useful input about style and performance from other practitioners.

With regard to cutting media, I have only used three types: water filled bottles, cardboard tubes and the tatami mats. Here is what I have discovered:

Water filled plastic bottles cut easily if the technique is correct, but will send a considerable shock back through the blade if the technique is off. As a cutting medium, the bottles offer only a "black or white" perspective of the cut--it is obvious if the cut is good, or if it is completely off, but there is little incremental evidence of what transpired during the cut. I do not believe they provide as much useful information about how to improve the cut as do other media. This medium also has the potential to damage the blade if the edge alignment of the sword is especially poor.

Cardboard boxes and tubes provide more information on the quality of the cut than water bottles. For example, one might examine the angle of a cut and determine possible improvements from the evidence; however, the abrasive impurities found in the paper can dull and scratch the blade. A poor cut may not completely sever this medium yet still offer some useful information. Catastrophic damage to the weapon is also somewhat less likely than with water bottles.

From my thus far limited experience with tatami mats, I find that they offer better feedback than cardboard concerning the quality of the cut. The visual record of what occurred during the cut is better due to the solid structure of the rolled mat, compared to the hollow tubes, boxes and bottles. The mats also seem less inclined to damage the blades, as the material is of uniform consistency and lack of abrasive impurities. I highly recommend the use of these mats in test cutting.

-Individually Crafted Swords, Scabbards, and Belts-

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