Tameshigiri (more suitable spelled tameshi giri, meaning "cutting test", also sometimes called kiridameshi) consists in testing the effectiveness of a saber. Often practiced during the Edo period (1600-1868), the tests were made mainly for katanas and wakizashis, and were often carried out by samurai appointed by their daimyo. Thus the samurai tested his own future blade, or he tested the katanas intended for the troops of his lord. These tests were generally performed on humans. Whether on enemies of an opposing camp, or even on a passer-by (a practice called Tsugi Giri, or "slicing at the crossroads"), the most common practice nevertheless consisted in using the saber on sentenced to death prisoners. or criminals, who had previously been beheaded (although this was not always the case). Yamano Kaemon, Yamano Kanjuro and Yamada Asaemon, were very competent testers who had been employed by the government. The executioners could then test their weapons at different cutting angles:
Terms used from the Edo period (for their meaning, visit lebujutsu.net)
Often, on the tang of the blade (nakago), it was noted how many bodies were cut (nakago) by making file lines on the steel, or by noting entirely the date, the tester's name, and the cutting results, respectively in 3 columns. That is what was called tameshi-mei. For example, “Futatsu do otosu” (has cut two trunks), meant that the katana has cut two superimposed trunks. Commonly the katanas obtained a score of two or three bodies with an extra of some centimeters in sand (which therefore were measured) of the sand mound on which the bodies were placed.
Tameshi-mei by Yamano Nagahisa encrusted with gold as was often the case during the Edo period
To carry out these cutting tests, we placed the corpse(s) on this famous mound of about 11,81" (dodan), and the whole was maintained by means of four bamboos (hasamitake). The test was carried out with a specially designed "kirizuka" handle, which, thanks to its length, adjusted according to the weapon, made it possible to test even the tanto by adding weight to the set. It was said that the most difficult was to cut from a shoulder to the other.
It happened that the blacksmith came to attend the tests, dressed in a white ceremonial kimono, to be seppuku in case of failure. Obviously only blacksmiths very sure and proud of their blacksmithing techniques were ready to do so far, and so it was very rare. These tests had a great influence on the final price of the sabers, and although the Edo era was a period of peace, one was very proud to wear a wazamono, or very sharp saber. Thus, the book Kaiho Kenjaku, written in 1815 by Yamada Asaemon Yoshitoshi, classified 180 blades with each of them the author (employed by the Tokugawa) had make cutting tests. Obviously, this book therefore only contains a small part of the blades tested, and does not seem to contain very old Kotō sabers (sabers from the previous period). At top of the ranking, the Saijo O wazamono, with only fourteen blacksmiths. Here is one signed by Hishu ju Tadayoshi:
Saijo O-wazamono from Hishu ju Tadayoshi
Then come the O-wazamono (excellent quality) with twenty-one blacksmiths, the Ryo-wazamono (very good) with fifty blacksmiths, and the Wazamono (good) with eighty blacksmiths. All of these blades are still considered today to be some of the greatest sabers made in the history of Japan.
Nowadays these cutting tests are carried out on bales of rice straw (or more occasionally on bales of reeds) to represent the consistency of the skin, which is possibly reinforced with a bamboo rod in core to imitate the human neck or bone. The most classic remains the rice straw bale without bamboo, because bamboo can be damaged effectively only at 45°. These tests are mainly intended to test the movements and techniques of the practitioner, and no longer the quality of the blade. For this reason we sometimes speak of Shito or Shizan rather than Tameshigiri, to distinguish easier. These cuts are made in the usual eight directions (Happo giri), here is a sample of what can be done in Tameshigiri:
For a swift and therefore more efficient strike, you need to have relaxed arms and shoulders, as well as a stable position. It is also recommended to make a twisting (Shibori) movement with your hands (as when you wring something) in order to give strength by contracting your muscles, and to stabilize the blade so that it remains straight at the moment of impact. For the same purpose as a boxing blow (to give inertia), you must know how to use the rotational movement of the body as well as the hips, a technique also studied in Iaï (Iaigoshi). The movement of the body is also important depending on the techniques, and the blow must then be heavy (Kime).
Do not be confused between tameshigiri and battōdō : the battōdō is, as with the iaidō for example, one among the mastery of the Japanese saber courses, which was taught in the koryu (ancient schools). It is therefore a martial art composed of kata (movements), often practiced in conjunction with iaidō, kendo, or kenjutsu. It should be noted, however, that tameshigiri is too often distinguished from other practices, while iaidō contains tameshigiri movements, and that certain great masters such as Nakatyama Hakudo, have always insisted on the fact that tameshigiri should be practiced once a very good level in iaidō has been reached. In France the term battōdō is widely used and his meaning is widely different, very rightly, since we must not forget that initially and historically, the tameshigiri was intended to test the blade (until the 20th century at least), while the battōdō focuses on the practitioner and not on the blade, and was practiced in schools.