Journal of Western Martial Art
by David M. Cvet
The purpose of this exercise is to determine the viability of this activity in the context of the AEMMA swordsmanship training program based only on the concluding assessment of this exercise in the absence of supporting historical evidence.
The FHTs were created by tightly rolling a pair of rice/tatami sheets together and securely tying them near each end with string in order to ensure the rolls retain their cylindrical shape. The cloth hemming material along the ends of the mats was removed prior to rolling them up, however, the hemming material along the edges on both sides remained intact. After the rolls were constructed, the rolls were placed into a tub of water and soaked overnight. The following day, the tub with the rolls remaining in the tub was drained to permit excess water to drain from the rolls.
The resulting rolls were approximately 13 cm (5.25") diameter and approximately 76.7 cm (30.25") in overall length. The soaked rolls weighed in at approximately 2.7-3.2 kg (6-7 lbs). The end of the roll was then vertically affixed onto a wooden spike protruding from the top of a vertical 10.2 cm x 10.2 cm (4"x4") post of 78.7cm (31") in length resulting in an overall height of approximately 137.2 cm (5' 1 ¼") in the completed FHTs used for this exercise.
For a point of reference, if one holds a plain piece of paper, and draws the edge of the sword across the edge of the paper, the paper should be cut with nearly no resistance at all. The sword specifications are the following:
The resistance felt during the strike was inconsequential. Terms such as "it was like cutting butter" seemed to be the most relevant and persistent description of the experience. The lack of resistance had a significant impact on the form of the delivery causing, in some cases, an over-compensation due to the expectation of resistance during the strike.
The methods employed can be visually examined by clicking on the images below. The video segments behind each image range from 2.2 MB to 4.6 MB.
The first strike was deployed with full force and full speed. The rather impressive performance of the sword easily slicing through the roll and witnessing the top half of the roll simply fall to the floor instantly elevated the respect for such a weapon. This strike delivered from an oblique downward angle assured us that the possibility of toppling the FHT was decreased and ensured that the first strike was deployed in a safe manner. This strike being full powered and full speed ensured that the expectation of the first strike cleanly cutting through the roll would be satisfied which caused some over-compensation of the strike resulting in somewhat bad form on delivery. The video on the left illustrates the first strike followed by an initial assessment described with the video segment on the right.
With the experience gained with the first oblique cut, a second strike was deployed from a horizontal orientation. Again, given little experience in these forms of exercises, the expectation was that the force of the cut would topple the FHT but that was not the case. Again, little if any resistance was observed. The strike was delivered with a little more control given the experience gained with the first strike. The video on the left illustrates the second strike described above.
Developing a bit more comfort with the exercise, the third method was invoked. The resulting damage caused by a strike that possessed only 1/2-force and delivered only 1/2-speed resulted in a gash that was almost the width of the diameter of the roll, and at least 4.5 cm (~2") in depth. During this particular exercise, the FHT was toppled over. The video on the left illustrates the 1/2-force strike.
The last exercise was an attempt to simulate the force and speed behind strikes deployed during armoured training and tournaments using steel swords at AEMMA. It was readily apparent that without the protection of armour, a body receiving a strike with the force and speed employed during training would most likely receive a mortal wound. The roll received a gash that penetrated approximately 95% of the thickness of the roll. The last method is illustrated in the video on the right.
The benefits derived from such an exercise, aside from the increased respect for the weapon, included "fun", quite potentially an exciting addition to the training regimen for students to experience the destructive nature of the sword.
Another benefit was the impact the sharpened weapon had on form and technique. Over-compensation was readily observed, however, some of this can be explained by the excitement of fixating one's visual attention to the resulting cut rather than properly following through with the strike. The subtle deficiencies in deployment of strikes became more apparent as well, such as the angle of inclination, the possibly less effective strike point on the blade during deployment. It appeared that this exercise does in fact provide added value to the training regimen.
Safety concerns never left our minds during the exercise. The sharpened sword is a dangerous weapon to carry around without a proper scabbard. Casual transport of this weapon will only result in injury and care must ensure the secure transport. Secondly, during the deployment of the strikes, care must be taken to ensure that no individuals are too close in proximity to the strike. Blade breakage, or even the possibility of the sword leaving the hands could result in mortal danger and therefore, sharp sword exercises cannot be handled lightly.
The FHT exhibited some attributes of a human target, save the core or living bone material. Suggestions of inserting a dowel into the roll to simulate the bone would not necessarily enhance the human attributes of the FHT because living bone is not "dry and brittle" as would be exhibited by dowels. Continued experimentation with 2-3 cm diameter ABS tubing may enhance the attributes. The point of continued development of the FHT is to develop a "pell" for sharp sword training that possesses closer attributes to a human target.
In conclusion, AEMMA will integrate this exercise into the training regimen in order to enhance the depth and interest of the overall training program. Further experimentation will be conducted to introduce other variables such as:
Journal of Western Martial Art