So let's talk about test cutting!
It's clearly that the most used term for the practice of cutting mats or bamboo is tameshigiri but there is often a misunderstanding of what it actually is. Rather than to improve or testing the cutting skills of the sword wielder, tameshigiri is actually the art of sword test cutting and it is purely intended for judging the quality of a sword.
Originally they often used corpses or convicted felons (should one prefer live cutting fodder) but also helmet cutting (kabuto wari) is an example where swords are tested to the very max of their durability.
As a result, swords were inscribed with a tameshi-mei (also known as setsudan-mei or saidan-mei) on the ura side of the nakago. They would mentioned the sword wielder, the date as well as the method and amount of targets that were cut.
What tameshigiri is NOT is the testing or improving the sword skills of the practitioner. In that regard even Japanese tameshigiri contests are using an incorrect term for their practice.
A good example of testing cutting in relation to sword testing is the dodan giri; where bodies, tatami omote rolls or makiwara rolls are stacked and the intended cut is to separate as much targets as possible.
So what is the correct term you’ll probably ask now. Well, there are some divided opinions about that.
Tanaka Fumon Soke of Enshin ryu connects the art of suemonogiri with the act of assisted suicide, also known as kaishaku. Being asked to assist in a seppuku (ritual suicide) was a great honor and not to be taken lightly.
It required great sword skill not to fully decapitate your friend. The kaishakuto ~sword of the assisted suicide, needed to release the suicidee from their pain but not cause rolling heads. The flesh at the throat needed to stay intact to prevent this which requires quite a bit of sword control.
Suemonogiri however is very different than tameshigiri. First of all, the exclusive targets are segmented bamboo with a quite specific ratio between the diameter and the internodium (distance between nodes). Second: only kesa giri guts are practiced (diagonal up to diagonal down).
Lastly, while tameshigiri targets are often fixed on a pin/stand, suemonogiri targets nor their stands are free standing. This makes it really easy just to simply knock the target of its stand (or knock the stand over) while doing the cut.
In fact, the term suemonogiri can be loosely translate as 'standing object cutting'. This practice was also a way for samurai to demonstrate their skill to their feudal lord.
Being able to cut the bamboo without pushing it from the stand proves to be an incredible important factor as failure would have severe consequences while doing kaishaku. While you were trying to (nearly) decapitate your best mate, he’d collapse down with a non-fatal blow to his neck - and probably - leaving him gargling in his own blood.
* ‘could you please get up again? I kinda need another go at your neck…’ ;)
In short, the cut needs to go through before the kinetic energy passes onto the target and that is where the practice comes to play.
Luckily, I know someone who is more than skilled in the art of suemonogiri. With a menkyo kaiden licence (complete transmission) for the complete portfolio of Enshin Ryu; my good friend Serge Mol is more than skilled to offer some pointers.
So, what we did this weekend? Suemonogiriiiiii!!!