Sunday, November 19, 2006

Homebrew Tameshigeri

While not a "nut," per se, I have been somewhat of a martial arts enthusiast for some years. This includes a combination of Japanese styles, both soft and hard, and their respective weapons. A favorite of mine amongst these weapons is the sword, the traditional Katana.

Learning to wield one of these competently without doing serious harm to oneself or others is best attempted using the training analogues, the bo ken or shinai (depending on whether one is practicing kata or kendo). On occasion though, there's no substitute for some live steel.

Pumpkin and unsheathed katana - 1.4M
A favorite among my personal collection is this sword, the unfortunately named Samurai 3000 Katana by United Cutlery. It has its pros and cons: a high-carbon, flexible blade with laser cut die and even bevel to a very sharp edge. The balance is beautiful despite departing from the traditional placement, putting the pivot at a point within the top of the hilt instead of 1/3 the way out on the blade at a defensive position. This does change the muscular dynamics of some of the movement, but also makes the one-handed equivalents much more effective.

In the con section, some of the highest leverage cutting surface has been abandoned for decorative purposes, and despite the handle-biased weighting they still went with a rat-tail tang. Almost nobody produces a full-tang katana, and this one makes up for that short coming in small measure through the tight tolerances of the orthogonal tension in the hilt. The traditional curvature has also been altered, and while the carbon content is high it is not technically "combat grade" - which wouldn't cause it to shatter under the blows of a higher grade opponent (at these concentrations the true strength differences can only be expressed by either deliberately abusing the weapon or exerting more force than humans are typically capable of), but it would certainly lose its edge faster.

That's all just the boring preamble meant to indicate that "yes, I know my sword and I know what I'm doing with it." Anachronistic or not, it's a fun skill to have.

Tameshigeri is the art of cutting with the katana. Targets are usually standardized around rolled straw mats, but I felt like finally doing something useful with The Pumpkin. I never did get around to carving it, instead leaving it intact as a nice fall decoration for my wife to use. I'm surprised it lasted this long: the specimen was still ripe and firm, giving no indication of spoilage or bruising (and it was on the floor in an area which is high-traffic for our young daughters, so that's saying something).

Time to turn it into deer food.

The gourd was placed there on the edge of the retaining wall at chest height, in the position and attitude shown here, and not touched with hands again until it was time to dispose of it. I faced it flat in a right-forward stance, blade raised between medium- and high- en garde (chudan- and jodan- no kamai). I lightly touched the offensive last-quarter of the sharpened edge against top of the pumpkin before drawing it smoothly back and around in somewhat of a lateral 'J' directly through the target from right to left.

Katana and sliced pumpkin - 1.4M

Most of the way through the cut, the sword began to level out to a more perpendicular angle with regard to its travel. This made its incision less efficient and as a result, imparted some of its force into the rind on the left interior. This caused the detached cap to lift slightly and shift in the direction of the sword, pulling it off into the leaning position in the picture (with added black-bars for a more "cinematic" effect). It's a cool place to have it land, but I was honestly hoping to leave it perfectly undisturbed and later move it manually to demonstrate the wickedly sharp edge. Perhaps, had I more time to practice, or had I remembered to step into the cut or to kiai, I may have maintained both angle and speed sufficient to do exactly that.

The astute observer will also notice that the hemisection does not appear to be perfectly level, even self referentially. That is, the back is raised up in a fashion not indicated by the attitude of the closer portion. This is due to "winging" - the distortion of the flexible blade in response to the whipped movement (reviewing these sorts of things from high-speed video capture reveals an astonishing amount of unintended flexion). Simple put, the sword was slightly bent as it passed through. The back (of the pumpkin) also has a bit of a flat face, bringing it visually closer and exaggerating the effect.

Cut pumpkin close up - 1.2M
Speaking of video, I have none. Which is all well and good, since the reality of this performance is quite dull and short. Perhaps, had I made repeated successive passes through the ever decreasing remainder, it would be worth while. Or, had I succeeded in capturing high-speed close-ups. Instead, I performed all the photography for the event using my wife's discarded Olympus E-20n (a well performing camera that she has since upgraded in her Wedding Photography business). I took only 5 pictures, and didn't even think about shooting directly down into the bowl of the pumpkin until someone asked if I had. Darnit.

That's pretty much it. Yes it was one swipe (most frequently asked question), and no I didn't have to put it somewhere else to do that well.

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