[CAM] OT: Swords and what you like to do with them

Karl.J.Jacobs at jci.com Karl.J.Jacobs at jci.com
Thu Sep 18 14:18:48 CDT 2008

Right, so juggling projects at work  while typing sometimes results in
email messages not being written in the best possible ways.  I certainly
didn't mean for it to sound as though I was implying that you were unaware
of the differences of the sword arts or the importance of safety, and so
forth.  The message was written as a discussion with lots of safety
reminders and things-to-think-about that were more for the benefit of the
populace-at-large who may be reading these messages.  I'm sorry if anything
came across in a negative fashion - that was not my intent. It was to help
people stop and think before doing something potentially dangerous.  Of
course, no amount of well-intentioned cautionary statements will stop
someone of the "Hey - hold my beer and watch this!" mentality.  Those folks
may get an honorary mention in the year's Darwin Awards....

You're absolutely right that foam pool noodles are not biodegradable and
will sit in a landfill.  That's a problem with the current models.  I'd
like to find a biodegradable, inexpensive foam in suitable blocks or
extruded shapes, similar to how some packing material "peanuts" are now
made of biodegradable foam.  Interestingly, the company that makes the foam
blocks has "student" and "instructor" grades.  I find that the student
grade is a bit more flimsy and harder to cut than the instructor grade.
Unfortunately, both tatami and the specialized foam targets are a bit
spendy, whereas the foam pool noodles are a more economical alternative,
especially if you can find them on sale at the end of the warmer weather.

Cutting trees, vines, and the like?!  Yikes!  Saws, axes and pruning hooks
are for cutting trees, and machetes for vines or small saplings.  Using a
sword for that is at best, using the wrong tool for the job, much like
using pliers instead of a wrench.  More likely, it is sword abuse. I've met
people who want to cut down trees, split wood, or break rocks with their
swords because that's what they see people do in video games or what
somebody who sells sword-shaped-objects has told them that they could do.
Some people think that swords can't break, just because they are made out
of metal, or that if the sword *can* be broken by misusing it, that the
sword must obviously be a piece of crap.  Some of the attitudes and
ignorance I've encountered while working at the Arms & Armor booth are just

Several of the most common are addressed on various websites, such as

There's absolutely nothing wrong with doing one sort or aspect of sword
arts - or not doing any, and just thinking swords are cool - but our biases
of our own knowledge and experience as well as those that frame the
activities we partake in, can influence what we "know" not necessarily
reflecting objective reality.  Heck, as I learn more, I'm sure that I'll
continue to find out that there are misconceptions I hold on to, thinking
that they are correct.

Hmm, where did I take that turn into being philosophical?  Anyway, doing
lots of related sword arts that approach things from different perspectives
can really help us understand the individual things we do. I highly
encourage people who do any of the SCA combat sports to get instruction and
try test-cutting under controlled conditions.  It will provide food for
thought, at the very least.

Back to work...

             "Seng Hang"                                                   
             <sh1911a1 at gmail.c                                             
             om>                                                        To 
             Sent by:                  cam at minstrel.com                    
             cam-bounces at minst                                          cc 
                                       Re: [CAM] OT: Swords and what you   
             09/18/2008 01:29          like to do with them                
             Please respond to                                             
             cam at minstrel.com                                              

I've seen both videos you spoke of and yes they're good reminders of what
can happen if a sword is used poorly and/or incorrectly.  I do agree that
tatami omote are more labor intensive than more modern and conventional
targets.  The distinct odor of the tatami does not offend my nose however
true it can be somewhat offensive to some.  I also like tatami omote
because tatami is biodegradable so its easily disposed of.  More often than
not I just shred it and then dispose of it in my apartment's compost heap.

I've also cut the foam noodles but my first experience with them told me
that they were too flimsy.  Afterwards I did stick a 1/2" dowel in them to
add stiffness and resistance.  I neglected to mention this because as you
noted that can be dangerous (to both sword and user) if there is not enough
training behind the cut.  I'll have to look into those lobed noodles
though.  My concern is that they are not biodegradable and therefore after
I'm done cutting them up they'll just sit in a landfill for the next 10
centuries or more.

I do have training in sword use as well as in cutting but I am no
instructor.  Obviously anyone who cuts does so at their own risk.  Its just
that I have encountered many who use their swords to cut bushes and swing
away at trees, vines - anything that catches their desire to cut.  I
personally do not advise this as it is detrimental to the tree you're
cutting at and also dangerous.  Without proper control of your weapon it
can break, glance off in a dangerous direction or fashion and even worse,
break then fly off in a dangerous direction or fashion.  My memories are
stirred by that though as I watched a friend break a stainless steel sword
he bought at a flea market on a 3" sapling and the broken part of the blade
flew with great enough force that it impacted and indented a wooden fence
probably 25' away.  Had that been a person the injuries might have been

In any case cutting tatami omote is expensive, the least expensive tatami
I've come across is over $5.00/piece after shipping.  I'm not rich enough
to afford to cut tatami more than once or twice a year.

You're right too about actually fighting as in the SCA.  Thus my interest
in cut and thrust.  It'd be nice to put the form and technique to
application and see how well it works for me.  Of course I'd also thought
it might be good for fighters to know what their cuts would do in an actual
cutting scenario.  Once again, I've seen what a wrap shot or a j-hook does
to tatami.  How many others are interested in seeing that (perhaps not to
tatami but maybe a foam noodle)?


On Thu, Sep 18, 2008 at 11:09 AM, <Karl.J.Jacobs at jci.com> wrote:
  Swords?  Umm... yes, I own one or two.  Most of my pieces are for
  with others or for solo forms practice.  As I spend more summers working
  for Arms & Armor, I anticipate getting sharps, but that will be a slow
  process to grow my collection, as my tastes run to the expensive side of
  things. Honestly, I have more use for practice pieces than sharps.

  Test cutting is fun, no doubt, but it isn't something I do more than once
  or twice a year, as it is only a part of the skill set I'm developing.
  Yes, test cutting can provide some surprising results if you've never
  it before and your only exposure to sword arts comes from the SCA
  sports. Conversely, if all you've ever done is forms and test-cutting,
  exposure to SCA combative sports can provide some surprising results as
  well. :-)

  Tatami omote are very traditional and work well, but they require quite a
  bit of prepping, are messy, and have a strong, distinct scent.  At the
  annual Chicago Swordplay Guild (CSG) cutting party, we use a variety of
  cutting targets, including water-filled plastic bottles, hanging rope,
  tatami omote, and specific foam targets developed for tameshigiri. I'd
  to check on the company name, as I'm not involved with ordering the foam
  targets.  The heavy, solid  foam pool noodles (the 5- or 6-lobed
  work well enough, are readily available, and are much easier to prepare
  clean up than the tatami omote.  The hollow-core foam pool noodles work
  well, especially if you use a small-diameter wooden dowel to provide
  support and provide a bit of extra resistance to the cut.

  For the CSG cutting parties, you've generally got to have at least 6
  of practice and have an instructor approve you before you are allowed to
  take part in the cutting party.  If you don't cut correctly or use poor
  form or technique, you will likely make poor cuts that waste the target
  materials and can possibly hurt yourself. It's even possible to damage
  sword, depending on the material you are cutting.

  There's supposedly a You Tube video of someone doing test cutting with a
  sword, getting it stuck in a small tree, and breaking the blade as he
  to wrench it free. Then there was the fellow on one of the cable network
  shopping channels who was trying to show how tough a sword blade was by
  smacking the flat of it on the desk/countertop, broke the sword off, and
  impaled himself.   Proper instruction, safety, and supervision are
  important with any potentially dangerous item.


  CAM mailing list
  CAM at minstrel.com
CAM mailing list
CAM at minstrel.com

More information about the CAM mailing list