You can learn to do it responsibly
with respect for your blade.

An Australian student sword cutting with a Jian in my backyard.
Alt Text--Sword Cutting

Training in sword cutting techniques against targets, with a sharp blade, is the best way to correct edge angle and focus intent in our sword fighting moves. Test cutting with swords is called Shizhan in Chinese. There is very little good information on this subject available today. Martial arts teacher and authority on Chinese Swordsmanship, Scott Rodell, has recently written a book on sword cutting. Entitled A Practical Guide to Test Cutting for Historical Swordsmanship". It offers sensible advice for all who enjoy training in sword techniques. Here is an excerpt from the book:

Scott M. Rodell: Seven Stars Trading Co.
Alt Text--Sword Cutting

I'm not going to repeat what is in the book. I recommend you buy it and read it before trying sword cutting. It's not the sort of thing anyone should be doing without plenty of prior training. In fact, I make a rule for myself never to work on my cutting unless someone else is at home. Accidents can happen and I prefer not to join the list of stupid ways to die. If you sever an artery and there is no one to get you to hospital, it could be too late. Don't muck around with untrained sword cutting. It's dangerous. That takes me into the student perspective I'm going to give you, on this aspect of sword techniques.

Be careful with sharp blades

You know how easy it is to cut yourself chopping veges in the kitchen, even though you've done it a million times ..... well, a sword is much sharper than a kitchen knife. If you cut yourself with it, you might not even realise you've done it until you see a finger on the ground, or blood starts appearing. It doesn't hurt for the first few seconds. A good sword cut on a target can even leave the plastic bottle or piece of bamboo standing in exactly the same positon, the top falling off moments after the blade has passed through.
My first cut was almost disastrous. We were all beginners, trained in working with wooden or blunt steel swords, but unused to sharp blades. Even with a teacher present and some excellent instruction, we were caught up in the excitement of the moment. My first cut went straight through the water filled plastic milk bottle. I was so amazed, I didn't hear or see anything else. A good friend came running over to take the sword for his turn. I turned to face him, with the sword in my hand, pointing straight at his stomach. Fortunately, years of martial arts training gave him a fast enough reaction. He stopped, stomach pulled back, before the tip connected. It was a lesson well learnt, so believe me when I say:
  • Have a teacher present when you are learning sword cutting. The pictures below are of teacher Scott Rodell, cutting with a Sanmei blade Royal Peony sword.

  • Make sure everyone is concentrating, not chatting and moving about. Even people watching need to concentrate. If a blade breaks or flies out of someone's hand, they need to see it to avoid it. People who are just there as spectators rather than students are best kept behind a window, inside the house .... seriously, the fewer distractions, the better. It isn't the best time to show off to your girlfriend!

  • sword cutting-Liao
  • Mark out the training area and have a marshall. No one enters the cutting area without his permission.

  • Make sure watchers are standing back far enough.

  • Watch that the cutting area doesn't get too wet and slippery. Move if you need to.

  • Make sure the cutters are trained in how to hand over a sword, before they try to do it.

  • Safety glasses should be compulsory equipment. Eyes are too important to risk with flying fragments. Soft leather gloves will prevent hand cuts from accidentally touching the blade. Nothing can help you if you swing it into your own leg though, so don't try sword cutting until you have good control with a less dangerous training sword.
All of these safety precautions need to be enforced, particularly so if you do test cutting in kid's martial art classes.

Go into your sword cutting session with a

Learning Plan

Yes, it's a lot of fun, but fun can be profitable as well. It takes quite a bit of preparation to get the materials, the people, and the organisation happening for a cutting session, so it's a good time to improve your sword fighting moves by working on real skill. sword cutting mats bamboo
  • Think about which cuts you want to improve prior to the session. It's best to only work on one or two and do them a number of times. Don't dwell on the last cut as you try the next one. Stay "in the moment" and don't let emotions such

    as embarrassment or disappointment from the last cut, control the one you are doing now.

  • Think about which body mechanics you need to work on. In Chinese swordsmanship, the waist is the commander. Are you using your waist, or just your arms? Your sword technique should follow the correct principles, especially when using a sword for cutting. Don't let your technique go all to pieces and swing wildy. What about the follow through? Did you control your cut so that the sword stopped without leaving you open to a return attack if you had missed? It needs to stop in a position that naturally allows you to make a second cut.
  • As well as moving your body correctly, you need to hold the sword properly. Make sure you are doing your cuts with the correct grip. If your edge angle is wrong, even a soft plastic bottle will bounce or tear on impact.

  • Know what you are up to. If you can cut soft plastic bottles well, every time, try rigid plastic, such as Coke bottles. If those are easy, try small branches. You can use fruit and vegetables as in between targets, bamboo when you get a lot better, bamboo wrapped in rush mats, etc.

  • Get some good critique on your cutting, and listen to it.

The right equipment

Royal Peony for sword cutting
  • A good quality sword. Please don't take the fantasy movie sword off your wall, or the Katana you bought at the markets, and try to cut with it. It might have a sharp blade but it isn't a real sword. Some of those swords have a thin piece of steel welded onto the blade, under the handle. It's called a "rat tail" tang. It isn't strong enough. It can easily snap. Then that blade that looked sharp enough for sword cutting, flies through the air and cuts the wrong thing .... your leg, your car window, or even the dog. Even if it doesn't break, the blade is probably too soft, and will bend. Let decorations do their job looking pretty on the wall, and get a real sword. There will soon be sections in this Guide on how to find a good sword for cutting.

  • Safety glasses or fencing mask. Squash glasses are good, for Australians. Raquetball glasses are available in America. Find something that won't shatter.

  • Soft leather gloves. These are not essential, but they are added protection from accidentally cutting a finger while wiping down the blade between cuts.

  • A collection of cutting material, neatly stacked out of the way of the cutting area. Have it all ready before you begin. If it's recycleable, such as plastic bottles, recycle it after the session.

  • Cutting stands. I'll show you how to make a stand suitable for putting targets on, and one for bamboo and branches, elsewhere in this guide. Mine needs a new top platform because someone recently missed the bottle with a Pi cut and went straight through the thick wood. The sword was unscathed. You can also hang targets from a branch, have someone toss them for you, or other methods.

  • A camera! Not compulsory, but fun, also useful, especially if it's video, to play back later and evaluate your sword cutting. One of the best things my teacher recently told me to do, was video my form and watch the results to make improvements. It made a huge difference. I haven't done it for cutting yet, but that's next on the list of training ideas.

  • The Chinese Swords Guide now has a new interactive test cutting ideas page. On this page you may enter your experienced ideas, advice, pictures and cutting stories. They will show up as links to a page of their own on the Chinese Swords Guide.

    See Sword Cutting With Chinese Swords
    in action:


    Enjoy the cutting demo? Want this sword?

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    Prefer a cutting quality Dao?

    Click on the Huanuo Round Grip Battle Dao below to find out more about it and how to buy it.

    Huanuo Round Grip Battle Dao. Buy this sword.
    Alt Text--Sword cutting dao for sale

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A Practical Guide to TEST CUTTING for Historical Swordsmanship

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