Let the Blade do the Cutting

Douglas Sunnenberg

July 2 2012


It was day two of the 5th Annual Seminar of the GiYu Honbu Dojo.  Having injured my strong hand earlier in the course of the Seminar, I felt concerned that my participation in the Tameshi Giri session would be severely hampered, if not precluded entirely, by my inability to grip the sword tightly enough to prevent it slipping from my hands and, in general, to control it.  The only alternative seemed to be to use less strength in the cutting motion, to ensure adequate control of the blade.  Of course, I fully expected that this would negatively impact my Tameshi Giri performance.  I just tried to remember that there would be something valuable to be learned in whatever happened with the Tatami, which I fully expected to be dismal in view of the reduced power that I would be employing when swinging the blade.  I expressed my concerns to Sensei who suggested that I try single-handed cutting with my weak hand, since my strong hand was injured.  That indeed sounded like quite a challenge -- one that I was willing to engage. 

Prior to the seminar session, I began to practice cutting the air using a boken, both single-handed and both hands cutting, with reduced exertion of arm & shoulder power, concentrating my efforts, instead, on alignment, timing, & integration of total body movement in the cutting action.  We began the Tameshi Giri Session with more practice using boken and then adjourned to the live cutting area outside.  Sensei demonstrated the basic cuts that we were to use to begin our live cutting practice.  He then assigned a Black Belt to each of the Kyu ranked students to act as both coaches and safety monitors.  To my surprise, when my turn arrived to practice the first basic cuts, I found that my blade easily cleaved the Tatami, even with the reduced power that I was exerting.  In due time, Sensei demonstrated more advanced cutting sequences, including single-handed cutting practice for the Black Belts.  Armed with the confidence inspired by the successful, reduced power, basic cuts, both the cutting sequence and the single-handed cutting practice went well for me.  This experience taught me a valuable lesson in the value of concentrating on using the entire body, with proper alignment and timing, and then simply Let the Blade do the Cutting.