Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Back in Japan

I had a really nice visit to Canada, although even at 6 weeks, it felt too short. And I practiced only once or twice, so when I practiced in Guelph last week, I felt really out of shape. My legs were especially weak and shaky, so I got some good advice from Kim who told me that I should just focus on Mae for a long time, while working on making my legs stronger. I need to try to stay low and keep tension out of my shoulders while focusing it in my lower body. I'm really going to work on that. As for strength training, I don't know exactly how I'm going to do it, except by doing squats at home, and trying to find some stairs. I would say that I'll hit the gym at APU, but I know that's pretty unlikely. I was there for 3 months last time, and didn't go in once.

Fortunately, I'm a damn good couch potato. I saw an interesting episode of a show called "Mythbusters" the other night before I left. It was about the common movie myth where someone cuts a sword in half. We can see this in a lot of movies, but "Kill Bill" comes to mind, where The Bride uses her magnificent Hattori Hanzo sword to slice bits off of a Yakuza enemy's sword like it was a banana.

To test this myth, they got some "battle ready" katanas from Bugei (?) and put them into a pneumatic cutting rig that approximated the swinging speed of a good swordsman. (They measured the swing speeds of some tameshigiri folks, and to their credit, they cut the tatami like hot knives through butter.) Then, they put a target sword into a holder. The swinging sword was in some sort of vice-like holder, while the target sword was on a stand that was able to be knocked over occasionally. This is an important point, I think, because no-one can hold a sword in a vice grip. so at least one of the two swords has to be somewhat loose.

They then filmed the results with a high-speed camera to slow down the action. It was pretty amazing! When the results were played back, you could see these swords bending into absolutely incredible shapes, from S-curves, all the way to something like a "C" but turned over on its side, i.e., the sword was bent into a full semicircle. But incredibly, they all seemed to snap back into shape! In fact, when the swords broke, it was this "snapping back" effect that tended to break the blade. In other words, the sword was hit, and consequently it bent double, and as it was snapping back, the blade broke in a different place. I don't think they ever got the sword to break in the location it was struck; meaning that the sword was not actually being "cut through" but was just broken from the impact.

The blades were quite badly damaged in some cases, but actually less than I would have expected. Unfortunately, they perpetuated the (I think mistaken) belief that "in battle you would never actually block edge-to-edge." (This statement was made after showing how edge-to-flat contact bends the hell out of the target blade and tends to snap it; then they turn around and say, in effect, that this is how you want to block when your life depends on it!) I fully agree with Kim who has always maintained that edge-to-edge blocking is the way to go. You don't have time for any kind of nonsense about letting the sword rotate in your hand and carefully block with the shinogi-ji, etc. etc. Bah!

Anyway, it was kind of a fascinating show. I wonder if anyone else caught that one. I also got into a show on the Discovery channel called "How It's Made" and I wonder if they have ever done an episode on how swords are constructed; I think it would be a great topic, and very fun to watch since they have a knack for explaining everything very clearly.

Well, I'm off to the Sword Museum, I think. I've been there a couple of times before, but they rotate their exhibitions from time to time, so maybe I'll get to see something new. If I didn't see you in Canada this time around, sorry I missed you. Gambarou!