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Could Katana really cut through bone?

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  • Could Katana really cut through bone?

    I had a argument with a friend about this. My friend claimed that Katana could not cut through bone (historically). I *thought* I heard one of my Sensei say that they used to be able to. (If they were going for a men/head cut, in other words, I thought I was told that it could cut through the skull at least a little bit. Then again maybe he was trying to gross me out...not that it worked.)

    I dropped the subject with my friend (when we were talking about it) because I wasn't sure and my friend claimed to be an expert on swords (though maybe he knew more about western ones? Thats the impression I got from other things he said)

    Anyway, its just something I'm curious about. Also if they can cut through bone, does anyone have any links/references that say this? (heheh must win debate...)

    thanks

  • #2
    Originally posted by MartialArtsGirl View Post
    I had a argument with a friend about this. My friend claimed that Katana could not cut through bone (historically). I *thought* I heard one of my Sensei say that they used to be able to. (If they were going for a men/head cut, in other words, I thought I was told that it could cut through the skull at least a little bit. Then again maybe he was trying to gross me out...not that it worked.)

    I dropped the subject with my friend (when we were talking about it) because I wasn't sure and my friend claimed to be an expert on swords (though maybe he knew more about western ones? Thats the impression I got from other things he said)

    Anyway, its just something I'm curious about. Also if they can cut through bone, does anyone have any links/references that say this? (heheh must win debate...)

    thanks
    Are you kidding? A shinken can cut through a metal pipe: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nj1Jytiw8e0

    skip forward to the 8:00 point.

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    • #3
      A butter knife can cut through bones with enough time and pressure so imagine what a 3 foot razor blade could do. So I would image the anwser is yes to everyone but this guy.

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      • #4
        bones are less hard than people think, they are quite squishy and flexible while in the body, only after drying out do they become the hard things people are used to thinking of. For that matter have you ever disassembled a chicken? My chefs knife can cut through bone no problemo.

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        • #5
          So they could also cut through metal too? Like helmets? Or whatever it was called that they wore?

          Mwhahahahahah! I WIN!

          :looks around:

          Uh-oh. I'm not supposed to say that, am I?

          :sheepish:


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          • #6
            Originally posted by MartialArtsGirl View Post
            So they could also cut through metal too? Like helmets? Or whatever it was called that they wore?
            I have read that, back in the day, swords were tested against helmets (kabuto) and vice-versa.

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            • #7
              A long time ago I used mine to cut through a standing 1" plus alder tree and a freshly slaughtered whole chicken with feathers. Cut both like butter.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by JByrd View Post
                I have read that, back in the day, swords were tested against helmets (kabuto) and vice-versa.
                Obata from Shinkendo has done some modern testing.

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                • #9
                  ... my friend claimed to be an expert on swords ...
                  While it's not very nice to crumple a young man's ego, I still suggest that you point and laugh when he says that.

                  Ender is absolutely correct in that living bone is very much softer than dead bone that has calcified. Even with that, you can find youtube videos of people with katanas cutting everything from bare bones to whole cow legs. I have seen several different katana with inscriptions in the tang certifying how many corpses piled on top of each other that they were able to cut through.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by ender84567 View Post
                    bones are less hard than people think, they are quite squishy and flexible while in the body, only after drying out do they become the hard things people are used to thinking of. For that matter have you ever disassembled a chicken? My chefs knife can cut through bone no problemo.
                    On a larger scale, I was once involved in the 'dis-assembly' of a pig we killed in the Philippines prior to a celebration with some rural people related to a friend of mine. A small bolo machete will cleave flesh and bone with shocking ease (also awesome for coconuts). The katana should be expected to be at least as effective.

                    If I recall correctly, Tameshigiri was practiced to assure that a swordsman knew how cut through resilient materials with proper form. To a greater extreme, I have read that helmet-splitting was a form of destructive testing for select swords back in the day.

                    Edit: Oops - just noticed that Neil and Jbyrd already discussed the shinkendo thing~ unintentional forum redundancy (I need to type faster).
                    Last edited by Fox; 20th May 2010, 08:27 AM. Reason: Update.

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                    • #11
                      While bushi could cut through bone (and helmets) with a katana, it's quite another question if they would. I mean, look at the pics of Obata cutting the helmet. He stands well within maai, with the helmet down at waist level so he can make a big cut, and then he does huge take-back that just says "Kill me now." And with all that, he doesn't split the helmet; he just gashes it. Throw in a top-knot and a skull, and I daresay an opponent would have survived the blow (though likely concussed and knocked out). Or, if we're going unarmored, do you really want to cut a guy in the head and risk have your sword get stuck in his skull? Particularly if he has friends? With moving, dodging opponents, who don't provide the best leverage for big, bone splitting cuts, it was better to get those softer, easier to damage targets. Arteries and major tendons. With multiple follow-ups. The one-cut, one-kill was an ideal on which to focus training, but reality involved cutting legs or hands to severely hamper the enemy, and then going for the neck.

                      Of course, the typical use of the sword on the battlefield was to cut off the head as a trophy after you'd killed him with your spear.

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                      • #12
                        Josh Reyer

                        While bushi could cut through bone (and helmets) with a katana, it's quite another question if they would. I mean, look at the pics of Obata cutting the helmet. He stands well within maai, with the helmet down at waist level so he can make a big cut, and then he does huge take-back that just says "Kill me now." And with all that, he doesn't split the helmet; he just gashes it. Throw in a top-knot and a skull, and I daresay an opponent would have survived the blow (though likely concussed and knocked out). Or, if we're going unarmored, do you really want to cut a guy in the head and risk have your sword get stuck in his skull? Particularly if he has friends? With moving, dodging opponents, who don't provide the best leverage for big, bone splitting cuts, it was better to get those softer, easier to damage targets. Arteries and major tendons. With multiple follow-ups. The one-cut, one-kill was an ideal on which to focus training, but reality involved cutting legs or hands to severely hamper the enemy, and then going for the neck.

                        Of course, the typical use of the sword on the battlefield was to cut off the head as a trophy after you'd killed him with your spear.
                        This is an awesome thread, which brings up a question about armoured kenjutsu. Given the relatively low armour penetration ability of a katana (a relatively thick slashing weapon is not the ideal for this task) and the habit of slapping the thickest armour on the most vulnerable parts of the human body, what are the primary target areas in koryu kenjutsu that is designed for fighting armoured targets? I understand that the katana was usually a secondary or even tertiary weapon, but surely with the koryu styles around there's some surviving techniques using sword against armour? Anyone able to satisfy my curiosity?

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                        • #13
                          Japanese armor was weakest at the seams and at points of articulation. The human body is designed so that the vulnerable arteries are located on the inner parts of the body; along the inner thighs and arms. The irony of armor was that while it protected the body and outside of the arms and legs, the seams and ties of the armor were along those lines of arteries. So, the brachial artery, the ulnar arteries, and the femoral artery. Vulnerable points of articulation were the shoulder, wrist, and achilles tendon. What you see in many armored styles is a focus on the hands. If Bushi A tries to cut Bushi B on the body, Bushi A's hands will come into range of Bushi B's sword before Bushi B is in any danger. If Bushi A is in a strong defensive kamae, the only option Bushi B really has is to try and get the hands. Nailing the hands is not going to take the enemy out of commission (and probably won't even end the fight, unless you score the improbable double-hand-severing), but what it would do is open up the enemy to further quick attacks, in particular thrusts or cuts to the neck.

                          A low wakigamae was the most defensively safe posture: it removed the hands as a target, reduced the target profile to its narrowest, and presented only soundly armored areas for attack. The only real target was the left shoulder, easily defended.

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                          • #14
                            The Secret History of the Sword, by J. Christoph Amberger has a chapter in it that details some research on the wounds inflicted by claymore swords in a historical battle. You might find it in your local library. Theres lots of discussion about sword wounding effects on forums like My Armory too I think.

                            The short answer is that a sword blade slices through soft material like flesh but against more brittle material like bone and wood its the mass behind the blade of the weapon and the force it lands with that count.

                            The initial blow of a good strike with the edge creates a crack in the bone which is then 'levered' open by the mass behind the edge, which still moves forward thanks to the speed of the strike.

                            As the wedge of the blade continues forward it expands the crack so that the bone eventually splits right thru. This is how a sword can cut through small diameter wooden dowels even though its not designed for this.

                            The need for mass behind the edge is also why an axe is so effective at cutting wood over a sword.

                            Its also why axes and guillotines where the more common tools for beheadings over swords.

                            The profile of the blade edge counts for a lot too, but theres endless boring debate about that on other sword forums for anyone interested in the details, so I will ignore that part of the equation.

                            You might find the following interesting in regard to your original question:

                            There four basic ways a hand held weapon can cause harm:

                            1. A Blunt force blow; a 'smashing' blow which breaks bones or inflicts blunt force trauma => the humble club.

                            2. A piercing strike delivered with a sharpened point; a spearing thrust => the spear

                            3. A cleaving cut; a chopping motion => the axe and sword

                            4. A slicing cut; a cut delivered with a forward or backward movement of the blade once the strike has landed => the sword.

                            Too many people think the only 'real' sword strike is one that involves penetrating the opponent with the point or chopping into them with the edge.

                            Because of the advantage in time it delivers to the fencer, a slicing cut is just as valuable a sword strike as the chopping cut.

                            I dont have any detailed info on fighting with a sword vs armor.

                            A simple and well made 8 foot spear is so much more effective for this purpose than any sword invented that I just dont find it that interesting a subject.

                            Its all a bit morbid, but this information helped me understand the demand in Kendo shiai to move forward or back when we deliver a fast small strike.

                            If there is such motion then we are delivering a slicing cut rather than a cleaving cut, and the strike is therefore a valid sword technique.

                            If there is no motion forward or back, we are not delivering a slicing strike, and because the motion is too small to have any effect as a cleaving cut, it is not a valid strike.

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                            • #15
                              As far as fighting an armored opponent, I would say forget the sword and grab a good 8 foot spear.

                              Given the clear dominance of and superiority of pole arms against armored opponents in all historic battles involving such arms, I dont get the fascination people have with the whole sword vs armor debate.

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