Guinness – Senbongiri- 1000 plus cuts
MS fundraiser Article and event donation
On April 22,2000 Russell McCartney Founder of Ishi Yama Ryu Battojutsu
Dojo of Seattle Wa. successfully broke the World Target Cutting
record at the
Seattle Cherry Blossom and Japan Cultural Festival. Not only did
he substantially break the existing record under less than optimal
conditions for such an undertaking, the complexity of this effort
was dramatically more demanding than the previous record holders
effort. This is not in any way to underscore the previous record.
Afterall, the previous record before 1998 was 380 cuts. When we
examine the scope of an activity of this sort there are many aspects
to consider which will be addressed in the text which follows. The
formatting for the event is one swordsman, one katana, and cutting
goza, without resharpening the sword.
The original unverified mark - 380 cuts – test cutter unknown.
The 1998 record - 1000 cuts, one hour thirty-six minutes thirty-six
seconds: Mitsuhiro Saruta, Osaka Japan.
NEW 2000 Record - 1181 (consecutive cuts without a miss) in one
hour twenty-five minutes:
Russell McCartney Founder of Ishi Yama Ryu Battojutsu dojo Seattle,
The whole idea of 1000 cuts came in September 1998, four days after
Saruta set the record, when he visited my school in Seattle. When
I picked him up from Seatac he didn't appear to be feeling well.
Commenting that he was very tired from his record event, so I left
him at his hotel to rest. That evening upon visiting our dojo he
had to retire shortly after he got there from what was obviously
extreme exhaustion. The next evening at dinner on his last day in
Seattle, with seven IYR students present, he opened the challenge
to me to try and break his record, commenting there no one else
in American would or could try. I thought about it for a moment
and felt, "why not?” After all the reality of it seemed
so far away in the distant future if it would ever really happen
at all. Before he left he asked if I would help him with approval
of the new record and I was given documents and pictures of witness,
and (as I was the one who converted the Super Hi 8 tape to VHS)
an original 'un-edited' video of his effort, in order to contact
the Guinness Book of World Records for verification purposes. It
was my feeling that an extreme effort like this should go into the
record books. I had no real intention for the next year and one
half to actually consider anything of that sort as I was still heavily
involved in muscular and connective tissue therapy from the two
rear-end car collisions I received in September of 1996 and January
of 1997. For this time being I was unable to do much more than moderate,
Even though I discontinued a former relationship with Ryu Sei Ken,
I did continue to assist in Saruta's Guinness approval for several
more months till it was accepted. Looking to the future I set my
focus on our own schools development.
I really wasn't feeling capable to the task at that current point
in time as I mentioned and began, for the first time, to consider
just some of the implications of what a monumental task like 1000
cuts would mean which only might happen at some point in the distant
future. Still, in the far back corners of my mind I hoped to somehow
get an opportunity to make the effort at Seattle's Cherry Blossom
and Japanese Cultural Festival if I were to do it anywhere.
Even this far out the first and primary concern was "what
about a sword???"
And as for the program itself, there were things we could change
and still stay within the Guinness format, yet there were several
issues to consider which could not be changed. Some of those issues,
like the fact that Saruta used a really great sword, newly made
around 1996 were not flexible. Obviously using 'that' sword was
out of the question! Smile!! And due to the rules I had to use a
Japanese made forged and folded blade. For my effort I chose the
only sword I had which was capable of the task.
My W.W. II Gendaito from the maker Kanehide was what I always used
for bamboo cutting. It was in poor polish, had only weak military
mounts and a tsuka which was no longer fit for test cutting. Ironically,
it was nearly the identical length of the blade used by Saruta,
just one-eighth inch shorter. As the logical (and only financially
reasonable choice) I sent it to a polisher we use through our school
service company, Stonehouse Supplies. I wanted it polished anyway
and decided I would only have the first half foundation of a finish
polish done, as this is typically the sharpest edge achievable during
the polishing process. So, with the sword at the polisher, I set
myself to recovery, receiving Rolfing (a painful myofascial release
and deep tissue therapy) every week. For the next year and one-half
training continued as before with the regular public appearances
and enthusiasm for sword arts we enjoy here in the Northwest sword
community. Finally several months later at the Eastside Nihon Matsuri
in Bellevue in September of 1999 Akira Takeda the advertising and
promotional director for the Japanese consulate here in Seattle,
saw our demonstration. In the ensuing conversation my friend Masaye
Nakagawa mentioned my future Guinness Senbongiri challenge. Takeda
was excited and insinuated it may be a great event for the year
2K Cherry Blossom Festival. I apparently hide my surprise enough
at her mention because I hadn't thought about one thousand cuts
for a very long time.
At this point I hadn't even begun to consider a date for the Senbongiri.
Now it seemed I would have to think more seriously about really
doing one thousand cuts. For the event approval there was an application
process plus a video presentation to the entire committee. As it
turned out, most of the board was very excited about doing it and
with some others just kind of 'ho-hum, it's just another martial
arts event’, attitude. We, the Cherry Blossom committee and
I, were all agreed that this effort must be in good taste. Mr. Takeda
was very helpful too as he had seen our demonstration already. At
the presentation the chairpersons, Mr. and Mrs. Sasaki warmly welcomed
me. They were of like minds with us that this event crossed cultural
boundaries. Those virtues of commradery, sharing and cooperation
are the keystones of why this area has moved to the forefront of
sword community innovation certainly in the West Coast area and
perhaps throughout the world. It is an honor to work with those
from the Japanese community here in Seattle like the Sasakis, Takeda
san, and others family names like Sakai and Nakagawa. Many others
here also see the value of saving this integral part of Japanese
culture no matter who does it so long as it is represented in a
traditional respectful format. They see the true value is in the
preservation of the artform with the tradition of swordsmanship
being carried on regardless the ethnic background of the practitioner.
There are other members of the sword community along with us of
IYR here in Seattle like; fifth Dan Scott Irey of Muso Jikiden Eishin
Ryu, fourth Dan Robbie Pellett of Shinto Ryu, and Yon Dan Hector
Caroso the two time all Japan tameshigiri champion of Takeda Ryu,
have also thrown off the yoke of separatism by encouraging multiple
technique events where all swordsmen can share in this brotherhood
of swordsmanship. By the time we received approval from the Cherry
Blossom Committee, the April 22 date was six months away! It was
really time to get serious about 1,000 plus cuts. Then finally,
in December of 1999, I received an e-mail from Guinness confirming
that Saruta's record had been approved and with that notice I returned
to them my acceptance of his challenge. It was starting to come
together and gaining momentum fast.
The first and one of the best decisions I made was to enlist the
help of my senior teaching assistant, Tim Wilmot. Tim has been training
with me for four years and was a big help during the entire process
of preparing the strategy for the training sessions and the event
itself. As a Nidan who accompanied me to Korea, he knew about the
pressures of competition. His selfless loyalty through the steps
of this process included being available three days each week for
special training sessions.
This was a great help over the two and one half months of hour-long
training sessions prior to the event. It really helped and meant
a lot to me too. We are very process minded here and having him
there through this special process meant being able to bounce possibilities
off someone who was also well acquainted with target cutting. Also
having someone as an observer, he could see aspects hidden to me,
which were indigenous to this type of effort. More importantly Tim
had an objective view of what I was physically capable of because
of the years of training we had shared. This saved alot of time
in the planning stages helping me to balance my program. Also Victor
Woo another long time student helped to plot out the target use
and timing sequences for the effort and how many targets we might
need if things went well.
I was resolved to two things for the Guinness 1000 cut attempt:
1. I would use similar protocol as the then current record holder
for my effort by running the program from a Kata based approach.
2. I wanted to make my effort more challenging than Saruta's achievement.
I felt to accept the challenge and possibly break the record was
Yet I wanted to substantially break his record and to achieve that,
my approach to the event would have to be a lot more involved than
simply doing more cuts. (Link to page www.ishiyamaryu.com explaining
other techniques we study-i.e. C.B.S.I., also for email inquiries
write firstname.lastname@example.org) I decided my technique, Ishi Yama Ryu,
was the most logical for me to use. As we study four techniques
at our school, IYR provided the necessary diversity of technique
with appropriate depth of movement and power while maintaining the
finesse to be perfect for something this extreme. If combined techniques
are too different from each other, a distraction from lack of continuity
forms. This was going to be tough enough in and of itself.
My next immediate concern was now turning back to the sword, the
Kanehide, which I had no handle for! I had gotten it back from the
polisher last July but it sat in the safe since that time and time
was not on my side in the handle department. Fortunately, I had
purchased a saya some time ago while in Japan. Since I felt an American
effort was in order and since I had a nice, solid silver moon and
gold crane, Fuchi Kashira from Fred Loman so I called Fred again
for Same' and was lucky enough to get some very unique gold peony
Menuki as well.
Though there are many fine American handle wrappers there was really
only one person, in my mind, to assemble the handle for an attempt
like this. Having had a great wrapping job done by this man about
eight years ago I knew his work was first rate. He is a local here
and an American, but more importantly in recent years he had become
one of the top art Habaki makers in the world. Of course it could
be none other than Brian Tschernega. When I called Brian, he was
intrigued with the idea and agreed to meet to discuss the project.
Through our discussion he hinted the sword wouldn't be it's best
aesthetically or functionally with a Habaki from WWII. Needless
to say, I seized the opportunity for him to make the new Habaki.
Since the Fuchi Kashira had Goto texturing, Brian chose a beautiful
go-ishi (moss) finish for the Habaki. It sounded good to me, so
we boxed all the parts and blade and Brian was off to his shop.
I decided long before calling Brian that money was no object and
with the sort of time crunch we were under he could ask just about
any price and I would gladly pay it. If you have ever seen Brain's
work, you know he is a true master of his craft. The reality was
his fee was reasonable and more than worth every penny. When it
comes to cutting, there can be nothing of waste between the practitioner’s
hands and the sword. The Tsuka must be a true link with no separation
technically, physically, or emotionally. He doesn't really like
to do handles too often yet I knew Brian's work is for all intent
and purpose, perfect. The psychological confidence I gained from
having Brian's involvement played significantly into my strategy
for the event. Throughout the two weeks of training prior to the
event that I was able to use the sword in its finished form, the
handle performed consistently, ever molding to my grip. The result
is the near leather-like texture of silk Ito one finds on old, finely
wrapped handles. No surprise then that some old wrap jobs lasted
As April 22 loomed in the distance, all manners of small issues
needed to be dealt with in order to quantify their priority. My
teaching regime was already pretty full, teaching ten hours per
week excluding private lessons. The biggest realization at this
point was with just about twelve weeks to go, the training I needed
to do was entirely different from regular class time workouts. Oh,
sure, the regular Thursday night repetitive swing work helps, yet
the reality of the huge difference between 600 swings with a heavy
Bokto and even 200 precise Katana swings with solid technique was
another matter altogether. Simply the notion that I did not want
to miss even one cut was an issue that took some time to work through.
To quantify what other endeavor is relative to Senbongiri take
the following examples:
* Step into a pitching machine batting box and hit 50 solid home
* At a golf driving range, hit just fifty 250 yard drives right
down the middle of the fairway without knocking the tee over.
* For swordsmen, run ten kata 50 times and have solid tachikaze
with each swing. (Read on for post Senbongiri student 50 cut test
results.) If you are able to make it that far, double it within
one hour and you will begin to get an idea of what Senbongiri tameshigiri
In order to eclipse the old record the components of Ishi Yama
Ryu technique and strategy had to blend just right and as such they
should also compliment each other. There were many other important
issues to consider as well. As for the rest of the technical variations,
I included our intermediate swing, which is similar to the Shin
Kage style swing, the full continuous swing, as well as the unique
'cut block cut' of Ishi Yama Ryu advanced technique. I also planned
to cut kesa and kiriage with both right and left hand technique.
As part of IYR training I have incorporated one hand kesa and kiriage
training which has aided in the fifteen year development of the
IYR Ni TO Ten Ryu two-sword technique.
Fortunately for me, my physical therapist and Rolfing specialist
Gengler, a past two time Olympic silver medallist in crew rowing
had been an important advisor. It was her suggestion that pace work
in the final weeks before the event would help me to deal with the
pressure adrenaline exerts on a demanding effort like Olympic competition.
The reason is when the mind goes away the body’s kinetic memory
sets its own pace based on that previous pace work. If I got far
into it I believed I would settle into a rhythm which could be sustained
for a few hundred more cuts. At that point fatigue would set in
until there were a hundred or so left and then adrenaline would
help take me through the remaining cuts for the record. That was
the practice theory anyway.
Target rolling and soaking:
Through the period prior to preparation of the targets there was
considerable discussion concerning how the targets should be rolled.
Typically we roll targets with about six inches of the first edge
folded over. Then the goza is rolled firmly toward the remaining
edge where this last six inches of the other edge are then folded
back to the rolled portion thus leaving a clean folded edge. The
entire bundle is then fixed with four lite duty rubber bands. We
decided to roll these targets as hard as possible for this event.
(This decision was to torment me throughout the entire event, as
you will read later.) The targets are then placed in soaker containers
vertically and turned on end every six to eight hours over the next
two days. They are then drained in a cool shaded area for the next
few hours. Contrary to what many believe, it is more over the temperature
of the water and surrounding air, which varies the density of target
Targets and their stands:
Once again Stonehouse Supplies provided solid and well-built N.A.B.A
(see www.naba.ws) tournament regulation stands according to height
and weight. Victor Woo was in charge of the target rolling crews
and their respective teams. They also provided targets of 'igusa'
goza imported from Japan. Targets the consistency of top quality
‘igusa’ goza provides a reliable density, which only
comes from this product and source. A major concern soon came to
be centered on the spiking group. The yudansha at honbu was the
obvious choice for the spikers because most of them were familiar
with test cutting and target setting. This yudansha group together
(about fifteen) with the other members of the IYR extension schools
totaled nearly seventy students, not including the Seattle Center
or Cherry Blossom personnel.
Of course there was the need for the soaking containers for the
targets. Once again Stonehouse came through to provide fourteen
ninety-gallon containers for the five hundred targets the IYR students
had prepared over the previous two weeks. These targets were soaked
for two days and one night and teams of target tenders came to the
dojo in shifts every six hours through the night to turn the targets.
We always have patterned the preparation of our targets to that
of Japan seminar and tournament situations. From our experience
with Toyama, Yagyu, Seki Guchi, and Ryu Sei Ken, these events consistently
showed us one to two day soaking times with this material. Four
rubber bands are equally spaced throughout the middle and about
six inches from each end of the target.
They are then soaked, pulled, drained, and are ready to be cut.
This is generally the most widely accepted format used throughout
Our targets were similarly prepped and soaked in cool water then
turned every six hours. All manors of soak times are used depending
on the accessibility and environment of each particular school.
For the previous record it appeared the targets were not rolled
tightly or that they had been soaked for a very long time. I only
know this from the visual evidence of the way the Japanese target
tenders walked onto their field area with a target in each hand
and casually dropped the targets on to the spikes of the stands.
Our targets were rolled very tight, tighter than we had ever rolled
them before. The logic here was they would stay on the stands. If
I was going to fail at this I wanted it to be because of my mistake,
not for improper target setting. In the end however this logic tormented
me through the entire effort. Because the targets were rolled too
tight they could not soak up enough water and as a result were extremely
tough to cut. To offer some idea for those of you who aren't familiar
with target consistency, there were around one hundred targets left
after the event that the students cut over the next three weeks.
After that three weeks in water those targets were still VERY "VERY"
hard and tough to cut. During the event most of the targets would
only go half way down the spike where the spikers would then lift
the entire target and stand to slam it down onto the hard floor
of the cutting field with a resounding clap like a rifle report.
This additional noise eventually blended all the other distractions
in a venue like the festivities of the Cherry Blossom festival.
Misogi, the final preparation:
Part of my preparation was a ritual misogi purification ceremony.
This has been a valuable training aspect here at IYR, which helps
to center the mind and body and regulate breathing at times of stress.
Kannagara Jinja, is a beautiful Shinto shrine north of Seattle under
the purposeful guidance of Kannushi Koichi Barrish, the first fully
ordained Shinto priest outside Japan, (also a Caucasian American).
The entire black belt group of IYR and I participated in a misogi
ceremony for the coming year two weeks prior to the event. Then
the day prior to senbongiri Kannushi again did a special ceremony
for installing the Budo Kami of success and safety. Regardless of
ones religious or spiritual beliefs, experiencing the power of one
of these traditional ceremonies brings one to a place of special
clarity. Reverend Barrish has been a steadfast supporter of IYR
for many years and a genuine supporter of this Senbongiri event.
As a special favor he also loaned me a magnificent raku bowl and
ladle for the swords own water purification with water from Kannagara
shrine for the opening ceremony the following day.
Saturday April 22, 2000
The IYR students had arrived at honbu dojo at 10:00a.m. to drain
and reload the targets before moving them with a ton and a half
truck and trailer the four miles to the Seattle Center House main
stage area for the day’s event. There were about 1500 people
present at the Seattle Center for the Cherry Blossom Festival alone.
The students arrived at the 'Center' at 11:45a.m. and were busily
in the midst of setting up for the event. Those assembled to judge
the event were four martial artists, Walter Von Krenner 8th Dan
Aikido, Scott Irey 5th Dan Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu, Clinton Rassmusen
2nd Dan Battodo, and Vernon Owens 5th Dan Sabaki instructor, and
the two independent Guinness judges Joe Bryant a local Seattle radio
personality, and Sean Young an International trade specialist.
When I arrived the place was absolutely buzzing with a festival
atmosphere for the wonderful program of events honoring Japanese
culture. Now for the first time I saw the cutting field with its
twenty target stands and looked over the field for last minute adjustments
of the stands. The floor surface of the cutting field was a beautiful
Frank LLoyd Wright design parquet floor. Its composition was one-quarter
inch ends of two by four boards laid on a cement foundation, in
epoxy. It then was coated with "clear varathane" which
made it look about one foot thick. The floor was beautiful to look
at and perfect for the ballroom dancing and thousands of visitors
the Seattle Center gets in any given week but less than ideal for
the use it was about to see.
The field was arranged in a large oval with straight sides similar
to how the then current record holder had done. The only difference
was I had two stands one quarter in from each side at each end of
the field and with straight sides and an area at the judge’s
end set for four-direction cutting. The site of twenty stands fully
set with targets struck an imposing image. I figured the exercise
would develop in roughly three segments. If I made a mistake in
the first three hundred or so cuts I could theoretically begin again.
If all went well I would probably settle into a rhythm which would
last for several hundred more cuts. If I made it that far adrenaline
would hopefully kick in and help carry me through to the finish.
With all the preparations completed the moment was at hand after
a lot of time and thought which began two years ago. I retired to
dress and prepare myself for the most difficult episode of my life
as a martial artist. With barely ten minutes to go fully warmed
up; it occurred to me to get the larger butterflies out of my system
and asked for two of the greenest hardest targets Tim could find.
He came back with two pieces, one nearly fluorescent green and the
other more brown in color. When I spiked them on the stand it seemed
they were quite firm yet I was surprised when I cut them. They were
like cutting through rock pillars! When I spiked them on the stand
it seemed quite firm and I was surprised when I cut them. I had
experienced something like this before when I cut new goza but this
was really something else altogether. At this point I thought about
the razor edge Brian had put on the Kanehide. Yet there was no holding
back now. All the preparation came down to this moment. I knew this
was going to be alot harder than I had previously thought and wondered
how long the edge would hold.
Fully warmed up I moved out to the front stage area to greet the
crowd who had assembled, ready as I would ever be to begin senbongiri.
The previous week prior to the event I had seen both Sara, and my
massage therapist who, at my request, worked on my arms hands and
shoulders. This, in hindsight, was not to my advantage.
I moved from the stage to the cutting field floor, tied my tasuki
(yes I was a little nervous) bowed to my wife the spectators and
judges, walked to the far middle of the field and began Senbongiri.
Before I began to cut, the initial issues centered on the noise
from the crowd, the flashing neon lights, and the hard slick floor
were all dazzling. Immediately after I began I realized I was gripping
the tsuka much tighter than I usually do. This made my hands perspire
at a tremendous rate. Of course this was a seemingly endless circle.
If I hold the sword too loose I run the risk of loosing my grip,
tighter and the tsuka continues to get more wet and I might loose
my grip. I had never experienced this before and I was pretty much
helpless to change the situation. The reason for this occurrence
was the extra degree of relaxation from the therapy to my forearms
the week prior to the event. What I didn't realize before was that
through regular training the forearms and hands carry a natural
level of tension, which in effect helps to hold the sword. The body
tends to lean into the tension and a natural equilibrium is struck
which balances tension with relaxation. As the effort progressed
this reality came to me and as I entered the four hundred cut zone
the forearm tension increased and my hands stopped perspiring.
Though I never felt like I would loose control of the sword, it
did make for some astounding clarity in the area of tenouchi. In
the days following the event the muscles in my hands were sore from
the thumb, across the palm side of the web of my hand to the center
of my palm and back to the index finger knuckle joint where the
finger meets the hand. Through the practice sessions the heal of
my left palm was so hot from all the cutting movements that for
the first time in eighteen years I felt I might get a blister in
that area. During continuous activity like this, muscle memory must
take over. It felt good to know we were teaching these details to
our students. From around four hundred cuts on my hands and grip
worked perfectly and the left hand heel never got hot.
As I said before the crowd, lights and sheer exhilaration of the
event in the beginning, put great demands on my ability to stay
focused. When the opening ceremony was finished, I had dressed myself
with the sword approached the starting point and began. From that
point to around several hundred cuts, I didn’t really have
any thoughts. It was all feelings, which were flooding into my senses.
It was very much like the river near my home. Calm with an under
current, moving more quickly into the pre-rapids where everything
moves quickly with only enough sensation to maintain control. From
then on, around two hundred cuts or so, the river became a stream
of information, which was fairly predictable.
As I settled into my rhythm, I was able to recall the program of
technique I would use throughout the time remaining. In retrospect
I have termed the whole thing as ‘Senbongiri Technique’.
This is as close as I can describe the temper of this endeavor.
Activity far from kata, simple test cutting, and much more close
to what true battle must have been like. The targets themselves
were the enemy of sorts. At IYR we visualize target cutting as the
death of our negative self, those things which keep us from performing
at our optimum. Each target an increasingly difficult challenge.
With each swing the sword was loosing its edge little by little
and my endurance was finite too.
I was feeling fairly comfortable from around three hundred to six
hundred or so cuts. This was the area of time that I felt the best
and feel the flow of my technique was all I had hoped for. There
was a feeling of confidence that I could do any part of my program
I wanted. It was here I began expanding the extent of my program
with one-hand kiriage and kesa combinations as well as the IYR cut
turn cut series, which come directly from kata.
I remember thinking and laughing to myself; “did samurai
have this much trouble with their jubon (undershirt of the kimono)
tasuki and kimono?” NO!!! They didn’t cut this many
times with them on!
As surely as six hundred cuts went by the feeling of any kind of
ease left even more abruptly. I was getting tired and looking for
that second wind. During the segment after the five hundred cut
marks, I wrenched my knee from the lack of footing on the slick
floor. This was the first real sign that I was beginning to fatigue.
I had brought some braces for my knees and elbows in case something
were to happen like this and I was thankful I had. I took a few
seconds longer for the next couple of breaks and I think the discomfort
eased some. I wasn’t fully aware of it because my lower back
was really beginning to feel the punishment of the hard floor as
I neared the seven hundred cut mark. Some stretching helped but
for the most part from seven hundred plus cuts on, I was really
taking the hurt of Senbongiri. This was the hardest part as I look
back on that time. Each movement, swing, stop of the sword, and
draw was, and I will try to be clear here, ‘agony’ pure
and simple. I look back to that time now as the most important learning
experience for me. Feeling totally pain filled and still engrossed
in the heat of the activity. It was and is a time of great clarity
on many levels even now. As swordsmen we must always train with
the idea that even a fraction of a moments in attention can spell
disaster. Yet this is the incredible nearly hidden gift from this
beautiful art form. This sense of attention stays with us beyond
the training floor and if earnestly sought, brings great peace and
comfort to our lives. Even in the midst of this discomfort there
was an essence of calm and peace in and through the activity.
Eight hundred to the record
Tending all the details of good technique are out of conscious
thought and are consumed in the processes of the body. There is
nothing except the cut. Then the next cut. This was the test and
a time of realizing swordsmanship to the exclusion of all else.
I was beat up hurting and in the home stretch. The event was on
the clock as well as the cut counter but nothing else was of any
importance. Only my breathing and the unconscious concentration
to the details of successful cutting were manifest in my process.
The targets were particularly tough and seemed almost dry. For this
reason I had been hesitant to cut more yokos. One target off the
stand and it was all over. Yet I had a minimum number of difficulty
factors which needed to be addressed if I was to achieve my personal
There was one point around nine hundred and fifty or so. When I
cut two yokos in a row. The stand and target on the second of the
two tipped dangerously close to falling over. This far into the
effort and all would be lost. Fate had its way though and the stand
righted itself so I put an extra kesa on the remaining piece for
Tim mentioned at the end of the previous round that he wanted me
to stop at the other end. I was in the zone and a change like this
got my attention. He was good natured considering the look I must
have given him but he said the students had a surprise for me. Needless
to say, I didn’t want any surprises at this point. When he
explained what it was I agreed and set out to the record breaking
round. I had already broken the record when I was called to stop
for the ceremony.
The New Guinness Book World Record for target test cuttin
The IYR students came up with the idea of a sword blade style center
post target stand with our wisteria mon for the base plate. It was
beautifully constructed with a mahogany stain and one lone target
on the spike. I approached the target, and gave a reverent bow.
This bow of thanks was for so many things. It was for every moment
of my life to that point, to all those who helped and those who
through their discouragement made me stronger. I drew my sword and
with a gaeshi cut (kesa-kiriage in rapid succession) I became the
new target test-cutting champion at 1005 cuts in one hour and ten
minutes. This had eclipsed the previous record by five cuts and
a full twenty-six minutes and thirty-six seconds. It was the culmination,
which began over two years ago, even though the whole event was
organized and presented in the previous six months.
Pushing the record higher
I was feeling pretty good considering what I had been through.
Adrenaline had taken hold again and I wanted to see how far I could
still go. After all as I stated earlier in this text, I wanted to
not just break the record but break it substantially. Tim announced
I would set toward another hundred cuts and I was back at it. The
mood was decidedly lighter than before yet make no mistake, I was
there to stretch it out now. In some ways I felt a huge load had
been lifted and my mind clear I was again to task. Swordsmanship
of Ishi Yama Ryu should be crisp concise and free of wasted movement.
It should be flexible and able to address changing direction and
a multitude of various cuts. At one hour and twenty-two minutes
and eleven hundred and sixty-two cuts, the technique was still providing
me with what I needed to get the job done. At the eleven hundred
and eighty second cut, a cut I had used successfully throughout
the event, the swallow tail cut, a kesa on one target and an immediate
kiriage on the target next to it, pulled it off the stand. It seemed
to me it came off easily. Upon replay of the tape, it was clear
the target had not been spiked well and the target itself was frayed
at the bottom, yet it was not really disappointing. I had been hurting
from the beating my back, legs, and feet had been taking from the
My arms and upper back were another issue, which wasn’t to
be fully realized for a couple more days. On Sunday, the day after,
it felt as though there was sand in and around all my joints, muscles
and tendons of my entire body, especially my torso. Luckily enough
this didn’t last for more than around fifty or so hours when
that worn down muscle tissue began to be flushed out of my system
from the gallons of water I drank and the limited light stretching
I did. I could relate to Tesshu’s student in his post ‘seigan’
condition. In the aftermath of any extreme athletic endeavor, post
event recovery time brings many questions. Fortunately I had the
time to recover my senses and slowly rebuild my energy level. It
was a long time till was back in the dojo at my regular schedule.
After all, I had pushed the record up one hundred eighty one cuts
and eleven minutes and thirty-six seconds under the previous record.
I was OK with that. Though it took a lot, the experience, the lessons
learned and the answers achieved were worth it. For eighty-five
minutes I had pushed the envelope of my mental and physical abilities
further than anything I had ever done before.
The nearest most difficult event I could relate this to was climbing
Mt. Rainier (14,410 feet in 24 hours) but I am nearly seven years
older now than my mountain climbing days (and a lot wiser). Senbongiri
was a lot - I say again - a lot more difficult! With ‘the
mountain’ you can nearly check out and trudge away till the
next rest point. With Senbongiri there were increasingly greater
demands on my ability focus as the event went on.
And with Mt. Rainier I was over it in a short three weeks. It was
to be eight long weeks of recuperation before I physically felt
like going back to the dojo. Mentally I craved to return yet I knew
my focus and body weren’t there yet. The muscle memory also
craved activity yet I knew, for now, it was time for another type
of training. It was time to assimilate and absorb the psychology
what had occurred.
At this date looking back I found Senbongiri to be the most rewarding
and gratifying experience of my entire sword career. It will be
some time yet till all the knowledge of the experience are fully
realized. I encourage others to try if you have appropriate instruction
and the technical background to test cut safely.
After Senbongiri I was compelled to share something of the experience
with my students. The senior yudansha were busily test cutting the
remaining targets left over from the event and were cutting way
above their pre-event level. It was gratifying to see them cutting
so well. Sword training should foster humility, and ultimately rid
one of self deception and I believe it does that on a deeper level
through regular diligent training. To that end I called up a Gojuppone
giri, a fifty cut test.
This was to be an example of just what enters the picture when
we enter a consecutive test cutting experience. All the Honbu Dojo
blackbelts ranging from Shodan to Sandan made the attempt. The format
was one cut per target, ten targets, five rounds set on an oval
field. Forty percent of them only made six consecutive cuts or less
when their minds questioned their process or their technique failed
due to mai issues. All other students got in the teens and just
one got to twenty-two cuts. Since they didn’t get as far as
I hoped they would a second attempt was set yet the results were
pretty much the same. Even with multiple cuts on each target before
moving on to the next. In this scenario only one student made the
full round and cut thirty cuts before a failed attempt. Focus, mai,
and basics foiled them in every case.
Through that process and even now, I muse of discussing the experience
with Saruta. He is the only other person who really understands
what it is like to experience Senbongiri. Like so many other aspects
of this artform of swordsmanship, so much is lost in the translation.
More and more westerners are turning to sword and test cutting today.
It is so valuable for all of us to speak and discuss the virtues
of this great art form if we are to understand the truth the Japanese
sword arts have to teach us. The movement away from the separatism
of the past is slowly making progress. Sword arts have always been
the activity of the elite. And through time, through the duality
of sword, it became elitism. That is an old idea that doesn’t
work today and only serves to perpetuate closed minds and archaic
mentality. When the last of the true shoguns died they took with
them the method of enforcing a way of life where secret training
meant saving lives. Even though the weapon struck down oppressors
it was the sword of katsujinken, giving life to those oppressed.
Today that isolationism portends extinction and dilution for many
valued ways of martial distinction. People do what they will in
this art form because it does something special for them. The dark
cloak of secrecy today too often implies a fear of technical inadequacy
and lack of understanding and acceptance rather than moving into
the light of more honorable and virtuous behavior. The sword community
as a whole would do well to remember that we are all still learning
with barely enough time in one life time to grasp it’s meanings.
Those who would keep their art in a tinted glass bubble doom that
art to stagnation. It is a natural law that what doesn’t grow
eventually dies. As Sengoku grew from former times because the swordsmen
got better, so does the rebirth of today’s swordsmanship grow
from the ashes of post Sekigahar
Today we, as westerners, have the opportunity to ‘live’
the archetypal traits of Bushido’s greatest virtues as a manifestation
of our daily lives. Today we have the opportunity live a more fully
connected consciousness than any time since 1600 without the harshness
and negativity that inhibits life and positive social circumstance.
Just at a time when humanity needs the visage of virtuous life more
Founder – Ishi Yama Ryu Battojutsu Dojo, Seattle Wa.