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Michael Edelson




Location: New York
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PostPosted: Sun 25 Nov, 2012 6:22 pm    Post subject: Cutting Clay         Reply with quote

In light of Matt Galas's excellent article on Cossack cutting practices (http://hemaalliance.com/discussion/viewtopic.php?f=20&t=2572) and various references to Middle Eastern cutting (both of which used clay), we decided to experiment and create a video for the benefit of the community.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tkPJ_SSpg4&feature=youtu.be

Some lessons learned:

1. One does not "cut" clay. It's hard to explain with words, but it's not cutting. It's more like pushing through. When you cut through an animal carcass wrapped in linen and propped up on a pole (so gravity doesn't open the wounds), you get a certain feeling, a feeling of "cutting." You get a similar feeling with tatami. You do not get that feeling with clay.
2. Almost anything you cut will test your aim and angle control. Clay does that. Clay also adds one very important feedback item: trajectory control through a very large target (you'd need multiple tatami rolls to test that). Other than that, however, clay offers little feedback.
3. You don't need a sharp sword to cut clay. Even crappy swords work fine, but the more flexible the sword, the harder it is.
4. Clay is easy to cut and quite forgiving, particularly when it comes to velocity. If you just drop your sword on clay, it will bite in several inches. What is challenging is cutting through large, thick chunks (like a torso sized target).
5. You can muscle through clay (you can't muscle through either tatami or clothed bodies).
6. Clay is extremely messy.
7. Clay is very very heavy and very difficult to work with (for that reason). We used a 175lbs of clay for this test and it was a giant pain.

I think clay can be an excellent supplement to tatami or even an alternative for those groups that cannot afford either tatami or the swords needed to cut it, but clay must never completely replace tatami because it does not test or develop the same spectrum of skills.

New York Historical Fencing Association
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Byakkokan Dojo
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Tim Lison




Location: Chicago, Illinois
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PostPosted: Sun 25 Nov, 2012 6:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Looks like messy fun. Thanks for sharing the video.
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Matthew P. Adams




Location: Cape Cod, MA
Joined: 08 Dec 2008
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PostPosted: Sun 25 Nov, 2012 8:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That was great! Looks like a lot of fun, and it's the only reusable cutting medium that I've ever seen. Thanks for posting!
"We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training" Archilochus, Greek Soldier, Poet, c. 650 BC
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Sam Gordon Campbell




Location: Australia.
Joined: 16 Nov 2008

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PostPosted: Sun 25 Nov, 2012 9:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Very cool.
I believe it mentions in the article that straw was wixed with the clay (which I assume was from a river or stream bed as opposed to using pottery clay). Do you think that the addition of straw would alter the its properties?
I can't recall but I think in a translation of a furusiyya i read it mentioned them as being shaped like cones.
I'd definitly try my hand at it!

Member of Australia's Stoccata School of Defence since 2008.
Host of Crash Course HEMA.
Founder of The Van Dieman's Land Stage Gladiators.
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Michael Edelson




Location: New York
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PostPosted: Mon 26 Nov, 2012 3:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've been thinking about the straw. All of our soil around here is clay, which is why I have to buy topsoil or get my neighbor's cow dung to plant stuff. Natural clay is very very mushy, this stuff I bought off amazon is concrete by comparison. So if I were going to use my natural clay, I would need something to hold the stuff together, and straw would work just fine. At least that's one theory.
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Scott Hanson




Location: La Crosse, WI
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PostPosted: Mon 26 Nov, 2012 9:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nice explanation of the benefits/limitations of clay as a cutting medium. Thanks!
Proverbs 27:17 "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another"

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Bennison N




Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Joined: 06 Feb 2008
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PostPosted: Mon 26 Nov, 2012 5:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hey all.

I've been going through a reasonably obsessive Mamluk "phase" lately while training for BotN 2014, and I've tried the clay as well (the furusiyya mention it, so I gave it a go). I just used the solid NZ yellow volcanic clay, which is everywhere around where I live, and made about a 1200mm high cone on top of an old 1500mm x 1500mm coffee table. I will agree that it is very messy, but tons of fun, and a mean workout. After maybe 60-70 hard downwards cuts to the "shoulders" of the cone, I never made it through to the table's surface, and I was trying, believe me. The next day my shoulders and wrists were really letting me know... The sure sign that it works and I need to keep doing it.

I think an important technique that clay teaches and tatami doesn't is the pulling out of the sword after a deep cut. Generally with tatami your sword will very rarely stop halfway through and have to be jimmied back out like it does with clay. At least this has been my personal experience with the mats. With the clay though, I found that with a resounding "chock" type noise, my sabre slammed to a complete halt, and I had to pretty much rip it back out, or even lever it a little to get it out, as the "wound" had started to close up behind the blade. I even used my foot to "kick" it out a few times. I believe this is a realistic simulation of a powerful sabre/kilij cut into an opponent's torso.

I also found that starting near the top of the cone and moving down bit-by-bit with each cut, that I was able to "sever" the top of the cone until about 400mm down, when I had to start "muscling through" like Michael said, and then eventually I just couldn't get all the way through at all (when I got about a metre or so down the cone). It is very different to tatami, but not inferior, I think.

The major downside to the whole exercise is having to clean the sabre afterwards. Clay gets into every little nook and cranny it possibly can, and it's a real bitch to clean.

"Never give a sword to a man who can't dance" - Confucius

अजयखड्गधारी
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Michael Edelson




Location: New York
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PostPosted: Mon 26 Nov, 2012 5:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bennison N wrote:
It is very different to tatami, but not inferior, I think.


I enjoyed your post, thanks for sharing. Next time take video!

As to the above...there are three ways in which tatami is superior. First, you actually cut tatami, and so you learn not only about what it feels like to cut (and thus what to do to maximize your performance), but you learn how your sword works. Clay doesn't give you that because you don't cut clay, you displace it. Second, tatami is a lot harder to cut, especially multiple rolls, and is a LOT less forgiving and also punishes you much more directly and noticeably if you fail. Finally, tatami gives you a lot more information about your cut (if you fail) than clay does. Clay gives you a lot of information about a successful cut, but not so much about a failed one.

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