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Ed Toton




Location: Northern VA
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PostPosted: Thu 08 Feb, 2007 12:42 pm    Post subject: Swordfodder and Tatami cutting targets         Reply with quote

So far I've done very little in the way of test-cutting, and so far only with water bottles and the like. I had asked for recommendations on another thread, and I got some private replies.

One suggestion was http://www.swordfodder.com/. After reading their descriptions and looking at the video demonstrations, I decided to order a starter kit (which I'm expecting to be delivered today, according to the tracking info), and at least give it a try.

I wanted to ask if anyone had any opinions on how this compares to tatami mats, or if there are other sorts of targets that can be recommended that will help me work on edge alignment and form. I liked the swordfodder FAQ's mentioning of the fact that you can avoid the whole soaking chore that tatami involves, and the fact that it may be safer for your sword if you make some really bad mistakes.

So, any opinions or experiences to relate? Any other types of targets you've worked with that you can also recommend?

-Ed T. Toton III
ed.toton.org | ModernChivalry.org
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Sam Barris




Location: San Diego, California
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PostPosted: Thu 08 Feb, 2007 2:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Let me lead off by saying that I have absolutely no experience with this company's products.

However, when it comes to studying obsolete martial arts, I'm something of a traditionalist. I'm never going to carry a sword into actual battle, so having a technologically advanced cutting medium seems rather pointless and more than a little out of place, especially when tatami mats are so aesthetically pleasing and worked just fine for people who cut other people up for a living. As for saving time by not having to soak the mats prior to cutting, I’ve always been taught that patience is absolutely central to the study of any martial art, nor do you have to sit there and watch them soak the entire time, so I’m not really feeling the time crunch. And (as per their FAQ) tatami doesn’t small that bad. I lived in a house with tatami floors for two years and was never bothered by the smell.

Looking at it from another angle, my green soul would feel extremely guilty creating large volumes of non-biodegradable (and possibly non-recyclable) synthetic waste just so I could “increase time focusing on mastering martial arts”. At least a water bottle can be tossed into the recycling bin on trash day. Most forms of styrofoam cannot. And grass is grass, whether in a rolled up woven mat or a lawnmower bag. Their FAQ mentions that old tatami can grow mold. To me that means it won’t be contributing to our already overburdened landfills.

Personally, I’d stick with tatami mats. They’ve worked just fine for several centuries now, and they worked in a time when a swordsman’s life depended on his comprehensive knowledge of both his weapon’s capabilities and the medium that his weapon was intended to cut. If a Samurai didn’t feel temporally oppressed by the need to soak a tatami mat, I can’t see how I’m in a bigger hurry.

But that’s me; my bias should be obvious by now and as I said, I’ve never used this company’s product. Please let us know how it measures up. I am actually curious. And if a representative from the company happens to wander through and might be able to answer some of my concerns—perhaps they are recyclable, after all—well, that would be great, too.

Pax,
Sam Barris

"Any nation that draws too great a distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting done by fools." —Thucydides
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Joe Fults




Location: Midwest
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PostPosted: Thu 08 Feb, 2007 5:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I just skimmed, but it looks like foam to me, and I can get that cheaper at the local WalMart.
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Hugo Voisine





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PostPosted: Fri 09 Feb, 2007 7:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've used the Sword-fodder stuff, and I must say I like it. You can try different techniques without risking scratching your blade. You get a better feel than with pool noodles (the foam being more dense).
« Que dites-vous ?... C'est inutile ?... Je le sais !
Mais on ne se bat pas dans l'espoir du succès !
Oh ! non, c'est bien plus beau lorsque c'est inutile ! »
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Keith Nelson




Location: Kalamazoo, MI, USA
Joined: 01 Mar 2004

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PostPosted: Fri 09 Feb, 2007 8:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joe Fults wrote:
I just skimmed, but it looks like foam to me, and I can get that cheaper at the local WalMart.


It's completely different from foam noodles (WalMart or otherwise). A lot more dense and a lot more relevant to actual tameshigiri practice. And it does cut like tatami...

I've had the good luck to cut a decent amount of the Swordfodder "mats" and to cut both it and tatami rolls (Mugendashi wara, for those interested in the comparison) in the same session. I still would use tatami for formal tameshigiri sessions within a martial arts style that focused on the cutting of tatami (say, Toyama-ryu or Nakamura-ryu battodo), but this is a much better medium for actual testing of your cutting ability than something like pool noodles, 2-liter soda bottles, cardboard, etc.

This is all just my experience, but I'm impressed with the product. Your mileage may vary, but I'd suggest trying it first.

Keith
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Patrick Kelly




Location: Wichita, Kansas
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PostPosted: Fri 09 Feb, 2007 3:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
It's completely different from foam noodles (WalMart or otherwise). A lot more dense and a lot more relevant to actual tameshigiri practice. And it does cut like tatami...


I don't recall Joe describing it as a foam noodle and he's right, the same material can be obtained for less at retail outlets and packaging stores, there's no reason to pay more for a product that can be easily obtained locally. It looks like it might be a viable substitute for some people. If nothing else it's cheaper than tatami and goza, which can get a bit expensive.
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Travis Canaday




Location: Overland Park, Kansas
Joined: 24 Oct 2005

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PostPosted: Fri 09 Feb, 2007 8:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sam Barris wrote:
They’ve worked just fine for several centuries now, and they worked in a time when a swordsman’s life depended on his comprehensive knowledge of both his weapon’s capabilities and the medium that his weapon was intended to cut.


Hey Sam,

Apparently using tatami-omote as a cutting medium is a recent thing. The founder of Shinkendo, Toshishiro Obata started using it around 1973 while training in Tokyo because it was easier to get than straw. When the Battodo Federation held the first tameshigiri competition in Japan, Obata suggested tatami as a nice uniform target. And now this is standard. Before this time straw and bamboo were the most common cutting mediums.

According to Obata there is documentation that Edo-era executioners practiced cutting on tatatmi-doko (the full straw mat, as opposed to the rolled up mat covering, tatami-omote). So tatami is somewhat traditional.

It's funny how this common world wide practice was started by one guy, not too long ago, and most people, even in th JSA don't realize this. I just want credit to go to the guy. You can read about this on pg. 83 of Obata's book on tameshigiri.

I have to agree with you on everything else. Aesthetically and environmentally tatami seems much better.

Travis
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Sam Barris




Location: San Diego, California
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PostPosted: Sat 10 Feb, 2007 6:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'll have to check that book out. Thanks.
Pax,
Sam Barris

"Any nation that draws too great a distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting done by fools." —Thucydides
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Mike Arledge




Location: Indianapolis, IN
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PostPosted: Sat 10 Feb, 2007 8:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'd assume this is the same basic stuff.

http://www.foambymail.com/packaging.html

Pretty cheap.

Mike J Arledge

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Ed Toton




Location: Northern VA
Joined: 16 Sep 2005

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PostPosted: Sat 10 Feb, 2007 4:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It might be similar to the polyfoam or something. It's certainly not one of the softer packing foams, like the eggcrate foam rubber. While dense and stiff, it's also softer than styrofoam. Packing foam may be an alternative worth investigating.

I'm not overly worried about it from an environmental standpoint. I'm more concerned about disposing of my old CRT monitors which actually contain toxic chemicals. Plastics that take a long time to degrade but are otherwise not toxic, and in small quantities, seems less of an issue to me. Especially since I won't be going through a box of targets every week or anything even approaching that.

Anyway, I did some test cutting today with a few of the targets, and I can see how it certainly works as a good medium to aid in practicing proper technique. It's very stubborn material if your attacks are not properly executed, without harming the blade. And when the edge alignment is good, the blade sails through.

I'm definitely very new to this since I trashed a couple of targets before I started getting some nice clean cuts with my katana. Being more of a longsword aficionado, I was frustrated with my difficulty at getting cuts with the Albion Talhoffer and the Cold Steel Hand-and-a-Half. I clearly need more practice. But the katana performed exceedingly well, making up for my lack of skill to some degree.

-Ed T. Toton III
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Keith Nelson




Location: Kalamazoo, MI, USA
Joined: 01 Mar 2004

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PostPosted: Tue 13 Feb, 2007 8:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Patrick Kelly wrote:
Quote:
It's completely different from foam noodles (WalMart or otherwise). A lot more dense and a lot more relevant to actual tameshigiri practice. And it does cut like tatami...


I don't recall Joe describing it as a foam noodle and he's right, the same material can be obtained for less at retail outlets and packaging stores, there's no reason to pay more for a product that can be easily obtained locally. It looks like it might be a viable substitute for some people. If nothing else it's cheaper than tatami and goza, which can get a bit expensive.


You're right, Patrick, he didn't describe it as a foam noodle, but that is the foam object that most people buy at Walmart for cutting (and if I'm wrong, please feel free to correct me...preferably with examples of people cutting something different). Also, do you know it's the same material? I've never seen this specific density or type of foam available at retail outlets or packaging stores. Have you personally bought some Swordfodder and compared it to what you can find locally (and if so, again feel free to correct me and point me towards where I can buy it cheaper in a retail outlet).

I frankly don't care what folks use. I've interchanged goza and swordfodder products over the past year with good success and am pleased by the Swordfodder products. However, I'd like to at least see folks trying them before blithely assuming that they're no better than the foam from Walmart. Call me weird and pseudo-scientific (or at least fair...), but that's just my feeling.

Thanks,
Keith
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Patrick Kelly




Location: Wichita, Kansas
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PostPosted: Tue 13 Feb, 2007 9:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Okay Keith, I readily admit that I haven't purchased any of these potentially unique and special products from this vendor.

Quote:
and if I'm wrong, please feel free to correct me...preferably with examples of people cutting something different


You're obviously taking this quite a bit more seriously than I am. I see no need to waste time siting examples of people whacking away at packing products.

Quote:
I've never seen this specific density or type of foam available at retail outlets or packaging stores.


There's a packaging store two minutes from where I'm sitting now that sells dense foam packing material that looks just like that. Granted, I've never seen this vendors product, nor do I intend to purchase some to send in for a detailed chemical analysis, so I can add a citation to my opinion. I'll leave that to those who have a dog in this fight.

Quote:
However, I'd like to at least see folks trying them before blithely assuming that they're no better than the foam from Walmart.


I don't recall mentioning Wally-World.

Quote:
Call me weird and pseudo-scientific


As you say.................... Wink

If Swordfodder wants to sell this stuff to satisfied buyers then more power to them, I could care less. I doubt if they're having this substance made specifically for them, but anything's possible. If people want to use it, more power to them. It looks like it could offer enough resistance to be a good training tool in terms of honing technique. In the end, my opinion is this: all I'm seeing is a marketing attempt by a vendor to convince the buyer they're selling something unique and special, that can in reality be had for less, provided a consumer is willing to do some local leg-work. I don't see anything wrong with that. Afterall, other companies have done a good job of marketing the plebian japanese grass floor mat as a traditional cutting medium. Big Grin
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Ed Toton




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Feb, 2007 6:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The softer "student" targets seem somewhat similar to some of the foam packaging I've seen on high-end rackmount server equipment. The "master" targets are considerably more dense, and I don't recall seeing packaging that is quite so stiff, but it's possible. I don't know where swordfodder.com gets the foam, but I can already see the value as an instructive cutting medium.
-Ed T. Toton III
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Mike Harris




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PostPosted: Tue 27 Mar, 2007 9:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mike Arledge wrote:
I'd assume this is the same basic stuff.

http://www.foambymail.com/packaging.html

Pretty cheap.

Mike,

Thanks for the idea and website. But just to save anyone else the expense of trying this out, I will admit that I ordered a "dense packing mat" from these folks. It isn't in any way similar to Swordfodder targets (except it's synthetic and white). This stuff is actually the stuffing for mattresses. Good thing I need an extra "in a pinch" mattress to put on the floor when I have a crowded house. So I at least have a use for it. Big Grin
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Tue 27 Mar, 2007 10:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I recently tried out cutting against the sword fodder targets. Eh. They're okay, I guess, but I don't think they're anything special. Particularly for the price. For starters, you need a very sharp sword with a very acute edge geometry in order to cut the targets, otherwise you have to modify your technique to the point where you're not really practicing martial arts anymore, you're practicing foam cutting.

It's strange that they call the denser foam the "master" targets, and imply they are tougher to cut. Both seem to just behave differently. The "student" targets were much more flimsy, and most swords just batted them around. Ed Toton brought out a katana of his that had a very fine edge and thin blade, and it sliced and diced the target with almost no effort. However, against the master target, it had a great deal of trouble. On the other hand, we used an AT 1592 against the master target, and again, there was no trouble cutting. But when we used the AT1592 against the student target, it wouldn't so much as even bite into it.

All of the other swords we tried to use (AT1520, AT1593, ATrim sidesword, Albion Talhoffer, Albion Viceroy, and a couple others that are slipping my memory at the moment) had incredibly hard times even biting into the material. These are quite sharp swords, and I have no problems cutting other materials such as tatami with these types of blades. But as mentioned, to cut the sword fodder targets with them we had to modify our technique to the point where we weren't using realistic techniques anymore (for example, moving the feet and hips before moving the blade, which is a huge no-no).

This was actually a big disappointment to me, because this was finally a target that I felt could use with my students in evening classes indoors over our nice wood fencing floors. In the end, though, it turned out to be a bust. You either need a specific sword for either type of foam to even make a cut (a very unrealistic thing), or else you need to practice cutting in a way that isn't martial arts anymore.

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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sat 31 Mar, 2007 2:24 pm    Post subject: Re: Swordfodder and Tatami cutting targets         Reply with quote

Ed Toton wrote:
So far I've done very little in the way of test-cutting, and so far only with water bottles and the like. I had asked for recommendations on another thread, and I got some private replies.


So, any opinions or experiences to relate? Any other types of targets you've worked with that you can also recommend?


I have the impression you are seeking recommended alternates, not a critique of some vendor's product.

I looked at traditional Japanese targets once, and seem to recollect that some schools used cadavers (live crimiinals too!) A master was supposed to be able to cut through more than one... at least per that article.

Some of the test cutting gatherings like to get slabs of beef or pork shoulders. It does not have to get wasted either, you can still cook it up and eat it as part of the party! How to mount such items for realistic situations is an interesting question. For horizontal cuts, I suspect hanging it with an appropriate weight below might be reasonable.

Newspapers rolled up with junk mail inside are not too bad either. You can soak the whole mess with some water and duct tape it to a stick. It is already junk-polution created by someone else. You might as well get some good out of it before turning it into landfill space. It won't be likely to hurt your sword.

Rather than throw them away or send them straight to a recycle bin, save empty 1 gallon plastic milk jugs. They are easy to cut with poor technique, but the shape of the cut edge will tell you quite a lot about how good your edge alignment was.

Do not skip thrusting in your practice unless it is foreign to the style of fencing (perhaps not appropriate for Katana, etc..) I cut every target, then attempt a thrust at it as well. Thrusting is harder than most think and results in a lot of giggles from bystanders unless you are good at it. It is surprising how well swords characterized as "pure cutters" can actually penetrate medium hardness targets in thrust. I stuck my Albion Knight clean into a vandal resistant garbage can lid at a very oblique angle Thursday night when attempting to skewer a nearly empty remnant of a milk jug (a humiliating demonstration in front of some visitors.) Never in a million years will I be able to cut that through that industrial grade garbage bin (about 3/16" thick polyethylene type plastic) with any of my current swords, but I can skewer it with every one regardless of classification as a cutter or thruster.

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