Join Date: Dec 2004
practice makes perfect
I recall reading that in olden times, the executioner's trade was learned via an apprenticeship system. In many instances (particularly in France and even to this day in Saudi Arabia) the post was/is hereditary. Many generations of the Sanson family served the Bourbon kings, and on down through various restorations and republics, well into the 20th century.
Being accurate and clean with a headsman's sword involves similar discipline and concentration required for effective cutting with combat swords as well. A friend and colleague is a taiji instructor who teaches sword and regularly practices cutting with jian. He tells me that the perpendicular cuts on the rolled-up mats are more demanding than oblique cuts. (if you tried cuts from various angles with a sharp machete while trimming tree limbs in your garden, you'll see what he means).
The reason that swords and sabers can cut so effectively even though they are much lighter than axes is that their blades have much longer edges. It's the combination of percussive force AND the "slicing" motion imparted by the action of his arm that enables a swordsman to make a deep and devastating cut. A short chopping motion with a sword can be useful for that quick "nip" to disable an opponent's sword-arm or hit some vulnerable area, but is otherwise of limited effectiveness. Axes do well for chopping because of the weight of the head combined with the leverage of the handle. If you read Polish, a good book that explains saber design and the biomechanics of cutting is Wojciech Zablocki's CIECA PRAWDZIWA SZABLA (a true cut with a saber), Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Sport i Turystyka 1988.