Join Date: Dec 2004
separating sheep from goats
Sorry, the verbiage in my post FAILED to keep the beasties apart (and to provide enough detail), and I see that you got confused. Let's try again.
HORIZONTAL CUT : primarily used in Europe, also in Siam, Arabia, and sometimes Vietnam. Victim is kneeling with torso (and head) upright, or nearly so. The position is easy for the victim to maintain with some degree of steadiness (though he/she is probably scared witless), and because of the arc of the cut, you can't have an assistant standing there if you don't want to deal with excessive employee turnover. The headsman swings the sword/saber horizontally, and the job is done. The Arab executioner often gives the victim a little poke in the side with the tip of the shamshir to get him to stiffen up straight, and then cuts immediately.
VERTICAL CUT: typically used in China, often in Vietnam and other oriental countries. Victim stands, bent over with torso/neck horizontal, or else kneels with head extending forward. It is more awkward for the victim (but nobody seemed to care about that!), and here is where the assistant and the looped cord around the ears comes into play. The idea is to keep neck extended and steady to receive a downward blow (in ax-using Euro. countries, the block served the same purpose).
The Japanese seemed to favor 45 degrees downward on a kneeling prisoner, based on some WW II photos that I saw of American and Australian POWs about to be executed by officers with katanas.
By the way, most of the info I have provided above comes from period engravings and photos, ranging from 16th cent. Germany to Qing illustrations to 19th cent. photos taken by western visitors to various Oriental countries.