I wanted to send congratulations to our newest black belts, Monica,Stephanie and Bianca (you know who you are :). After about 3-4 years,three of our students from the middle school/high school class haveachieved their first black belt level of proficiency. They have alsobeen consistent over the years of study. Unlike other schools ourstakes quite a while of training to get to this level (in the US) andthen more years to go beyond. We also tend to focus on fewer kata andtry to increase our proficiency on them, starting with just the woodensword (bokuto) practice to eventually being able to perform all thesekata on live targets with a shinken (live sword).
The high school level students don't get as much practice with the livesword even after a few years unfortunately, depending upon theirparental approval to do so. Even though it takes more skill thanstrength to cut targets with a shinken, you still need a degree ofcontrol that only comes with swinging the shinken over time.
The weights of the wooden and live sword are very different and thistakes getting used to. The bokuto tends to be uniform weight along itslength (although holding the handle still makes it tip heavy), whilethe live swords have more metal forward of the handle. Unlike someEuropean and other swords, Japanese swords are not counterweighted:other swords sometimes have extra weight in the form of a pommel orrounded ball (I think from the French "pomme" - apple) at the end ofthe handle. This moves the fulcrum (balance point) closer towards themiddle of the handle. They did this because the weapons were heavier(4-15 pounds, sometime even more) because of the metalworking andthicker blades (I'll explain why later), and the pommel made it easierto hold it in balance.
Japanese swords did not introduce the counterweight. More of the weightis in the blade portion, so it adds to the cutting power as that weightfalls down. The blade overall is also lighter (2-5 pounds), which makesit easier to hold. Thus, they focused on stronger, lighter swords butwith more forward weight to aid in cutting.
Their edge (the ha) is alsoconsidered sharper in general. You might hear it called a 'razor'sedge'. This is more to point out the shape of the edge if, you take across section. The shape is more like a really long wedge starting atthe middle or thickest part of the sword and coming to thin point;although it looks like a straight wedge, it really is rounded thecloser you look. When hitting soft targets (flesh), it is much easierto slide right through with the target. The rounder the cross-section,the greater its ability to cut into harder targets (and not dull ordent the edge), but you sacrifice how easily it bitesinto the target and how much strength you need. You'd need morestrength anyway to hit a harder target, but you also need the rightshaped blade to do so.
Knife-edges on the other hand, are triangular in cross-section near thetip, if you look carefully. What this does is take the older Europeansword edge route, of trying to hit hard targets (say plate mail ormetal chainmail). When hitting a hard target, it is easier to bashthe surface armor in hopes that it will break open, and then try to cutflesh. This edge is also easier to create, and does not require as muchwork to produce a sword. On the other hand, this edge would last muchlonger than the thinner wedge which needs more maintainence over itslifetime. Of course, it also depends upon the metals and craftsmanshipof the sword, whichever type it is.
This is also why we tell our sword students to never try to use a knife sharpener or take it to The Knife Storeto get it sharpened. What you end up with is the wrong kind of edge andthis only makes it harder to cut the soft targets, requiring morestrength to do the same amount of work as a wedge shape.
Each was made for the type of combat it "typically" encounters. Justsomething as small as this difference also leads to differentapproaches on how to fight an enemy.
PS: The first black belt testing requires the ability to cut a fulltarget in several different ways. At its thickest, it is said to be thedensity of a person.
new battodo graduates, and japanese sword edges