When a Japanese sword meets flesh

Discussion in 'Weapons' started by Dave Humm, May 22, 2006.

  1. Dave Humm

    Dave Humm Serving Queen and Country

    Please note:
    This article contains graphic images of postoperative injury sustained by a Japanese sword

    I would like to thank and acknowledge Mr. Don Rice and his family for allowing me to use the photos of his injury together with written content relating to his accident contained within this article.

    As a student and instructor of both Aikido and Iaido I am constantly reminding myself how easily the techniques I teach (regardless of the philosophy or ideology associated to them), can result in serious injuries... Injuries which have the potential for life changing results. The following article is a stark and poignant reminder to current Japanese sword users and, more importantly, to those who have a desire to study or indeed just own a sword; just how much physical risk is involved.

    As a professional working within a strong Health and Safety environment, I have to say that accidents, all accidents, are ultimately preventable. Accidents always have root causes and, with a little investigation the “root cause” is often quite different to what appears to be the initial source or reason for the accident.

    Martial arts training is absolutely no different (from an H&S perspective) than many other activities, as individuals we're constantly making ‘micro’ risk assessments of what and how we do things in our daily lives however, complacency, which is little more than poor behavioural attitude can and often does replace efficiency particularly when we’ve been doing something so much it becomes almost second nature in our normal routine; here, we increase the risk of an accident.

    It is important to remember that when training with a weapon of any description, the moment it is in one’s hands it becomes potentially lethal. It doesn’t matter how safe you think you are, how skilled or experienced you have become, a weapon is a weapon and you cannot escape that fact. Weapons are designed primarily to do one thing. To Kill People this is especially true of the Japanese sword.

    Despite the romantic notions often associated with it, its use and the Samurai who held it in such high regard, the Japanese sword is one of the most efficient cutting edged weapons ever conceived. Never forget that.

    So how hard would it be to kill someone with a Japanese sword ? The answer to that macabre question is simple..

    The sword is deadly even in the hands of a fool” ​
    Only recently I witnessed in sheer horror one of my students drop his sword whilst performing chiburi; luckily the blade fell away from him (and others in his proximity) yet still narrowly missing his leading foot, the blade, a contemporary but traditionally constructed shinken (with its ha professionally dulled) buried its self impressively into the floor sufficiently enough to make everyone realise it would have cleanly penetrated the students foot with ease. Add to this; had the blade still been sharp, we’d have been looking at a potentially very serious cut to the students body had it fallen toward him or anyone else.

    What caused this “preventable accident” from happening?

    Believe it or not, his ex-wife and, a related situation which created an unfavourable mindset for the student earlier that day prior to arriving at the dojo.

    What would have prevented this ‘near miss’?

    Firstly the student in question should have known (given the time he’s already spent in the art) to have approached me and briefly explained his state of mind, he and I are good friends socially anyway thus there was no real reason not to have. Also, as instructor I have to take a degree of responsibility; I noted earlier in his training that he was having a bad class, in hindsight, I should have asked him if there was a problem.

    Risks are present in almost everything we do, thing is, we don’t always appreciate what they are.

    I myself have been the epitome of complacency and I’m the first to admit it. Twelve months ago whilst teaching the basics of nukitsuki and noto (two key aspects of Iaido) I noted one of my students extending the index finger of his left had during the point where the sword blade and hand briefly come in to close proximity during the re-sheathing of the sword. I stopped the class and made a specific point on how this error would likely result in a laceration (or worse) to the index finger should the cutting edge and the finger actually touch, this is despite the fact that I don’t allow any of my students to use live edged weapons, and there’s a reason for this of course. I on the other hand had chosen to train that day with my shinken normally used for tameshigiri (test cutting) I did so because of vanity – I like the look and feel of the sword.

    Having made the safety point to the class we returned to our lesson, within seconds I had sliced almost a third off my own left index finger; this was done because I failed to concentrate on my own performance but focused on that of my students. Complacency replaces efficiency.

    Accidents are learning experiences; thankfully I’ve learned three valuable lessons of my own.

    1. Never EVER use a shinken for iai study
    2. Never EVER mix my own study with a sword whilst taking responsibility for others
    3. I set the worse possible example for my students that day, no matter how I excuse the injury; I was a complete and utter idiot.

    My injury however pales into petty insignificance, a minor scratch compared to that sustained by a gentleman named Don Rice.

    On the 12th April 2005 a post appeared on Sword Forum International informing its contributors of a terrible and somewhat horrific injury to one of its members. The injury having been sustained sometime the week prior.

    Following initial posts of good wishes from various contributors, Don himself posted his first of several replies. Included within his first post was this image


    Whilst looking at this image, I want you to imagine what your wife, husband, daughter, son indeed any member of your close family would feel seeing you maimed in this way? And for what..? I also want you to consider a situation; and the impact upon your family's lives should they ever get a phone call from the Police advising them of your responsibility in injuring (or worse) someone else.


    People need to realise that even just owning a sword of any description carries inherent risks, whilst many contemporary swords require very little looking after risks still exist.

    Many cheap imitation “samurai” swords are made of a fairly brittle 440 stainless steel, these swords are given sharp edges and constitute a real risk to those who can otherwise walk in off the street with no comprehension of what they are purchasing, and buy one of these a wall hanging ornaments.

    Sharp is sharp regardless of how much you pay.​


    The adage “play with fire and you’ll get burnt” is perfectly true in these cases, even with expert training and regular practice, use of a Japanese sword carries risks. If you’re prepared to accept these risks (which are easily manageable in a good well run dojo) training in a Japanese sword art can be both rewarding and a means of personal development however; to cast your eyes glibly over this article and the images contained in it means at some point in the future, you’re very likely to encounter the sharp side of your poor attitude. In my humble opinion… Better YOU than someone in your close proximity !

    In conclusion; If you are considering study of a sword art, please, please seek instruction from accredited experienced instructors and NEVER EVER rush to work with a sword. Listen to your instructor, learn from his/her experiences and train and remain as safe as possible.

    A fleeting uncontrolled encounter with a Japanese sword is enough to change the rest of your life,
    not to mention the lives of the people who love you.


    Mr Rice admits he had no formal training in a Japanese sword art, he also states that he should not have been attempting to train using a live blade, his only information relating to Japanese sword use was books and other reference material.

    Mr. Rice Wrote:

    "I do not have any formal training in this and I have only briefly looked over books and diagrams on the subject , so I was being an idiot for even thinking of doing this sort of thing with a live blade ....period ! "


    "I honestly should not have been doing what I was with a sharp blade in the first place "

    The sword which penetrated his left arm was not a cheap imitation. The impact of this injury upon Mr Rice and his family is essentially immeasurable. Mr Rice is not some impressionable young adult with romantic sword notions or, without common sense, the fact that Mr Rice was susceptible to complacency is a direct indicator that we are all at risk.

    "...accidents are learning experiences"​

    Make sure you learn from Mr. Rice's experiences

    Last edited: May 23, 2006
  2. TheDarkJester

    TheDarkJester 90% Sarcasm, 10% Mostly Good Advice.

    Good post Dave.. but honestly shouldn't the title of the thread be "First Law of the Blade?"

    When steel and flesh meet.. 99.9% of the time steel wins.
  3. Capt Ann

    Capt Ann Valued Member


    Sincere regrets regarding your recent injury, but thanks and admiration for allowing it to provide a lesson to all would-be sword practitioners. I recommend this be stickied in the weapons forum, and used as a link every time someone requests advice for purchasing a sword, instructional books/videos, or for links to web-based sword techniques.

    I'm sure I speak for everyone on MAP in wishing you a speedy (and full) recovery.
  4. Dave Humm

    Dave Humm Serving Queen and Country


    It wasn't me who sustained the injury illustrated in the images, that was a chap named Don Rice.

    I on the other hand did slice my finger (lol) and that has fully healed.

    May I again express my thanks to Don and his family for letting me use his material.

    Kind regards
  5. Kogusoku

    Kogusoku 髭また伸びた! Supporter

    Good article Dave.

    I've had a couple of near misses with shinken during iai keiko with nukitsuke & noto too. My sempai who was a sandan at the time and is now a rokudan did a lot worse. Read the whole story here.
    Last edited: May 22, 2006
  6. Anth

    Anth Daft. Supporter

    Cheers Dave for posting that.

    With any luck, people will see this and stay away from playing with swords without instruction.

    Doubt it like :bang:

  7. Saz

    Saz Nerd Admin

    If its posted as the standard response to every misaimed question on how to get hold of weapons, they might.

    I think this will be far more effective than flaming.
  8. Brad Ellin

    Brad Ellin Baba

    Wonderful article Dave! Probably one reason why I never let a student train with a metal blade and why I shy away from them myself, most of the time. I'm just not comfortable enough with them and sure as heck don't want to see my pictures posted up here.
  9. pgsmith

    pgsmith Valued dismemberer

    Good write-up Dave!
    I've not had problems with noto, (other than the occassional enlarging of the inside of my saya!) but I did have a near miss with nukitsuke. I was performing nukitsuke from seiza as one of the tameshigiri competitions at the Tuscon Tai Kai last year when I started my cut just a hair too soon. I was about a quarter of an inch too early (fraction of a second) and cut right through the horn koiguchi with a very loud crack! Since everyone was watching the competition (me at that time) it was very quiet and you could hear a gasp from those watching. I was afraid to look, but it completely missed my hand. Didn't make my cut though as I slowed down as soon as I heard it go through my koiguchi. Serious adrenalin rush when I realized just how close I had come to dropping pieces on the floor! :) Got a big laugh when I sheepishly raised my hand in the air so the judges could see I didn't sever anything. After coming that close, I figured I deserved to be laughed at!
  10. slipthejab

    slipthejab Hark, a vagrant! Supporter

    Great thread.
    Perhaps we can simply auto-direct every self-taught swordsman who posts on MAP about where to buy a razor sharp katana directly to this thread. :D
  11. Alansmurf

    Alansmurf Aspire to Inspire before you Expire Supporter

    or just redirect to this pic !!!! :D

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  12. Anth

    Anth Daft. Supporter

    Why use auto-direct? :confused:

    Dave and I are faster than it :D
  13. Ginga Ninja

    Ginga Ninja New Member

    Lol! Random pic, but did make me laugh! In the mid of exams so nice to have a bit of light entertainment! Prob not the best thread to put it in though, considering the nature of this thread!
  14. slipthejab

    slipthejab Hark, a vagrant! Supporter

    what Alansmurf is saying... don't be a dogs ass and run out and buy a sharp sword thinking your a modern day reincarnation of a samurai and then cut your arm off.
  15. Dave Humm

    Dave Humm Serving Queen and Country

    LOL.. I know some women who aren't as good looking as that "dog's ****"

    {Mental note} Perhaps I should have kept that to myself. :eek:

    On a serious note: This thread needs to be brought to the attention of every self taught wannabie who posts here; as an ongoing thread please feel add similar content, images or anything you guys feel relates to self taught idiocy.

  16. shootodog

    shootodog restless native

    thank you dave for posting this.

    i have been in and seen quite a few blade related injuries in my time. and i always tell people who wish to "dance with live blades":

    live blades are much like hungry tigers in a cage. if you are inexperienced in handling one, they know this and would most likely take a bite out of you,

    be smart folks. get trained and train with "safer" tools and work your way up to a live blade.
  17. aikiMac

    aikiMac aikido + boxing = very good Moderator Supporter

    Wouldn't sword users be safer if there was a lip around the saya/sheath opening, like the tsuba or "guard" above sword and knife handles? The guard above handles protects the hand from slipping onto the blade and protects the hand from the opponent's incoming blade. I would think a guard around hole on the sheath would offer some protection when pulling swords in and out of the sheath. :confused: Then again, I could be wrong due to my ignorance on this subject.
  18. slipthejab

    slipthejab Hark, a vagrant! Supporter

    they could always wear a chainmail glove on the hand that holds the saya/sheath when drawing the sword. Much like fishmongers do when they clean fish. :p

    That wouldn't look very stylish though.
  19. Dave Humm

    Dave Humm Serving Queen and Country

    Thing is guys... guards on saya or chain mail gloves (lol) really aren't required.

    A qualified instructor IS !!

    Although I concede that regardless of how much qualified expertise one takes from one's instructor accidents still do happen and can be particularly serious (define serious lol) Neglect on the other hand is an entirely different animal as is the idiocy of self teaching with a sword (sharp or otherwise).

  20. Kogusoku

    Kogusoku 髭また伸びた! Supporter

    In addition to what Dave wrote about requiring an instructor, you definately need awareness of space, of self and of the weapon. You also need respect for that weapon. The moment you don't respect a weapon is when accidents happen.

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