What’s difficult about slicing tomato? No big deal right?
Yet, if its your first time doing it you would find it difficult to do so especially with a non-serrated knife. The way you hold down the tomato, the holding of the knife, the angling of the blade, etc can make you a prime candidate for a nasty cut if you are not careful.
One thing missing from the typical Tai Chi Chuan straight sword training is test cutting. If you have never actually cut, sliced or stab anything how do you know if it will really work when you do it for real? Of course, one simple problem is that its not easy to get hold of an actual straight sword that can be sharpened for test cutting though its easy enough to buy a replica. However, the feel of a replica is not quite the same. I won’t even mention other problems with using a real sword for test cutting in a country like Singapore.
So one way to learn about actual cutting, not the best substitute mind you but its better than nothing, is to learn how to cut vegetables and meat. It might seem simple but try doing it fast, accurate and by feel rather than looking and suddenly it feels a bit more scary.
The first student that I taught the straight sword to didn’t have a good appreciation for what a real sharpened blade can do though I suggested trying out using a kitchen knife at home to gain an understanding. With the second student that I am planning to teach the straight sword to I assessed his understanding of using a knife by letting him try slicing a tomato. The way he held the tomato down, the contact angle of the knife gave me room for worry as I certainly didn’t want to see blood spilled during Chinese New Year.
The hand holding the tomato down has an important role in that if you do not secure it properly to the cutting board the possibility of the tomato moving as you cut down causing you to cut your fingers instead is there. Similarly, in doing the straight sword it is normal for students to overlook the role of the left hand that is not holding the sword and focus on the hand holding the sword instead. This is an error as the non-sword has a role to play too.
The hand holding the knife needs to hold in such a way that it can direct the blade, exert pressure and cut with authority. When I watched my student try to cut the tomato he was actually pressing on it, making it difficult to slice through quickly and cleanly. With the correct angling and positioning of the knife hand and the knife it is easy to slice quickly and cleanly with minimal resistance through the tomato. This lesson can be transferred across to the use of the straight sword because without this understanding when the student tries to cut he will find that he cannot exert enough force on the blade. This is also a way to assess if someone playing with a bladed weapon really understands how to issue power with it or is just posing with it.