Cutting and Hitting

Kiri, Tsuki, Ate

In the chapter Kiri, Tsuki and Ate of "Aikido in Real Life" Yoshigasaki Sensei explains the difference between cutting and hitting.
Cutting (Kiri, 切り) in Aikido should cause less damage than hitting.
"If you use a stick or wooden sword, you do not actually cut but you still do a cutting movement and this gives a different effect from hitting."
He sees a cultural difference between Europe and Japan in hitting and cutting.

It is true that in ancient times many stones were carved (= hammered) to build temples and public buildings. But that is only a part of the history of European civilization. The large population of farmers has always worked with cutting tools. The grain was cut with a sickle or scythe, as was the grass, in order to feed the livestock with hay in winter. The grain was of course threshed later, which is again a form of "hitting".
However, the construction workers in Europe not only "hit" the stones, which probably means chiseling, but also split them depending on their consistency, which in turn corresponds to the act of the immediate result, as it is attributed to cutting.
"Hitting creates a logic of a step-by-step progression and cutting creates a definite one-off decision which creates an immediate result." writes Yoshigasaki Sensei.

tempel, fachwerk

Stones and truss

Until the beginning of industrialization most houses in Central Europe were half-timbered houses. Wooden beams were cut, sawn, trimmed and chiseled out.
If there were stones in the framework they were mostly unhewn, i.e. they had not suffered any blows.
An extraordinarily high level of carpentry developed in Japan, partly because the wooden temples had to be regularly torn down and rebuilt.
It is said that cutting requires more skill and hitting requires more strength. This may be true for sword fighting. But sculptors who carve sculptures out of stone or carpenters who hammer nails in the beams optimize their movements so cleverly that they require little force.
It is a very special perspective when cutting is considered to have a higher cultural quality than hitting.

Most of the movements in Aikido come from samurai sword fighting. The question is, why did the samurai prefer to cut for killing their opponents rather than smack/hit them down? The cult of the sword cutting in Japan was only developed when a strong central government brought an end to the constant wars after 1600 AD. On the battlefield people killed the others with arrows, lances and spears and in close combat they struck the enemy's armor rather than trying to cut it. Now that there was peace, no one was walking around in armor anymore and the samurai could devote themselves to the rather light sword.

According to some historians, the katana originated as a cavalry weapon. Sitting on the horse's back, fighters could easily pull it because of its curved shape, and the enemy could be injured or killed as he rode past, under the motto "ride and cut".
The knights in the European Middle Ages however preferred to hold tournaments in order to knock each other out of their saddles with lances, which again is hitting. Because of their shape and weight, their swords were also more suitable for smacking and less for cutting.
During the Tokugawa Shogunate's approximately 250-year period of peace, there were few opportunities to slaughter somebody with the katana. As is well known, the samurai complained that it was no longer possible get famous by killing enemies; life became boring. While the military actions in the 30 Years' War in Europe were under the motto "striking and stabbing", the samurai hit other people with their swords, usually making a pulling motion so that the sharp blade could cut.

How does a sword cut?
Cutting is sometimes described as an action where the force acts perpendicular to the movement. In contrast to punching or boxing, where the force is used in the direction of movement. However, the difference is not that simple.

Arm off

Examples from the films Yojimbo (1961) and Onna Toseinin (1971).
When cutting body parts off, the direction of force obviously coincides with the direction of movement. The sword hits the arm, the sharp blade cuts through muscles, tissues and bones, i.e. it cuts through and separates parts.
Yoshigasaki Sensei: "Cutting means to create two forms from one form (or in other words, making two parts from one part)".
Cutting is much faster than stabbing, as you can see in the second part of the video. Luckily - as in Aikido - the attackers in the film always wait until the defender is ready again.

Hitting and cutting

Example from the film Shura Hakko (1958).
The lady Kangetsuin lures the noble samurai Akasa Keinosuke into an ambush.
The samurai strikes (uchi) with his sword. In Aikido, the attacks are called shomenuchi or yokomenuchi and not shomenkiri or yokomenkiri. When the sword hits the opponent's body, a pulling movement is added, resulting in a cutting. This pulling movement must not begin too early, otherwise the range of the strike will be too short. With the pulling movement, the sword automatically moves away from the opponent and can be aimed at the next attacker. When stabbing with Tsuki, however, the sword has to be laboriously pulled out of the victim. Also when striking, the sword must first be raised above one's own head before the next blow can be delivered. The distance to the next attacker is more difficult to control.

Cut braids

Example from the film Seppuku (1962).
Here a father avenges his son who was driven to a painful death by some samurai. He doesn't take the perpetrators' lives, he just cuts off their braids, which, however, means an absolute loss of honor.

Odd swords

Example from the film Rurouni Kenshin (2012).
Rurouni Kenshin is a young samurai who has renounced his bloody past. He no longer wants to kill and therefore carries a sword with the sharp blade on the back so as not to fatally injure anyone. However, he even rarely draws his sword. In this fantasy film, based on a Manga, he first meets the young woman Kaoru Kamiya, who is a dojocho and later he is challenged by Sagara Sonosuke, who uses a 400-year-old monster of a sword with which he strikes and cannot cut at all because it is not sharp.
Yoshigasaki Sensei, on the other hand, mentions that you can use the (blunt) back of a normal sword to minimize injuries.

Cutting in Aikido

In Aikido we do not use sharp cutting weapons. Jo, Bokken and Tanto are usually made of wood and are blunt. So it can only be cut in a figurative sense. This means that using a sharp metal sword the techniques would result in lacerations. The blunt bokken is placed on Uke's body and pulled along its surface with pressure. With this "entraining" movement, Uke is pushed away and may lose his balance, causing him to fall. Real hitting with the bokken is illusory for Nage in Aikido because it would cause serious injuries. The symbolic cutting has the advantage that the contact area is not stationary and Nage can better coordinate his body when pulling through the bokken. When instead hitting, even gently, Nage would have to push and would meet more resistance.
So if cutting movements are possible with the blunt Bokken, this also applies to the Jo, which is always blunt. We know it from the exercises "Jo against Jo" in the 3rd Kyu program. In our Aikido there are no techniques in which Nage cuts with the tanto for defense. However, Nage can make cutting movements with the edge of the hand, the back of the hand, the forearm, etc. The origin of this type of leading lies in the principle of "Aiki", which is already present in Takeda Sokaku's Daito-Ryu-Aiki-Jujutsu and which Ueshiba Morihei was so fascinated by.
If the techniques are carried out without contact, like in Tsuzukiwaza 19, the discussion about the mechanics of the action is unnecessary. Then the interaction between Nage and Uke happens with Ki or mentally, which is a different topic and gives rise to other questions.
B. Boll