The Japanese sword is an icon recognized all over the world for its’ lethal beauty and craftsmanship. Over time, some of the attributes assigned to the Japanese “Shinken” (Pure or true sword) have been embellished as well.
In a Hollywood movie called “The Bodyguard” a silk scarf is parted effortlessly as it lights on the edge of a Japanese blade thus suggesting a sharpness that is almost ethereal.
Did the warrior class (Bushi) desire a blade that was this sharp? The answer is no. Today many martial arts adherents are not told that historically speaking, the warrior typically dulled down the blade. It was an expensive proposition to constantly replace scabbards (Saya) that were chewed up by blades that were too sharp. More critical to survival, a blade’s very durability could be compromised by having an edge (Ha) that was so thin as to be fragile. The warrior knew that there was a sweet spot of sorts where the blade was both durable and sharp enough for its’ intended purpose. It was accepted practice to dull the edge a bit. This wasn’t done by the polisher but by the sword’s owner and to his discretion.
Today test cutting is extremely popular. The warrior however didn’t typically spend a lot of time cutting through targets. Swords were very expensive and could command exorbitant prices. One didn’t risk 1 or 2 years wages or more simply to hone skills or for enjoyment. Certainly there were well recorded episodes in Japanese history where a particular sword was tested on criminals for instance but this wasn’t a common occurrence.