Those of us with an affinity for historical archery tend to share a broader love of historical weaponry. Be that armour, shields, black powder firearms, spears, or swords. This story begins when one of us was browsing available swords and discovered that a fully functional through-hardened katana could be had for a mere 50$, deferentially hardened (real hamon) with ray skin handles and other flourishes for 100$, and folded "damascus" for 200$. Clearly, this newfound information needed to be put to work.
Test cutting is fun, and I suspect common practice among those who've bought a functional sword, but you can only hack so many water bottles or expensive tatami mats before it becomes cost-prohibitive and, dare I say it, boring. I liken it to target shooting in any variety of disciplines, sure you can spend endless hours refining form and fighting for those slim gains in precision, but eventually you want to spice things up with novel scenarios, targets, action, and competition.
The answer came from the background some of us have in competitive pistol shooting. Borrowing elements of the target stands and overall competition setup, we set to work.
A sword obviously has a lot more momentum than a 9mm pistol round, so instead of strapping we opted for a single 2x4 as the upright in the center of a four foot long segment. The method of assembly is simple. Cut four pieces each two feet long, add two ends, and a loose vertical in between them and dry fit. When you're happy with the fit, a cordless impact, screw gun, or your screw driving weapon of choice can quickly and easily zip the whole assembly together with two exterior grade deck screws per join. The vertical in the center can then be withdrawn leaving a modular "foot" that can accept any sort of target which can be mounted atop a segment of 2x4. With two people working, a dozen of these can be knocked out in an evening for perhaps 20$ or less.
From there we need to build targets themselves. These days cardboard is perpetually coming and going from online orders and so on, it seems in endless supply and we recycle it by the truckload. Breaking it all down is a time consuming process, so lets put it to work. After all, shredding is part of the cardboard recycling process, what harm will a little extra breaking-down do? So we zipped together some clamp stands which use two boards in a T shape and a few screws to clamp a sheet of cardboard. With a cordless impact, zipping these open and closed to swap cardboard sheets takes a few seconds. Wanting some variety though, we also decided to make a pool-noodle stand, a cutting target more akin to a tatami mat while costing vastly less, but surprisingly challenging to defeat. And, finally, we created a platform stand where free standing objects, namely water bottles, could be placed for cutting. Understand this was all zipped together in the span of an evening with scrap material we had laying around, thus it represents just a fraction of the possible diversity of targets. What about a linked-stage for example, where the cutting of one target would release another target held on the end of a string which would begin swinging? A rolling ball target like in Bladesports? Or how about a free hanging rope? Or what about a combined stage where one starts with a bow or spear and then transitions to sword? The possibilities are truly endless.
It is worth noting at this point that swords are weapons and, like all weapons, are incredibly dangerous. Safe use and handling practices should be observed, and everyone who is not cutting should keep a reasonable distance and remain in a safe direction. This all should be fairly obvious, but a few sentences are cheap while injuries incredibly costly, so it bears mentioning. Less obvious is the importance of "real swords." Many of the cheap, often "stainless steel" swords out there are not suitable for cutting. This is less because of poor grinds or edge retention, and more due to fragility; should a piece of a sword blade part company from the remainder of the blade or handle, an extremely dangerous event has occurred.
How to score, how does it work, and what is it like? Smartphones being ubiquitous, someone pulls up a stopwatch app, and times as the person makes their way through the course. A completed cut adds no time. Each partial cut or uncut target adds to the person's time. At the end the lowest time wins. This is entertaining for hours on end as friends compete and new clever and challenging scenarios are set up.