Q: What's More Fun Than A Barrel of Monkeys?

A: Cutting into two-litre milk bottles filled with water with a sharpened sword (know as a 'live blade' in the biz).

Saturday was the first Australian College of Arms Coffee and a Cut morning. We all gathered at the hall and began work on the highly technical apparatus used for such events – filling milk bottles with tap water, tying a bit of rope about them and looping them over another rope slung between two trees. Then the fun began.

Maybe you wouldn't be surprised at the difference between swinging a dull-edged practice sword at someone with the aim of stopping before you hit them and taking in your hands a live bladed weapon to strike a target with the aim of slicing it two. I was. Knowing just what I could do with the weapons in that true state was quiet confronting. On the other hand, as a famous person once said, “with great power come a great desire to cause mischief.” Thankfully we had an army of milk bottles between us and appearing as the subject on the nightly news . (If ever plastic milk bottles evolve to sentience, we'll be ready …)

We took turns swiping at six or so milk bottles each. Some were given a push to make them a moving target. Others hung there defiantly stationary. Both sets of bottles were equally difficult to hit.

Among the many flashes of realisation I took away from the day, I learned two major lessons. The first is that power is not required to use a sword well. Even though I understand that the stereotype of the medieval knight as a big lad bludgeoning his enemy with a barely sharp sword is a complete fiction, I guess I still had it buried somewhere in my mind. The reality is that a sword of even average sharpness is a tool specially designed to slice into a target and it does with with great facility. Almost no strength was required to cut a bottle in half – even when we switched from milk bottles to the heavier plastic of Cottee's cordial bottles.

The second and related lesson is that it all comes down to technique. Proper technique, in our case developed from several sources of Italian and German masters, almost always resulted in a neat, even slice through the target. Poor technique, on the other hand, always resulted in the attacker and everyone around being drenched in a spray of water as the milk bottle was torn into a jagged mess. I was surprised at just easily proper technique allows you to effortlessly angle the blade so that the edge moves perfectly along the arc of your strike. If the blade angle is even slightly off true, the kinetic energy behind the strike is transferred to the bottle rather than to the weapon's edge and pushes the bottle out of the way of the swing with watery consequences for everyone.

The feeling of a clean strike which passes effortlessly through the target is just magical. There is nothing quite like finishing a strike and watching bottom half of the bottle drop straight down as if it decided to detach itself from the rest of the bottle. There's no sideways movement on the target. It just splits in half and parts company. That's a sensation I will never forget.

So that you can experience a little of the fun of the day, here's a slideshow of some of the photos I took. You can see more in the album.