I used the Hanwei Practical XL Light katana for all my cutting on Sunday, and I have to say I'm a little disappointed. The geometry of the blade seems right, even though it is a little more curved sori than I am used to. It's a wider blade than mine by 2-3mm at tsuba. Mine's a custom one that I bought from someone years ago, that our soke had made.
Some of the cuts came out well, but I was too slow in moving between cuts. We're talking tenths of a second or so, but I could tell. It could also just have been a bad day and the muscle tears in my leg may have interfered but enough excuses. Only one (our RSK) tsubamegaeshi came out properly out of three, when I normally can do it about 90+% of the time.
I also tried some harder tsubames - kiriage, move around to other side of goza/180 turn and kesa before it drops. I came close but didn't pull that off because I couldn't turn quickly enough. I need to get back in shape now that I'm not working 10hrs x 7days a week (back to normal 40-50hrs/week).
Some of the other students did really well. Alex (8th grader, yonkyu) was able to do kihon-toho (kesa, kiriage, suihei) on a half-goza, at least twice. That puts him ahead of sankyu rank. Ian can do his required kesa giri cuts, but needs to work on suiheis. Our ikkyu Reed, unfortunately showed late--busy at another event--just as we were packing up. Sempai Dusty's student, Jamie, did really well for a yonkyu.
They may be getting too used to bokutos and haven't had enough practice feeling the impact of katana on target. I need to set up more regular cutting for these guys, plus I need to buy more goza too.
It's also hard to evaluate folks of different physical sizes for the same rank when it comes to cutting. After all, it's hard to expect a 90lb 13 yr old will be able to do the same as a 200lb 20+ yr old. It's simply a matter of muscles. Often the bigger ones have the strength to force the cut, even if it doesn't go through. The cut results may tell, but you have to watch carefully too. We didn't see as much of that on Sunday, but it's something to note when testing a mixed group.
It was a good practice: 1 shihan, 3 senseis, 2 shodans, and a dozen kyu ranks too.