Boards Don't Hit Back
In the movie 'Enter The Dragon' an antagonist is trying to demonstrate their skill to Bruce Lee's character by performing an impressive board breaking maneuver, to which Bruce Lee famously replies “Boards don't hit back.” This, in addition to being a great one liner, is most certainly an interesting quote from a martial arts training point of view. It is relatively easy to do something impressive looking to an unresisting target, it takes much more skill to perform an action against a resisting opponent.
Some people use this quote, and line of thought in general to discount test cutting. Chances are if you are reading this article in the first place you already see some sort of value in test cutting. If not, then I disagree strongly with you and you can read one of the many articles I or others have read about it's utility and role in martial arts training.
The reason I used it was to illustrate the point that cutting targets do not challenge us in the same way resisting opponents do, and as such we always have to keep the broader perspective in mind. The goal of test cutting is to make sure that the mechanics you are using in your regular training and sparring are effective attacks. If you are performing your test cuts differently than your sparring what are your really testing?
A common action you see in test cutting is large balance shifts to facilitate the cut. This can allow you to throw a lot more weight into the blow, and not need as much connection between your core and your hands. But is this really something we want to see in a fight? It is relatively easy to cut through a tatami mat, but can you do it without shifting your balance to facilitate the cut?
Another concern is stance and footwork. Throwing that horizontal cut from a horse stance? When was the last time you used that to throw a horizontal cut in sparring? Do you have to set up in a tail guard to throw an undercut? Do you feel comfortable doing that if someone has a point on your face. Do you have to measure up before the cut? When is the last time the tournament director let you do that prior to the start of a match?
This isn't to say you should never do these things. Everyone has to learn somewhere, and when you start these are excellent training wheels to get started. I teach many of these, or similar 'cheats' for people learning to cut. But just like we all wanted to be big boys and girls with real bikes we should be looking to move beyond simply making cuts to making cuts using the same balance, footwork and guards we use when fighting.