'Tameshigiri' means "test cut" and originated in historic Japan as a means of testing katanas. Quality was determined by how well a blade could cut as well as the number of targets cut in one swing. The most common materials were bundled straw, tatami mat ('goza'), fresh bamboo, or military helmets. Human bodies were used (living or dead), although historic records imply this was not common.
Today, tameshigiri is more to test the swordsman than the sword, and it is still common for martial artists to cut straw, tatami mat or bamboo. There are seven basic cuts (shown below) from which combinations can be made to make more and more challenging cut patterns. There are also three draw cuts commonly used, the horizontal and both upward and downward diagonals.