Sword play: Latest exercise trend

(CBS News) TOKYO - Japan's samurai warriors trace their roots to nobility. Now modern-day Japanese women are using the ancient sword play to get in shape.

It all starts with yards of fabric cinched to the waist and snug as a corset, to keep our weapons at the ready.

And then, it's time to start slashing .

Welcome to Samurai Sword Work 101.

Teen or middle-aged, working woman or housewife - all are here on a singular mission -- to slice their way to fitness and a measure of cool.

These women may look lethal, but make no mistake about it : They're trying to create an illusion of a fight to the death for the benefit of an audience.

They are practicing the art of "ta-te," or performance fighting. There's no scoring involved, and no competition. The idea is to put on as convincing a show as possible. Our long swords may look terrifying, but they are tin foil-wrapped wooden replicas -- the same props used in TV dramas and movies.

Disarmingly petite, instructor Utako Takano knows her way around fake weaponry. Forty-six years old, the veteran stunt woman started her female-only sword-fighting class a few years ago. It was an instant hit.

"Japanese women might seem like softies. But inside, they're made of steel," she said.

Together with her husband, Masatsugu Takase, Takano also runs a school for actors, who have appeared in slice 'em-dice 'em epics like "The Last Samurai," starring Tom Cruise.

Her timing and rhythm are so exquisite, she can fend off a band of assailants even while blindfolded. Some might call this unnerving, but Takano calls it refreshing...

"Performance fighting allows you to completely step away from your normal self," she said.

Since the age of the samurai, back in the middle ages, Japanese men have been battling with swords. It's always been a male-only pursuit. But these 21st-century warriors say there's nothing cooler than women crossing swords.