2017 Jan 09 : In Nihon Kendo Kata, "toh!" comes in the middle of "yaa!"

Please consider this comment by Inoue Yoshihiko sensei, former head of the All Japan Kendo Federation kata committee.

When the kata was first created, one of the Keishicho sensei (Tokyo Metropolitan Police) said that "tou comes in the middle of yah." This is quite a profound teaching. In the foreward of the Guidelines (AJKF Kendo Kata Seminar Guidelines) there is a section which outlines the important points in teaching kata. The fourth point states "When uchidachi reaches the interval for engagement, the opportunity for attack must be sized and the attack executed correctly. Shidachi must not miss the chance for victory and strike the target (datotsu-bui) accurately." The phrase "not miss the chance for victory..." corresponds with "tou coming in the middle of yaa." (from Kendo Kata: Essence and Application, p. 163.)

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Today's practice was about the relationship between attack and counter-attack, in terms of timing and rhythm. The basic concept may seem simple, but finding a way to practice kata that helps us to improve our sense of rhythm is actually not easy.

First, to be clear, when I say "timing and rhythm", I'm not talking about speed. (Sometimes I'll use the term "tempo" instead - they don't have exactly the same meaning but in this context they can be used interchangeably). Speed is just "How fast are you moving?" or "How slow are you moving?"

Timing and rhythm are often associated with matters of speed, but they are not the same thing. As they relate to our kata practice this morning, timing and rhythm describe the relationship between the attack (from the uchidachi) and the counter-attack (from the shidachi). Among other things, they describe when and how the counter-attack happens.

For example, timing is generally about "when" - Does the counter-attack follow the attack immediately, or after a pause? How long of a pause? Or does it begin even before the attack is finished?

Rhythm is more about the "feeling" of everything (both attack and counter-attack) taken together as a whole.

In other words, because "speed" is different from "timing & rhythm", we could, for example, practice kata with the same sense of rhythm, either fast or slow. We could change the tempo of our movements and maintain the same relationships of timing and rhythm.

To make an example of a different kind, imagine a music teacher saying to a student learning to play the piano, "Play this passage at its regular tempo, using a light, bouncy feeling." The student plays the passage correctly. "Now play it again, very slowly, at quarter-speed. Try to keep the light, bouncy feeling." Everybody who has tried to learn how to play a musical instrument knows that this isn't easy to do; when you slow your playing down, a light, bouncy feeling can easily be lost and suddenly the music is not only slower, it becomes "heavy", as if the music is dragging. For various reasons, most people - not just pianists, but kendoists too - we all tend to have difficulties making speed and feeling independent from each other. But if we want complete control over these elements, we have to learn how to separate these variables from each other and control each one independently.

This is what we were trying to do this morning. It's not easy to do but when we have control over these elements we can actually control the way our opponents perceive us, and then use this to defeat them. Whether or not we can do this will depend on how deep our understanding of time is.

I will keep bringing these elements forward, over and over again, a hundred different ways. Not only for you; I want to learn about these things too!

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Practical tip for slow kata practice: As we are taking care to learn the relationships between attacking and counter-attacking, please make all of your motions large and do everything slowly. Lengthen your kiai - since we are moving very slowly don't just say "yaa!" - say "yaaaaaaaaa!" Don't say "toh!" - say "tooooooohhhhhhh!" Say them not as if you are slowing down because you're sleepy, say them with high energy and focus - only stretched out to match the (slow) speed of your motions. As a learning tool, practicing this way makes a lot of sense to me. If we imagine that we are videotape slowed down to 1/4 speed, not only our movements would take longer to do but wouldn't our kiai also be stretched out as well? If we do this it will be easier for "toh!" to come in the middle of "yaa!" This isn't making our practice easier through cheating, it's a fundamental relationship of movement and time that we can develop slowly and then bring with us as we increase the tempo of our kata.

~ jks

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