Often during keiko sessions, I am aware that there are some epic battles taking place in the dojo. In my view an individual keiko should last for 3 to 5 minutes, but I see some that go on for up to fifteen.
When you join in mawarigeiko and time is set and called by an observer, each rotation is typically short. With shidogeiko or motodachigeiko, it is left to the judgment of the teacher or sempai to control the length of the practice. A good motodachi will try to ensure that each session is intense and that concentration is maintained from start to finish. Shidogeiko takes various forms including:
- Kakarite starts with kirikaeshi, then moves on to hikitategeiko. Motodachi then challenges kakarite to ippon shobu (one-point match) before a brief kakarigeiko.
- Both parties fight to take shodachi (first point), before motodachi increases the opportunities for attack in hikitategeiko then finishes with kakarigeiko or kirikaeshi.
Whichever structure is used, if you consider the focus and energy required to do either of these well, it is unlikely that anyone but the very fittest kendoka could manage these sequences for longer than five minutes. I definitely believe that short and full-on is better than long and drawn-out. Even moving away from flat out attacking, just maintaining mind-contact and seme for two or three minutes is exhausting, so how can anyone slug away for fifteen minutes.
There are of course extenuating circumstances. For instance when a teacher is taking time to explain a technique or using repeated drills to correct a student’s faults then it will obviously take longer, but when individuals are practicing at peer level and it turns into a “war of attrition” there is clearly something wrong.
In my view short, sharp explosive keiko is the only way. You should need to stop after a few minutes to catch your breath and ought to welcome the opportunity to recover whilst you wait in line for the next teacher. Not only will you get more from each practice, but you will get the opportunity to train with more partners.