Thinking back to Matsumoto sensei’s article, it emphasised that you need to “master the skills of kendo” to a level where they can be performed with “calmness of mind”. This is quite a tall order. We come to kendo classes to fight, so for most of us, an hour of gokakugeiko (jigeiko) is the way we want to spend the session. Whilst I agree that this is the most enjoyable part of kendo training, if we put too much emphasis on it too early in our kendo careers, we are in danger of developing bad habits.
Mastery comes from repeated practice. Chiba sensei talks of doing 3000 suburi in a single daily session and most of the other great kendo teachers will give similar accounts of constantly practising a technique until it becomes second nature. Kendo incorporates a wide range of drills including suburi, kirikaeshi, kakarigeiko, yakusokugeiko, butsukarigeiko and more. We can also perfect our technique through the practice of kata and bokken kihon keikoho. The reason that there are so many training methods in kendo is because we need them.
Even in shiai and grading examinations, there is a danger that we ask too much of beginners by testing their fighting spirit, before their technique is sufficiently developed to use under pressure. There have been cases where referees have had to lower standards in judging yuko datotsu else the shiai would have continued for hours. I would personally prefer to see shiai amongst beginners based on demonstration of technique and decided by hantei and examination for the early kyu grades done on the same basis.
Jigeiko is the way to learn and practise seme, timing and opportunity. It is the way we measure if technique actually works in a competitive situation. It is however not the way to develop technique. Of course there are special godogeiko sessions where you will have the chance to practice with new people or people that you seldom see. It would be a shame to waste these on basic training, but in terms of what we do in our own dojo; I believe that we should invest the bulk of our time on mastering the basics.