Recently watching Sumi sensei teach a series of drills where kakarite makes a rapid succession of attacks as motodachi blocks, I started to think about the apparent contradiction in kendo where we train to make multiple strikes but seek the perfection of a single perfect men cut.
Most of the sensei who have written about kendo have prefaced their thoughts with the fact that kendo evolved from “life and death” sword fighting, where one strike made the clear difference between victory and defeat. We are advised in preparation for the higher dan examinations that we need to make only one or two successful men attacks. In shiai or enbu the ideal is to continue to exude pressure and patient confidence, and then attack just at the right, and possibly only opportunity. If you scan Youtube for videos of the late 10th dan sensei, you can see some perfect examples.
Often however there are examples of full-on kendo where the winner achieves his objective through a constant barrage of strikes. I have seen this happen regularly in shiai and in grading examinations, including those at which I have been on the judging panel. I can also recall post grading wash-up discussions with other judges who felt that a candidate had “done too much”. However, there is no logic in penalising someone for making numerous attacks, particularly if timing and form is correct.
My own rationale on this dilemma, is that in an evenly matched shiai where both players have strong physical kamae and equally strong attacking spirit, it is difficult to find an opportunity to attack. There are numerous examples in high ranking kendo shiai where nothing happens until late into encho and then the contest is won on a momentary chance. If one opponent is obviously more skilled or mentally stronger than the other (the two elements often go together), then there is more chance of seeing someone battered into submission.
In terms of our day to day training, it makes sense to practise to attack quickly and constantly. The only word of warning is not to go so fast that we lose correct balance, posture and ki-ken-tai-ichi. Instead we should aim to build up speed so that we can attack any given opportunity. This is why we practise kakarigeiko.
If we can train to a level where we are ready to instantly strike, it does not matter if we overwhelm our opponent with a rapid burst of energy or make the opportunity for the single perfect strike.