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M AliAnother great question! This time from Guiherme in Brazil, who asks how to vary his timing and mentions that as he becomes tired he operates at one speed. In kendo we hear the expression “ kan-kyu-kyo-jaku” , the approximate meaning of which is -kan (緩) slow, kyu (急) quick, kyo(強) strong, – jyaku (弱) weak/soft. To be honest we hear a lot more about this within Iai where it appears to be a requisite component of the 4th and 5th dan grading. In kendo, within my limited understanding, it is the change in pace and rhythm from keeping a strong deliberate kamae to exploding into action as soon as you make or see a chance to attack.
The late Kikuchi sensei talked about being “like a feather in a hurricane”, that is to say light and unfettered but then able to immediately change into explosive action. The great boxer Muhammed Ali described the process as “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. However you describe it we need to change our timing to reflect circumstances and opportunities.
We practice kakarigeiko in order to be able to attack quickly. This does not mean that our jigeiko or shiai should be at a continuous flat-out pace from hajime, rather we should take our time to read and control the opponent, probe and push for an opportunity to attack and when we find it strike instantly. The point of attack is when we need maximum acceleration and this comes from the left foot, which is why hikitsuke or immediately bringing up the left foot after moving the right is so important.
After making a successful strike we again slow the rhythm by making strong, deliberate zanshin, whilst being ready to explode into action again if required. The only time when we keep the accelerator down is in renzoku waza, where we use continued speed of attack to keep the opponent under pressure unti we score a clear point.
In terms of the “hard” and “soft” elements, in my mind these could be better explained as “sharp” and “soft”. Our cutting action should be soft and fluid until the point of impact and beyond. Our arms and shoulders should still be relaxed when the shinai makes contact with the target. The only change is the impact added to the strike by our tenouchi when we squeeze the tsukagawa.
In some ways we are overly complicating what nature makes simple. If you watch heron fishing, or a snake stalking its prey, they stay perfectly still until the perfect time to attack and then grab their dinner in an instant, getting the maximum return for a minimal energy investment.

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One of my most treasured kendo possessions is a piece of calligraphy, given to me by the late Matsumoto Toshio sensei, kyudan.  The characters simply say ken ri, which to my meagre understanding translates as sword reason or theory.

This was the cornerstone of Matsumoto sensei’s teaching and means that there is a reason for any action we make in kendo. At the time I received it, as a 4th dan in my twenties, it seemed logical if slightly esoteric, but only now as my kendo has matured over the years; does it really start to make sense on a physical level.

When I read the depth of analysis of kendo theory that regularly appears in the various kendo forums, I am amazed at how knowledgeable many relatively new kendoka appear to be about complex concepts. The question, however that is often in the back of my mind is, are they actually able to manifest these theories in their keiko.

I suspect that I may be intellectually lacking, but it is only after I have practiced something continually for years that it starts to make sense on a practical level. For example most forms of seme can only be successfully introduced into your kendo practice if you are completely familiar with the waza that you need to back them up. Irrashai or sasoi no seme where you invite your opponent to attack, is basically a way to allow your opponent to hit you. That is unless you have complete mastery of debana or kaeshi waza or whichever other technique you need to take advantage of his or her movement. So in my view, you need to understand the theory, but more importantly you need to be able to put that theory instinctively into practice, without thinking.

Ken ri is obviously discernable in kendo no kata when it is practiced at the highest level. The difference between going through the motions of kata by numbers and watching the mastery of action and reaction or riai demonstrated by kendo meijin is immense.

Whilst I am still in no position to best guess Matsumoto sensei’s thoughts, I am pretty certain that he was talking about reason when it is understood by the mind and body.

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