Monday, October 15, 2007

Jo, Ha, Kyu

At practice the other night, as I was trying to do the first Sekiguchi Ryu technique, Sensei stopped me and said, "In Seitei iai, and in Eishin ryu, you have Jo-Ha-Kyu, but we don't have it in Sekiguchi Ryu. It's just 'Baaaat!' ... once you make the decision to draw, you just draw as fast as you can and cut in one motion."

I found that very interesting. Jo-Ha-Kyu is a fascinating concept, I think. There are a lot of different metaphors people use to describe it. Sensei described it by making the analogy with a waterfall. If you watch a bit of water (a ripple or something) as it travels downriver, it appears to be moving quite slowly and peacefully. It gently crests the edge of the waterfall, and begins accelerating. Your eye follows it naturally, and you're not aware of just how fast it's going until BAM! It hurtles into the mist at the bottom and disappears.

Another description was often given by Kim when I was in Guelph. Imagine you have a large rain barrel, with a hose in a bit of water at the bottom. You turn on the hose, and at first, you can't even be sure whether the water level is rising or not. You come back a bit later, and the water level is closer to the top, and you can definitely see it moving, although still quite slowly. You come back a bit later and the barrel is almost full, and the water level is coming up quickly, so quickly that you can't shut it off in time ... and the water is overflowing everywhere because you misjudged how quickly it was coming up.

I had my own experience of Jo-Ha-Kyu the other day. I have an old umbrella with a few bent vanes. It doesn't open the way it used to when I bought it. You press the button, and nothing seems to happen; you want to give it a shake, but no, very gradually, you realize that it is actually unfolding. But the more it unfolds, the more advantage the springs have on the vanes, and the faster it unfolds! Suddenly, it's really moving and FWAP! it opens with such a snap that you almost drop it, you're so startled.

In comparing ryuha, it's kind of too easy to make categorical statements, so I'll try to avoid them. But Mr. Sakashita was saying that some people, when they see Sekiguchi Ryu, say that it has no "kigurai" or "dignity"; it's too quick and to the point, whereas Eishin ryu is considered a very aesthetically nice, upright, and dignified style. I don't know if that's true, but I do wonder how much Jo-Ha-Kyu is an aesthetic point, and to what extent it might be a "combative" element.

Jo-Ha-Kyu is present in many Japanese traditional arts, such as Noh, calligraphy, and drumming. So it might be easy to dismiss it as simply aesthetics. But considering the metaphors used above, it might also be a way to lull one's opponent into thinking they have more time than they actually do, thereby controlling their timing and possibly suppressing their movements. When I first learned Mae, the mental state was "Don't draw ... don't draw ... don't ... [and at the last possible instant] okay, too late! Cut!"

Sekiguchi ryu seems to take a different approach. I'm not sure I understand it, but it seems closer to: "Wait ... wait ... wait ... Cut!" It isn't so much a suppression of the opponent, as an anticipation and reaction (or perhaps "pre-action" would be a better term).

Anyway, it is a very deep subject, I think, and something I'm looking into more.

Sad news: Yamashita Sensei, 8th dan, of Omuta, Fukuoka, passed away recently at the age of 91. He was Namitome Sensei's iai teacher. He always referred to his iai as "iaijutsu" and in demonstrations, he often did unusual variations of techniques that I have never seen elsewhere. Azuma Sensei told me a bit about him; he was of the "old guard" and was one of the last "bushi" -- people who approached budo with a real warrior spirit. I'm sorry I didn't get to see more of his iai.


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