Wow. It has been a bit since I posted. But some of you should be posting too!
Tonight I was thinking about rhythm and timing. Rhythm is generally a good thing, but it is predictable. If you can pick up an attacker’s rhythm, you can exploit it by being just a bit ahead, or sometimes a bit behind. And of course, he can do the same to you. A broken rhythm is unpredictable, and can’t be exploited by either of you, which is good and bad.
Very rarely in combat does a rhythm last long, so you need to be quick in picking up and exploiting one you do see. Maybe a bit like those games where you hear a few notes and have to guess the tune.
Often, each partner provides alternate notes. In kumi tachi #1, for example, you start synchronized, with your swords touching. Aite 1 starts by stepping back and putting their sword in hasso gedan. This is a suki, an opening. It is also a taunt – ‘I dare you to come and hit me’. Aite 2 accepts, and steps in with the obvious attack. Aite 1 can respond in various ways, but the kata calls for him to step aside and deflect the strike, stealing its power for a counter strike.
Now if Aite 1 stays with the rhythm, Aite 2 can easily block and the exchange can go on for ever. Instead, Aite 1 waits until Aite 2 is fully committed, and so breaks the rhythm. Picking up a bit extra energy from Aite 2’s sword helps. Just as Aite 2 thinks he has got Aite 1, Aite 1 moves and counter attacks and then keeps the pressure on Aite 2 until the end of the kata.
Keeping the pressure on is like playing notes as fast as you can. If Aite 1 could attack a little faster, he could win sooner. If Aite 2 could defend a little faster he could turn the tables on Aite 1. The kata calls for Aite 1 to make two strikes and “win” on the second. I put quotes around “win” because a kata is a cooperative activity and both win when it looks effective and inevitable, but where this would end in a real life duel in medieval Japan is with Aite 2 dead.
However, this is a bit of a different way of looking at pairs practice – kumi tachi or kumi jo. So try it out for size, and see if it helps you move a bit further.