The third paired sword exercise – we broke it down into its constituent movements of uchi komi and kiri kaeshi then rebuilt it as a flow sequence. But each component has its purpose – its bunkai. Any given point in the flow could be a terminal movement.
Uchidachi’s opening gambit of kiri kaeshi could remove shidachi’s thumb. As shidachi escapes the cut to the thumb, uchidachi has a brief moment to cut shidachi’s wrist before shidachi returns the stroke to cut uchidachi’s wrist (kote), only to stop the devastation with a quick retreat and capture. And from that capture to try to cut shidachi again on the opposite side and as shidachi counters – uchidachi then cuts the final domination on the centerline uchi komi.
The finer points – experiment on the final cut by trapping shidachi’s ken using the weight of the press – not a simple stroke – uchidachi must close any opportunity for shidachi to escape.
There is the take away variation – uchidachi opens kirikaeshi, shidachi escapes to counter cut, but in time (with kimusubi) uchidachi continues to follow the uchidachi to jodan (threatening shidachi’s wrist from the underside) to use that pause to capture the tsuka (handle) only to then accelerate shidachi’s counter stroke with a downward drop.
There is a counter by shidachi at the ‘terminal’ cut whereby uchidachi’s cut is captured on the horizontal (like the exercise) and returned with a wrist snap cut.
The components of the kumi tachi are nothing more that a logic chain based on an opening gambit that forces a specific series of actions from each player. Like chess you will eventually begin to see several moves ‘deep’ and therefore know the conclusion at the first contact.
Playing the encounter with iaito adds a depth. This is not a recommended training practice. However, the play of steel on steel increases the mental focus and demands a new level of respect: mental acuity needs increase. Now the feeling of the planes of the blade, the angles of impact and the necessary transitional flows manifest.
Kiri kaeshi with a bokken can feel like a simple circular motion but with an iaito the conical entry and the manipulation of shidachi’s blade takes on new dimensions – there are angular forces as well created by the flat of the blade.
Uchi komi must now be felt with the flat of the blade – bashing shidachi’s blade aside is now clearly tantamount to suicide by samurai. The importance of the glissade and the small degrees or arc we must use are apparent.
Weapons training is supposed to elicit the seriousness of play.*
Ancillary exploration using the iaito – nikkyo off the cross hand grab; ikkyo off the cross hand trap (and the explication that the cut to the head drives the ukeme) – escape through rotational step; sankyo the lock from attempted grab with the direct relationship to the empty hand derivatives. It is important to remember that the weapons are primary – all the empty handed are nothing more than shadows.
The next series will be ichi-no-tachi.
*The seriousness of play – I first came across the concept in Clifford Geertz’s analysis of a Balinese cock fight but it originates from Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens which is well worth revisiting and still proves influential.
For the martial artist the concept of play in war is a valuable one – mutual combat as a contest and war as an extension of the will of the prince allows for an honorable defeat where the rules take precedence over effective destruction. The rise of democracy (it has been argued) leads to the commitment of the polis to destruction of the enemy (q.v. Thucydides, the Roman total commitment to warfare during the Republic, Sherman’s March, the Allied bombing of Dresden, etc.). A contest of individuals (and kings and tyrants are the state embodied as individuals) allows for a dueling mentality where first blood rather than total exsanguination can satisfy.