A Word About Kiai
Each of us testing here in Japan are required to perform a Toho Waza.
Each Toho Waza represents a different school or Ryu of swordsmanship.
Which Toho Waza we do depends on what rank we're testing for.
For example, I am testing for Nidan so I will perform Zengogiri, which represents Mugai Ryu.
The final cut in any Toho Waza is accompanied by a Kiai, a congealing shout from the gut that can have one of three timings:
Go No Sen which takes place before the cut to steel the practitioner and scare the shit out of the opponent- or at least make him flinch.
Sen which takes place during the cut and takes advantage of the accompanying power.
Sen no Sen which occurs after the cut to release the pent up energy the cut created.
This is serious stuff. There are whole schools of martial arts based on proper usage of this powerful technique.
Luke Beamer, our unofficial translator and guide to all things Iaido here in Japan was quick to point out that the correct sound of the Kiai is important to get right if you don't want to get laughed off the mat here in Japan.
Apparently when he first got here- he, like me, is from Nishi Kaigan Iaido Dojo in Berkeley but has been living here in Japan for more than a year as a kind of cultural attache- the various Sensei laughed behind cupped palms every time he did Kiai with his Toho Wazas.
The "Ah Ee!" sound he was using sounds very much like the Japanese word for love. So every time he slashed down his Katana in the final cut of his Toho Wazas he was yelling "LOVE!!!
So Luke was kind enough to spare us this embarrassment by making sure our Kiai sounded more like "Eight!" but without the "t" at the end.
Can you imagine? The dojo echoing with the sound of all us Gai Jin shouting "Love!!!" and the Sensei doubled over in paroxysms of laughter!
Since I posted this I got some new insights in regards to these three timings.
Turns out they have more to do with your reaction to the opponent than the actual kiai.
Here then, is what Luke was able to tell me:
Esaka Sensei gave a seminar about these terms last year in November. The three terms are "Go no Sen" (後の先), "Sen" (先), and "Sen no Sen" (先の先). "Sen" means before or previous, "Go" means after, and "no" means of (roughly).
The first, Go no Sen, means to react after the opponent as visually taken aggressive action.
The second, Sen, means to sense the impulse of the opponent and to react such that your actions will occur at the same time as your opponent.
The third, Sen no Sen, is to sense the moment the opponent has decided to take action, which is just before the impulse, and by reacting to it you actually take action before your opponent has begun moving. It can also be called "Sen Sen no Sen," but is the same thing.
Thanks Luke, we owe ya (more than) one.