I have just finished reading a translation of Miyamoto Musashi’s, Five Rings. Something he mentions often in the book is using power not strength and quickness not speed. While training in the kenjutsu kata on Tuesday night it was becoming more and more apparent that it is easy to say, “Use power not strength, use quickness not speed.” And I can even understand it conceptually but putting into practice is a whole other thing. There is a kata in the second set called Yoko Ate. This translates roughly as Side Strike. The intention of this movement is to deflect an incoming strike with a strike of your own but at the same time clearing a line of entry to counter. I have not been able to perform this kata “with power” ever since I was taught it somewhere near the start of last year. However on Tuesday night I think I cracked it!
Of course I cannot guarantee that I will get it right every time, but at least I have an awareness of what I am supposed to feel when I get it right. You see, my understanding of the phrase “power not strength” means to move from your centre and do not rely of individual muscle groups to do the work. Not only does this generate a lot of power, it is an efficient way to move and you are less likely to have your arms or shoulders tire so easily. I knew I was doing Yoko Ate wrong because I was using my arms so much to whack the incoming strike away, due to the tension generated in my wrists I was often too slow to defend a fast, committed attack and my shoulders were getting tired. The trick is to generate tension in the hara and legs then suddenly release this in a whipping type motion to knock the attack away. I thought I was doing this but then sensei came over and specifically talked me through creating the tension in my lower body and legs. I had an ‘aha’ moment when I released this tension during the technique and it actually worked well.
This idea of generating power in the hara is not a new idea nor is it original to TSYR but it is the first time I have really got it.