"We talk about kaso teki a lot because talking about our imaginary enemy doesn’t sound as cool."
Peter Boylan, 2015
Before reading this I would like to direct your attention to two other websites that mention this subject:
These wonderful articles are published by Peter Boylan and Yuki Kanto/Michael Simonini (the latter being a translation from the book "Shinsa-In-No-Me" and is an article written by Ueno Satanori Sensei, Hanshi 8th Dan Iaido). I think it is important that they are read first as I want to build on them slightly...
Last week at the end of a Zoom Iaido class I was talking with our budo friends about the necessity of thinking about kaso teki in both a grading and in general training. It took me a few minutes to dredge up all the memories that I had about people talking and teaching things referring to kaso teki. They were very few and far between to be honest. Well, it gets talked about frequently but rarely to any degree of detail or depth.
In fact even doing a trawl of the internet only came up with the above two articles, almost all other links were just one-line definitions of it. The ZNKR Referees Manual also contains this clause:
I could find nothing the in the range of other budo books that I own; nothing by Donn Draeger, Dianne Skoss, Nicklaus Suino, Karl Friday etc.
Let's have a look at the detailed definition:
仮想 - Kasou Imagination, supposition, virtual, potential (enemy)
敵 - Teki Opponent, rival, adversary
So the question being discussed after the Iaido class was, how much attention and focus do we need to give to kaso teki? All of the people in this discussion were planning to take a range of examinations in the near future from 4th dan to 6th dan.
My response at the time was quite garbled but I will try here to express my opinion on this based purely on my own experience with training in Iaido.
Firstly, I believe that in my experience we pay a bit too much attention to the more "ethereal" aspects of budo in comparison with the physical and technical. I'm not suggesting that these aspects are not important, they surely are, but I think they get too much airtime. These aspects include Zanshin, Kigurai, Metsuke, Kaso Teki. The reason why I think they get more attention than they deserve is very simple - they are not difficult to do if you pay them just a small amount of attention. To be flippant about this I am pretty sure that I could train anyone, during a one-day training session, to represent convincingly all of these aspects. The first thing to note about them is that one can do them sincerely or one can fake them and I challenge anyone to be able to even identify the difference...
- Zanshin - "Do the final part of the kata much slower like you're moving through mud except for any bits where you need to make the sword move quickly like in chiburi and noto."
- Kigurai - "Keep your back and neck straight so that you look like a peacock and try to look down your nose. Closing your eyes slightly also helps."
- Metsuke - "Look in the direction that I tell you and after cutting the final enemy then look down slightly."
- Kaso Teki - "Make the cuts in the right direction and position."
In fact the last one, Kaso Teki, is perhaps the only one that requires some coordination and skill with the sword.
Now, what really is the difference between faking these aspects and doing them sincerely? Can you really look into another person's mind and see if they have true belief and sincerity about these aspects? Well, maybe a bit, but not reliably and how would you know?
My humble opinion is that these are products of dedicated physical, but mindful, training. Patching them on like some go-faster stripes on the side of a car doesn't necessarily improve the quality of the Iaido. Let's take Zanshin as an example. As I previously said, you could "fake" Zanshin by doing the end of the kata considerably slower (although how that would work with Okuden I'm not sure). But of course what you should be demonstrating is a degree of care and attention to your surroundings at the theoretical end of a kata. But again I ask, how would you tell the difference between faking it and a sincere expression? I think a good answer might be, train yourself to a degree where you might actually survive to the end of a theoretical fight, then put this into action in a kata and then you might, kind of, sort of,well, umm...feel Zanshin.
I'm laboring this point because I have heard in the past, more than a few people saying
"I must have done the kata well because I can visualize all the dead enemies around me."
...can you see the pointlessness of that statement? What if my response was
"Oh that's weird, because I see three people all standing smugly over your eviscerated corpse."
It doesn't really lead anywhere does it? We are having an unfalsifiable argument.
So, getting back to the Kaso Teki discussion. I now stand on the shoulders of the previous two articles and the one excerpt and state my opinion as:
An acceptable level of performance in showing Kaso Teki is doing the technical aspects of the form with the correct geometry and appropriate tempo along with looking in the right direction so that the technical form would be effective and represent what the exponent would almost certainly be doing in that combative situation dictated by the logic and situation of the kata.
I sincerely think that anything beyond this, any inner visualization of the enemy in order to intensify the feeling of the form is entirely personal to the exponent. If this goes to an excessive degree though then it is likely that the exponent will enter a zone of self-delusion concerning the effectiveness of their performance. As Kusama Sensei has said at a number of European seminars (where I had to stifle my embarrassment while translating)
"If you do form repetition without attention to technical detail then this is just masturbation."
So from my opinion in bold above, if one removes reference to technical correctness, timing and metsuke (which are considered as separate necessities) ...there isn't much left really is there? It's almost like "Kaso Teki" becomes a justification and metric for doing the form correctly.
When it comes down to it, isn't it just a useful tool for establishing if you're doing the form correctly? To borrow an understanding from Peter Boylan's post, isn't it just a temporary alternative to not having a real partner there against whom to establish if you're being accurate with your attacks?
Sure, you can visualize even a moving opponent in order to understand the timing and speed that you need in order to win a particular moment (the two kirioroshi in Morotezuki come to mind here; many people believe the opponents are static; Ishido Sensei has in the past demonstrated that they are not and what you really have to do in order to win each encounter).
Where I think the monsters live though is:
- Justifying to yourself that your technique must be superior because your Kaso Teki reacted appropriately to your attack (e.g. they died - dramatically).
- Pretending that you can see someone else's Kaso Teki based on something other than the physical performance (i.e. technical correctness, accuracy, metsuke and appropriate use of speed, power and timing) of their form.
During this rather long lockdown period, it has been something of a blessing for me as the restriction that Zoom sessions have on being able to coach effectively has meant that I have been doing far more training myself than I usually would. During some really nice sessions with the Loki-Ryu (!) crowd on Sunday mornings, I have been able to completely focus on my own training. For ZNKR training I have been mostly doing them slowly and methodically, analysing how techniques respond to small changes in effort and timing. On a few occasions I have taken my foot off the brake and allowed myself to try to do the form as if it were a real fight. Even at these times, I don't find dedicating lots of brain power into literally visualizing a person there does anything to improve the performance. For all the mental processes going on in ones brain, all the little plates that need to be kept spinning, there are far more useful and effective ones to dedicate resources to than trying to paint a picture of a ninja/ronin/samyoooorai in my head. Even sensing how ones centre of mass is moving and changing while stepping is far more rewarding and improving than doing this kind of deep visualization of an enemy. I can see if my cuts are straight and I can develop good cutting technology without having to think about an organic target.
I am passionate about this because I think that Iaido, being a generally solo training art, already has a susceptibility to lead to self-delusion and...well...a kind of "legal in public" masturbation. Too much theatre (which I have always been pretty talented at) is not a good thing for long term and consistent development of one's Iaido. At some point you have to be honest and ask yourself if your technique is as good as you imagine it is.