This week’s post will be on Jo Ha Kyu: a Japanese concept that loosely translates as “slow” “medium” “fast.” Jo Ha Kyu plays an important part in many areas of Japanese culture including music, theater, and of course martial arts. There are many many levels through which this concept plays into martial arts and can relate to our Taekwondo training.
In Japanese theater, Jo Ha Kyu is understood as an auspicious beginning, mounting action, and then a quick and sudden resolution of the conflict. Typically this takes the form of five major acts: the first setting the stage, the second presenting mounting conflict, the third being the climax of action, the latter two representing a rapid resolution and return to the beginning state of the play. The same process is seen in our Taekwondo techniques.
We begin a technique from a certain fighting stance (an auspicious beginning). To continue the technique, there is a chamber or preparatory motion followed by an extension of the initial motion of the technique (mounting action). At the technique’s striking point is the rapid snap of the technique devastating the target (the climax of action). There is then an equal and opposite retraction of the technique that returns us to the chamber or ready motion (a quick resolution). Finally, the martial artist returns to the original fighting stance (final conclusion and return to initial auspicious point). A technique has the same Jo Ha Kyu elements that a play would have.
In some Japanese martial arts, like Iaido, Jo Ha Kyu is also understood to describe the various levels of martial arts practice. As beginners, we begin at Jo (slow). We are slow to catch on to even basic techniques; our movements may even be shaky and a bit awkward, but we soldier on. Further on in our training, we advance to Ha (medium). Techniques come much more easily to us, and we begin to be able to blend them together into fits and spurts of harmonious action; things are faster and more fluid. Finally we achieve Kyu (fast and high level). From continual training and drilling, our techniques are second nature; we rapidly move in and out of techniques and high demanding situations as easily as we breath; we are one with technique and motion.
Weapon techniques, joint locks, throws, kicks, strikes, blocks, and even the process of training itself can all be understood in terms of Jo Ha Kyu. It is a powerful concept through that can well inform our training and advancement in any art.