Kendo Terminology: Kyo and Jitsu


You may have heard these words, kyo and jitsu, together as “kyo-jitsu”. When we say, kyo-jitsu, we mean “kyo and jitsu”.

What is kyo?

The kanji for kyo explains the following states of mind.
  1. Emptiness
  2. Hollow
  3. Not ready

In English, there is an expression such as “you caught me off guard”.  When we use this expression, we did not expect whatever the other person did/said to us. 

How do we use the word in kendo?

We say, “aite no kyo wo tsuku”, which means, “catch your opponent off his/her guard”. Tsuku here does not have anything to do with “tsuki”.

The best moment for us to strike is when our opponent is not ready for our strike. When our opponent is not ready, they are vulnerable to our attack.

When are they NOT ready?

Let’s think about when we are not ready. When do we get struck?
We probably get struck at a moment when

  1. our concentration is broken
  2. we are surprised at our opponent’s movements. (unexpectedly)
  3. - please refer to shikai

  4. we breathe in.

Why do we breathe in? It is because we need oxygen and probably we are out of air in our body. This is a good example and easy example of “kyo”, emptiness. So when we breathe in, we have almost no air in our body to supply oxygen. That is why we breathe in. Thus, this is the moment we strike or get struck.

What is jitsu?

Jitsu means “fullness” in this case. We are filled with ki or energy. We are fully concentrating and there is no openness in our kamae and mind. This is the state of jitsu.

It is said that we should not strike when our opponent is in the state of jitsu. What happens if we do? Either we get struck or we cannot even get in because our opponent’s shinai does not move.

The moment from jitsu to kyo

We want and try to be in the state of “jitsu”. Thus, usually when we take chudan, we fully concentrate on our opponent’s physical and mental movements. We are filled up with ki.

Now in kendo, we are trying to move the state of our opponent’s mind from jitsu to kyo. That is the process we see in kendo before striking. We try to make an opening (kyo) using our shinai, footwork and body movements.

What happens when our mind moves from jitsu to kyo?

I am going to talk about this through my experiences. This may apply to you, or may not.

When the state of my mind moves from jitsu to kyo, I probably want to

  1. Go backwards:  I probably want to take some distance from my opponent.
  2. Defend myself: I probably move my shinai from chudan and prepare to defend myself.
  3. Strike my opponent: I probably want to strike him/her before he/she gets me.

Or I cannot even do anything I mentioned above. That is called “itsuku”.

So these are also good opportunities for a strike to attack.

Other moments of “kyo

If you keep striking and become out of breath, it is a definite state of “kyo”.  You have no energy and oxygen to keep going! That is a good opportunity to strike if your opponent is out of breath.

If the state of mind falls into one of shikai (kyo, ku, gi and waku), we are not able to keep ourselves in the state of jitsu. We are vulnerable to attacks.

We want to keep ourselves in the state of jitsu and it is very very hard to do. There is a very thin line between kyo and jitsu though... That is why we have to train, don’t we?

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