I got frustrated with my Sensei and Sempais on Sunday. Lately, they bring up Jo-ha-kyū often, which is a timing used in our martial art of Iaido, but actually comes from the theatre.
This will be explained in writing terms shortly.
We like to say the kata needs feeling. It needs Jo-ha-kyū. It also needs metsuke, but we aren’t discussing that today.
Well, I snapped at them and said that they keep saying that and it’s just words without meaning. I said it was entirely subjective and asked why there couldn’t be a guideline on the timing like Jo is 6 beats, Ha is 1-2 beats, and then Kyū is 4 beats? Well, they said that’s just not possible because each kata needs different timing.
So we discussed it further.
Jo is the “Rising Action”. Often, this is when we are unsheathing our swords. In Ippon-me Mae, we are drawing slowly because at any point we could decide we don’t need to fight after all and we can place the sword back in its scabbard.
Ha is the “Turning Point” and is often the shortest part. This is the saya banare point where our sword is no longer in its sheath. We’re committed to following through.
Kyū is the “Climax” and usually, we’re cutting something.
But katas can be made of more than one scene and contain several Jo-ha-kyū moments.
Take Mae, for example. We rise as we draw (Jo). The sword leaves the saya and the tip is flicked into position to start the cut (Ha). We perform the horizontal cut (Kyu). Next, we bring the sword upward (Jo), briefly pausing as it reaches cutting position (Ha), and then we cut vertically down the centre (Kyū).
We write using Jo-ha-kyū. Or we should. There’s a thing our protagonist is trying to get (Rising Action or Jo), but s/he has to deal with something else first (Obstacle/Opportunity/Turning Point or Ha), then they get what they want (Climax or Kyū).
After the final Climax occurs we must move into resolution. In Iaido, we call this Zanshin. We slowly come down from the climax and the fight or story is over.
These things relate to music as well. Songs often start soft and gradually build. They rise and might hit a turning point by changing timing for a small piece or keys. Then, they climax and resolve. This might happen a few times in a song. Each climax may supersede the previous one.
Geocaching also has these elements. The Rising Action (Jo) of choosing the cache, the commitment by setting the GPS (Ha), the climax of locating the cache and doing whatever is required to log it (Kyū).
Everything in life has a rhythm.
In Iaido, we want to be able to take control of the timing. If we control the timing, we win the fight. With writing, publishers long held control of the timing. Now, the author can choose to be in control.
I now have concrete examples of each of the elements of Jo-ha-kyū, I just need to get my body to do it. You can’t see it, but I’m rolling my eyes. It can take months or even years to get the body to apply what is known in the mind.
This happens in writing, as well. We know if we write about our character crying, the reader won’t cry. Knowing this doesn’t tell us how to write a scene where the reader will cry, though. There are other critical elements like ensuring the reader cares about the character in the first place. We know this too. We can’t know if the reader will care. There’s a higher likelihood if they can relate to the character, but we can’t all relate to each other all the time. If the protagonist is a serial killer, has no remorse, and has no reason beyond enjoying killing for murdering people, then there won’t be too many who empathize with them. If said serial killer is a forensics guy who kills serial killers because he’s using his affliction for good we are put in this grey area because we know there are major cracks in the justice department that let dangerous criminals off too often. Then we think about how this guy is doing something bad to save the lives of others. He’s doing something for the greater good. We can’t help but like Dexter Morgan.
Anyway, I think I’ve gotten off-topic. I hope you find your own rhythm in whatever you do.