Kyo (虚) and Jitsu (実) in Seme – Quotes and Resources

From time to time, I come across kendo articles on seme in Japanese which discuss the concepts of kyo (虚) and jitsu (実) as in [Hakudoh_KyoJitsu] [Seiyukan_seme] [Chuudoku Feint].  These terms, which translate roughly to “absence” and “fullness”, are apparently very relevant to seme.

According to, kyo means emptiness, unpreparedness, falsehood, vacancy and jitsu means truth, reality.  In the context of Shiatsu (指圧) , the terms refer to the absence vs. excess of energy [Haralabidis_Shiatsu] or more simply: empty vs. full [Andrews_KyoJitsu].

I wanted to get a handle on these terms and have compiled some quotes and resources on these terms primarily in the context of kendo and seme.  The quotes include translations of excerpts of Japanese articles.  Incidentally, the quotes help shed light on the following enigmatic teaching that I had heard from sensei‘s in the past – something to the effect of:

 To the opponent, I am far.  To me, the opponent is close.”

which apparently comes from the compact expression of four characters 遠近之事 (enkin no koto) from Itto-ryu’s Twelve Article Scroll (十二ヶ条目録 juuni kajou mokuroku[Noma] [Noma_TokuhonBook] (Thank you to George McCall sensei for pointing this out).   It is expanded as  敵の為には打つ間が遠くなり、自分の為には打つ間が近くなること as Item #3 in [Tessyuu KatsuNinKen].

This article will likely grow as I discover more articles on this topic.



The quotes are broken down into the following categories:

  • On Guard
  • Creating Kyo in the Opponent
  • When to Attack
  • Body and Posture
  • Breath

On Guard

  • From [Hakudoh_KyoJitsu]:
    • “Jitsu” is said to be the mind completely full of spirit with no inattentiveness.  On guard.  “Kyo” is said to be the opposite where a gap arises in the mind and body.  “Kyo” and “Jitsu” are two sides of the same coin.  If one side becomes “Jitsu”, the other becomes “Kyo”.
      • 「実」というのは、心に気迫が充実して、油断無く、注意の行き届いていることを言い、「虚」というのは、その反対に、心身に隙の生じたときを言います。虚と実は表裏一体で、ある面が実になれば、その反対の面は虚になります。
    • Therefore, quickly assess the opponent’s “KyoJitsu” posture while preventing (the opponent from) discerning your own “KyoJitsu”.  And avoid the opponent’s “Jitsu”, apply seme to the “Kyo”.  You will surely secure a win.
      • ですから、相手の虚実の体勢を機敏に察し、自分の虚実を悟られないようにしながら、相手の実を避けて虚を攻め、勝ちを得なければなりません。
    • The “seme-ai” in kendo is also a tactical push and pull (dance,  negotiation) of each other’s “KyoJitsu”.
      • Note: Seme-ai, a meeting of seme, is described in [Kenshi247_SemeAi].
      • 剣道の攻め合いは、互いの虚実の駆け引きでもあります。
    • This assessment of “KyoJitsu” is not something determined by the thinking mind but by an unconscious flash of insight.  This is called “Kan” (intuition, our sixth sense).  “Kan” can be acquired after accumulating (much) keiko upon keiko.
      • この虚実の判断は、頭で考えて行うものではなく、無意識的にひらめいた動作になります。これを「勘」と言います。勘は稽古に稽古を積んで初めて身について行くものです.

      • Note: A thank you to Katsumi Chinen sensei for helping me with the last sentence above and explaining how the expression “初めて身につく” refers to the acquisition or learning of something, that is incredibly difficult, “after” putting a lot of effort, time, study and practice into it.

Creating Kyo in the Opponent

  • From a sensei from Seiyukan dojo [Seiyukan_seme].
    • Another purpose (of seme) is to create the state of “kyo” in the opponent.  Cause “kyo” to arise in the opponent and then strike with “jitsu”.  “Kyo” is the state where the body reacts automatically (unconsciously) – even though the head has not sent any (conscious) commands to the various parts of the body. 
      • もう一つの目的は、相手に「虚」の状態を創ることです。相手に「虚」の状態を起こさせ、それに対し「実」で打ちます。「虚」とは、頭では自分の体の各部に命令していないのに、体が勝手に反応している状態です.

When to Attack

  • From [Kenshi247_Morishima5]:
    • It doesn’t matter how technically able, how physically strong you are, or how much speed you have, if you mistake the chance to attack then you will not be successful.  It is a steel rule of kendo not to attack when people are fully concentrated and have no openings, and to attack when they lose concentration and leave themselves open (虚実 Kyojitsu).
  • How the spacing between moments of kyo is another form of maai according to [Noma]
    • Maai, in its broadest interpretation, in physical terms pertains to the distance or interval that is maintained between two swordsmen. In terms of time, it pertains to the momentary lapses of awareness that are manifested in the opponent’s mind. These may be compared to the swinging to and fro of a clock’s pendulum.
    • Extended further, it also embraces the concept of Kyojitsu. These momentary lapses of mind, and Kyoritsu, we may call the ‘kokoro-no-maai’ (mental interval).
    • The import of kokoro-no-maai is that although the physical distance between combatants may be mutually advantageous, the mental interval possessed by individuals will determine who will have the decisive advantage.
    • Much of the mysteries of maai are encompassed within the workings of mental interval. As may be deduced from the old teaching ‘For him it is far, for myself it is close.
      • Note:  Similar words from sensei‘s in the past now make sense to me in the context of KyoJitsu: a mental maai (of awareness) rather than a physical maai or space.

Body and Posture

  • Ishihara Tadayoshi (石原忠美) and Okamura Tadanori (岡村忠典) sensei [Tadoyoshi LifeKendo]:
    • Kendo’s Tame (溜め) … (a)lso includes proper breathing and composure with Jōkyo Kajitsu (上虚下実), meaning that you loosen your upper body and strengthen your lower body.


  • From [YuriageKendo_KyoJitsu]
    • The one who understands the exhalation or inhalation in the other or oneself will come to understand the feeling of an “on” or “off” switch in the other or oneself.   A state of being attentive (focused) or not attentive (unfocused).
      • 相手や自分の、呼気と吸気のわかる人は、相手や自分の、気持ちのスイッチの「ON」と「OFF」が、理解できるようになります。気持ちが集中している状態か、集中していない状態か、です。
  • Fujii sensei [ShugoNanseikan_Fujii]:
    • In kendo breathing is linked to the moment of attack. It is very hard, perhaps impossible to attack while breathing in.  In fact the moment of breathing in is an opening to attack.  In Japanese we call the in-breath kyo 虚 (falsehood) and the out-breath jitsu 実 (truth). The outward breath creates strength and has no weakness.  The inward breath creates 隙 (suki) or weakness.

Resources (in English)

Here’s some resources on “Kyo” and “Jitsu” in English.  Note that there’s many more resources in Japanese like the few cited upstairs.


[Andrews_KyoJitsu] Cliff Andrews, “Kyo and Jitsu – An Evolving Part of Shiatsu Energy Work,” (PDF, 4 pages)

[Chuudoku_Feint] 剣道でフェイント技はダメってホント?対策も一緒に考えよう!剣道中毒. (Really?  That the feint in kendo is bad! Let’s think of the counter-attack together. Kendo-Chuudoku (addiction))

[Hakudoh_KyoJitsu] 攻めの研究-虚と実, はくどー庵, (Research on seme – Kyo and Jitsu),

[Haralabidis_Shiatsu] Theodoros Haralabidis, “Zen Shiatsu – the Japanese Way of Acupuncture without Needles,” International Journal of Complementary & Alternative Medicine, (PDF, 5 pages) April 3, 2017.

[Kendo-Guide_KyoJitsu] Hiro Imafuji, “Kendo-Terminology:  Kyo and Jitsu,”

[Kendo-Guide_LearnSeme] Hiro Imafuji, “Learn Seme by a Successful Nito Kendoist – Use Shoto as Jitsu and Daito as Kyo,”

[KendoNotes_Attention], “Where is My Attention?”, April 23, 2020.

[KendoNotes_Awareness] Young, “Awareness and Who am I?”, April 14, 2019.

[KendoNotes_Mushin1] “Quotes on Mushin, Flow and Open-Focus – Part 1,”, Oct. 16, 2018.

[Kenshi247_Morishima4] George McCall, “From “Pursuing the spirit and modern kendo (part 4),”, March 18, 2011.

[Kenshi247_Morishima5] George McCall, “From “Pursuing the spirit and modern kendo (part 5),”, March 30, 2011.

[Kenshi247_SemeAi] George McCall, “Seme-Ai”,, Sept 9, 2016.

[KenshiJournal_Emptiness] Brian Beckford, “Emptiness with emptiness, real with real,” Kenshi Journal, July 29, 2014.

[Seiyukan_seme] 剣道 最近の自分の稽古10 小手の打ち方2, 誠裕館道場 (An article in a series on keiko and kote striking which describes seme).

[Kotobaryoku_Kyo] 虚をつく(虚を衝く・ 虚を突く)の意味・ 使い方・ 類語を解説!, Dec 12, 2019.

[Noma] Noma Hisashi (1910-1939), The Kendo Reader (PDF, 55 pages).

[Noma_TokuhonBook] Noma Hisashi, Kendo Tokuhon – The Kendo Reader, edited by George McCall.

[ShugoNanseikan_Fujii] “Fujii sensei Lecture,” Shugo Nanseikan, June 2008.

[Tadoyoshi_LifeKendo] “Pursuing Life Time Kendo” by Ishihara Tadayoshi (石原忠美) and Okamura Tadanori (岡村忠典) sensei (先生),(from a book titled “Ensō no Fūkō (円相の風光) from KendoJidai (剣道時代) magazine – Pleasant Chat (歓談)), 1998, (PDF, 4 pages).

[Tessyuu_KatsuNinKen] 北川 宏廸「活人剣(かつにんけん)」と「殺人刀(せつにんとう)」──「必勝の剣法」はある、それが《武士道》だ, 2011年10月19日

[YuriageKendo_KyoJitsu] 虚と実, yuriagekendo, Jan. 14, 2018.


4 thoughts on “Kyo (虚) and Jitsu (実) in Seme – Quotes and Resources

  1. kenshi 24/7 July 3, 2020 / 4:10 am

    “To the opponent, I am far. To me, the opponent is close” is an description of “Enkin no koto” (遠近之事) found in Itto-ryu’s “Ju-ni kajo” scroll (十二ヶ条目録).

    Remember and link to the complete version of Noma’s Kendo Tokuhon please!


    • kiai July 3, 2020 / 2:22 pm

      Thank you for your comment McCall sensei. I have updated the article to reflect your comment and clarify things. I was capturing words that sensei’s had shared with me in the past and wasn’t aware of the source.


      • kiai July 3, 2020 / 10:46 pm

        Thank you George 🙂


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