Furi Kaburi is the sword above your head, sometimes we speak of the movement overhead but for me, I tend to say it’s the point at which one starts to strike.
There are lots of ideas about how to get the sword over your head, and where it ought to be once it’s overhead.
Sometimes you will see folks swinging a bokuto or shinai back all the way to touch their butt, should we be swinging that way? Beginners have a death grip and the tip wobbles all over the place, touching the centre of the butt and especially opening the hands forces them to relax the hands at the top and lets them know whether or not the tip is centered so swinging this way is a good exercise, but isn’t used for cuts very much.
As for big or small cuts, fast or slow, or the shape of the movement. For ZenKenRen seitei and my MJER the kiri oroshi starts at the end of nuki tsuke, not at furi kaburi, there should be no pause at the top. For other interpretations the furi kaburi may be an uke nagashi, there may be a pause at furi kaburi to check the opponent’s movements, or if you unite the furi kaburi movement of the first kata Mae with the movement of the knee, it will (appear to) stop at the top… in fact it’s damned hard not to have it stop at the top. To make the move continuous you disconnect those movements. (We’re talking the ZNKR iai Mae here, where you are on your left knee and you pull that knee up to the right foot as you lift the sword overhead and then cut down as you put the right foot forward).
On the tip down of MJER at the top of furi kaburi, if the tip has gone past the ear (as I was taught for Omori Ryu) one does not drop the tip from there, one raises the hands over the head while relaxing the wrist, thus leaving the tip at the height of the ear and the hands come above, resulting in a much shorter time scale for a big cut. In ZKR iai the tip does not drop below the hilt at this point, this is an instruction from the kendo side of things and from the shinden side as well.
For oku iai the tip may be driven straight up the opponent’s face during furi kaburi which should drive him back on his heels and allow you the time to cut him down. When you do this you probably don’t want to drop the tip behind your head, you can get the left hand on earlier and start storing energy in your left forearm muscles as you lift the blade. This will allow you to accelerate the tip much more quickly. As Musashi says, “try this out”.
The position of the tip when you are overhead can depend on where the target is. One needs the tip at a certain speed upon hitting the target which means a certain arc distance in which to accelarate. If going for the head of a taller opponent you may need to drop the tip. If going for the head of a shorter opponent, a level tip may be fine, if going for kote or do the tip may only need to come from 45 degrees. This teaching is from Iwata sensei in a seminar in Vancouver many years ago. You will also find it in Noma Hisashi’s book “The Kendo Reader” which describes a kote strike from a fist in front of the forehead and a men strike from a fist above the head.
One does not leave one’s last position (the end of nuki tsuke, chudan, whatever) which is largely defensive and move into an exposed, armpits open position if one is inside the opponent’s killing distance/timing. Speed cannot save you in this position, nor can small cuts, only being outside kiri ma and moving in, or rocking teki onto his heels will do it.
Or perhaps using an uke nagashi movement on furi kaburi to deflect his downward cut. Or…
Regardless, being in furi kaburi (the position from which you can strike) before you move your body in to strike is probably a good rule of thumb to follow. This we do in MJER Mae, but not in ZKR iai Mae.