That duel between Kyuzo and the mediocre bushi is one of my favorite scenes.
As for a disconnect, I can only tell you that when we play-tested the dueling, it exceeded my hopes.
When you duel you lay cards in opposition to your opponent. It actually goes very quickly.
- Guard (Upper, Middle, Lower, Left, or Right)
- Attitude (Strike, Defend, Test)
- Technique (specific to each Ryu)
- Any special cards you may have available
These are laid face down until the actual attack; however, the guard cards show which guard is being used.
A beginning player should have 10-12 cards available.
One of the significant things is the better duelist has two major advantages.
First, his kenjutsu is likely rated higher.
Second, he gets to decide when the duel goes to the attack phase. The weaker duelist lays his cards first. The stronger duelist can see what guard he is using and lay his cards in response to that. This can go back and forth for a few passes, but each time the superior duelist has the chance to adjust his cards to weaker duelist before they are "locked in."
Each Guard card provides a value for Strike and Defend (depending on the Ryu) as well as a bonus or penalty vs. another guard. Technique cards provide Strike and Defend values as well as bonuses when combined with specific guard/attitude combos.
Which is to say that your defense should be an attack and your attack should be a defense. The dichotomy is not as black and white as it may sound at first.