In combat, whether street fighting or martial arts for self defense, teachers and students alike often talk about the concepts of attack and defense. The idea is that “assailants” initiate a violent attack, and defenders respond to neutralize and/or counter this move.
As martial artists and students of self protection, we tend to focus most of our attention and training on the idea of “defense.” But, in the realm of personal combat and self protection, who’s who is often very difficult to determine. This article discusses the concept of attacking from the perspective of “when” to initiate. After reading this, you will see that there are really 4 opportunities for initiating an attack against an opponent in order to gain the advantage in a physical altercation.
You know, the idea of “being the defender,” can give us a feeling of moral and/or ethical superiority. After all, we’re the “good guy,” right? And, we tend to believe that Budo, whether Ninjutsu or any other martial art, is therefore “defensive” by default.
But, as I said, in a real fight, something that is very explosive, volatile, and dynamic, it’s often very difficult to identify the so-called “attacker” and “defender” in the foray. In the give and take of the clash, the two combatants become part of one “thing” – each taking turns delivering and responding to what’s coming at them.
This fact can certainly make things confusing if you are not fully prepared for them when they occur. The reason for this is that most martial arts and self defense students tend to train in a way that creates a very clean and “pretty” picture of a fight. When, in reality, things are going to be very chaotic, confusing, and down right “messy.”
Contrary to this popular way of conveying what a fight is like, and who is and who is not attacking, the truth is that there are actually four options or “moments” for taking the initiative and attacking from within a fight situation. And, while these four options have been formalized to a certain degree within the full scope of Japanese martial arts, only a few arts or systems actually utilize them to their fullest potential.
In fact, these four moments, called “sen”, or initiatives, can actually provide, just as can kamae (postures) and other concepts, for an entire area of study within your training.
When exploring these attack initiatives or “sen”, please note that they are the same, regardless of whether we are talking about armed or unarmed combat or full-scale, battlefield clashes. The 4 Sen are as follows:
This is the simple and straightforward attack that most people think of. You see an opportunity and launch an attack. In martial arts and self defense classes, this is typically seen as the uke attacking the tori – or the “attacker” attacking the defender. In the greater context of things, “Sen” is done after actual combat has begun and is not the same as a street mugging or surprise attack.
2) Sen no Sen
To understand this concept, you must understand the lesson that, “Thinking about attacking IS attacking.” The typical attacker tends to lead with his intentions, even before his body goes into motion. This is the technique of attacking directly in the face of his attack. But, rather than run into his attack, your move actually serves to jam his as you “beat him to the punch,” so-to-speak. Sen no Sen requires a high level of intuitive sensitivity and connection with others. Something that is lacking in most martial arts for self defense programs.
3) Go no Sen
Usually referred to as the “waiting initiative,” using Go no Sen, you allow him to attack, allowing his attack to open up his targets as you reposition yourself to evade it. Just as “Sen” above is the “typical” attack, this is what most people are used to seeing as the “blocking” or “parrying” response. You avoid his attack, and simultaneously attack his attacking arm to open him up for something else. THIS is Go no Sen. When you attack him after this initial move, you are now acting from the initial concept of “Sen.”
4) Sen Sen no Sen
This is fits into the category of “surprise attacks,” and can be very difficult to do, let alone explain. With no projection of intention, or the showing of tell-tale clues or cues, you simply attack. The opponent never even realizes that there is an enemy – before he ever gets a hint of the fact that he is in danger – you attack! No warning. No threats. This “Sen” is the most disconcerting to most martial artists because it steps outside of the bounds of “fairness.” But, if we are studying martial arts for self defense, then we must understand that to give some opponents “fair warning,” is to give them an advantage that may cost you more than you are willing to pay!
As a final note, some of these “attack types” or initiatives are more “right” from a legal standpoint. I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advise – just a comment that you need to be very clear about where you stand when it comes to the law and self defense if you are to take proactive steps in your own safety.
These lessons are offered as a means of countering the the childhood lessons that most of us received that were along the lines of, “don’t hit, or…
“Nice people don’t hit.”
But, the reality is that the lessons need to mature along with us so that, as adults, we understand that “nice people – don’t hit – other nice people – NOT trying to hurt you!”
Remember, today’s attackers know just how to work in a way that they actually use the law in their favor – the same law that is supposed to protect you and me against these threats to society. So, you must decide if you want to stay within the rules of fair-play – the rules that he ignores by attacking you without your consent, or if you want to be able to use all of the tools at your disposal to teach him the lesson that he shouldn’t confuse kindness with “weakness!”