Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, August 03, 2018

The Three States of Initiative in Martial Arts

During the 16th century and picking up steam in the 17th century under the Tokugawa Shugunate, a lot of calories were burned on the theory of combat, particularly swordsmanship. 

An important topic were the aspects of "Sen" which in this case may loosely be translated as "initiative." While specific to Japanese martial arts, these concepts really can apply to all martial arts.

Below is an excerpt from a post at Eishin Ryu Iaido Singapore. The full post may be read here.

The Three States of Sen - Sen sen no sen, Sen no sen, Go no sen

July 13, 2018
Valeth, Billy

(That is a lot of sen...) (-_-)"

This article attempts to explain the concept of “Sen sen no sen, Sen no sen, Go no sen”. Before delving into explanation proper, a few other elaborations are needed. “Sen” (先) roughly translates to “before”. “Go” (後) roughly translates to “after”.

Let’s use the 5W-1H (what, when, where, why and how) to explain what this concept is about. 

WHAT is “Sen sen no sen, Sen no sen, Go no sen” about?

This is regarding your position, intent, and actions relative to your imaginary (in Iai context) opponent’s position, intent and actions. Think of it as your intended strategy in response to your opponent’s. With “Sen sen no sen, Sen no sen, Go no sen”, imagine they are 3 broad strategies you might use. Easy, yes?

WHEN and WHERE is this concept applied for maximum effectiveness?

This addresses the space-time domain. Which type of strategy you want to use depends on the distance between you and your opponent, the waza situation you are in (waza bunkai), and your reflex – which response comes to mind?
Bear in mind that while practice is done in controlled environments, the smoothness and finesse of execution translates to actions within split-seconds. There is no interruptions nor decision paralysis. This has to be something we work towards to.

WHY the fuss about this concept?

Obviously, it lies with whether you emerge the victor from the encounter!

HOW do I do it?

It may not be apparent initially while you practice. As you practice over time and gain proficiency, you might wonder about the purpose for certain actions of respective wazas. Finding out and understanding their purpose is the first step towards appreciating the strategies (Sen no sen, etc.).
Tachi uchi no kurai is one area of practicing the application of said strategies. Another is paired practice of wazas (strict observance of safety is paramount).
Also influencing the successful application of these strategies is heavily dependent on how good you are in your fundamental wazas.

That was a short primer to what “Sen sen no sen, Sen no sen, Go no sen” is. At the beginning of the article, we described the translations of “Sen” and “Go”. Putting these characters together, they can be collectively translated as taking the “initiative, in advance, before or after your opponent”

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