Courtesy to Ben Ryder
"There is no first attack in karate” is an oversimplification of a term which has been perpetuatd by its inclusion in triva based martial arts knowledge checks…it means karate-ka shouldnt be the aggressors…we shouldnt’y start fight but we shoud have no problem finishing them.
Pre-emption is the result of perceiving an imminent threat – the aggressor is the other guy – and taking the initiative.
The tactical strategies of sen no sen, sen sen non sen, go no sen, sen and sasoi no sen that you make reference to are applicable to any form of conflict; the degree of thought tht goes into them before a fight is variable though, but each conflct can also be reviewed under the same terms.
Please find below an extract from a grading paper I wrote on the terms (which touches on your karate ni senti nashi issue):
To illustrate this partnership of old and new working in unison I would like to use the heiho – tactical strategies / combative initiatives of:
- Go no sen
- Sen no sen
- Sasoi no sen
- Sensen no sen
The common element to these phrases is sen orno sen which is translated as initiative orinitiative to attack and so alone could be viewed as ‘taking the initiative to attack’, the opposite of which is go no sen which is reacting to an attack, a defensive act in its purest form. Sen no sen is slightly less reactive and suggests that you are aware of your opponents attacking intention and you time your technique to the starting phase of the attack. Sensen no sen is again less reactive and implies that you initiate a movement to draw an attack in a certain way but utilise this to deploy a prepared technique. Sasoi no sen is quite similar to this in that you are trying to entice your opponent into a certain response (physical or shift in attitude) but then change to create an element of surprise upon which you can capitalise (Quast, 2006).
The strategies cover the range of options between pre-emption and reaction. The tactic is dictated by the circumstances rather than a clear cognitive intent to use one; the judgement is spontaneous.
The whole concept of pre-emptive force is confused inkkarate by a misunderstanding of a popular phrase of Funakoshi Gichin (1868-1957):karate ni senti nashi – there is no first attack in karate. This suggests to people that karate is a purely defensive art, just as aikido professes to be, but this is not true. This a quote post-WWII when the political situation required it, prior to the war however Funakoshi made some quite disturbing polemic comments about the use of karate in preparing civilians for war. Karate has always been a form of self-protection and a method of restraint for lawful purposes and as such must have been formulated to deal with the types and motives for violence that we see today: jealous rage, robbery and drunken attacks, and must be for the protection of oneself or others. The same could be used to decide to engage in a fight, though the philosophical influences upon the art should all but prevent such an occurrence. Karate ni sente nashi is a metaphor to show that a karate-ka strives to prevent being drawn into violence and never initiates it, but when this stance is pushed, and force is the only option it can be used, and should be used responsibly.
Removing this myth is key. Most legislation around the use force (it certainly does in the UK) permits the use of force which is ‘reasonable in the circumstances’ pre-emptively and reactively. When teaching students self-protection we must teach them the techniques, but also the consequences of their application (to find proportionality) and develop training methods to recreate the circumstances.
Sasoi no sen is another interesting and extremely effective strategy and has best been described in a contemporary setting as ‘Deceive, Distract, Destroy’ (Thompson, 2004). Drawing an assailant into a false sense of security, diverting their attention and then exploiting that lapse in judgement to attack starts to infringe on some of the core ethical values of budo, but as the context is self-protection and assuming that every effort has been taken to avoid conflict up to that point then such tactics are valid and justifiable to others and your own conscience.
The strategies reflect the circumstance we may face:
Sen– actively deciding to impose yourself on another in order to defend people unable to do so
Go no sen– being spontaneously attacked, perhaps being hit and responding to the second wave of assault.
Sen no sen– a ‘brewing’ incident happen where the attacker is being aggressive and the body language is escalating to the point where an attack is imminent, the initiative is taken and pre-emptive action used.
Sensen no sen– in a brewing incident you feint a movement to push the element of surprise onto the assailant, prepared for a habitual act of violence you are able to take the upper hand.
Sasoi no sen – perhaps when threatened and asked for your wallet, you decide to display an appearance of intimidation but when the ma-ai is closed, seize the opportunity by verbally distracting them, spitting in the attackers eyes, striking and running away.
The strategies once brushed are as relevant today as they ever have been and in Koryu Uchinadi we cover them all. As long as people have the same bodies and the same emotional reasons for engaging in violence, then habitual unarmed violence will remain the same; the legal issues faced in this area are directly reflected in the Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist influences on the philosophy of the art – they provide a moral framework that matches the legal framework.
Ben Ryder Koryu Uchinadi Shidoin Leeds, UKwww.irkrs-uk.com