Jul
17

Uke attacks first: Thoughts on “Go no Sen” and “Urawaza”

Tai no henko with two partners. The goal is to remove oneself from the line of attack and, in the process,  unbalance the ukes

Tai no henko with two partners. The goal is to remove oneself from the line of attack and, in the process, unbalance the ukes. Notice cupping and lowering of the wrist which aids in balance-breaking. See O-Sensei’s wrist in photo below

An ura movement takes nage to uke’s outside flank
to an area we might describe as uke’s “dead zone.”

Many Japanese martial arts use specialized terminology to describe the dynamics of a martial encounter. A common set of terms used are “Go no Sen” (late initiative), “Sen no Sen” (simultaneous initiative or blending) and “Sen Sen no Sen” (initiative before the attack is launched).

In this context, “Go no Sen” is the lowest level scenario where the attacker (I will use “uke” here) initiates the attack, and the defender (here “nage”) responds to this offensive act.

Several things become evident if we analyze the “Go no Sen” scenario. Since uke has launched the attack, his move precedes nage’s defensive response. Thus, uke has a timing and distance advantage. Conversely, nage has a minimized time frame to respond before uke makes contact. Generally speaking, because of these negatives, it is preferable to avoid “Go no Sen” situations as a martial strategy where possible.

Basic to responding in a “Go no Sen” scenario is removing oneself from the line of attack. This might involve escaping from the scene, entering to either flank of uke, or most often in an aikido context, executing an ura or turning movement to evade the attack.

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba demonstrating tai no henko with uke Mitsugi Saotome

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba demonstrating tai no henko with uke Mitsugi Saotome


One of the favorite drills in aikido for learning how to turn away from the attack to safety is tai no henko. This is a blending exercise that aikido’s founder Morihei Ueshiba devised and would demonstrate in every class.

You may have never thought of it in these terms, but an ura movement in most instances takes nage to uke’s outside flank to an area we might describe as uke’s “dead zone.” Here uke’s movement and vision are restricted, and he becomes vulnerable to nage’s counter maneuver.

The simultaneous execution of atemi and kiai to disrupt uke's attack

The simultaneous execution of atemi and kiai to disrupt uke’s attack


Other tools that can aid in responding to a go no sen attack are atemi (striking) and kiai (combative shout). When used properly these actions can partially or completely neutralize uke’s attack and allow nage to regain the advantage.

An area of concern in aikido as practiced widely is that many aikidoka, beginning and advanced alike, remain on the level of go no sen responses to all attacks. In other words, they develop the habit of responding to uke’s initiative which, from a common sense martial viewpoint, is a poor strategy. The Founder most often demonstrated the higher level martial strategies, especially the “Sen sen no Sen” strategy where nage perceives and preempts uke’s attacking intent. These are learnable skills and serious students should understand and aspire to these higher levels in their training.

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Comments

  1. How do we motivate our uke to attack sincerely?

    Does sen-senno sen make sense without the motivation to attack?

    At what level is it appropriate to learn the concept of sen-senno sen?

    • One of the instances in which the Sen Sen no Sen strategy might be applied would be where one is obliged to intervene to help someone in danger and has to initiate an action.

  2. We have taken to seldom using the terms ura and omote and preferring soto (outside) and uchi (inside). It seems easier for people to relate to the ideas of moving inside (between the arms, face to face) or outside (beside or behind uke). The key is where the atemi lands: side ribs, floating ribs, waist, hip, etc or face, front ribs, sternum, plexus etc. In traditions that omit or downplay atemi the soto/uchi distinction may be more difficult to grasp. Shioda sensei spoke of “opening like a book” so that inside/outside becomes clear.

  3. I agree with most of this article. It is better to deal with the “Sen no Sen” and “Sen Sen no Sen” attacks if you have the option.

    except: “Other tools that can aid in responding to a go no sen attack are atemi (striking) and kiai (combative shout). When used properly these actions can partially or completely neutralize uke’s attack and allow nage to regain the advantage.”

    If you have the time/space to respond to a go no sen attack with an atemi, then you have time to intercept/engage it and prevent it from landing. Which, by definition, means you were able to defend and neutralize the attack. So, you had no problem in the first place and “go no sen” doesn’t necessarily mean failure of your art/training.

    I believe go no sen attacks can come in a continuum of “defendability”. From the longest range, nothing need be done, because uke cannot physically make contact. This is the trivial case.

    As the range decreases, you might have time to engage the attack before it gets past the middle of your own forearm. If you neutralize it here, you can’t strike each other without making another move. If you have better sensitivity than uke, you can detect their next move by touch and react accordingly while avoiding the visual decision loop which is too slow.

    The next range is when uke’s attack gets to your elbow range. This is your last chance to engage and stop the attack from landing. If you neutralize from here, you can defend and strike uke at the same time. If you move properly, uke will NOT be able to strike you while you are doing your simultaneous attack/defense.

    The final range is when the attack gets inside your elbow. From here, you will have very little time to react and it is likely you will get hit unless you are already moving. Emergency measures are required here as you are both able to strike each other from this range. You should strive to never get to this point by using pre-engagement positioning.

    So, while useful, I think the “go no sen” concept is too general. I think that students need to have some training in a striking art to truly appreciate these distinctions. Many arts will address this range concept. My study for the last 6+ years has been in Wing Chun Kung Fu, which has explicit training drills for each of these ranges. I am now able to engage, neutralize and then have the choice of striking and/or finishing with Aikido type technique.

    Finally, if you are working in “Sen no Sen”, or “Sen Sen no Sen” regime, you still have to be aware of range. If you attempt your movement either before or simultaneous to uke, but from the incorrect range (mostly too far for Aikidoka), then you put YOURSELF in jeopardy. If you start too far away, uke can simply disengage and you will fail. You have to be closer in order for these (SnS, SSnS )to work.

    Regards,

    Jim