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Saturday, March 10, 2012


I remember these three terms from years ago when I was studying Shotokan Karate - I didn't study long.  I remember the teacher was very much focused on timing as part of the relationship between the attackers.  It is common for me to hear about Ma-ai or the physical relationship distance between training partners, but the timing is not discussed as much.  We are a defensive art, and focused on self-development and peace.  So, we default to believing the timing of our technique is only done in a response to another's attack.

This is fair.  If I am focused on attacking, then trying to find the true peaceful solution to an issue is difficult.  My brain would be running in two different directions, and probably doing a poor job of either option.

Timing in response to an attack is Go No Sen.  The attacker has made a plan and initiated their attack and I am moving in response to this.  I am moving late.  The attack has already happened, and I am trying to not get hurt.  Usually Go No Sen is associated with retreating footwork and blocking, then counter attacking.  The movement is a 1-2.

I can shorten the time needed with practice, and I can develop my reflexes and find ways to move faster.  But, I am still starting late and my preceptions I think aren't fully engaged.  For me, if I wait until someone is swinging their Yokomenuchi or Shomenuchi at my head, then my block often feels like a hard impact and a clash of forces.  Tenshin and most Ura techniques work for this - the attack continues on, and I just get out of the way.  Irimi techniques are almost impossible.  A series of attacks from Uke is difficult to deal with - if my thinking is purely about receiving, then I am not thinking about getting to a better location or ma-ai.

Timing with the attack is Sen No Sen and something that feels a little bit more like Aikido to me.  This is not to be mistaken for Ai Uchi or mutual kill.  As soon as the attacker is moving, I am moving.  They intend to hit a target that is being relocated even as they are trying to hit it. 

I find I have a much softer blocking motion with this.  This can be a very cool, intimate practice with two people who are focused on this well timed relationship in motion.  "It's alot like dancing..."  (thank you Terry Dobson).  I am playing a much more active role in the timing with this mindset.  Irimi feels the same as tenkan - I'm just moving to the spot that I am lead to while leading Uke.  Defence and Counter Attack are one.  For people focused on peaceful interaction this can feel aggressive.  If you do not trust your partner, this level of intimacy feels unnerving.

A third type of timing that I was introduced to but had little occassion to practice was Sen Sen No Sen.  This is the timing I use in Irimi if I can.  It's the most difficult for me, but the most forgiving to practice.  I am in the lead.  I initiate.  The timing is not just starting first, it is launched in anticipation of an attack where the opponent is fully committed to their attack and thus psychologically beyond the point of no return.  Out of the Taiji Classics:  "I start second but finish first."  I see the subtle weight shift in my opponant, and I start moving. 

Against Shomenuchi, the arm is raising and I help it up.  The arm never gets a chance to start descending.  With Yokomenuchi, the arm is being raised and pulled back by my opponant, and then I am against their arm before they ever start to strike forward.  If my structure is right, I get inside Uke's balance before they can issue power.  I brace against the initiation of the attacking force, and then their attack force throws them off balance.  There is almost no impact on my arms.  Irimi is easy with this timing.  Thinking of this timing with tenkan or tenshin is difficult.

Sensei showed other applications of this timing:  I do Shomenuchi, and when Uke blocks I use their arm to apply my technique.  My movement elicits the movement of Uke - Uke is now moving in response to me.  Another way to use it is to attack the split second before Uke moves at all.  So, rather than catching the Shomenuchi while it is raising, Uke never gets a chance to raise their arm.  In my effort to be just slightly ahead of Uke's movement, I might startle them into freezing and I still move forward.

Sen Sen No Sen is very tricky and being able to read Uke well is a must.  This is the true difference between Sen Sen No Sen and just merely attacking first.  "My opponant is thinking of attacking me, but I am already behind him."  (O Sensei)  This became less of a part of modern Aikido because I think students come to our art with a spiritual template that doesn't allow for the idea of moving before the attack.

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