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Torakan Karate-Do


The Principle of Sen in Combat

Sen: to precede, precedence, prior, future, or ahead, depending upon which dictionary you consult. In Budō terminology it is variously described as initiative. To Initiate: to cause or facilitate the beginning of. For the advanced karateka, it is imperative to understand the concept of Sen in combat.

Table of Contents

Ø Summary of the elements of Sen as it relates to combat.

Ø Sen in combat means taking the initiative.

Ø Go no sen - After the attack, block/evade and counterattack.

Ø Sen no sen - Interrupt the attack with simultaneous block and counterattack.

Ø Sen sen no sen - Attack immediately you become aware of an imminent attack.

Ø Deai - Attack immediately you are aware of the intention of an attack.

Ø Sen and the individual.

Like most of the Japanese terms that we have explored in these articles, there is a lot more to the various Sen terms than a direct translation to English can explain.

The above guidelines are fairly accurate, as far as they go, and they give you an idea about the timing. However, it should be clearly understood that the concept of Sen in combat is about taking the initiative - taking control.

I am talking about Budō: responses to real-world conflict. Although, the Sen Principle also relates to Ippon and Sanbon kumite, or sport karate in any of its forms, and indeed sports combat in any guise whatsoever. In the numerous sporting combat activities, the utilisation of Sen is not immediately apparent to most spectators. However, if you were to talk to the top competitors and champions about the concept of taking the initiative (as it relates to Sen), although they might not recognise the Japanese terms, they would understand the concept, the essence of the Sen Principal.

Go no Sen:

The Go, in Go no sen, means ‘after’; quite literally, immediately after you’ve been attacked, let’s say with a punch, or indeed a flurry of punches – which you have effectively blocked/evaded – you counterattack. That’s not to say that if you fight with a Go no sen methodology you simply wait for the attack so that you can block and counter. The purpose of Initiative (Sen) is to gain advantage over your opponent. You may, for instance, control your adversary’s timing by your own presence and tactics, actually dictating your assailant’s attack options (you will have taken the initiative).

For example:

Seeing an imminent attack, the Go no sen specialist might fake an attack, a baulk that tricks their adversary into striking through an apparent hole in defences, only to be effectively blocked/evaded and counterattacked.

Sen no Sen:

There are many ways of taking control. Having control of the when, how and where you can effectively block/evade while simultaneously delivering an effective counterattack, potentially finishing the encounter.

For example:

Leaving your face, apparently, unguarded, offering your chin, you capitalise on your adversary’s attempted punch. Knowing the when and where, it will only depend on the how, as it happens. Slipping the punch (using tai sabaki), perhaps covering with a heel palm block, simultaneously delivering a blow to the sternum. A version of this, where tai sabaki is the major contributor of both the defence and the counter attack, might also be called Tai no sen.

Sen Sen no Sen:

When confronted by an adversary/opponent – your awareness in the appropriate state of Zanshin – reading your adversary’s intention to attack, taking the initiative you immediately launch a pre-emptive strike. In a self-defence scenario, particularly if your adversary is in possession of a bladed or blunt force weapon, Sen sen no sen is a highly advisable mode of action.


Facing an adversary, in a real-life combative confrontation, behaving according to proper etiquette, you have:

1. Given the adversary no reason to attack you.

2. Attempted to resolve the impending confrontation by all means possible.

3. Attempted to remove yourself from the location.

Now you find yourself, unavoidably, facing an adversary intent on assaulting you. Deai may be a highly desirable option. Defending yourself using Deai methodology might appear, to eye witnesses, that you randomly attacked your adversary. Deai: attack as soon as you realise your assailant’s intention.

Sen and the Individual

It is advantageous to understand yourself and know which Sen aspect best suits your personality. However, that being said, you must train in all aspects of Sen; do not be predictable in combat.

As previously stated, I personally view Sen from a Budō viewpoint. Sport combat (regardless of the particular rules) is a game, with referees and judges et cetera, and is expected to be fought fairly. Real-world conflict has no rules, referees, judges or expectations of a fair fight; and your very life may be at stake. In my experience, armed with Zanshin, Mushin and Fudoshin (gained through Shoshin and supported by Senshin), the advanced Karateka/Budōka – protected by the Mantle of the Spiritual Warrior – will react with the most appropriate Sen aspect in response to an attack.


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