Basic Strategies by Steve Kanney

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In Aikido, we are taught that O’Sensei utilized two major strategies: Break Maia (or distance) and inviting the attack in order to counter attack.  While there are other strategies, these are the two he emphasized for the most part.  First we will look at these strategies.  In a later article we will consider ancillary strategies.  The text we will utilize is Miyamoto Musashi’s A Book of Five Rings, particularly the Fire Book within the text.

Specifically, Musashi includes three methods.  (1) You launch the attack, (2) you feign weakness and counter attack or (3) you attack simultaneously with the enemy’s attack.

In Aikido, when inviting the attack, we attempt to create a vacuum or suction like feeling, drawing in the attack.   Then we evade the attacking movement and control the attacker so as not to harm them.

Breaking maia is straightforward.  When the opening is there, or you have taken your partner’s center, then a straightforward attack can abruptly end the violence.

Again, in Aikido, the objective is not to kill the attacker, but control them without harm.  In this manner, we may launch a strike to trigger a block from the potential attacker.  When they block, we use their blocking motion to apply a joint lock, pin or throw.  The emphasis is not to strike with the intent of causing damage.  We can also actually strike as a distraction to apply a controlling technique causing damage.  We can also actually strike as a distraction to apply a controlling technique afterwards.  At times, we withdraw the force of the attack  before making contact.  Should the attacker expect the pressure of the attack and then suddenly not receive it, he/she may become unbalanced and we can then lead them with a more typical controlling technique without really making contact.

The objective in Aikido is not to harm or kill, or even to win a competition.  It is to defend oneself while protecting the attacker to the best of our abilities.  However, sometimes the best defense is a good offense.  Therefore, we do not simply wait for an attack passively and try to defend ourselves after it is launched.  In this sense, Aikido does not conform to the mainstream ideas of a “defensive martial art.” Effective strategy suggests a need to keep the attacker off balance by taking advantage of any opportunity to attack.  However, the point of the attack, again, is not to harm, but to control.

Below is an excerpt from Musashi’s  Book of Five Rings (Fire Book) that details his view of the strategies:

The Three Methods to Forestall the Enemy

The first is to forestall him by attacking. This is called Ken No Sen (to set him up).

Another method is to forestall him as he attacks. This is called Tai No Sen (to wait for the initiative).

The other method is when you and the enemy attack together. This is called Tai Tai No Sen (to accompany him and forestall him).

There are no methods of taking the lead other than these three. Because you can win quickly by taking the lead, it is one of the most important things in strategy. There are several things involved in taking the lead. You must make the best of the situation, see through the enemy’s spirit so that you grasp his strategy and defeat him. It is impossible to write about this in detail.

The First – Ken No Sen

When you decide to attack, keep calm and dash in quickly, forestalling the enemy. Or you can advance seemingly strongly but with a reserved spirit, forestalling him with the reserve.

Alternately, advance with as strong a spirit as possible, and when you reach the enemy move with your feet a little quicker than normal, unsettling him and overwhelming him sharply.

Or, with your spirit calm, attack with a feeling of constantly crushing the enemy, from first to last. The spirit is to win in the depths of the enemy.

These are all Ken No Sen.

The Second – Tai No Sen

When the enemy attacks, remain undisturbed but feign weakness. As the enemy reaches you, suddenly move away indicating that you intend to jump aside, then dash in attacking strongly as soon as you see the enemy relax. This is one way.

Or, as the enemy attacks, attack more strongly, taking advantage of the resulting disorder in his timing to win.

This is the Tai No Sen principle.

The Third – Tai Tai No Sen

When the enemy makes a quick attack, you must attack strongly and calmly, aim for his weak point as he draws near, and strongly defeat him.

Or, if the enemy attacks calmly, you must observe his movement and, with your body rather floating, join in with his movements as he draws near. Move quickly and cut him strongly.

This is Tai Tai No Sen

These things cannot be clearly explained in words. You must research what is written here. In these three ways of forestalling, you must judge the situation. This does not mean that you always attack first; but if the enemy attacks first you can lead him around. In strategy, you have effectively won when you forestall the enemy, so you must train well to attain this.

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