Two of the timings in Japanese swordsmanship are Go no Sen and Sen no Sen. In the Go no Sen timing, we block the initiating attack and then counter. The timing of this time of counter attack is one / two. One is the block and two is the counter attack. Sen no Sen on the other hand, is counter immediately upon the attack. Experience and recognition play a large part in successfully executing Sen no Sen timing.

Go no Sen – an example of this timing might be an attacker lunge punching to the face, we might upper block with the lead hand, and counter punch with the back hand. Attack and block are one count, counter punch is the following count.

Sen no Sen – in the example attack of a lunge punch to the face, the defender in this example steps off axis and towards the attacker, blocking with back hand and striking with the front hand. The counter punch occurs on the same count as the attack.

The ability to recognize the incoming attack in enough time to slip the punch and step inward instead of stepping out of the range of the punch is a function of experience and practice. The problem with Go no Sen against an attack is the counter attack is difficult to attack moving backwards, and the timing and distancing (ma’ai) of the attack continues to be controlled by the attacker. In Sen no Sen, the defender changes the timing and distancing of the attack, by making these changes, the defender now takes the initiative and controls the distancing and timing of the exchange.

One of the other changes in Sen no sen timing is looking at times when the striking hand being the front hand, and the back hand being the blocking hand. Though seemingly counter intuitive, if you move towards the attacking technique, what starts out as the front hand, becomes the back hand.

In sword fighting you often hear the saying, when in doubt move forward, in karate it is often said never back up – it is our natural instinct to get out of the way of, and often move back from danger. By giving ground, especially in a linear retreat, we are in a difficult position to disrupt the attackers tactical plan. In fact we are staying in the line of attack. The line or direction of defense will determine distancing, and just as importantly timing. So when we talk about Go no Sen or Sen no Sen timing, we are inherently talking about the line/direction of our counter attack. As a strategy Sen no Sen suggests we study a counter that is more disruptive tactile plan – taking the initiative of the attack by launching a counter attack to meet and penetrate the initial attack – going forward, not backward.