I study a Japanese Martial Art that focuses primarily on striking. I recently sparred with an experienced peer who was much larger and stronger than me. Contending with a stronger and larger opponent is always difficult, but there were some great insights and learnings that I took away from the bout. So much so, that I am looking forward to sparring with my colleague once again.
Looking back at the sparring match, I found that I naturally employed three defensive strategies to contend with my opponent’s attacks. These are well-known strategies, but I would like to bring them to the front of your mind and talk about what worked well for me against a stronger opponent.
In the context of striking, the three defensive strategies, in Japanese, are referred to as:
- Go No Sen (After) – counterattack after the opponent has completed their attack
- Sen No Sen (During) – counterattack during the opponent’s attack
- Tai No Sen (Before) – also known as Sen Sen No Sen, attack as soon as you sense your opponent’s intent to attack
These strategies refer to timing or when you decide to defend yourself in relation to an attack.
Go No Sen
Counterattack after the opponent has completed their attack. This typically occurs after blocking or evading an attack. The most effective use of this defensive method is to counterattack immediately after your opponent has finished their attack. The probability of landing a successful counterattack diminishes the longer it takes to initiate the counterattack. The best way to train this, is to always commit to a counter immediately after your opponent attacks.
Your counterattack takes place as your opponent is executing their attack. Here you launch your attack shortly after your opponent begins their attack.
I have found that this is the most effective form of defense for me. The opponent not only gives away their position by committing to their technique, but their vulnerable points are no longer guarded and are exposed to an immediate counterstrike.
Speed and presence of mind is required to effectively execute such a defensive strategy. This is also the riskiest form of defense as you need to evade the opponent’s strike whilst also attempting to land your counterstrike simultaneously.
Tai No Sen
Your awareness and understanding of your environment come into play. This is where you attack as soon as you become aware that your opponent is going to attack. The idea is to preempt your opponent’s attack.
This requires you to develop an acute sense of awareness or hyper-vigilance. As soon as you sense the momentary danger, you react with your own attack before your opponent takes the opportunity to attack you.
The training of this type of acute awareness is typically found in Aikido.
Target of your Counterattack
The target is also important. I find that attacking an area that is different to the area your opponent has attacked increases your chances of landing your strike. So, if your opponent attacks your head, you attack the abdomen. If your opponent attacks your abdomen, you attack the head.
This technicality is very important as it improves your chances of landing your strike and adequately defending yourself.
What did not Work Well for me
I found that allowing my opponent who was bigger and stronger than me to complete their attacks allowed them to control the fight. Having to block and evade the sheer strength of his strikes, left no room or time for me to effectively counter.
Strategies that Worked for me
My colleague, being a lot bigger than me, was a little slower than me as well. It was difficult for him to land powerful strikes on me as I easily evaded and parried them. Having the advantage of speed, I found it effective to counter whilst my opponent was launching their attack. This generally took the form of a parry and strike at the same time.
In addition, I found that it worked best for me to stay on my opponent’s outside so that I could stay away from further attacks. I would have probably been overwhelmed by his strength if I chose to fight on his inside.
I also found that preemptively striking served to stunt my opponent from generally launching their own attacks. I would watch out for tells or telegraphs and proceed to launch my own attack. This gave me the added benefit of not having to defend against an attack.
Sparring and fighting is very similar to playing chess. You need to formulate and execute strategies depending on the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent. You need to work out what works and does not work for each opponent you square off against.
It helps to have a combination of strength, speed, and stamina. Ultimately, what will help you overcome your opponent is a strategy and your psychology. You need to believe you can win and remain composed under duress.
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