Initiative; or Why Han Shot First.

27 Aug

WARNING: This piece includes many references to Star Wars: A New Hope. To those who have not seen the movie, I will not apologize. Leave your refrigerator box; buy, borrow, or rent it; if only to see what Harrison Ford did before Calista Flockhart.

With advent of the release of the “original” Star War Trilogy (as well as certain YouTube parodies), I realized that, not owning a copy of the pre-technologically updated version, I will never again see Han shoot first. At the time of my first viewing of Star Wars, I was much too young to appreciate that very important lesson taught in the Mos Eisley Cantina: Initiative.

This was a rather sobering conclusion, because the first Star Wars movie is an excellent example of all the different levels of initiative in combat. In Japanese, its known as Sen, and there are four levels: Tai no Sen, Machi no Sen, Sen no Sen, and Ki no Sen.

The base level is know as Tai no Sen, or Mutual Sen. The best example is Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader’s duel upon the Death Star. Two fighters square off, on even footing, neither with , nor pressing , an advantage. This is how every boxing match, UFC fight, or old west showdown in the middle of the street starts.

The next level of Sen is Machi no Sen, or Waiting Sen. This initiative is personified by Gichin Funakoshi’s second tenant, that “there is no first strike in Karate.” The warrior utilizing Machi no Sen waits for their opponent to make the first move, or more accurately, mistake. When the bar patron makes the mistake of picking on the poor whining farm boy, Obi Wan gives them the opportunity to take it down a notch; but when the guns are drawn, the first strike is made, and Obi Wan cuts them down, ending the altercation. But he didn’t have to wait for them to shoot first…

So why in the Hell would you go back 20 years later and make Han Solo look like an ass ( and Greedo like the worst shot in the Galaxy) and wait for the first shot before returning fire?! In the original Star Wars, Han shot first, and it was the perfect example of the next level of Sen, Sen no Sen, or Intercepting Sen. Han is presented with a lethal situation: three feet from an assailant with a gun, table preventing him from closing the distance and attempting to disarm his attacker. What does he do? Distracts Greedo with the little wall flick, a cash prize, then shoots Greedo before he gets shot himself. In law enforcement, lethal force is authorized when an assailant has the means (blaster), motive (money, it’s almost always money), and opportunity to use lethal force (a dark corner of seedy little cantina where amputations do little to stem business) against the officer or civilians. I believe this meets all those criteria. Han simply intercepts Greedo’s attack as it takes shape in Greedo’s mind, before it gets to his trigger finger (and cut Harrison out of two more lucrative movies). George had it right the first time; I see very little moral high ground in getting shot at point blank range.

The highest level is that of Ki no Sen, and it is the mental and/or psychological initiative that the warrior uses to control the situation before it becomes a situation. Seeing the potential for escalating violence, and reducing or removing that potential is the hallmark of a true master. To the uninitiated, this is the Jedi Mind Trick; Hence “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” is an excellent example of Ki no Sen.

I’m not there yet. Until then, I’ll just walk softly and carry a big Wookie…

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One Response to “Initiative; or Why Han Shot First.”

  1. aikiology 2013/06/04 at 22:37 #

    Better late than never! In aikido I’ve seen a lot of instructors get it wrong, and misquote O’Sensei, or more accurately, incorrectly instruct students to wait for the attack. O’Sensei did not do this. He exhibited sen-no-sen, as evidenced by Saito Morihiro Sensei long teachings of what he learned in Iwama from O’Sensei: initiate the attack. In so doing, you create the opening you want: the arm you need exposed or the attack you need completed by your opponent to draw out his intention, and then respond with the gift he has given you. Love the post, and the use of a classic (destroyed in re-editing, it seems) to explain a very real and pertinent aspect of personal self-protection.

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