By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved
Several years ago I was showing a martial arts technique to a friend who studied a different style. In the technique I came at him with my left hand followed by my right and concluded with a takedown. This particular friend was a 3rd degree black belt in a Korean martial art and I respected his opinion greatly, but when he saw me demonstrate that technique his response was, "That will never work. If I saw your hand coming at me like that I'd counter with ____." He went on to tell me how flawed the technique was because it started with a large movement and he thought you could easily see it coming. I replied, "Ok, I'll come at you again and let's find out."
I came at him again using the same technique and he showed me the counter he thought he might use, and he went on to very precisely explain what he was doing and how it was the perfect counter. Being a very skilled martial artist and instructor he made some very good points and I enjoyed getting his input. After he was finished we spent about 10 minutes working on his counter and discussing its merits, all in all we probably did this counter 20 times each. Then I said, "That's pretty good. I'll come at you one more time, I want to show you something."
This time, however, instead of coming at him with that same technique I kicked him in the shin, grabbed his wrist, and threw him on to the mat. He jumped up and with big eyes and he said, "What the hell was that?"
"Reality," I replied, "Although you made some great points, if you know what I'm going to do beforehand then you can counter any technique, but in a real violent situation you never know what someone’s going to do."
The simple truth is that if someone is standing there challenging you or attacking you, you never really know what that person is going to do. They could punch with either of their hands, grab, push, kick with either leg, pull a weapon, there are a myriad of possibilities and no way to predict with 100% certainty. However, this is a way we can get a fairly good idea and at least tell which limb they're coming at us with. The way that we do that is by knowing how to use your eyes...and by completely ignoring Mr. Miyagi.
Mr. Miyagi told his pupil Daniel, "Look eye...always look eye!" His advice (although common in many martial arts) is flawed because it lacks an understanding of how your eyes detect movement. You have two basic types of vision, Focus Vision (FV) which is your direct line of sight, and Peripheral Vision (PV) which is along-side of your direct line of sight. Both of these types of vision have their uses, for example FV is used to examine an object and identify what it is but it is not designed to detect and measure movement; PV is used to detect and measure movement but it is not designed to examine and identify objects. So, if we want to look at something that is standing still and determine what it is we should use our FV and look directly at it, but if we want to detect when something is moving and measure its direction and speed we should look next to it and allow our PV to work.
So we know that we want to use our PV but how do we do that? To answer that let's look at how the body moves by examining an attack with a knife. Let's pretend that someone is standing in front of you with a knife if their right hand and they step forwards with their right foot and thrust that knife at your chest. In this scenario most people would look at the knife and that makes sense since it is the knife that is going to impale you. However, that is not ideal, in fact, the Japanese have a saying: “You see the sword that kills you." What this means is that you should never look at an attacker's weapon. The reason for this is that if you look at their weapons then you're using your FV to detect movement and it is not designed for that. Have you ever seen something come at you and for some reason you just stood there and watched it hit you? A lot of people have (myself included) and the reason for this is that when you focus your vision on something that is moving your eyes aren't able to give your brain the necessary information it needs to judge its speed and direction and you often are left standing there almost in a trace while you try to figure it out. So looking at the knife is out, and that also means that you shouldn't look at someone’s hands or feet to see when they are going to punch or kick you.
With the knife being out lets go up the arm to the elbow. If you watch his elbow you will see the thrust seem to slow down a little bit. The reason the thrust seems a little slower is that in most cases the elbow has to move before the hand does so you get a little tip off when the thrust is starting. Add to that that the elbow moves 4 times slower than the hand and it becomes obvious that if you had to get out of the way of that thrust then by watching their elbow you've have a much easier time then by watching their hand or the knife itself.
Let's not stop there though, let's travel up the arm and take the advice of boxers by watching the shoulder. The shoulder generally moves even before the elbow and it moves about 20 times slower than the hand. In boxing you're taught to watch your opponent's shoulders and when you see one raise, drop, or move forward that means that arm is about to throw a punch. This is very sound advice but we can do even better by looking at the center of their chest. Look at the center of their chest and suddenly getting out of the way of that knife thrust is easy.
The reason it is so easy to see that thrust coming towards you by looking at the center of their chest is twofold. First, most all movements the body makes starts with the very center of the body moving and most of the time the very first muscles to move are the ones connected to the spine. So if they are going to thrust at you with their knife the very first thing that will move is the very center of their body which, because it’s connected, will make the right side of their chest move. Next, the entire right side of their body rotates towards you, followed by the shoulder moving, then the elbow, and then the hand. By looking at the center of the body you're actually seeing the attack build up and you can start to move while the attack is just starting. Second, by focusing your vision at the center of their chest you're putting their chest and shoulders in your PV so your eyes can detect as soon as they move.
Now, while all of this is great for dealing with people that might punch, stab, push, grab, or just use their arms to attack you in any way...but it doesn't help you with kicks. The same things that are true with the arm are true with the legs in that the feet move fast, the knees move must slower, and the hips moves even slower still. The hips and the shoulders are the two great fulcrums of the body and pretty much every large movement the body makes can be detected first by watching these areas. If we take everything we've just gone over we can see that the most advantageous place to look is actually right about their solar plexus. The solar plexus area is right in between their hips and shoulders in the center of the body and by watching this area you will have their hips and shoulders all in your PV.
The answer of where you want to look to be able to detect someone’s attack is the solar plexus area, but HOW do you look? This might seem like an odd question but if I focus right on their solar plexus I'm making my FV dominant when my PV should be. Instead of looking AT the solar plexus area you should look THROUGH the solar plexus area to focus your vision about 2 to 3 feet behind them. This will direct your vision at the very center of their body but put the entire thing in your PV. Practice this a little bit and you'll soon be able to see as soon as they move and you'll be able to tell which limb they are coming at you with.