Practice Your Perspectives

A grand-teacher of mine, Ed Parker, used to say that you had to look at each technique from three perspectives: your own; the opponent’s; and then someone watching the fight from some distance, like across the street.

art_perspective3This is a very sound idea. Of course the first, personal point of view is relatively easy. Some people cannot do anything but. Most beginners start this way, seeing the movements only from their perspective, as well they should.

The second shift, that of the opponent’s, takes time to develop. It begins when you discover the benefits of angles to your art. Can my opponent see this body inclination? Is my sneaky foot bypassing his attention? It starts small like this, a new trick for sparring, and gradually transforms into a fascinating skill.

After enough practice the two viewpoints slide into one another. I remember wearing sparring armor for the first time. It was new and cumbersome. Halfway through my first match I noticed two things. My opponent had gotten so used to his armor that he was leaving his centerline open and countering a little after being hit. So his centerline was the way in. The second point was that I couldn’t see my own feet and assumed he shared the limitation. So I administered a vertical rear kick straight up his center and to the bottom of his jaw. He didn’t even see it and, for that matter, neither did I.

The third viewpoint, the uninvolved or even disembodied spectator is trickier. The rewards for the practicing martial artist are enormous, but it takes a knack. Occasionally I make my students, especially the Tai Chi ones, close their eyes and attempt to visualize themselves doing the form. Afterwards I ask if they saw themselves from inside or outside their bodies. The answers vary from person to person, some exclusively one or the other, some people flipping viewpoints as they visualize. This exercise has proven to be a good way to train this perspective.

Using this third viewpoint reveals many things the other two lack. For instance, you may discover pleasant or embarrassing aspects of your ability to judge distance. You may also see alternative routes that were too large for the other viewpoints. It’s quite a game-changer to look at things this way.

art-perspective2This third method is similar to what I think of as the mechanical approach. By this I mean catching yourself on video or in photographs or even in the mirror. This can be useful although I caution you that—contrary to popular wisdom—the camera always lies, at least a little, and none of these approaches can hold a candle to imagination coupled with feeling.

The martial arts encourage perspective changes. For instance, I teach another concept called the roving eye. When we practice martial applications I instruct the students to imagine an eye which can go anywhere on their body. If the opponent is bent forward, for instance, you imagine the eye has moved to the top of your foot. It looks up at his face with targets easily visible despite the unusual angle.

A similar thing occurs when I purposely turn my back to the class and perform a move. I encourage my students to see through my body and guess the positioning of the concealed hand. This is particularly useful when we practice close-up work, especially since the opponent rarely turns and poses for you like a model.

art-perspective1Weapons too, can and should change your viewpoint. Their length, their speed, their erratic flights all contribute to the ability to see things immediately changeable. Given this criterion I hardly even need to mention practicing against multiple attackers.

Daoist meditation rests on two “simple” principles, Chih and Kuan. The first means to stop feeling connected in some dependent way, to separate oneself from one’s interpretations, as though all viewpoints are equally valid and the subject means nothing to you, even if it is your own face in the mirror. Kuan means that once you have started to detach yourself you can look, just look, at things for what they are. At this point your perspective has become a tool of tremendous power and a source of inexhaustible information. It’s like putting a little sign saying “Display” on the common household items of your home. Then you walk through the “exhibit” and look at the displays, possibly for the first time.

One Response to “Practice Your Perspectives”

  1. Jeff says:

    Years ago I had a friend who was into mountainbiking. He rode for a long time without a helmet, but finally decided that it would probably be safer to wear one. Suddenly, he began having terrible accidents, and he realized that because he was wearing a helmet he took greater risks.

    I have noticed the same thing when I spar with pads. When I spar without pads, I rarely get hit, but when I wear pads, I seem to get hit more often, especially along low angles. I think I experience the same thing you mention about your opponent, opening my centerline, plus a bit of what my mountain-biking friend discovered about taking more risks. I noticed, by visualizing across the street (as you say) that when I spar with pads, I spar from a closer range than when I’m not wearing pads. Not only do I put myself in greater danger, by being closer my opponent’s feet are nearer the edge of my peripheral vision, making low attacks more difficult to see.

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