The Fierce Eye: Focusing on Martial Focus

Martial Focus

I think this is true everywhere: there’s always someone giving advice, or rules of thumb that drift downward from earlier days and, lo and behold, these become watchwords of inherited intelligence. Verifiability is not even an issue because these ingrained insights constitute that thin yellow line between truth and–certainly not evil, but at least–superstition.

In martial arts there are a number of sayings about “where to look” to anticipate your opponent’s strike. As the years have passed, I’ve heard countless instructions, suggestions, tricks and insights. The basic idea will start your martial focus on some general spot that will supposedly inform you where a blow is coming from. This can be almost anywhere in the body.

Eye to Eye
Let’s see, the FIRST thing I was told was to look deeply into the opponent’s eyes. It would appear that looking through these “windows of the soul” and would revealed the intent of your opponent. Some people said that those eyes would produce a fleeting glance aimed at his target on your body. Were that true, of course, this would be a valued piece of advice. But having never been attacked by an eye, I decided to wait on this conclusion.

Chest Out, Stomach In
Though the eye concept did not quite convince me, I still loved to hear how other people were tutored. The next revelation was that the chest should be the center of focus. This was a hard one, because it might include at least two slightly different areas. The chest does indeed lead in a lot of people, so there is a minor opening of the chest before the upper body leans into the strike.

The other version focusing on the chest included the shoulders. It might have been yet another way of suggesting you keep your eyes fixed on that little notch just below the throat, so you can see both shoulders and chest. Adding the shoulders not only allows you to catch shoulder telegraphing, but also monitor the center of the body.

Body Language
Even without knowing the “universal” spot, watching carefully can offer solid information on detecting ‘tells.’ For instance, a raised shoulder promises an attempted kick. When the rear shoulder comes forward and the opponent’s silhouette widens, this is a signal that the back hand is coming.

There were other factors, of course. I was lucky enough to work with top level people and saw these detectors and moves in a different dimension.

The Eye Reigns
Here’s the real secret: In fact, there is no universal spot on which to fixate. But you can control your eyes and, therefore, scrutinize the amount and kind of information you absorb visually. For example, if my opponent is attempting to kick me, I try to move back no more than is necessary so I can launch a counter-kick if the opportunity arises. The trick, as the opponent throws his kick, is to look at the rear or planted leg. You will find that your timing and distance can be noticeably improved by ignoring the kicking leg and tracking the prop or back leg.

Vague is Clear
While spotting the back leg is a little like recognizing a tell, sometimes it is difficult to find it in the short time before the kick arrives. In this case, you can actually look AWAY from the opponent at about a 30% angle. When working with a truly fast opponent, this flattens his image in your vision to the point where that elusive tell shows itself. In fact, looking away makes the opponent’s entire body into a single sheet, allowing you to react much quicker than if you employed the frozen stare so many people use.

Some of these “tips” work extraordinarily well. Some are unreliable at best. A beginner will first look at the fists. An advanced person won’t have a single place to look, but four places to specify according to his opponent’s stance and angle. The real trick is not to know what to look at, but to evaluate where to look.

As you training progresses, looking will take on a deeper meaning than just gazing with the eyes. In exercises such as Sticky Hands the whole body, the sense of touch, the perception of distance; all work together presenting what might be called the data of combat. What you see and how you see it is part of these data.


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