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Where to look while sparring or fighting?

While sparring or fighting, a fighter may look at the following areas of the opponent’s body.

The areas to look at

—the eyes. The reason for looking at the opponent’s eyes is the belief that the eyes will move to the area where the next strike will be; thereby, the eyes telegraph or tell what the opponent’s next move will be. However, this could be a feint, because the opponent may look at the feet but give a punch to the head.

—the shoulders. The reason for looking at the shoulders is that the opponent’s shoulder movement would telegraph a punch or a block. Again, this could be a feint, because the opponent may move the shoulder as if to give a punch but may land a kick instead.

—the chest. The reason for looking at the chest is that eyes and shoulders may lie, but the chest cannot lie, since the chest will move according to the opponent’s movement. However, this also can be a feint, as the right side of the chest may move back as if preparing to give a punch with the right hand; meanwhile, the left hand may deliver a finger jab or a palm strike.

—the hands. The reason for looking at the hands is to anticipate any punches or blocks. If any weapon is carried by the hands, then looking at the hands enables to counter the opponent’s movement. But the opponent can fake a hand movement and land a kick instead.

—the hips. The reason for looking at the hips is that the movement of the hips would reveal a punch or a kick. Again, this could be a feint, as the telegraphing may be of a kick, but a punch may be delivered or it may happen vice-versa.

—the feet. The reason for looking at the feet is to anticipate the opponent’s kick. However, this also could be faked, as the opponent instead of giving a kick, may simply put the foot to take a stance, which would enable to throw a punch.

Where should one look at?

There is no fixed rule and one may look at the eyes, the shoulders, the chest, the hands, the hips, the legs, or anywhere else. Each fighter has a unique way of looking. Some fighters see the hands but they miss the legs; conversely, if they see the legs, they miss the hands. Therefore, they constantly go on shifting their eyes up and down, only to look up at the hands and down at the feet. Some fighters generally look everywhere, and nowhere in particular, in order to take in as much information as possible. This way they can generally look at everything by not looking at anything specific.

On the other hand, some fighters focus on the region between the eyes and the chest, whereas other fighters look only at the chest of the opponent, so that their peripheral vision can cover both the arms and legs of the opponent. Fighters have their own individual ways of looking at their opponents; thus, there is no “right” or “wrong” way. What works for one fighter, may not work for another fighter. One man’s medicine might be another man’s poison. Nonetheless, traditionally it is taught to look at the eyes of the opponent.

Why is it taught to look at the eyes?

In fighting, peripheral vision is important. Peripheral vision is greatly enhanced if the vision is fixed on one point. This is practised by meditating on one point while keeping the mind empty. Due to this practice of unfocused gazing at one point, while keeping an alert and an empty mind, the peripheral vision is enhanced. It is so much enhanced that not only the opponent’s entire body, but all the nearby surroundings, up to 270 degrees, are also under the view of the peripheral vision. The eye of the opponent is simply a suitable centre point in this 270 degrees of peripheral vision and thus, traditionally it is taught to look at the eyes of the opponent.

Look, yet do not look

Expert martial artists do not look “at” the eyes or “in” the eyes of the opponent. They are not fixated or captivated by the eyes of the opponent, since they are not looking at, or in the eyes at all. If one becomes captivated by the opponent’s eyes then fear, doubt, and confusion may set in the heart, which would ultimately lead to defeat. Therefore expert martial artists, while seemingly looking at the eyes, do not actually look at the eyes. They are merely looking at the central point of their 270 degrees peripheral vision and that central point happens to be the eyes of the opponent.

The look is a steady, alert, open, unemotional, unfocused, meditative, calm, and an almost deadpan gaze, as if looking somewhere far away. Samurai warriors call this look as gazing at the far away Fuji mountain. In Kendo, it is known as “Enzan No Metsuke” meaning looking at the far mountain. This way of looking at the opponent is important because the surroundings can also be seen by the peripheral vision. Awareness of surroundings enables 1. to face multiple opponents, 2. to make use of natural weapons like pelting stones or throwing earth in the eyes, 3. to not lose balance in the ups and downs of an uneven road, and 4. to see an escape route to run away in order to live and fight another day.

Look with other senses also

This practice of looking at, yet not looking at the eyes of the opponent, removes the dependency on vision. Expert fighters look with all their senses and not just their vision. They acutely smell, hear, touch, taste and see, while fighting. This means that they increase their perception of not only the opponent but also the surroundings. Perceiving all with the senses is important because vision may be temporarily impaired due to low light conditions, or being hit in the eye. Other factors that may induce temporary blindness include sunlight coming in the eyes due to facing the sun while fighting, or dust/sand/sweat coming in the eyes. If one already has compromised eyesight and wears glasses, then the glasses can be lost or get broken during a fight, which would result in blurry vision. In case the opponent attacks or grabs from the rear, then vision would be of little use. In such rear attack situations, other senses would be required. In many other such situations, vision is of very little use, and hence experts do not rely solely on sight, which is why they even practice to fight blindfolded.

Looking away

Sometimes, in the middle of a fight, experts simply stop fighting and look away from the opponent. This look-away technique distracts the opponent, who lowers his guard or tries to attack aggressively. In both the situations, the expert can find an opportunity to suddenly react and cut down the opponent.

Looking “at” and looking “for”

More than looking “at”, what one is looking “for” is perhaps more important. A beginner looks for the opponent’s telegraphed moves; a little bit more experienced fighter looks for openings; an experienced fighter looks for the weaknesses of the opponent; whereas, the expert looks for nothing, as the mind is empty and the body adapts as per the changing situations.

Look for nothing and see everything

If you look for the leaf, you cannot see the flower; and if you look for the flower, you cannot see the tree; but if you look for nothing, then you can see the tree, the flower and the leaf.




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