Why do you teach your students to use peripheral vision? Thanks, Irusha.
This is probably one of the most important questions that any one could have asked me — “why is peripheral vision important?”
Well from my own personal experience over the years of training in many forms of different fighting methods (martial arts / hand to hand combat) I have come to take notice that no matter how great a fighter you are or how fast you can deliver your techniques it all doesn’t matter or work if you don’t know when the attack is coming at you and from where — what direction.
There are many schools of thought on this subject and I can only answer from my own perspectives. But here is what I have come to notice after being on the receiving end from many life and death encounters while growing up in the city of Boston, Mass and hanging out in the Chinatown district where I met my wife and being chased by different gangs while exploring different hoods back in the day and playing around the combat zone.
There are six basic types of vision that I have come to notice over the years. Actually more, but for now I will only explore three of the vision types here and now. My reasons are due to time constraints and most importantly I would need you to stand here, right in front of me to share the rest of this inner knowledge of sight, otherwise I feel you would think I am crazy or nuts and would not believe me If I wrote about it here and now.
These other types of visions border on what we call in the martial arts the mystical side of things and in the science community they may call it the metaphysical side of nature. Either way it wouldn’t be good to share through writings. I feel things like this should be experienced to help you believe
there is way more to this material world than what you may believe or think or was taught to think.
I will jump into your question Irusha by saying direct vision is what most people walk around with all their lives. This is a very sad thing to be stuck in one mode of vision like this. They walk around and miss most of what life has to offer them. Especially now where mostly everyone today has a computer and stares at it most of the day. Or, how about the people who watch television most of the day? And then there are the kids who play video games all day. By the way a great book for parents to read is “Stop Teaching Our Kids To Kill” by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano. I have learned of this book when I was taking anti-terrorism course at Sigarms with Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. I must say he is an amazing speaker and very knowledgeable man.
Direct vision is the vision we use to study something like a picture or to read a book. However, direct vision is not good for self-protection or self-defense. Oh don’t get me wrong, it has its place in the martial arts such as when a Sensei/Guro/Sifu teaches a new move or new technique and you watch with your direct vision and take in all the information of new movement. Your eyes are sponging up every posture and every hand and foot movement so your brain can lock it away in our storage bank to be practiced later on.
Here is some thing interesting that I have stumbled upon by performing my own test experiments over the years. When most of the test subjects used their direct vision (but not all) their feet would freeze on them. When the attacker would go after them with real intentions to really do them bodily harm, most of the test subjects’ feet would became stuck or frozen to the ground and they were always too late to apply their martial art technique or self-defense move. This was a major problem that needed to be solved quickly.
My next experiment will take us to wide-angle vision or peripheral vision and give us answers to the direct vision experiments as well.
I needed to find a solution as to why, when most people tried using their self-defense techniques out on the streets in real life encounters, they would get their butts handed to them in a handbag, which if you are a martial arts teacher or instructor that would not be good at all.
After all people are putting and placing their lives in your hands believing that you have all the solutions to every problem presented out there in all forms of attacks or muggings in our ever growing crime riddled and dangerous world.
Wide-angle or peripheral vision is that eyesight right outside of your direct vision. If you stare at your thumb right now and look directly at it (direct vision) you will come to take notice that outside of your thumb you can see the background and the walls to your right and left depending where you are standing while performing this experiment. You will see the sky or ceiling and the floor. But every thing outside of your thumb will be blurry or fuzzy looking to you. You won’t have that crystal clear image you have with direct vision.
I have noticed when I would have a student stand there and I would have another student apply the attack I would first have the defender use direct eyesight (direct vision) and the defender would freeze or move too slowly. Now when I say move too slowly I don’t mean they were slow. What I mean is they moved fast, but their attacker would always hit them first or reach them before they had a chance to evade the oncoming attack or strike. Then I had the defender stare past the attacker and this time the defender always moved out of harms way before the attacker could reach them or strike them. This is because they used their peripheral vision.
Note: Some people needed to stare at the throat while others found it much easier to look past the attacker by staring past your attacker as you engage your peripheral vision. It takes practice to do this naturally. This is why in most martial arts schools when they line you up into two rows facing each other, they have one person always step back before they commit to their practice attack on their work out partner. When you pair off you are suppose to get a funny feeling in your gut just before the attack happens, this is another kind of vision I was mentioning earlier. I feel this part of the martial art has been lost today and is why so many people reach high levels of martial art (rank), but inside feel as though they can’t protect themselves (insecurity) and this will actually show in how they conduct themselves in public or while teaching their classes. I also come to notice that starring into your opponent’s eyes before they attack you didn’t work well for most of my test subjects. They would become even more frozen or frightened even though it was only a test done indoors with people who would not harm them. Can you imagine if that happened to them outside on the street with someone who they didn’t know. They did much better looking past their attacker.
So after I went through these kinds of experiments I now tell my students that direct vision is great for study purposes for seeing and for learning a new technique, but peripheral vision is far better used for self-defense and self- protection.
Now we come to the third vision I mentioned earlier, this is your mind’s eye vision. Here is an example of mind’s eye vision:
Let’s say you were having a conversation with someone you did not know and then they told you their name. Now you will store away in your brain that name along with the way they looked and how they acted and talked. The next time you are out with your friends and a conversation comes up about that person and their name is mentioned you would now remember that person in your head. You would see their face and remember if they were kind or if they were a bit of a jerk to you. Well. this is called your mind’s eye and you use it daily without even noticing or recognizing you are using it. We use this in the martial arts to helps us remember forms or new techniques.
We also use this to keep us fresh by practicing when you can’t practice physically. When I lay down at night to go to sleep I practice my footwork drills that we use here for Jujutsu and Arnis in my mind’s eye. I also practice that some one is attacking me and which defenses I will use against them. Some times I have to get out of bed and in the middle of the night and actually try it because it will seem so awesome at that moment that I just have to give it a try and my wife puts up with me.
Some people think they can never do something like this — yes you can with proper coaching. If you don’t dream or you have trouble seeing things in your head, all you need is a little help in way of coaching like guided meditation. This is a great way to wake up your mind’s eye or to be able to recognize you actually have been using it all along, but didn’t realize it.
There is more, but I will need to write a book on this subject to be able to really go deeper. I am in the process of writing six new books.
Well, take care Irusha and I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any other questions.
– Grandmaster Peter Freedman