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Eyes in the Martial Arts
Eyes in the Martial Arts
by Niall Matthews
11-30-2012
Eyes in the Martial Arts


http://www.flickr.com/photos/joiseyshowaa/8108364648/
Golden sunrise atop Mt Minsi by joiseyshowaa

Some schools maintain that the eyes should be fixed on the enemy's long sword. Some schools fix the eyes on the hands. Some fix the eyes on the face, and some fix the eyes on the feet, and so on. If you fix the eyes on these places your spirit can become confused and your strategy thwarted.

In the Way of strategy, when you have fought many times you will easily be able to appraise the speed and position of the enemy's sword, and having mastery of the Way you will see the weight of his spirit. In strategy, fixing the eyes means gazing at the man's heart.
Miyamoto Musashi, Book of Five Rings

This is my affliction
Eyes I shall not see again
Eyes of decision
Eyes I shall not see unless
At the door of death's other kingdom
T S Eliot, Eyes That Last I Saw In Tears

New eyes each year
Find old books here,
And new books,too,
Old eyes renew
Philip Larkin, New Eyes Each Year

The idea of the crimson foliage hit is to knock the opponent's sword down and take the sword over.
Miyamoto Musashi, Book of Five Rings

A short while ago I was looking through the Kokin Waka Shu and saw a verse that went:

I can see a thousand colors
Blowing in the wind.
Did the leaves of Autumn trees
Know they would fall?

I wrote this for people at the limits of their learning, and for those who aspire to this way.
Matsuura Seizan, Joseishi's Discussions on the Sword

Fixing one's eyes on the far mountains means to gaze far and wide. One exercise practised by samurai is to look at all faraway things as if they were close and all close things as if they were far away. In this way, the entire field of any situation is surveyed as though one were looking at mountains in the distance.
Takuan Soho, The Unfettered Mind
In the martial arts where do you look? Where do you fix your eyes?

I'll start with where not to look.

Don't look down. Everybody does at first.

Don't look at an attacker's weapon. If you look at it your mind will stop on the weapon.

Don't look at an attacker's hands. If you look at the attacker's hand or hands your mind will stop.

Don't look at your own hands. You know what your hands look like and feel like. You don't need to look at them.

Some martial arts teachers say don't look into an attacker's eyes. You could be overwhelmed. Or you could be sucked into a cycle of aggression that could stop you thinking clearly.

So where to look? Other teachers say you should look into an attacker's eyes. Or you can look at an attacker's forehead. Or the gap between the attacker's eyebrows. Or look at the face. Or the shoulders and head and face all together. But don't let your mind become fixed.

The best advice is do what your teacher says to do.

In the Japanese sword they say look at the far mountains. There is another phrase used in budo: a gaze like autumn leaves. Never fixed. Open. Aware. Looking at everything. And nothing.

Niall

background links

http://allpoetry.com/poem/8453743-Ey...-by-T_S__Eliot

http://www.poetryconnection.net/poet...ip_Larkin/4795

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kokin_Wakash%C5%AB

http://www.shidokanmontreal.ca/image...%20meaning.pdf
Simple and clear essay on eyes and a far away mountain by Santoso Hanitijo, Shidokan Kendo and Iaido Club, Montreal
http://www.shidokanmontreal.ca/readings.html

http://www.flickr.com/photos/joiseyshowaa/8108364648/
photo: Golden sunrise atop Mt Minsi by joiseyshowaa

my blog on http://www.aikiweb.com/blogs/moon-in-the-water-19051/ aikiweb | my blog on http://mooninthewater.net/aikido wordpress

niall matthews 2012
Niall Matthews lives with his family in Japan. He teaches aikibudo and community self-defence courses and has taught budo for twenty-five years. He was the senior deshi of Kinjo Asoh Sensei, 7 dan Aikikai. He was the exclusive uke of Sadateru Arikawa Sensei, 9 dan Aikikai, at the hombu dojo in Tokyo for thirteen years until Arikawa Sensei's death in 2003. He has trained in several other martial arts to complement his aikido training, including judo (he has 4 dan from the Kodokan in Tokyo), kenjutsu (for about ten years) and karate (for about three years). He originally went to Japan as a staff member of the EU almost thirty years ago. He received 5 dan from Arikawa Sensei in 1995. This 5 dan is the last aikido dan he will receive in his life. His dojo is called Aikibudo Kokkijuku 合気武道克輝塾. Arikawa Sensei personally gave him the character for ki in kokki. It is the same character as teru in Sadateru - not the normal spelling of kokki 克己. It means you make your life shining and clear yourself.
Old 11-30-2012, 11:43 AM   #2
Conrad Gus
 
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Re: Eyes in the Martial Arts

Niall,

This is a nice summary of a tricky problem. I like the "mountains" bit at the end.

My Sensei used to say that you only look at the person's eyes if you are absolutely sure that your will is going to be dominant in the exchange. It's better not to take a chance.

He told the story of an ex-yakuza that he met. The fellow was reformed, but was full-on gangster with tattoos and everything. He had left the yakuza and become a Christian. Apparently he was very relaxed and friendly.

Anyway, they were talking about this topic, and the man told Sensei that in the yakuza, they work very hard on their "intimidating gaze". He volunteered to show Sensei what it looked like. According to Sensei, it was absolutely terrifying - not just the face or the eyes, but the way it made him feel. The guy "turned it off" and laughed. According to the man it takes a lot of practice in the mirror to learn how to do that.

I don't want to learn how to do it. I would rather stay calm and look at the mountains.

Conrad
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Old 11-30-2012, 12:01 PM   #3
sakumeikan
Dojo: Sakumeikan N.E. Aikkai .Newcastle upon Tyne.
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Re: Eyes in the Martial Arts

Quote:
Conrad Gustafson wrote: View Post
Niall,

This is a nice summary of a tricky problem. I like the "mountains" bit at the end.

My Sensei used to say that you only look at the person's eyes if you are absolutely sure that your will is going to be dominant in the exchange. It's better not to take a chance.

He told the story of an ex-yakuza that he met. The fellow was reformed, but was full-on gangster with tattoos and everything. He had left the yakuza and become a Christian. Apparently he was very relaxed and friendly.

Anyway, they were talking about this topic, and the man told Sensei that in the yakuza, they work very hard on their "intimidating gaze". He volunteered to show Sensei what it looked like. According to Sensei, it was absolutely terrifying - not just the face or the eyes, but the way it made him feel. The guy "turned it off" and laughed. According to the man it takes a lot of practice in the mirror to learn how to do that.

I don't want to learn how to do it. I would rather stay calm and look at the mountains.

Conrad
Dear Conrad,
I much prefer looking at old episodes of cowboys on the telly.As far as gazing intently at someone, this can and often results in a confrontation.In general I like to have eyes / look that appears benevolent [and 99% ]of the time is a benevelent gaze.It is only when the chips are down and the situation is serious do I become a little bit more intimidating.I believe you can train to swich on and off how you project your demeanour.
I have met doormen , loan sharl enforcers in my day.Socially they were goodd guys, happy smiling eyes , quite witty.Totally opposite when they put on their Mr Nasty hat.You knew when they were up for it ,and willing to exchange blows.
I think a apparent pleasant manner can get you out of a sticky position, and if not thats too bad. Cheers, Joe
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Old 11-30-2012, 12:59 PM   #4
Conrad Gus
 
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Re: Eyes in the Martial Arts

Quote:
Joe Curran wrote: View Post
Dear Conrad,
I much prefer looking at old episodes of cowboys on the telly.As far as gazing intently at someone, this can and often results in a confrontation.In general I like to have eyes / look that appears benevolent [and 99% ]of the time is a benevelent gaze.It is only when the chips are down and the situation is serious do I become a little bit more intimidating.I believe you can train to swich on and off how you project your demeanour.
I have met doormen , loan sharl enforcers in my day.Socially they were goodd guys, happy smiling eyes , quite witty.Totally opposite when they put on their Mr Nasty hat.You knew when they were up for it ,and willing to exchange blows.
I think a apparent pleasant manner can get you out of a sticky position, and if not thats too bad. Cheers, Joe
Joe,

Good point. Nothing is going to be appropriate/effective 100% of the time, right?

Cheers,

Conrad
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Old 11-30-2012, 06:27 PM   #5
Tom Verhoeven
Dojo: Aikido Auvergne Kumano dojo
Location: Auvergne
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Re: Eyes in the Martial Arts

Hi Niall,
Thanks for this column - a very good read, great photo!

I cannot recall hearing the saying "gazing like autumn leaves" before. Is it from a particular author or belongs the saying to a particular ryuha? How is it pronounced in Japanese?

And what does it mean? I like the image. But does it point to a man gazing upon autumn leaves - it is not the autumn leaves that are gazing?

Thanks again,

Tom
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Old 11-30-2012, 09:32 PM   #6
Mario Tobias
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Re: Eyes in the Martial Arts

I heed the words of Hikitsuchi sensei. It works.

Never look at your partner or look through, never be transfixed at a point.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9BVCh76hzM
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Old 12-01-2012, 12:45 AM   #7
R.A. Robertson
Dojo: Still Point Aikido Center
Location: Austin, TX, USA
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Re: Eyes in the Martial Arts

I tell my students to keep returning their gaze toward the horizon line. Sort of like "keeping one-point" for the attention.

"Looking" involves taking in the peripheral vision as well as the center of vision (which may or may not be the same thing as "focus"). What would I have my students look at? Space. Emptiness. The openings and interstices and opportunities.

There is nothing even remotely mystical about this. You do it all the time when driving a car, or walking through crowds. You take in all the obstacles, you see where the problems are, but you go in between, and that's what to look for, and what to look at.

[Edit] Oh hey... check out Lynn Seiser's article this month. There ya go!

Last edited by R.A. Robertson : 12-01-2012 at 12:52 AM.
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Old 12-01-2012, 05:40 AM   #8
Tom Verhoeven
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Re: Eyes in the Martial Arts

Quote:
Mario Tobias wrote: View Post
I heed the words of Hikitsuchi sensei. It works.

Never look at your partner or look through, never be transfixed at a point.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9BVCh76hzM
Thank you for that link.

Always good to watch Hikitsuchi sensei in action!

Tom
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Old 12-01-2012, 05:57 AM   #9
Mary Eastland
 
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Re: Eyes in the Martial Arts

Thanks Niall:

I am grateful that I can see...I can see with my eyes closed when I am training. The eyes are only part of the story.

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Old 12-02-2012, 10:24 AM   #10
SeiserL
 
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Re: Eyes in the Martial Arts

I was heard that the eyes were not meant for looking, but for seeing.

Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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Old 12-02-2012, 12:00 PM   #11
Mario Tobias
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Re: Eyes in the Martial Arts

Another one of Hikitsuchi sensei's teachings

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZ3UkwTih8k
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Old 12-06-2012, 11:33 AM   #12
niall
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Re: Eyes in the Martial Arts

Thank you for the comments.

Conrad the point about a dominating gaze is very important. But I think there is a difference. The practiced gaze of a yakuza might be physically frightening. You can compare it to the fierce nio statues at the entrance to temples. But the gaze of a master of martial arts is not just intimidating. It looks into your soul and lays it bare and ice cold.

Tom I take it to mean looking at the leaves. But there can be layers of meaning. Old or new. Intended or unintended.

I don't think the original phrase is linked to a particular ryuha.

In my last blog post I gave a link to a cool nature column in the Daily Yomiuri that explains the science of the colours of autumn leaves.

we can make our minds so like still water, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life
w b yeats


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Old 12-12-2012, 05:13 PM   #13
Tom Verhoeven
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Re: Eyes in the Martial Arts

Quote:
Niall Matthews wrote: View Post
Thank you for the comments.

Conrad the point about a dominating gaze is very important. But I think there is a difference. The practiced gaze of a yakuza might be physically frightening. You can compare it to the fierce nio statues at the entrance to temples. But the gaze of a master of martial arts is not just intimidating. It looks into your soul and lays it bare and ice cold.

Quote:
Tom I take it to mean looking at the leaves. But there can be layers of meaning. Old or new. Intended or unintended.

I don't think the original phrase is linked to a particular ryuha.

In my last blog post I gave a link to a cool nature column in the Daily Yomiuri that explains the science of the colours of autumn leaves
.
Niall,
Sort of similar to looking at a mountain in a distance - not looking at one leave in particular, but seeing them all . Or perhaps looking at all the different shades of colour without focussing on one colour.

Thanks for the link with that nice nature column!

Tom

.
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Old 12-13-2012, 09:54 AM   #14
phitruong
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Re: Eyes in the Martial Arts

a few years back, i had a co-worker whose one eye looked in a different direction from the other eye. very disconcerting in a conversation, because i didn't know if he looked at me or at someone else in the room. i have always wondering what sort of view does that sort of person has? would other folks look strange to him? stranger, i meant?

"budo is putting on cold, wet, sweat stained gi with a smile and a snarl" - your truly
http://charlotteaikikai.org
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