Ocular "Powers" Following is a question offered on Facebook from a friend of mine in a Baguazhang group. Training the vision is of course something that is important spread across all the arts, so I thought I would share it.
“Many times, have I read about the ocular techniques used in the arts. Everything from where to look (do you look in your opponent’s eyes? Shoulders? Center of chest, waist etc.?). To how to look (anticipating focus, or a more diffuse glare? I always tend to perform better when I look at my opponent like I watch the road when driving. Not focusing on one specific thing, but trying to take in the whole and react by instinct rather than decision)
Also, there are many techniques that might not be as useful depending on the situation. Like intensely looking at a certain point and then strike somewhere else. If your opponent can predict it, it can be used against you. Same for other confusing techniques, looking left and right or very intense. These can all be useful, but can all be used against you.
Then of course there is the most interesting part! The ability to see what your opponent is gonna do, seeing how rooted or focused he is, in other words to really see him and all his vulnerabilities. This is often seen in more internal styles, although hard stylists also tend to develop this ability but much later. (This leads me to believe that this skill is naturally developed with experience, but also that it can be targeted for specific development) how much weight there is on one leg, seeing where the tiny twists in limbs and spine will make him dangerous or vulnerable. Very useful.
What are your thoughts on this subject and how do you develop these ocular skills?”
“Gazing upon the distant mountains” is what I teach, this means a soft gaze just below the base of the throat (Tian Tu / Celestial Pivot) where the collar bones dip and meet (The valley between the mountains). The reason for this is to observe the body of the opponent as entirely as possible without creating emotional content between the two of you. Emotional content is easier to avoid if you do not look at the face or eyes of an opponent as then when something strikes you it is a person who did it rather than a faceless “opponent”. Emotions get in the way of clear mindedness and so it is advisable to remain unattached to the enemy instead just treating them as a problem that requires solving.
Gazing versus looking is also an important point of this where looking is a predatory, binocular focus on the prey or opponent it is also very tunnel vision however and tends to exclude information from the peripheral vision due to focus. Gazing is more prey animal vision always watching for predators, sudden movements, or anything that can be perceived as danger. Gazing relies more on peripheral vision than focused straight ahead and allows a player to see more of the movement of the enemy’s body.
Training looking is straight forward since we as predator animals use this type of vision the most in our day to day. One old method is counting the leaves on a tree to focus directly on single small things. Gazing tends to take more practice for us and so one method I was taught was to walk in the dark with the eyes turned one way or the other yet focusing on the forward path ahead of you. This works on the peripheral vision and gives you better night vision.
When training with a partner it is also just simply working on gazing at the distant mountains and asking them to throw things at you. Punches and kicks etc. and watching with the peripheral and given enough experience dialing in what the first tell-tale signs of movement for each method are. The hip moving before a kick or the heart moving before a hand technique and so on.
“When facing a Tiger, it is not good enough to focus only on the Tiger. What if another one is hiding and waiting for you to look away?”
- Xu Guoming
Of course, the ideal is to have both types of vision working equally at the same time. This gets into a more difficult part of the whole of training and understanding Yin/Yang. Only doing a single type of vision is not balanced and just because you can switch back and forth does not mean they are balanced either. Both must be present at once, yin/yang is not a dualism it is two aspects of a single thing. Vision is the coin with both sides and training both individually must become having both at once. Stare down the tiger and still watching for the one you cannot see. All the yin/yang pairs are like this, be rooted and light on your feet, be still and in motion, stand like a mountain and move like deep water simultaneously. Much easier said than done of course, but as students of the arts we always learn one side of the coin and then, hopefully, the other. Once we have equally trained both sides of the pairing then we can work to bring both sides of the skill into play at once. In order to deeply dig into the training of the arts we must look deeply into ourselves and the culture they come from. In this case Chinese martial arts have a direct and deep tie to Taoism and thus Chinese Medicine.
“In order to succeed at Chinese Medicine, you need to be able to hold a paradox in your mind.” – Professor and Master Kevin Wallbridge. This is a part of my brother Kevin’s introductory classes in Acupuncture and Chinese medical theory. More than one paradigm can be true at the same time and that means trouble for dualistic thinkers. The separation of the mind and body for example is nonexistent in Taoist thought. They are yin/yang aspects of the same thing, You. In medicine this can mean that multiple thought paradigms for diagnosis can be used and all be correct even if they come up with varying treatments. In martial arts this means we need to remove our ideas of “this” or “that” and realize that the arts and thus our thinking must be bigger than that. There is no one best art for example, “best at what?” is the first question and the answers tend to show a person’s thinking immediately. Even what seems to be a broad answer like “fighting” shows a limitation in thought and understanding of yin/yang, after all is that all the arts are good for?
Don’t accept a single point of view as the ultimate truth, it is limiting and small minded. Hold the paradox in your mind and just accept that more than one thing can be correct simultaneously and let that work you towards looking and gazing at everything.
Neil Ripski 2018