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Don't look into the Eye!





Recently Chris at Martial Development posted a comment on one of my articles about attacking in aikido. One of my suggestions was to maintain eye contact to improve the attack. Chris asked:

Didn't Ueshiba specifically say NOT to look into the eyes of your attacker?

I do seem to remember reading that somewhere (I can’t find the source) but I also seem to recall reading that Ueshiba wrote that aiki cannot be written down in a book. The gist of that is, I think, don’t take any partial written description of aikido (even Ueshiba’s) as gospel. Also, blasphemous as it might be, Ueshiba's ideas on aikido were the first - not the last.

If I remember it right, Ueshiba’s proscription about eye contact was related to something about the attacker stealing your soul or sapping your ki or something. And there is definitely something there, though it is hard to quantify. I remember a girl in high school and another one in college that had freaky, inhuman, blue-grey eyes. You couldn’t look at them but you couldn’t look away from them either. They were hypnotic, mirror-like eyes. And it wasn’t just me in my adolescent dorkiness that was affected this way. Virtually everyone did doubletakes when they glanced at these two girls’ eyes and the only way you could talk to them was to look away from them. It is also possible to look into the eye of violence or hatred and be paralyzed, but in the course of about 15 years of randori, I’ve only met one guy whose eyes freaked me out. I just couldn’t look at him. He had his way with me during the randori session too. Which hints at the value of metsuke (eye contact) in aikido.

The first tactical motion in nearly all aikido techniques is to get your body off the centerline, while occupying the centerline with your unbendable arms. When you are able to do this, uke’s attacks tend to miss and tori tends to automatically intercept uke. Controlling the centerline of the attack is key, and this centerline is defined by eye contact.

The point is to not shift your eyes from one focal point to another (i.e. face to hand to center to feet, etc…) because this constantly changes your perception of the centerline of the conflict. It also changes your perception of distances and angles. The only way to develop accurate perceptions of these timings, distances, lines, and angles is to focus your eyes on one point on the attacker’s centerline and keep them there. We actually tell people to look between uke’s eyes at the bridge of his nose- so you don’t really have to look directly into uke’s eyes and risk getting lost there.

In my post on attacking I suggested using eye contact as a sort of measuring stick to determine when tori was in shikaku, which can be defined as the ‘safe spot’ or ‘dead angle’ or even ‘blind spot’ with relation to uke. If uke can easily focus on your centerline then you are not in his blind spot and you are not safe.

So, in summary:

  • Tori should look at one point on uke’s centerline, I suggest the bridge of the nose.
  • Uke should lock onto one point on tori’s centerline. It makes him more of a viable threat.
  • Tori, as part of his motion, should seek positions and motions that break uke’s visual lock.
  • Uke, in response, should seek to regain that visual lock.