As a child Martial Artist,
I was very scared when I fought
(not as scared now…but still scared).
If I was sparring and the going got tough,
I turned my back,
closed my eyes,
and threw a spinning backfist.
While it was sometimes effective,
giving your back isn’t a sustainable approach in any martial arts.
While very few fighters give their backs in fights,
many make what I believe the be the most common,
albeit primal response.
Violence Expert, Tony Blauer,
and his former student, Eric Cobb,
a former teacher of mine,
impressed upon me the importance of the startle response
in the context of violence.
One of the first visible signs that someone is in startle
is the action of the eyes.
The eyes avert themselves from danger
which saves the eyes
but often at the cost of the body.
It is said,
“It is the punch (strike) you don’t see which hurts you (the worst).”
Watch the most recent UFC FIGHT NIGHT in Brazil (Henderson vs Belfort),
and see when fighters get knocked down, or worse, knocked out.
I think you’ll see that while sometimes the fighters unintentionally avert their eyes, they often make poor use of their eyes when striking. this isn’t necessarily an experience of the startle response. It most likely is the effect of poor training. After all, “if you can’t see, you can’t fight.”
These fighters have learned when ducking their heads to either close their eyes or lower their eyes. This approach kills their accuracy, power, and leaves them without functional use of their central or peripheral vision…which sometimes leads to being struck with a limb they didn’t see coming.
While no one can completely train out the startle response (including the action of the eyes), if fighters will train from the startle response, they can recover faster from it. If coaches will extend their observations into their fighter’s eyes, they can teach their fighters to restore visual focus on their opponent. If coaches will teach their fighters to make use of peripheral vision to instigate both offense and defense, we will see a much higher caliber of fighters. You’ll see…and so will they.