When sparring, or when fighting or having to defend yourself, what should you watch: the opponent’s hands or the opponent’s feet. If you watch the wrong place, you may next be watching your life flash before your eyes.
Since Taekwondo is a martial art that specializes in kicking, most beginners tend to watch the opponent’s feet, especially in sport Taekwondo sparring where hands are seldom, if ever, used. Are the feet the best place to watch?
In boxing, kicking is not permitted so there is no need to watch the feet. In traditional Taekwondo, hand attacks are frequently used and since hands are so versatile and quick, they score a lot. Does this mean that the hands are the best place to watch? Could it be that neither the feet nor the hands are the best place to watch?
Watch the danger?
When threatened, people tend to keep their eyes on the threat. If an attacker has a weapon, such as a gun or knife, people will tend to concentrate on the weapon as the threat. However, the weapon is an inanimate object; is in itself is not a threat to you; the real threat is the person holding the weapon. If you watch the weapon for a movement, you will die. You must watch the person in control of the weapon so you may anticipate what the person might do with the weapon.
The same holds true for watching a sparring opponent’s natural weapons, his or her hands and feet. If you watch either one, it will probably hit you anyway, and even if it does not, the other one will.
Watch the hands?
When a hand attack fires, the first thing to move should be the hand, actually the hand, arm, and body move almost simultaneously. Actually, this is not always the case since many fighters add other extraneous movements to their attacks, such as personal quirks, habits unknowingly picked up, or even useless movements taught by some pseudo-master in an effort to be different from other martial arts. In any case, if you watch the hands for an attack, once you see a hand move, it is too late to react; the hand is already on the way to the target.
Since the opponent’s hands are so close to you, if there is no preliminary movement, the hands can move and strike you before you have a chance to react. Magicians make a living from the fact that the hand is faster than the eye. Actually, the hand is not faster than the eye; what really happens is that the hand is faster than the opponent can see, analyze, decide, and react to the hand’s movement. Therefore, it is a waste of time, and dangerous, to watch an opponent’s hands for an indication of a hand attack.
Watch the elbows?
If you are a hand watcher, it is better to watch the elbows. If fist moves, so does the elbow, and, since the elbow is farther away than the fist and it is easier to read because watching it does not strain the eyes as does watching the closer fist. In addition, because it is farther away, the elbow moves more slowly than the fist, which makes it easier to read. In a linear attack, the elbow moves approximately two and one half times more slowly than the fist. In a circular attack, the elbow moves approximately four times more slowly. The longer you can follow the path of the strike (and thus detect it sooner), the longer you have to let your reflexes work for you.
Watch the feet?
A good kicker will kick without any upper body indication that the kick is happening. I tell students to kick as a swan swims. If you watch a swan moving around on the surface of a clam lake, it moves gracefully through the water with no other visible body movement. However, just below the surface, its legs and feet are rigorously kicking. A good Taekwondo kicker kicks in the same manner. There is little indication above the waist that a kick is coming. You will not know a kick is coming until you feel the pain. Therefore, if you only watch the hands, you will get kicked a lot.
When a foot attack fires, the last thing to move is the foot. Before the foot can leave the floor, the body weight must shift to the other leg and the kicking leg must start to lift. Since foot is last thing to move, it is a waste of time to watch an opponent’s feet in an effort to detect a foot attack. If you do not react before the foot moves, you will probably get hit by the foot because, although the foot takes much more time to reach the target, due to the distance it has to travel and the mass of the leg that must be moved, it is still quicker than you can react to. When it comes to total reaction time, the foot can also be faster than the eye.
Therefore, if you watch the opponent’s feet for a kick attack, you will probably get hit by a kick anyway. Since the hands are so versatile, powerful, close to your vital areas, and quick, if you watch the opponent’s feet, you will probably get punched a lot by the opponent’s hands.
So, if it is not good to watch the opponent’s hands and not good to watch the opponent’s feet, what should you watch? Should you watch the opponent’s head?
Watch the head?
The body cannot move without the head moving. To perform a proper spinning technique, the head must start turning before the rest of the body to add speed to the spin and to insure the eyes acquire the target before the technique fires. This lets the kicker detect and block any counterattack and detect any changes in the target’s location or range. If you can detect this preliminary movement of your opponent’s, you will be prepared for a spin attack before it even occurs.
When the weight is shifted to a support leg just before a kick with the other leg, the head will also shift toward the side of the support leg. This weight shift movement by an opponent will warn you of an imminent kick attack.
Although watching the head would seem to be a good choice of a place to watch for an attack, many times these head movements are very slight, even imperceptible, especially during the action of competition. In addition, while the face of an opponent may express his or her emotions and give you some idea of his or her intentions, these expressions can be easily manipulated by the person to camouflage the person’s true emotions or intentions. A person may look fearful, angry, sad, happy, in pain, etc. but could actually be the opposite. If you watch an opponent’s face, the false expressions may trap you into doing the wrong thing.
Some opponents have mesmerizing eyes. If you watch the eyes of this type of person, you may hesitate a split second before reacting, and split second is all it takes for an attack to strike you. If you are watching an opponent’s eyes and the opponent glances to the side, you almost instinctively will also glance in that direction. Some opponents use this reaction to their advantage.
So, while watching the head has some advantages, it too has many disadvantages.
Watch the hips?
If the opponent’s head, feet, or hands are not the best things to watch, what is? What about watching for a movement of the opponent’s hips? They are about half way between the head and the feet, so, on the average, this should be a good place to watch. However, taking the middle or the average position is seldom a good choice in anything. For example, if you stand with one foot on a block of ice and one foot on a hot stove, on the average, you will be comfortable. If you watch the opponent’s hips, you will probably get punched and kicked a lot.
Watch the upper chest?
It is best to watch is the opponent’s upper chest. By concentrating on the opponent’s upper chest, you may detect minute weight shifts that indicate a hand or foot attack is imminent. By watching the opponent’s upper chest, his or head will still be in sight so you may detect its movement, but you will not be aware of the opponent’s eyes or facial expression. In addition, by not looking at the opponent’s face, the opponent is not able to detect your emotions or intentions from your eyes; you will appear disinterested. By focusing on the opponent’s upper chest the opponent’s hands are out of focus, thus, while you are not directly watching them, you will still be able to detect their movement. The upper legs will be in your peripheral vision so you will be able to detect leg movements; you can detect movement quicker with your peripheral vision than you can with your direct vision.
Some fighters look into the distance just over the opponent’s shoulders, so the opponent’s entire body is in the peripheral vision. Other fighters defocus their eyes so they do not directly see any part of the opponent. These techniques also work, but they do not work as well as upper chest watching. With practice, you will be able to anticipate opponents’ movements so accurately that they will begin to think you are psychic.