Why Sometimes Training Blind is Better in the Martial Arts

Why Sometimes Blind Is Better in the Martial ArtsA few weeks ago, I was training a student to apply arm locks with a slightly different approach than he was used to. Having trained over 8 years in an another style of Jiu-jitsu before moving to Vancouver and training at our dojo, he has already developed a good “lock sense”, so showing him this different approach that is really efficient in terms of energy, but harder to apply, requiring greater fine motor control, was something I knew he would be able to handle.

For certain locks, it was easy enough for him, but there was one particular lock that he had trouble using this approach on. Over and over, he tried the entry and was struggling to get it. Then I had an idea.

“Try doing it with your eyes closed,” I told him. He went along with my suggestion and the next one he did was done perfectly.

Trusting Your Tactile Instincts

As you gain more experience in the martial arts, you get more in touch with your tactile sense. In many ways, our sense of touch is more efficient at communicating the information we need to refine our technique. It provides us instant feedback that our bodies can immediately respond to without thought, more so than our senses of sight and hearing.

In the case of my student, he was measuring his movement using his sight more so than simply feeling it, and in this particular case, what he saw was misleading. In the correct position of this particular lock, it looks like you don’t have a enough control over their body to get the lock on and maintain it, but it’s quite the opposite in this particular application. When it looked like he was going to lose control, he would adjust his position to compensate, which took him out of the optimal position for the lock. When he closed his eyes, however, he could immediately feel when the lock was in the best place, and went into position without even thinking about it, simply because it just felt right.

Of course, if you’re not naturally a kinaesthetic learner, you may still need to rely more on visual and auditory cues when starting out, but as you develop as a martial artist, you’ll probably start to find that your tactile senses will gradually start to become more primary in your learning at higher levels. And that’s when it really starts to get fun! At the higher levels, we even introduce blindfolded training to help encourage this practice.

Have you ever tried closing your eyes to work out a technique? If so, please share your experiences with this in the comments. 🙂

Comments (12)

12 thoughts on “Why Sometimes Training Blind is Better in the Martial Arts

  1. Eyes closed grappling is an especially productive drill. The key to sweeping a larger person off of you is to feel their movements and weight distribution so that you can use simple leverage against them rather than muscle. What you see can often mislead you, closing your eyes helps a lot!

    1. Definitely, as long as the participants are careful and not going full-tilt. I’ve found eyes closed grappling very useful when I’ve done it.

  2. I used to train with someone who had impaired sight. Nobody could do locks better than him, since it was all by feel. I think trying techniques with your eyes closed is something everybody should do from time to time with one caveat: you often gauge your Uke’s reaction visually (at least partially). When you can’t see them flinch/grimace/cringe, it’s easy to overdo a technique. Either Tori goes slower, or Uke taps out sooner to compensate.

    1. Yes, it’s really important to go slower when doing locks with your eyes closed. And uke should use verbal as well as physical taps to be safe.

  3. I’m a partially blind student for ITF Tae Kwon-Do (non-Olympic /original), and when I first started, I was so worried about not being able to do it because I wasn’t able to see the technique. Especially the patterns. As time moved on, I developed to use “feeling”, to know where my techniques should be, and delivery and it is working. I feel more connected to wgat I’m learning than before, and noticing improvements in my patterns. Feeling the angles, the positions, the loading and the delivery. I hope I inspire other partially blind teenagers and adults that sight is not necessarily needed to do a martial art. Martial Arts is not like a sport such as football, rugby, cricket, and it’s not all about fighting. It’s an “art form”, which is usually all about feel including painters. They jnkt just see, but feel the paintbrush. Exactly like martial arts, feel your position, feel that technique. I also noticed it works for self defense too.

      1. Sorry for the spelling mistakes. Let me correct them *what and they *dont just see. But, yes. I’m currently a blue stripe hopefully going for my blue. Surprisingly, I’m a pretty alright sparring for somebody with my eyesight (it’s slowly deteriating every year), and some people find it a bit of a challenge to hit me. Despite my tunnel vision abd blind spots, I am able to focus on a target but somehow still aware of movement on my perferal vision even though I lack most of it. My eyes constantly observe for movement, and when I see I immediately block and counter if I can. I’m going to train so much harder this year. I’m no longer a low rank, and I must develop on techniques I lack. Hope in two years time, I’ll be a black belt. Gratings to become a black belt is 2 days, 9 – 10 hours each day. So, when I become black, I’m going to feel so proud of myself that I didn’t let my eyesight stop me for what I love, and I’ve been training since February 2011, learning lots about my abilities. 😀

  4. I am completely blind. I have been training in martial arts consistently since 2005, all while totally blind. I have 3 3rd Dan ranks and a 1st Dan rank. I’m also an instructor. I would agree with you that the eyes can be deceiving, if you trust them too much. Occasionally, at the dojo where I teach, we do blind folded grappling. Also, at another school where I train, the style taught there is specifically designed around maintaining connection and developing your kinesthetic sense. Reading your post gives me some ideas on how I can incorporate more blindfolded training into our classes.

  5. Adam,

    I hadn’t read your post when I left my first reply. Keep going. I love hearing stories about other blind martial artists and martial arts students. Feel free to contact me via my web site to discuss our experiences as blind or visually impaired people in the martial arts.

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