It is a natural reaction to flinch and close your eyes when something comes near your face. It is, however, a reaction that can be controlled, to your advantage as a martial artist. It is easy to see that while closing the eyelids can protect the eye from minor irritations such as dust or other small debris, it is no protection from a blow with any force. The ability to avoid a strike by being aware of its trajectory and proximity to your face is all-important to being able to avoid it.
Flinching includes turning away from an attack. I once had a playmate that, when you tossed a ball at her, would turn her head away and the ball would hit her on the back of her head. You cannot block what you cannot see. If you train in a good school, when students spar, they use good control and focus. This means they are not trying to hurt you. Train yourself to face your opponent at all times.
We must retrain what is a first defense instinct into a more useful second line of defense that can avoid and deflect any danger to the eye, and thus the face and head. Some ways to control flinching are as follows:
- Volunteer to be the dummy when your instructor is demonstrating techniques. This mean you must stand still and face the instructor while he or she throws full-power, full-speed, precisely focused techniques at you. As you learn to trust your partner, you will see the technique coming and be able to react or not react to it as necessarily.
- Begin by generally improving your speed of movement and blocking. By gaining confidence in this area by way of exercises in footwork, displacement, bobbing and weaving, as well as repetitive basic exercises in all the standard blocks, you will be more able to redirect your reactions to the stimulus of an attack. The unconscious must be trained along with the conscious mind in evaluating and determining a response.
- Practice with a partner who you can trust to be accurate and exercise control. You can begin to slowly and progressively train the eye and brain to perceive and follow the line of movement and coordinate it with your own avoidance, and if necessary, deflection motions. Work with a variety of trajectories: straight on, uppercut, descending as well as circular roundhouse strikes. Practice systematically, beginning with very slow motions and gradually speeding them up only when you are able to dodge and deflect without a flinch or blink.
- Another exercise is to use a small basin of water. Using your fingers, flick droplets of water near the eyes, on your cheeks, forehead, and chin. Concentrate on your awareness of the water and your response. Try to develop a diffuse range of vision, not focusing directly on the incoming water (or fist) but on developing an overall vision that you may monitor using both your direct and peripheral vision. Take your time. The training of this response will improve gradually through regular practice.
- Another method to reduce flinching, blinking, and turning away is to control the muscles of the eyelid. Trying to hold your eyelids open to stop blinking does not work because blinking is done with the muscles that close the eyelids not the ones that open them.
- To stop or reduce the tendency to blink, you should slightly narrow your eyes, squint. Have a partner jab toward your face so you can practice controlling your blink reaction. Keep your eyes narrowed, observing everything, but not focusing on anything.