“The eye of the tiger”. The importance of the gaze in Martial Arts

“Do not stare into the eyes of your opponent: he may mesmerize you. Do not fix your gaze on his sword: he may intimidate you. Do not focus on your opponent at all: he may absorb your energy. The essence of training is to bring your opponent completely into your sphere. Then you can stand just where you like”

In these words of Morihei Ueshiba from “The Art of Peace” echoes strongly the martial roots of Aikido, which sink into centuries of polishing combat techniques for military supremacy over a clash.

On the mat as outside the Dojo, one experiences almost continuously how easy it is to become a hostage of a grip, of a physical, emotional, relational block.

An individual grabs our arm and the whole body becomes clumsy in trying to free itself. We handle our practice partner’s wrist and we are so focused on applying an articular lever to him that we forget our posture and how much we are no longer safe to other attacks. A verbal aggression, a sharp response, an unexpected letter in the mailbox… And so many good intentions of balance, harmony and peaceful coexistence evaporate, at the same speed with which the worm of worry corrodes our serenity.

In some groups of Aikido practitioners there is a tendency to take O’Sensei’s recommendations literally and therefore the activity, seen from the outside, seems like a set of exercises halfway between cross-eyed and asocial looking “elsewhere”.

The logic of 対手の気を出す (aite no ki wo dasu: I absorb the ki of my opponent) is precisely what Morihei Ueshiba summarizes in the concept of “bringing the opponent” in his own sphere.

A global perspective, we would say holistic, which is opposed to a particular vision, self-referential and obsessive on a single detail.

Who knows why, these words of the founder of Aikido always reminded me of the soundtrack of Rocky III movie, Eye Of The Tiger, performed by Survivor:

It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight
Risin’ up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night
And he’s watchin’ us all with the eye of the tiger

“The eye of the tiger”, beyond its inner Hollywood testosterone content, is the gaze with which everything outside of our comfort zones daily faces its boundaries. And it literally takes a blink of an eye, in the absence of training, to be overwhelmed by it. Just consider the behavior of so many people in this time of strong social uncertainty and enormous emotional and media pressure linked to the ongoing pandemic.

Observing animals, especially felines, you immediately understand the importance of a gaze. Before a jump, during the long skirmishes before their fights…Their eyes are the portal of intention and the action is “only” a consequence of it.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

This is, finally, a quote from the Gospel, which definitely emphasizes the same concepts.

Getting used to sustain our gaze, to put our light in the light of others is a challenging, necessary, “freedom making”  effort. That helps to discover intention and identity.

Purifying this light trains us to get our “eye of the tiger” and be a little more authentic.

Disclaimer: Photo by Benedetta Gemini




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