Added with permission from Kim Taylor Nanadan (CKF) Iaido, Rokudan (CKF) Jodo and Niten Ichi Ryu Shidoin, January 2023
A lot was said about the gaze in earlier times, these days it is taught that the gaze should be directed in general to the face of the opponent.
With regard to the gaze during combat, both eyes should be made narrower than in everyday life and the opponent should be calmly observed. Thereby it is important that you see the opponent with unmoving eyes as if he were far away, even if he is very close. With this gaze you can not only perceive the beginning techniques of the opponent, but also see both sides.
There are two kinds of gaze namely the recognizing gaze (“Kan”) and the observing gaze (“Ken”). In combat the first should be held strongly and the second weakly.
There is also a gaze that shows the opponent your mind. For this reason you should only direct your own external, intentional spirit (“I”) at the eyes of the opponent, but under no circumstances your own internal, decision making spirit (“Shin”). This should be carefully observed.
Metsuke is another often-discussed topic in the sword arts. As Musashi says, we are usually told to look at the face in the sword arts, but there are instances where students are advised to look at, say, the hands as the things that are going to move first in an attack. We look, of course, to see where the opponent is, and to see what he is doing so the bottom line is to look in such a way that we can see whats happening and react to it as quickly as we can.
If, in certain circumstances it is good to look at the hands, or the feet, by all means look. Musashi notes that in the past many different ways to look were recommended. So what is this looking at the face?
First, examine the instructions in the next paragraph, to look with narrowed eyes (this will improve the focus, the depth of field, it’s why you squint when you’re getting short sighted) and to look as if you are looking far away. This is our old friend “enzen no metsuke”, the looking at a far mountain. Physiologically, when you look far away your eyes move apart, when you look close you go cross eyed. When your eyes move farther apart you are increasing your periferal vision. How far? When I try I can get maybe five more degrees to each side, which is not insignificant. Next, though, is my concentration, my noting of what’s in front of me. If I focus specifically on something I get tunnel-attention. I don’t say tunnel-vision because I’m sure my eyes are receiving the same light, but my brain naturally ignores the stuff that’s out of focus so I can really see what I’m looking at.
Narrow the eyes to improve the depth of focus, then go out of focus so that you see the maximum field of vision. If we do that we get a generalized impression of what’s in front of us, to almost 180 degrees if we’re lucky. So it doesn’t really matter where we look does it? Well with narrowed eyes, if we look down at the feet we may miss the sword coming down from above so let’s look roughly in the direction of straight ahead so we can then take in the opponent from tip of sword above his head to his feet, and let’s use our periferal vision to catch movement, that’s what it’s designed for, that tiger in the bushes to the side of the path. The periferal vision is also good in low light. Do you ever catch yourself turning your head to the side when you’re in a dark room? That’s you attempting to use the best light receptors to catch whatever light there is available.
So we are looking widely and catching broad movement rather than looking narrowly and seeing detail. We must analyze this broad movement quickly and this is what Musashi calls Kan, here translated as the “recognizing gaze”. This is opposed to Ken which is the “observing gaze”. I am forever getting confused with these because all the translations seem to find terms that are not far enough apart. My own way of defining this is Kan as “insight” and Ken as “sight”. To recognize is to observe and categorize, I grant you, but sight and insight seems more distinct to me. I hope the reader will understand (see) what Musashi means. You want to get insight into what your opponent is doing rather than see him. Too much observed detail will interfere with your analysis like too much data will slow down your computer’s statistical analysis. Don’t push that one too far folks, there’s a point where you can get the analysis you want by restricting the data input. For instance I read recently that Statistics Canada no longer collects unemployment data from our Indian Reserves “because it’s too difficult”. This means the results of the statistical analysis will not reflect what’s happening on the reserves. Unfortunate, but apparently unavoidable.
We actually want to cut down our own visual information when we’re fighting, most of the time we need to think of a plane of attack, the plane on which the opponent’s sword is moving toward us so that we can get out of the way. If we are taking note of the way the opponent is holding his sword, which way his eyes are darting, how square his hips are, and other such things it may delay our analysis long enough to let him strike. Vectors, planes and velocity, make it simple.
But, you say, you were told to look at the oponent’s eyes because the eyes are the windows to the soul and you will know what your opponent is doing by watching his eyes. How does that work for you when you’re playing poker? Musashi is not unaware of the eyes, that’s what he’s talking about in the final paragraph. He suggests that just as there is sight and insight, there is also an outward and inward spirit, “I” and “Shin”. Like a good poker player you should disguise your “shin” your inward decision making spirit and only show your “I”, your outward appearance. In this way you can show your opponent that you are going to attack in one place through your external spirit, while actually planning to attack another.
Years ago I was at a Ki Society aikido class and they were practicing to “project false ki”. You would move toward an opponent and either push into him or stop so that he received your intent to push him but not the actual push. Success was declared if you could get your partner to move back away from you without touching him. Nothing mysterious there, you simply move as if you are going to push him through a wall but don’t. The hard part is to separate the I from the Shin.
I don’t allow fakes in kata during class, if you introduce stutters and twitches into kata you get randori instead and for that there is kendo. That being said, there are kata which incorporate fakes and for those I insist that the students perform the fake as if it is a real attack, and if their partner fails to react to the fake, it must be pushed through to a real strike. Only in this way does a fake move an opponent as opposed to confuse him.
As always, it requires practice.