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Limit Yourself to Grow Faster

"I can beat up that guy with one hand tied behind my back..."

 Elsewhere on the Web
• Ron Scanlon: Rolling Courage
• Sydney Paralympics

I gave up wearing contacts for a few weeks because of a problem with the left lens. Without my eyeglasses or contacts I can still see, but I'm unable to read anything beyond a foot from my eyes, or identify faces at ten paces. I got along quite well wearing eyeglasses--I don't scuba dive or water-ski, so wearing glasses aren't usually a problem. Except in martial arts training, however.

In my shotokan karate days, I could train wearing glasses because we wouldn't make contact with each other, even during sparring sets. "San-jime" was the rule: keep blows from impacting, and let the strike land just within 3 centimeters of the opponent. In my current workout, we make light to moderate contact--the kind that's enough to make you say "oof" with a solid midsection punch, or give you a nice bruise to show off the next day at work--but not enough to drop you onto the floor. At least most of the time.

So I decided to do something "radical"; I took off my glasses and trained without them. This required me to use a lot more sensitivity and focus. Rather than being able to see punches coming and then block or evade them, I would have to maintain contact with my opponent's arms, sense the muscle contractions and line of force, and then move the blow aside or sidestep the attack.

Against kicks, I had to be more proactive--once a kick was launched I wouldn't have the reaction time to avoid it. Instead, I used my legs as probes to sense when kicks would be launched. My limited vision could distinguish large weight shifts and direction changes, and coupled with a foot probe, allowed me to sense kick setups early. A quick jam or stop hit, or going on the offensive, helped me stay in the game.

Grappling was the best way to go. Once I was in the mount or guard, I was able to rely less on vision and more on sensing body weight shifts. At times I just closed my eyes to focus more on my other senses.

The whole workout gave me an even greater respect for the differently-abled martial artists among us: folks who get around in a wheelchair, or have limited or no vision at all. Some of these warriors compete at the international level, as in the recent Paralympic games in Sydney, Australia. Others have reached black belt status, or teach.

About the Paralympics:

The Paralympic games are the Olympic Games, restricted to the differently-abled. Paralympic athletes compete against other athletes with similar ability, in six categories: amputee, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, vision-impaired, wheelchair, and les autres -- including dwarfism, etc. There's two martial arts events: vision-impaired judo and wheelchair fencing.

The level of competition at the Paralympic games is intense. At the Paralympics, participants fight at a level that would put many "regularly-abled" martial artists to shame.

I've performed drills in the past where you sparred with an opponent, limited in the types of techniques you can use. For example, you spar using only your left hand and left foot for attack, but all limbs for defense. Or, you limit yourself to just left-side attack and defense. You can make the drill even more realistic and difficult by refraining from using the "off" hand for balance--pretending it's injured or cut. Other drills have you using just leg attacks and defenses while your opponent uses just hand strikes and defenses.

Training in this way helps you prepare in case you do have to fight without the use of all your senses or limbs. You might have to face a knife-wielding assailant, and be unfortunate enough to take a cut on a limb. Or, you might simply lose your eyeglasses.

These drills also force you to develop additional fighting skills, like sensitivity, anticipation, and timing. Fundamental notions, like stopping an attack before it has time to build up momentum, are also key to success.

With limited vision, I couldn't fight my usual fight. However, with practice, I did ok--I was able to defend myself, or even go on the offensive at times. Try this approach to training sometime--you'll find that by temporarily limiting yourself, you'll grow even faster.

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