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Martial Musing: Aiki Eyes -Key To Decreasing Reaction Times

Martial Musing: Aiki Eyes -Key To Decreasing Reaction Times


"Soften, soften more" is a mantra I keep repeating in the dojo, and yet almost always the beginner "tries even harder" to soften. The effort to soften is almost always focused on the big muscles and yet the face hardens. The first marker for it is in the narrowing of the eyes. 

Some interesting things happen when the eyes narrow and your vision gets "locked in." In many ways you are now unable to really see. Everything tends to move a lot faster around you, and our responses tend to seem a lot slower. I have always equated this with the mind getting locked in or frozen - which is quite the opposite state of flowing. This is referred to as Foveal Vision.

The foveal vision locks us into a task, concentration and thinking mode. It closes of everything else other than what its locked onto. it has its uses, and Martial Arts is not one of them. For example if you are locked into the opponents hand with a knife, you almost certainly will go blind to everything else his limbs will do. This can be a death spell in a fighting situation.

To unfreeze and flow with what is coming, one must learn to really see. In the dojo at Mountain View Aiki Kai, I call this "aiki eyes" or "samurai eyes". To do this one has to learn to move from foveal/narrow vision to peripheral vision. This shift allows you to take more of the world in, and has a dramatic effect. Things begin to slow down in your experience, and you catch a lot more of what is going on.

The process of opening the perception/vision is the fastest way to move from a frozen to flow state. The the key marker here is No-Mind - in other words no locking into a method of thinking/concentration but rather openness to respond.

Peripheral vision is is what a lot of animals do naturally to survive. If you spend any time in nature, you will quickly come to the conclusion, that the only way to relax is to have your eyes everywhere. Tom Brown Jr, the world famous survivalist and author talks about his training in "splatter vision." The term his mentor - Stalking Wolf used in describing the all seeing/peripheral vision. This is one of the key skills taught to survive in the wilderness.

Going a little more left field into the works of Carlos Castaneda he speaks of his training with the Shaman Don Juan "Instead of teaching me to focus my view, as gazers did, he taught me to open it, to flood my awareness by not focusing my sight on anything. I had to sort of feel with my eyes everything in the 180-degree range in front of me, while I kept my eyes unfocused just above the line of the horizon." This process his vision, and was critical to stop the world, a term he used to be in a state of No-Mind or Mushin. This brings me back to Martial Arts

My first experience with this came when I started to train without my glasses. My vision went broad and it was as though I saw better when not looking directly. The next piece came together when studying NLP and learning to adumbrate the client by watching the whole form. Finally while studying Baguazhangs Wind Palm with Bruce Frantzis ( he is nothing short of an enigma in CIMA) he kept telling us to "relax the back of the eyeballs." This started to gel things together.

Things then began to just click and other pieces such as survival training and meditation fell into place. The once unconsious process started to become conscious, and I will share some of the methods of moving towards peripheral vision:-

1) SOFTEN: Soften the eyes consciously, and move your focus to the back of the eyeball where the optic nerve sits. Feel that space and relax

2) TRAIN EYE CONVERGENCE :Do pencil push ups and move our eyes from side to side. (

3) LOOK WIDE: Learn to see from the side of the eyes instead of from the middle. Sounds strange to do so in the beginning but try it and once you get a hang of it, its easy. I use this while driving and constantly work on developing the 180 degree view of the road, esp. while riding my motorcycle.

4) FOCUS ON SPACE: Instead of looking at your opponent in the dojo, focus on the space around them, this will rapidly shift your perception

5) CASTANEDA'S METHOD: Whilst walking rest your gaze gently on the horizon point and curl your fingertips, as if you were holding cylinders in each of your hands. Without moving the eyes and gently resting your gaze become aware of what is present in your peripheral vision, above you, beneath you, to your right and to your left. Continue this until such a time as the State deepens and settles."

The key benefits of moving from a foveal vision to peripheral vision are a) is that your opponents movements appears to slow down, allowing for more time to respond. b) is a critical step in the process to "stop the world", enter into what the Samurai arts have refereed to as Mushin or No-Mind c) absolutely invaluable for survival in new areas or environments d) You will quickly move into a state of extreme relaxation

Playing with the perception of time, and speed are critical attributes to train for a martial artist. Play with the methods described above - share your results, and if you are aware of methods please do share.

As always I remain open to your thoughts, comments and constructive criticism.

Mahipal Lunia Sensei (4 photos)

Martial Musing with Mahipal Lunia Sensei: Brevity in Motion

Martial Musing with Mahipal Lunia Sensei: Brevity in Motion

Martial Musing of the Day: Brevity In Motion

I always enjoy a great demo, with its high flying kicks, loud kiais and superhuman feats of power. It makes for great Martial Theatre. And back in the day I was as guilty of this as anyone else.

Now as I think about Martial Arts prowess, its not the high theatre that leaves me in awe, but how little the movements seem from the outside. And yet the opponents seem to disintegrate as though on their own accord.

What do I mean by this? I suggest you watch 1) A truly good Aikijujutsu person break structure and gain control with little movement 2) A skilled Filipino Martial Artist who in a fraction of a second has completed the kill 3) A true Internal Arts exponent, who is able to absorb energy like a willow tree and hit with FaJing (explosive energy) at will

The skilled practitioner wastes no time or energy to get the job done. There is effectiveness, elegance and directness while being completely aware of consequences. So as I train myself or teach others the emphasis is on

1. Making sure the techniques are executed with presence, awareness, focus and concentration 2. Focus on effectiveness, elegance & simplicity over theater by learning to remove as much as possible, and no more. The goal is to capture the essence of the technique

What I am getting at is that as Martial Artist evolves , the flash and doing a lot (which can be impressive to an untrained eye) goes away. In its place comes a mature sense of "just enough" movement with full awareness of consequences. An unskilled eye will not even catch the movement leave alone be in awe. I call this "Brevity of Motion" which IMHO is the soul of Martial Mastery!

As always I remain open to your thoughts and constructive criticism

Mahipal Lunia Sensei

When Shit Hits The Fan - Training To Perform Under Duress with Mahipal Lunia

When Shit Hits The Fan - Training To Perform Under Duress with Mahipal Lunia

When Shit Hits The Fan!

What happens when all negotiations have failed and emotions start flaring? What happens when you end up in a real fight? In other words - what happens "when shit hits the fan?"

Over and over again I have seen even black belt ranks forget techniques and concepts when shit hits the fan. The reason is you react the way you train. Explaining this to some of my students has been hard. So decided to write about this a bit. Beautiful techniques are great fun to work on. Elegant concepts are fascinating and intellectually fulfilling. Embodying principles enable you to leverage nature itself. All this is awesome, and yet there is one all determining factor - how you react under duress! 

When under duress, the ability to remain aware, unleash the beast within and returning to a restful state is the difference that makes the difference. Most martial artists do not train for or under duress. I will share my thoughts and training methods of Mountain View Aiki Kai to develop this skill.

Situitional Awareness, evaluation of options and consequences will define your ability as a warrior. Key attributes to develop are 
1. Controlling of your mental and emotional states . Our brain is the biggest weapon and yet does not come with an owners manual. Learning how it works and the ability to take it into peak performance states at will are must have skills. Study neurpsychology and peak performance technologies, they will pay you dividends many times over
2. Manipulating the opponent's states mental and emotional states by
- Verbal Martial Arts to control the frame of the conversation (look up Milton model, Meta Model and Sleight of Mouth patterns from NLP)
- controlling his/her perceptions of threat
- controlling the choices s/he has

The next attribute (a quality or feature regarded as a characteristic or inherent part of you) is learning to unleash the beast within. This killer instinct is not a chip on your shoulder, but rather a state you can access. I always point my students towards studying big predators like pumas. You will notice they go from extreme relaxation into the kill frezy and back to poised relaxation in a matter of seconds. This flow between states has to become second nature. 

This calls for starting in calm composed fighting in the atemi/striking range. And as you breach the tegumi or trapping/locking range going into an animalistic frenzy ready to finish, much like the puma. And then allowing well honed training to bring the precision of a quick tactical kill (if needed) or finishing move. And from here returning into the calm composed person - all in a matter of seconds. If you do not train for this killer instinct, your techniques most likely wont work. Reason for this is two fold 

1. Brain research has shown over and over again that all learning is state dependent. If you are learning techniques only in the safe environment of a friendly studio, guess what? They will work great in the friendly environments and will be unaccessable in the heat of a battle. Dont take my word for it - try it. If you dont want to try it research state based learning/response.
2. The absence of the killer instinct will most likely move you from being the predator into the prey. The person with the greater access to this instinct will most likely win.

So after executing the finishing move return to your calm composed self in a jiffy. Discharge all emotional content and return to the ability to use your prefrontal cortex or thinking brain. And with it returns the ability to plan and take meaningful next steps 

This is skill - meaning an ability gained through practice. IMHO the true purpose of all martial arts training is to move from extreme duress to relative calm by using your skills. Learning to perform under this duress is the difference between life and death.

To develop this skill we use the following methods in my dojo ( 

1. Shugyos where we head into wilderness for days and train at the end of long days of hikes. Why we do this? Look at any special ops teams - be it the US Marines, the Russian Spetznag or the Philipine ParaMilitary. their training begins at the end of big runs or massive tasks. The goal is to exhaust mind and body before seeing what you do when push comes to shove.

2. All sparring is one against many attackers. there are no rules other than fighting within redefined confined space. The fighting stops with tap outs or chokeouts. We sometimes up the stakes by using blindfolds, tieing up hands/legs or use other handicaps.

3. Training with live weapons - you response will change in the face of steel as compared to wooden replicas

4. The practice of Kokyu Ho/Neija. The essense of both these age old practices is to bring the body back into harmony and into deep relaxation. This beings about the right functioning of the 14 meridians, balancing the 5 elements and building up your chi/ki. 

5. All the advanced students work on understanding their prime weapons - mind and body. Models such as Neuro Linguistic Programming, Spiral Dynamics and Peak performance are deeply studied. As they grow in rank, they spend time studing the energy anatomy. This is essential to build "your own manual of the mind-body to tune optimal states of being."

Remember when shit hits the fan you will not rise to the level of your martial arts aspirations. You will drop to the level of your best trained techniques and attributes. Build the skills of working under duress - this will make your art functional. It could be the factor that enables you to make those martial aspirations a reality in the future. 

Your thoughts? Mahipal Lunia 

Brain Up Shifting and Pure Reaction in the Martial Arts - Mahipal Lunia

Brain Up Shifting and Pure Reaction in the Martial Arts - Mahipal Lunia

A lot of martial artist spend a major part of their training time working on skills. Kata, Kumite, 2 man forms, weapons, and self defense sceanarios. And yet I keep hearing of black belts getting their butts kicked in fights. I believe there the two main reasons for this are rarely discussed, let alone trained. These two attributes are what I call "brain up shifting" and "pure reaction." 

When in a fight- flight situation , the first thing that happens is your amygdyla hijacks the thinking brain. The neocortex process are sidestepped. Your emotional brain now steps in to deal with the threat. The ability to think is down shifted, and your survival mechanism kicks in. Whats needed is ability to gain control of your thinking brain and response potential. This is what I call "brain up shifting" - the ability to gain control/reverse the brain amygdyla hijack. 

Ways to gain control/reverse this hijack include 

1. Slowing down your breathing 2. Shifting from focal to peripheral vision 3. Moving into formless relaxation and 4. Controlling distance between you and your threat 

If the matter escalates into a fight, you need "pure reaction." Intuitive, formless, and in harmony with what is coming towards you. The attack determines an equal and opposite response so there is zero pressure on you. This is beyond a system or a prescribed method of fighting, and into the realm of pure expression. And the best ways I have found to train for this include

1. Training to deal with attacks from a variety of systems. We live in a multi cultural world, and no one attacks only in one way. Learn the biases of different arts/cultures. 2. Spending time working on energy/flow drills to learn to read and feel how energy flows 3. Making distinctions between principles, concepts, attributes and techniques. And then training to have harmony in all the 4 aspects of training. 4. Putting personal expression above system. Mans survival is more important than stylistic loyalty. Focus on what is natural to you. Hone that! 5. Killer Instint and knowing your limits

A skill is something you can acquire or lose. Both 'brain up shifting" and "pure reaction" are conscious process' and skills. This means they have to trained for in a conscious way. The way you train is the way you are going to respond. 

So how are you training to deal with amygdyla hijack and pure reaction?


7 Year old "Karate Masters" is not a possibility! Its delusional thinking

7 Year old "Karate Masters" is not a possibility! Its delusional thinking



A recent video of a 7 year old  “karate Master” has been making rounds. A friend posted it, another sent me a link and then a student sent me the same link. My student’s note also said how amazed and envious he was of this “young master.”  I decided to engage, and either be educated or perhaps shed light on the subject of mastery.

My flight was delayed a few hours, so wanted to invest this time wisely. Made a few phone calls and finally called my student who sent me the link. And after the usual pleasantries we got into the 7 year old karate master.

“She is so impressive Sensei, makes me very envious” he exclaimed with true admiration in his voice and he continued “don’t you think she is great?”

I paused for a second as the line at the airport Jamba Juice inched forward “What I think is that people posting this nonsense at best are doing the kid and the arts a great disservice and are grossly misinformed, and at worst are sheer liars.“  A few heads in the line turned trying to access what’s going on. I smiled and waited for a response.

“What? You mean to say she is not good? Look at her kiai and the picture perfect kicks. Sensei, perhaps you are being too harsh.”

 “Does she look impressive – Yes! Does she understand what she is doing – I highly doubt it. And is she displaying mastery – Absolutely NOT.  What I am saying is you are mixing a good performance of some coordinated moves – in this case a Kata (could have been a dance) with mastery.”  I said, and continued looking at the options at Jamba Juice somewhat amazed at how mainstream juicing seems to have become, They have at least 10 juices (not smoothies) though quite expensive.

“hmmm, I don’t know Sensei, it still looks like she has mastered those sidekicks which are my big struggle. Look at how her leg snaps in and stays in the air” he continued to idolize her form.

“Her form looks good, no doubt, but is it functional?”

“She is too young to test it out Sensei, if that’s what you mean.”

It was painful waiting behind this blonde as she wanted all details of the in/organic, sugar content, juice v/s smoothie details from the young cashier.  I was grateful to be having this conversation to keep my calm, “So what she has doing is a battle form, passed down as crystallization from an old master. And while she seems to appear all powerful doing it, does she have the understanding and strength to make it functional? I would say NO!”

“But she looks powerful and would be a great ambassador for martial arts, I think” he said hesitantly.

“Maybe or maybe not, just because she looks good does not meant she should have the center stage” and as I sad this, the blonde turned around and gave me a look. I smile and continue my conversation “looking good should not be the reason one should be given the center stage. This only makes them feel entitled, and is the absence of humility. True humility is also the hallmark of mastery.” And at this the blonde turns around and says “excuse me.” And then I realized she thought I was talking to her/about her, and told her, to take her time as I was enjoying my conversation with a friend.  I could tell she was not used to being ignored - She frowned and got back to taking her time to order the perfect juice or give the appearance of it.

“Let me ask you this question, would you say she stands a chance defending herself or transmit this knowledge to the next generation. Do you think she would be better ambassador as you say, to an art or someone like say my Sensei?” It was a trick question but wanted to get into the heart of the matter. I now paused, and looked at the Blonde girl ahead of me trying to decipher her decision strategy and let the pause work on the mind of the student. She turned around again; I smiled and asked if I could help her choose? She says no thank you and finally orders an orange juice. 10 minutes to get to an OJ.  I quickly ordered a green citrus juice for lunch, paid the $4 and get back to my call.

“So you want to study with her?” I continued

“Err no sensei, that’s not what I meant.” He protested

“I know, am messing with you but hoping that we both learn something in the process. She looks good doing a performance. But that’s not mastery. To me mastery is a lifelong striving, not a performance. Mastery is the ability to absorb, integrate, transform and transmit a particular intelligence. Here we are speaking about martial arts. So mastery is the ability to quickly ABSORB (learn the material), then INTEGRATE (meaning make it a part of your very being), TRANSFORM (bring your own expression of it, and have the knowledge change you as well) and finally have the ability to TRANSMIT (teach this to others elegantly) this martial knowledge. Mastery is the ability to keep shrinking this cycle with every new learning. That is MASTERY! You feel me?” and I walked and picked up my green juice, which magically showed up before the Orange Juice for the Blonde. She displayed her anger and asks the lady behind the counter why is her order not out yet even though she ordered before me. I could not contain myself, I blurted cheekily “Know what you want, go for it, and move on.” And I walked away to get back to my conversation on mastery and have my green lunch.

“I understand Sensei mastery is process and not a destination. And appearances can be deceiving.” I could hear him be precise in how he now communicated. He continued “How do you define mastery in when there are so many forms and so many expressions of the art Sensei? I tend to get lost in all the forms that exist, leave alone know who true masters are”

“Think about it this way – draw a two by two matrix. On the x axis have old and new, and on the y axis have form and function. So what you have is 4 boxes – old form, old function/application, new application and new form. Now you have people who have made religions of each of these our boxes, and see them as mutually exclusive. The old form people claim to preserve the way things were done for example during the 1500s. The old applications have found their niche is being the bunkai or applications experts. They tend to look for secrets in how the forms were applied back then; you will see this in the Dim Mak or Pressure point experts/seminar circuit. The new applications box is filled by personal combative experts who will help you draw your own best way to respond to situations. And the new style box is essentially a set of personal combative methods that are becoming established as a style.” I paused, and drank my juice as I checked the flight status. The flight was delayed another 2 hours. Oh well!

“I think I am following you Sensei, so there are 4 ways of doing MA, and you can have mastery in each box?” he enquired.

“No – to the contrary, these are four boxes to understand phases – though IMHO people overspecialize and get stuck in a stage. To me the old form box is about ABSORB the knowledge – be it a set of forms or ways of doing your strikes.  The next box of Old function/applications, one learns how those moves were used by old-time warrior or teachers. This is INTEGRATION of the knowledge, and as you gain proficiency in this, you start to make new connections. And your own genetics and personal learnings start to inform your own new interpretations – this takes you to the third box of New function. You find to ways to adapt and bring your unique expressions to the moves, styles etc – to me this is true TRANSFORMATION. Finally as your expression finds more ground, and people start wanting to learn how you do it – you begin to teach this and gain a small following. This is TRANSMITTING of your truth. A new way of doing things emerge. “

I walked around the airport to find a place to sit, and noticed quite a few people were getting agitated with the delayed flights. I found a quiet corner, booted my laptop. I wanted to give the student a few moments to absorb this and waited for him to say something. Things had begun to click for him, and he said “aha it makes sense – so you are saying that mastery is process, it’s almost cyclical. You may start in an old style like ours, and learn the applications. Over time I may find new ways of doing things based on the same principles. And then I share that with others, we might find a new style of doing things. So this is mastery – a whole cycle.”

“Yes, to me this is the cycle, and when the new findings infuse the old ways as well, the new ways becomes standardized. Think about JKD – Bruce Lee started this as a personal expression, over time it became a style of sorts, and now is almost a system. You tend to hear things like SIgung Bruce or Guro Inosanto does this etc. In other words, new becomes old and old becomes new. This is the cycle. All personal expressions that made sense /survived became systems. And new teachers came along infused old systems and created new styles. This will go on forever. “


Another 90 minutes before I fly to the Sin City. My old-time student was excited at learning this. And in this discussion I opened up new distinctions. To sum it up – true mastery for me is the ability to Absorb, Integrate, Transform and Transmit elegantly. And as mastery increases the time between absorb and transmit shrinks drastically. I signed off with the student, read a novel for a while until it was time to board the plane. Once boarded it was time to capture this conversation for some other students along the way. And the seat next to me was now to be occupied by the same Blonde who was agitated with me throughout. This will be an interesting flight! Enough, for today.