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Peripheral Awareness

by Nick Stam (2nd kyu)

This month’s theme for practice at the dojo was “peripheral awareness”, a skill useful in Aikido in scenarios like multi-uke randori or jiyuwaza, as well as general safe practice on a busy mat with bodies flying everywhere. Indeed I think there is a lot of opportunity to develop this skill within the dojo, from sitting in seiza with a soft gaze to finding a safe place to stand when you are the odd one out in partner practice, and of course any time you are actively practicing by being aware of the other practitioners and the space.

A beginner like me might get very focused on the technique, or even part of a technique, and because of this everything falls apart. Maybe I get too focused on the grip I am trying to find, but I forget to move my feet, or keep my posture, or breathe, or any number of important points. I think this is normal and can be fixed with practice. Then there is training in multi-attacker situations. This rush of adrenalin can cause a return of tunnel vision, and this is something a serious beginner will need to address before taking a test with a randori component.

O’Sensei is said to have told his students to not look in the eyes of your opponent, as they will steal your spirit. I have been told to “focus” on the triangle of the shoulders and head of your partner. This allows you to open your gaze and engage the motion-detecting ability of your peripheral vision. Another way to think about this – if you are focused on your opponent’s eyes, this would be an ideal time for their friend to attack you from behind.

My ideas about peripheral awareness, for what they are worth: keep your mind open, stay calm, and don’t look in your opponent’s eyes. And keep practicing.