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偸眼 Chugan: Eyes Like a Dragonfly Thief

photo by TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋)
When I was a young man, one of my favorite movies was "The Karate Kid." The Sensei in that movie, Mr. Miyagi, played by Pat Morita, was full of patient but stern advice for his young student, Daniel-san. In one memorable quote, he chastised Daniel for looking down,
"Look eye!, always look eye!"
Very good advice for self defense. But there is a lot more to be understood about the eyes in our training. And, despite my fondness for that simple time in my life when a movie meant so much to me, I will break from Miyagi Sensei to suggest you don't always look eye.

There is a lot of psychology in a glance. A lot of nonverbal communication that takes place before a fight. Looking someone in the eye can be perceived as aggressive and create tension or make you a target for their anger. At the same time, the right type of look can cause the opponent to back down.

Takamatsu said that truly skilled martial artists can decide a fight by looking at each other. The better fighter knows he is better and graciously gives his adversary an opportunity to back down. If the weaker has any skill at all, he will perceive his opponent's superiority and concede to him.

A proverb says that the eyes are the window to the soul. This creates weaknesses and opportunities. If, you give away too much in your own eyes, your opponent can see your bluff, or know what your next move will be. Or, if you look in his eyes and see fear. You could easily reflect or manifest that same fear in yourself.

On the other hand we have the idea of Seigan, ‘Correct eye’ 正眼 with the feeling that you can manipulate your enemy and control his mind. As Soke says,
"to cloud the mind can be another important way of blinding the eyes. I would like you to know that it is the core of the metsubushi techniques to make the eye stop working."
This brings us to a more advanced use of the eyes for mind control. Ganko Issen is a sudden flash or glint of light of the whites of the eyes which can create the effects of Fudo Kanashibari and is also a basis for Toate no jutsu (striking from a distance).
"I have no eyes -- I make the flash of lightning my eyes." - unknown samurai c.1300
Hatsumi Sensei says that it is possible to "see" without using the eyes, and to "hear" without the ears. He says that, "In Ninpo your whole body must act as your eyes and ears."

This brings us to the concept of 偸眼  Chugan - looking askance; pretending not to look, or stealing a look. Maybe another word for it is tōshi 盗視 or 偸視 a stealthy glance;  furtive glance. I see Hatsumi Sensei do this all the time. In fact he often advises us to do this.
With a pilfered glance, the dragonfly evades the shrike.
This idea has many layers. One is that by not looking directly at your opponent you can make your focus broader to take in the whole environment. People and animals often do this naturally when surrounded. Looking nowhere but everywhere. This can be called Happo Nirami (staring in all directions). One benefit here is that your opponent's actions will be caught in your peripheral vision which responds very well to sudden, quick movement.

Another layer is that you can confuse your opponent by shifting his mind along with your line of sight. This can be simple misdirection like looking at one target on his body with your eyes but attacking another. As in 二目遣い Futatsumetsukai from Noh theatre which is a double glance where you look first but your mind does not stop there; or you look at your opponent when you appear not to be looking.

But it is also something more profound. When he attacks, especially if done with anger, he is looking to confront another soul directly. By shifting your awareness, it is like you are sidestepping his intent (like shifting your spirit back at 45 degrees) and his attacks will dissipate when they encounter nothing.

Hatsumi Sensei is constantly saying things that allude to this concept. Like "dissipate" the attacks, or you just "disappear" in the face of the attacks. Become zero.

Thank you Miyagi Sensei. I was sad when actor Pat Morita died in 2005, but his lesson is immortalized on film. And I'm sure he would agree, acting is all about the eyes.


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