During last night’s class, I focused some of our time on perception drills. A simple definition of perception would read something like Sang H. Kim’s definition in Ultimate Fitness Through Martial Arts, “perception is the ongoing cerebral process of organizing and giving meaning to sensory input.” (It was reading the perception chapter in this book yesterday that prompted me to include the drills in last night’s class, and thus write this short article. It’s a book I recommend for any martial artist.) Perception is important because the responses we make to the world around us are determined by our perception of events and situations we encounter. I agree with Kim that effective and efficient responses in both learning and performance are dependant on perception.
Perception varies between individuals, and like the old saying goes, a person’s perception is their reality. It can be lessened by fatigue, emotion, inattention to detail, preoccupation with something else, or lack of mental conditioning or training. Therefore, it makes sense to include perception training in your martial studies.
Essentially, perception is the first step toward action. Before you respond to an incoming attack or some event, you must first perceive that a response is necessary. Your brain must organize and respond to hundreds of minute details. The higher your perception, the better you can focus on various aspects of your opponent’s actions, giving an advantage in responding quickly and accurately. There are a number of drills that will help you improve your perception. Kim’s book above describes a number of them, some of which I taught in class. Here are a few of the drills we worked on.
Standing straight, raise one arm up in the air. Jump up and spin around toward the raised arm and come all the way around to where you are facing front again. Try to land in the exact spot where you began. Make jumps going both ways. This helps with spatial perception and balance. It can help you understand your body’s relationship to your environment while in motion.
Spin around 15 times in a circle and then immediately walk in a straight line. My class tried to walk down one lane of our mats. Most everyone crossed over into another lane. This drill too helps with spatial perception, coordination, and balance. It can help lessen dizziness and help recovery during spinning techniques.
Blind Retrieval Drill
Close your eyes and throw a small object, we used rubber training knives, out in front of you. (Make sure you have a safe area for this) Without opening your eyes, walk forward and retrieve the object. This drill can help improve distance perception through sound. Judging by sound can be helpful if attacked in the dark. We noticed that with several attempts, students started getting better at this.
Forms practice with eyes closed
This is a drill I do quite often. We execute our forms, or other combinations of kicks and strikes with our eyes closed. This again helps improve spatial perception, coordination, and balance. I point out that sometimes a student should focus on moving in a straight line, if the techniques call for such movement. Other times, I ask them to focus on ensuring the techniques are performed at the correct height and so on. As students advance, they can focus on more than just one element at a time.
Other drills found in Kim’s book include target response drills, counter attack response drills, dodge ball, night tag, and chalk sparring. I’m sure with a little creativity, you can expand on these and come up with some of your own. Perception drills can add variety and a bit of fun to your training. They are good for adults and children, and can provide some valuable lessons regarding how we perceive things as well as improve our balance and coordination. It’s also important to take a moment and address how the drills apply to sparring or self-defense applications. After all, we are practicing martial arts, and perception is one component of the whole.