To begin to study a martial art is an interesting experience.  It often turns out that many of the things that you thought you knew how to do, such as walking, breathing, standing, kneeling, and even seeing, need the most work.  I often catch my students holding their breath while doing a simple forward roll.  I remind them that they are doing this, and to instead breathe out in coordination with the movement.  The breath and the body depend upon each other and when we are doing the wrong thing with one or the other, we tend to be in error.

So it is with the other simple things we must relearn.  We find that some of us walk heavily on our heels and need to lighten up.  We see others that need to be more grounded, lest they float away in the wind.  Even simple walking while doing Deashi Harai can be quite a challenge.  In fact, when I first learned that throw I was sure that I had two left feet.  It was a serious challenge for me, to simply walk along with Uke with the correct timing.  I had no hope of being able to achieve the desired effect of the throw because I couldn’t even walk correctly to set up the proper motions.

Consider your sense of vision.  When you look around, what do you see?  On a fundamental level you are looking outward from your skull and seeing two over-lapsing ellipses.  You are also seeing your nose, although your brain does you the favor of allowing you to ignore it easily.  If you are me, you also see the metal frame of your glasses and even the scratches on the lenses.  Interestingly, beyond those two ellipses and outside of your peripheral vision, there is nothing.  Not even blackness, just simply nothing (mu).

Taking this the next step further, we realize two things about our vision.  We can see both broadly and pointedly.  Broadly, we see everything in our field of view – this is the floodlight – and commonly referred to as peripheral vision.  You see much, but nothing in particular with this field of view.  Pointedly, we see a single focused point – this is the spotlight*.  I remember that as a child I once became very distressed because I realized that my two eyes could only actually focus on a very small single point.  I began to notice only this single point, and could not seem to break out of this pattern.  I could not see “normally.”  I was hyper focused on the spotlight, and was afraid I’d lost the ability to use the floodlight.  Luckily for me this was resolved when I was finally distracted enough to let go of the thought itself, then I suddenly realized that all was well with the floodlight again.

While doing any technique consider how you are using both the spotlight and the floodlight.  Going back to Deashi Harai, we can say that in order to “see” everything that is important we must not stare down at Uke’s feet.  The most obvious reason for this of course is that Uke will notice you looking down, this will telegraph your technique and it will not work (assuming you are doing randori).  Instead, point the spotlight at Uke’s chest area.  The floodlight (peripheral vision) will see all it needs for you to be able to throw with the correct timing.  This applies to all techniques.  Pay attention to how you are using the spotlight, and most importantly do not forget about the floodlight.

The next level we might consider is that of our overall consciousness itself.  By consciousness I’m referring to your awareness of the physical world with all your senses.  Consciousness is a reductive process, reducing the entirety of external stimuli of your surroundings to the few things most important for survival, or a particular task.  This is extremely helpful for us because it allows us to easily ignore the thousands upon thousands of nerve signals we are constantly receiving, much like we can easily ignore our nose although we are seeing it 100% of the time.  For instance, if I ask you to think about the heel of your right foot, you notice how it feels.  You will notice the pressure of the ground it’s resting upon, and perhaps the sensations of a soft shoe lining, or your socks.  But up until you read that, you were not thinking at all about your right heel.  It was a non-factor in your consciousness.  But now you are noticing it.

So it was with vision, consciousness can also be considered in the analogy of the spotlight and the floodlight.  Our spotlight consciousness is that which we are focused on and aware of specifically, similar to the focused point of vision.  It is the thing that is primarily of concern in regards to what we need to be conscious of at the moment.  The floodlight consciousness is the background of your awareness and doing all the automatic things you aren’t noticing right now.  It controls your natural breathing, it’s blinking for you, and it allows you to walk through a busy farmers market without bumping into anyone.  It’s doing a thousand little things for you while you are using the spotlight.  It is what is driving when you pull into the driveway and realize that you were lost in thought and somehow drove all the way home on autopilot.

To carry on with the Deashi Harai example, when you first learn the throw you must focus your spotlight on all the things you must do to control Uke and produce the desired outcome of the throw: in making sure that you have proper distance to Uke, as well as proper Kuzushi and timing.  The purpose of Kata is to repeat a motion so that it becomes automatic and internalized.  If you have trained properly, this means that the technique will work for you, without you using much thought to do it.  In this analogy, it means you are free to use the spotlight to focus on other things, and the floodlight is what is performing the art for you.

We practice this specifically in Sannin Nage.  You are grabbed by three people, and you must free yourself first from the Ukes who control your arms. Then you are to dispatch the Uke behind you with a throw, but you must remain aware of the first two, because you are likely not done with them.  The floodlight is focused on throwing the Uke to your rear, but the spotlight must be on those other two Uke.

This occurs in all arts.  When doing a technique for the first time, focus your spotlight on the task at hand.  Train the Kata properly over and over until it becomes natural.  Then allow the floodlight to handle that task while the spotlight is now free for you to use as necessary, which will eventually be –  not at all.

“Be free from all attachments like a rolling ball, when moving forward, moving backward, working, sitting, while possessing a stillness with the motion and a motion within the stillness.” H.S. Okazaki


*The analogy of the spotlight and the floodlight comes from a lecture by Alan Watts titled Myth of Myself.