Eyes, Feet, Posture, Power: Look Before You Leap

A martial arts maxim with implications for everyday encounters.

Posted Jul 30, 2017

How often do we find people making efforts that aren't in parallel with their desired outcomes? That is, actions that aren't aligned with intentions? There's a link between the efficient neuromechanics of martial arts and managing interactions in daily life.

This physical alignment is captured in many sayings or maxims found in many martial arts about effort and alignment. Here's the one found in many Japanese and Okinawan traditions:

First, use your eyes to look where you want to move or hit;

Next, turn your feet so that you can move in the direction needed;

Then, adapt your posture so your body is aligned with where you are trying to go;

Finally, apply total body power.

The superficial interpretation of this maxim is based on the neuroscience and biomechanics of decisive, purposeful movement. In order to effectively move with power, accuracy, and efficiency--the hallmarks of martial arts technique--you need to be lined up properly. And it all starts with where you are looking.

So, look first to where you want to go, get your feet going, then set your body to follow your feet. Only after your are aligned properly should you consider overall body power in a technique. When beginners start out in martial arts they typically do the reverse of this. Power comes first and since it's not superimposed on a coordinated and aligned framework, it's misguided and inefficiently applied.

Only with lots of training do folks get to the point where they intrinsically and naturally integrate these principle of natural motion. When done properly, techniques grounded on the maxim of "eyes, feet, posture, power" are terrifyingly graceful and, well, powerful. With diligent study the principles in this maxim truly transforms the technique of the user.

But this goes far beyond just physical technique all the way to interpersonal interactions and life ambitions. Instead of the neuromechanics of martial movement we could easily re-purpose as:

First, identify your objective;

Next, learn what you can about your needs and how to close in on your objective;

Then, begin to act in accordance with what's needed to obtain your objective;

Finally, keep working as smart and hard as you can to achieve your desired outcome.

In this way, a martial arts maxim applies to just about every aspect of life. This dovetails with what my own superhero of martial arts, the meijin Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645) wrote in The Book of 5 Rings: “The true science of martial arts means practicing them in such a way that they will be useful at any time, and to teach them in such a way that they will be useful in all things.”

Living the maxim of "eyes, feet, posture, power" in your daily activities can be a helpful way to more efficiently align your efforts, outcomes, and success.

(c) E. Paul Zehr (2017)