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"But What If He Flinches?"

Below is a question we recently received that I imagine might be on your mind as well.

“In some of your DVD footage the eyes are the target for the first injury and in other footage the eyes are, say, the third injury target.

“You emphasize the importance of going for a throw only AFTER creating an injury. Shouldn’t this advice apply also to striking the eyes? Because of peripheral vision, which you do refer to in the training, the eyes are NOT easy to strike successfully in the alert subject. Blinking, closing the eyes or moving the head can all diminish or completely negate the effectiveness of an eye strike. Furthermore, if you go first for the eyes and miss, the subject will be on guard against another strike and you will have lost the element of surprise.

“In consideration of the above, would it not be good advice to approach the eye strike like the throw — to be used only AFTER you have effected a prior injury?”

This is a great question, especially since, as you note, the body invests a lot of effort and energy in protecting the eyes. The bony protrusions of the orbits, the powerful bands of muscle that actually press the eye balls into the back of the sockets when the eyes are squeezed shut, as well as the overwhelming strength of the blink and flinch reflexes all add up to a near-impregnable fortress to keep those delicate structures intact.

When all of this is working as it should the eyes themselves tend to escape injury, with most of the brunt being taken up by the soft surface tissues — seen when most punches to the face cause the lids to swell shut and bruise, leaving the eye ball itself untouched.

There are several things we must do in order to bypass all this automated protection:

  • Strike from outside/beneath his peripheral vision,
  • Put an appropriate tool all the way through the target, and
  • Strike with our entire mass so we end up standing where he was standing.

All of these factors can be seen at work in basketball, the number one place to find information on eye injuries. It’s also interesting to note that in basketball everyone knows it’s on, is alert, and is expecting to see hands near their faces.


If we stand in front of the man and reach out with our arm to do the work, he’s going to see it coming. Even if he only catches a shadow of movement, the blink/flinch reflex is powerful and automatic. If he closes his eyes and turns his head, you may not get the eye injury proper — but you are still making him react to what you are doing — and now he is blind (eyes squeezed shut) and off balance (more on this later).

To minimize the chances for this on an initial strike, you want to come up under a 45 degree plane off the cheekbones. (Notice that if you stare straight ahead, you can’t see your feet. This is the space you want to move your hand through.)

It’s also important to understand that we are not going to be able to injure the eye with the ‘ninja cat scratch.’

We are not trying to make contact with just our fingertips. We have to break the plane of the body.

Fighters think in terms of the sanctity of the skin, and think to the surface of the eyes. Killers deny the sanctity of the skin and think all the way through the body.

You’re not going to touch his eyes with your fingertips — you’re going to put your hand through his skull, driven home with your entire mass. You’re going to get your hand wet to the second knuckles in his eye sockets. In addition, you’re going to shot-put his brain for traumatic brain injury (‘TBI’ — a concussion).

You need to end up standing where he was standing, driving your entire mass through his space, forcing him to stumble backwards off balance. This not only ensures that you struck with your mass but also puts you into position to break the next thing without having to run after him. And if he goes down (which is likely, since the mechanisms of balance are in the head, which you just struck and drove through) then you can start stomping him on the ground.

None of these three things happen in isolation — it’s all one strike.

If it all works perfectly then you end up giving him a full-bodied strike through the head — a knockout blow — where your fingers happen to get wet in his eye sockets with resultant injuries to the eyes.

If you don’t get the eyes: you’ve still momentarily blinded him (blink/flinch reflex), given him a TBI, and taken his balance… all of which give you the time and space to break something else.

So even if it goes wrong (no actual eye injury) it’s all right, as long as you know what to do next and take advantage of what you made him do.

Thanks for your question, and I hope this helps.

Chris Ranck-Buhr
TFT Master Instructor

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