Depriving Senses

Whenever you interact with an opponent in some way you might immediately consider how you may deprive them of one or more of their natural senses. Sometimes this is easy to do while at other times it can be quite difficult or impossible. But there are more senses and methods of depriving a person of these senses than you might imagine. In this article, we will discuss some common and some unusual ways by which you might deprive a person of the use of one or more of their innate senses.

Depriving Sight

Covering a person’s eyes with your open hand is a simple and beneficial way to deprive them of their sense of sight. For this to be most effective you will want to cover both eyes. But sometimes covering only a single eye can be beneficial if you wish to hide some action that will occur only on one side of your opponent’s face.

Covering both eyes is usually best when you seek to disorient or confuse the opponent. The person’s perception of spatial orientation is usually severely hindered if they are unable to see how the world is moving about them. This is of benefit to you because the person is unable to accurately determine how to move the muscles in his or her body to maintain correct structural alignments, making it very difficult for them to resist or counter your actions.

A more drastic method by which you can deprive a person of his or her sight is to strike at or injure one or both eyes. The eye is extremely sensitive to pain and there is an intense and immediate reaction when the eye is directly contacted in some way. Even if only one eye is contacted both eyes may involuntarily close tightly. Subsequent tears may cloud and distort any remaining vision making it hard for the person to accurately detect what is occurring even if he or she can open both eyes. The Spider’s Flick strike is primarily useful as a method for causing temporary sight deprivation. But any strike to a person’s eye could cause serious injury, including loss of the eye. You should only deliberately strike to the eye in the most extreme circumstances.

But you can deprive a person of their ability to use sight even at some distance away. You do not even need to touch them in any way. A simple distraction can be a very effective way to rob a person of his or her sight. While this is technically not a deprivation of sight it does prevent the person from seeing what is happening.

I have a simple demonstration that I use to make this clear to students. I have them attack with some Back Hand strike, often an Oi Tsuki. As they approach I move to the ear side and then raise my Back Hand, with only the index finger extended vertically about twelve inches from the person’s eyes. I then move that arm in the same direction of travel and at the same speed as the student is moving. What happens is that the student immediately focuses on that extended finger to the exclusion of everything else. The students seldom notice the crushing front hand headed straight for their mandible. So while the students can still see, they see only what I want them to see.

Of course, you can only do this trick, which I call “the worm” once. Students quickly learn to avoid staring at that moving worm and it is nearly impossible to do the same trick again. But, a week later they will predictably focus on the worm again if you have not provided some warning or otherwise given away your intent. So this form of distraction can be temporarily avoided, but it is an innate behavior that cannot be avoided without conscious thought.

Depriving Hearing

Pulling a person’s head to your chest such that one ear is pressed into your ribs and the other is covered by your lower arm is one way of depriving them of their sense of hearing (even if it may not be the best course of action otherwise). If done properly this method might deprive them of both sight and hearing.

You could also use your hands to cover both ears to inhibit hearing, but this leaves you practically defenseless and is not a practice we would suggest you follow. But a Cupped Hand Strike or even an open hand strike to one or both ears may be sufficient to overwhelm the sense of hearing. Such a strike indirectly attacks the inner ear by sending a column of compressed air into the ear canal which strikes and could potentially injure the eardrum and other components of the inner ear. This may result in long term hearing loss so it should not be used casually. But even if permanent damage does not result, this strike can be quite painful and it may take several seconds for the person’s full hearing to return.

You might also be able to distract a person using sound. A slap against some portion of your anatomy may cause an opponent to think something is happening on your right side when in fact it is your left side that you are planning to utilize. Forming your lips and issuing a whistle may cause an opponent to suddenly focus on your face as you strike to the groin or abdomen. Snapping your fingers near the person’s right ear may cause them to suddenly look toward their right side. All of these are simple ways to cause hearing distraction. The goal is to cause the opponent’s brain to be occupied with one sound so that it does not detect another sound associated with your true intended actions. You are masking one sound by creating a more distracting sound. So, while the person can still hear, they are again hearing what we want them to hear.

A Kiai is a classic example of the type of sound that might be employed as a distraction. It could be completely ignored by an aggressor. It could also be so sudden and stunning that the opponent is temporarily immobilized. In truth, the Kiai is likely to result in some action somewhere between these two extremes. But all you need is a temporary pause or moment of inattention. Sometimes a Kiai will afford you that opportunity.

I have used laughter, mocking sounds, tones of disdain, and truly bizarre and nonsensical utterances to distract another person. This can work quite well, but often they need to be done at the right moment. Mocking sounds might be used when you want the person to strike at you (something that you, as an Orange Belt candidate should not yet be attempting). Laughter can have the same effect, but it might also be a sign of derision which can be disheartening to some people. Of course, you need to be aware that while you are uttering these sounds your jaw is usually relaxed and your teeth and tongue may be positioned such that a sudden impact can do significant damage to your face and head. So you want to use sounds like these when you are certain the opponent is unlikely to strike you while your jaw is slack.

Using sound as a distraction is less effective than using sight as a distraction. That is unless you are holding something like a compressed air horn. Otherwise, the sounds you might be able to generate will often be more subtle and therefore can be more readily missed or ignored by an opponent. If, on the other hand, you do happen to be holding a can of compressed air – well that will probably work nicely as a form of aural distraction.

Depriving Touch

The best way to deprive a person of their sense of touch is to not let them touch you. Escaping is your best option. If you can get away before the person has a chance to touch you in any way then you have successfully deprived them of this sense.

Otherwise, it is extremely difficult to deprive someone of their sense of touch. That would require great physical injury to the person’s nervous system, an injury from which they would likely never recover. So in most cases, we are talking about sensory distraction when we talk about depriving the sense of touch. These are two different concepts. Since depriving the sense of touch requires great physical injury (or escaping), we will focus most of our discussion on distractive techniques.

Distraction generally involves touching someone in a manner that causes them to focus intently on the point of contact. You can cause such a distraction by contacting a sensitive area of the body, by striking or injuring some area of the body, or by slapping, poking, pinching, or otherwise causing a focused area of pain or discomfort.

For example, if you do not want someone to notice that you are pressing into the back of his or her hip with your left hand then you might pinch the inside of the person’s upper arm at the same time using your right hand. They are likely to feel the pinch but ignore the more subtle pressing action, particularly if there are several points of changing contact between yourself and the other person.

People are generally more sensitive to touch in the areas of the hands, mouth, eyes, and feet. Your touch will be best noticed if you make contact with one of these areas of the body. The torso and legs are areas where touch is less well perceived. The arms are somewhere in the middle. They are not as sensitive as the hands but are more sensitive than your torso.

You can find a great representation of this sensory perception differential by examining the sculpture of the Sensory and Motor Homunculus devised by Dr. Wilder Penfield. This model clearly shows that the brain is most aware of the mouth, tongue, hands, eyes, and to a lesser degree the feet. The model depicts the areas of the body that the brain is more likely to notice. You can readily find this model by doing an Internet search for “Penfield Sensory and Motor Homunculus”. You will find this represented in two different forms. The first is an illustration showing the brain and how it perceives various areas of the body. The second is a sculpture. The sculpture is more intuitive and clearly shows your brain’s perception of your body.

Based on this bit of insight you might elect to press into a person’s hand as you concurrently press into the back of his or her leg in an attempt to manipulate or collapse the person’s structure. The person is more likely to notice what you are doing to his or her hand than to detect what is occurring with their leg – at least initially and before it is too late.

Keep the Sensory and Motor Homunculus model in mind. It will forever come in handy when you wish to mask a manipulation, disguise a parry or other provide sensory cover for some other action.

Other related actions might involve tossing a cup of hot coffee onto an attacker, abrading the skin in some manner, or applying pressure to a sensitive area of the body such as the neck. All of these involve a sense of injury to the body rather than strictly a sense of touch. But they are generally related and should not be overlooked as methods for distraction.

Depriving Taste and Smell

While we are seldom concerned with the senses of smell and taste even these can, under the right circumstances, become relevant in a conflict. But in truth, these are seldom utilized because they are either difficult to employ on the spur of the moment or because they will provide scant benefit in a conflict. Nonetheless, we will explore them briefly.

The easiest way to deprive a person of the sense of smell is to squeeze the nostrils shut. While some sense of smell can still be derived through the mouth and nasal passages, most of this sense will be curtailed in this manner. Naturally, you can disrupt all sense of smell by also covering the mouth. This is a more dangerous activity and should not be done for a prolonged period.

It is also possible to briefly overwhelm (or perhaps disgust) the sense of smell. A sudden release of foul body gasses may affect the overall structure of an individual. This may provide you with a brief opportunity to achieve a tactical advantage. This is a difficult thing to contrive in the middle of a conflict, but hey, if you’ve got it, use it.

Depriving or distracting the sense of taste is likely to prove the most difficult. It would be a most unusual circumstance in which you were able to do this successfully. You would likely need to sever the tongue or force something into someone’s mouth to achieve that benefit. That would suggest the use of excessive force or ill-intent on your part – something we do not condone. So I think the sense of taste is an area we can safely regard as irrelevant to normal martial art endeavors.

Overall it is likely you will find employing the same thought, energy, and focus on other parts of the body will likely yield more fruitful benefits. Efforts to deprive or distract these two senses will yield only minimal if any advantage.

Pseudo Senses

There are several “pseudo-senses” that you might also wish to consider. These include the senses of balance, pressure, temperature, pain, and motion. While it is difficult to deprive a person of these senses, we can employ them either as a source of distraction or employ some other distraction to mask one or more pseudo senses.

Twisting and turning an opponent’s structure is often a viable way to eliminate or reduce their sense of balance. This can be aided by concurrently covering the person’s eyes to add further confusion. A person has a very difficult time sensing proper balance when they are weightless and in motion. So a beneficial practice is to keep the individual in constant random motion so that they never have a true sense of where or how to achieve a good balance.

Using pain to distract an opponent may be a way to focus their attention away from their sense of motion, allowing you to better control and manipulate them. We previously discussed this in several different contexts. It should be clear that pain is a very significant way of distracting a person so they ignore some other sensory input.

Pressure can also be a useful distraction. Pressing into a person’s abdomen with a finger will certainly be something they notice. There are even more sensitive areas of the body where a bit of pressure can result in immediate distraction.


Kinesthesia is the innate sense that comes from knowledge of how to precisely control muscle and joint movements. You use this if you reach up and touch your ear without the use of a mirror. You know how to make this move and it requires no thought. But this sense can be confused or disrupted so that these known movements are suddenly no longer viable or accurate. Numerous quick and varied movements of an opponent’s structure can disrupt their ability to use Kinesthesia in a meaningful or productive manner. Nerve or muscle pain might also disrupt the ability to perform these types of movements.

Twisting a person into a contorted state can make it extremely difficult for them to move portions of the body as they intend. Even if they can freely move an arm or hand they may not be able to move it accurately – for example, they may not be able to reliably place their hand on their ear.

When a person is undergoing a continual state of structural realignments, contortion, imbalance, and disorientation they will find it quite difficult to perform any planned motion accurately if at all. This is the continual state of disruption we work toward as Tensoku Ryu practitioners.


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