We have probably all seen it before. Some of us have experienced it first-hand. The old instructor spars with the much more athletic young tournament champion. The old instructor seems to be able to read the mind of the young athlete. The younger guy seems to be able to get in a few shots but for the most part everything is blocked or avoided and the older guy gets at least as many “points” in, despite his age and condition.

How does this happen? ESP (extra-sensory perception)? Through so many years of practice in “moving meditation,” has the old instructor learned to read minds?

What may appear to be mind-reading is more likely “body-reading” and educated guesses.

Through experience at watching and feeling how the body moves, paying particular attention to technical flaws such as extraneous movement leading up to an attack, the older instructor can often “sense” something as it is just getting started. It is not that he is seeing things before they happen. It is that he sees things much earlier than others might, while the situation is unfolding. Because the onlooker (or opponent) may not have seen any real indication of the attack having yet taken place, it may appear that this is “mind-reading”.

Furthermore, through so many years of training, the older instructor probably has a good idea of what is likely to follow when he sees events unfolding. For example, after someone attacks with 2 kicks, is it very likely that the next attack would be a punch as opposed to another kick? Is this the type of opponent who is looking for a chance to counterattack or pushing in aggressively? Through experience, he develops the ability to make better decisions based on these experiences. The tournament champion also has likely developed this ability to some extent, but within the rules of competition; the older instructor may have more of an ability to “think outside the box.”

As for the attacks being relatively successful, the experienced instructor may have also developed an ability to psychologically affect his opponent. For example, he may give his younger opponent the impression that the older man is on the defensive, lulling him into a false sense of security, only to be met with a barrage of attacks from the senior.

Of course this “mind reading” often falls apart when two experienced people are matched up. Neither one shows much extraneous movement. Both can read each other and the other can see that the other can read him. As a result, many techniques barely start and then are quickly retracted. And since they are both good at making educated guesses, they tend to use more feinting as a way to trick the other into making an incorrect assumption.

Would you like to develop this skill? Here are a few things you can watch for that might help you:

– When the shoulder lifts, this is often an indication that a punch from that arm will soon follow.

– Slight shifting back or angling outward of the front foot often precedes a step forward.

– Overall rising up of the body sometimes precedes a kick.

– Someone who likes to counterattack usually likes to do so with the back arm or leg.

– If someone turns around for a back kick, the move following is often not an attack and if it is, it is rarely another kick.

– The eyes sometimes give away an attack; the opponent may look at the intended target (for example, at the midsection) as he attacks, or he may squint just prior to attacking.

– Attacks are rarely delivered on an in-breath.

Of course what helps with this the most is quite simple: experience. Get to the dojo often and try to train with various people to get more experience with a range of possibilities. Of course I knew that you knew this already… After all, I have ESP!

And just for “kicks”, try this:

Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published December 2005)