The 5+ Senses
Most people are familiar with the “Five Senses”:
Some people also believe that there exists a “Sixth Sense” that involves a heightened mental state. In this article, I have chosen to avoid discussion of the esoteric “Sixth Sense.” But I would like to focus on all the senses, including those beyond the common five listed above.
Some people may already be familiar with these “new senses” that are now generally considered to deserve the right to expand the list of senses to eight. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with these additions, I will review them here:
• Balance – Controlled by vision, proprioception and the vestibular system (which senses vertical movements through the inner ear), balance is the sense of how the body is aligned, most commonly vertically.
• Proprioception – Involves the measurement of the degree of tension in the muscles.
• Direction – Largely controlled by the sense of vision and also related to balance, the sense of direction is what helps guide us where we want to go.
Here is a brief description of how we can use and test the various senses in our karate training:
• Sight – We watch for movements of our partners to try to assess when and how they are going to move. We watch ourselves for errors as we perform our solo practice, especially while in front of a mirror. We can test how much we rely on the sense of sight by closing our eyes while we practice (preferably not while sparring). This obviously can greatly affect our senses of balance and direction as well.
• Hearing – We can sometimes hear movement of the opponent’s feet shuffling or breath getting heavy when he or she is getting ready to attack. We also listen for the command to begin a movement in practice. We can test our sense of hearing by listening closely for the command to begin and reacting immediately.
• Touch – This sense is very useful when in close contact with a sparring partner, particularly during wrestling or ground-fighting. We can also use the sense of touch to help us understand our proper positioning when an instructor helps position us into a correct stance or technique. We can test our sense of touch by having someone touch our elbow from behind to signal us to step forward with a punch.
• Smell – Do not use in karate, except perhaps to remind us when to wash our uniforms…
• Taste – Do not use, at least I would hope…
• Proprioception – In the application of what is commonly referred to as “kime”, we should be aware of how much tension is in the muscles. To focus on this sense, a good practice is to stand in a stance using a particular technique and close your eyes. Feeling the amount of tension in each body part in a static position as well as while moving are both important.
• Balance – The sense of balance is relied upon when stepping and shifting. Whenever the weight of the body is transferred from one leg to the other, the sense of balance tells us how to compensate. The sense of balance and the part that vision plays in it can be easily tested by standing on one foot and closing the eyes. This gets difficult quickly, due to the inability to use the sense of vision to make minor positioning corrections.
• Direction – The sense of direction, in combination with several others of the abovementioned senses, is used when turning during basic repetitions and kata, as well as when sparring with more than one person. The sense of direction (as well as its relationship with other senses) can be tested by spinning around several times and then trying to walk in a straight line. This sense also helps us when sparring with multiple opponents.
The above information is meant as an introduction or review (depending on how much you already knew about this subject). There are many additional examples of how the various senses can be used and tested in karate practice. The first step, however, is simply being aware of the different senses, how they are used and how they relate to each other.
Reference: Black Belt Magazine, Oct 2002, pp 72-76, “Sixth Sense”, by Stefan Verstappen.
Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published July 2003)