12 posts / 0 new
Last post
Tau's picture
Eye Gouges

Talking Iain over the weekend, we agreed that this is best discussed here for the benefit of everyone rather that just a private chat.

First the disclaimer. Despite a vast amount of Martial Arts experience I've been smart/lucky/boring enough to avoid too many altercations. I bow down to the experienced members of the forum. But I believe I have a different and useful perspective.

Eye gouges in self proection.

I don't believe in them. At least not as an isolated fight-ending technique. Sure they have use. I see them as much like the groin kick. How many people have we heard utter such nonsense as "I don't need Martial Arts, just one knee in the wedding tackle and they'll drop." I'm sure we'll all agree that groin shots hurt. They hurt like hell, but they don't debilitate. They are great, but should only be used on conjunction with a bigger system. So it is with eye gouges.

My personal experience of being on the recieving end of an eye gouge brings with it a safety message. If a joint lock or choke is applied to you in class, we all know to tap to prevent damage or unconciousness, right? On my Kempo grading there was a chap who's organisation had rule of a thumb being raking across your eyebrow was code for "I've just gouged your eye, kindly act accordingly." However, this wasn't a communicated rule and their person concerned found themselves unable to free themself from my grip and (controlled) proprioceptive striking. After several eyebrown rakes that just left me wandering what the hell they were doing, they actually did gouge my eye. Did it stop me attacking? No, it hurt like hell and took me from striking to releasing them from me. The following evening I conceded that really I should get my eye looked at. My colleague said it was the worst corneal abrassion she'd ever seen. I reiterate that it didn't stop me grading and it was a full 30 hours or longer before I sought help.

I treat eye injuries pretty much every day. Rarely does a patient come in immediately after sustaining the injury. They come in after work or the morning after the injury occurred. Most injuries are simple, some are serious and I wonder how they've lasted that long,

The best way I can think of to illustrate my concept of the use of eye gouges is Iain's bunkai to Chinto's "double x-block" which I've looked for my can't see on YouTube. There are probably other examples. Essentially, you move for the eye gouge, uke prevents it and so tori's actual technique starts. It illicits a response. In the case of this specific Chinto application, the wrist is seized and hyperflexed.

Does this make sense? Anyone disagree?

jeffc's picture

Hi Peter

I have witnessed first hand an incredibly serious eye injury where both eyes were literally gouged out of the victim's eye sockets whilst lying on the floor under attack.  That was debilitating and fight-ending and the lad subsequently lost the total vision in both of his eyes.  That was not a quick eye-poke, but a sustained attempt to place both thumbs into the corner of the socket and literally removed the eyes.  Thankfully, in my experience, this is a very rare type of attack and I wonder how many people would actually have the stomach to perform this type of attack.

However, usually the eyes are well protected, except for against a sustained and motivated attack as I described above, most eye injuries are minor and caused by a stray finger, as you described, which causes irritation, especially when under the effects of adrenaline. 

I suppose the answer lies in what you are prepared to do when faced with an attack and what can you justify as being a reasonable and proportionate response in the circumstances.


P.S. Good to meet you over the weekend!

Paul_D's picture

Personally I woudl not like to rely on them.  The eyes are a very small target, and whilst jeffc points out they can produce the desired effect, I think there are much easier and more effctive things that I would call on first.

Also, I think you woud have to have a very good lawyer to claim usign them as "reasoable" force if they ended up causing serious injury.

Jon Sloan
Jon Sloan's picture

Hi, I was recently on the receiving end of an eye strike. I was uke in a demo on a course and tori accidentally struck my eyeball with an ippon ken. Full eye strike, no impact (and therefore no spreading of force) on the surrounding socket. Whilst painful, I was more than able to carry on.

So, yes, I'd agree that eye strikes/gouges may elicit a response and may create an opening, though not always so. However, I wouldn't rely on them and they're certainly not conflict stoppers unless the other person's eyes are so severely 'gouged' that they can no longer see. Even then, if they're strangling you they may be able to finish doing so before the pain sets in.

JWT's picture

I think they have the 'potential' to be a fight ender.

The issue is that you can't train them. You can't train them physically at any speed or intensity, and you can't prepare for them psychologically.  As a result there is absolutely no guarantee that you'll be able to do it.  For this reason I would never advocate them as a core tactic.


jeffc's picture

I agree Paul_D.  In my experience of eye injuries and violent assaults, the incident that I outlined was the only one where the eye attack was the fight ender and as I stated that took several seconds of dedicated gouging to achieve.  My point was the same that you make, that eye attacks can work, but they are rare and they would require going to a level of ferocity that many people would find difficult to achieve and it could be hard to justify afterwards to a court. 

I believe that it is better to spend the majority of my training time utilising techniques that have a better chance of being successful.  I like to play the percentage game personally.

Wastelander's picture

We consider eye gouges to be distractions or "extra credit" techniques. As mentioned, it is difficult to really work them into training, since your options are pretty much limited to pretending to do them and having your partner act like they are working, or doing them and potentially causing serious injury when your partner doesn't react as you expect. What we typically do is "find the eyes" with our fingers, so we will stop the strike short and then place the fingers on the eyes, with just enough pressure to be noticed. Unfortunately, this does mean that our partners have to act, but it's better than never making any contact, in my opinion. For getting more of a feel for impact, we use BOB or a maize bag. Again, though, these are distractionary techniques, so we do them on the way to a technique that is more likely to end the fight.

I've been poked in the eyes and kept going, but it was certainly uncomfortable, distracting, and caused my eyes to well up with tears, impacting my vision. I've also seen very tough MMA fighters get poked in the eye on accident and end up rolling on the floor, clutching their face in agony. I think that there can be quite a bit of variation in response to an eye gouge, so it can't be trusted to end the fight, by itself, but involuntary responses like flinching and tears are a fairly safe bet.

Simon ONeill
Simon ONeill's picture

I suffered an eye gouge at the hands of my 18 month old daughter, and it was definitely a fight stopper.

We'd just spent the night in hospital over an unrelated matter (she was in for observation) and I hadn't slept. So I didn't react quickly enough when she struck my exposed eyeball with a downward slap.

The immediate pain was of the "sickening" kind, like when being struck in the groin, both eyes began to stream copiously and I couldn't see very well. Then every two minutes or so I'd get a burning pain in the affected eye.

The nurses sent me straight up to the eye department, where they told me it was a corneal ulcer, and that, due to being inflicted by a fingernail, it would probably never get better, and was likely to re-open at any time in the future. I was pleased about that, I can tell you.

After a few days of eye drops it was pretty much better, but even now, 2½ years later, I have to remember to move my eyes about gently under the eyelids before opening them first thing in the morning to moisten them, otherwise the "dry" inside of the eyelid drags across the miniscule scar and hurts like hell.

For combative purposes I'd certainly consider a finger or thumb jab to the eyes to be an effective "flinch provoker" and possible "maimer", but I probably wouldn't use it myself for legal and ethical reasons if I had other means at my disposal. Also, I would be most upset if somebody tried to gouge my eye and would react rather negatively, so I would tend to avoid doing it to an opponent for that very reason.



Th0mas's picture

jeffc wrote:
However, usually the eyes are well protected, except for against a sustained and motivated attack as I described above, most eye injuries are minor and caused by a stray finger, as you described, which causes irritation, especially when under the effects of adrenaline.

Jeff's description is also my take on the eye-gouge technique and is in fact the way I was taught to apply it. 

it is not a poke in the eye but rather a sustained application of pressure on the eye sockets, usually facilitated by running your thumbs down your assaltants face and then pressing hard into the eyes.  It is not designed as a fight stopper but rather a technique to illicit a response - i.e releasing a grip, raising their arms, lurching backwards, getting off me etc. The human flinch response increases the likelyhood that your will get a reaction and you have to be pretty ferocious with the gouge to overcome your attackers higher threashold to pain brought on by their adrenaline surge.

(caveat: I have never used this in anger so this is all supposition).

Ben Ryder
Ben Ryder's picture

I have used eye gouges four or five times, in all but one f the incidents it was one of  few techniues I needed to use, in the other it ended the fight. 

The time that it ended the fight (in 2003/4) I fell over a bottle bin in a club I was working in when tryign to eject a guy and ended up fighting him on the ground on broken glass (not fun), he had one hand round my throat and had a bottle in the other hand, I kept the armed hand gripped and pushed my right thumb right into his eye. A judoka colleague was strulgging to choke him out. In retrospect I was quite shocked at how much force I had to use, the images I saw after showed that my thumb nail had gone through the eye lid and scratched his eye ball. He had  balck eye for weeks (thankfully he was so intoxicated he coudnt remember my face), and I had to have a speck of glass reoved from my eye.

The other times they have been used to turn people over or pull them away from people.

Eye gouges have a fairly successful success ratio in my opinion as are fish hooks which I have used two or three times to success. Like all technique the success is dependant on the circumstances and the application. One reluctance to use the eyes is the leve of severity of injury can be very high and may be deemed disproportionate force.

Ben Ryder

Shidoin - Koryu Uchinadi

Shibucho - IRKRS Eng

Leeds, UK

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

It's always great to receive feedback and a FB message a couple of years ago simply said "Thanks for the training, the eye gouges worked".

It was from a girl I taught 25+ years ago who had fought off an attempted rape.

While that doesn't indicate they'll work in all situations for all people, at least in this case they had the desired effect.  'Skills fade' and loss of fitness were obviously not an issue either.


Dod's picture

WE Fairbairn (WWII Commando trainer) recommended the chin jab with extended fingers to reaching up to the eyes (tiger claw). 

It is a key technique in his book "Get Tough" I think because the attacking hand is coming up from below so more difficult to defend against than straight in from the front,   and because it hits two targets at one - chin and eyes.