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I once had a playmate that, when you tossed a tennis ball at her, she would flinch and turn her head away and the ball would hit her on the back of her head. It was funny at the time, but it not funny when it happens when a punch is fired at you.


A flinch is a reaction to a moment of weakness, fright, pain, the unexpected, or a sudden movement by blinking, a quick inhale, holding your breath, wincing, pulling away, tensing, recoiling, or cringing. It is a natural reaction to flinch and close your eyes when something comes near your face, such as a punch; however, you cannot defend against something you cannot see. Flinching can also affect your breathing, so you tire quicker. For all these reasons, martial artists need to learn to resist flinching.

Learning to avoid flinching

To learn to avoid flinching, the unconscious mind must be trained along with the conscious mind to face a threat heads on, evaluate it, and respond to it.

We must retrain what is a basic protective instinct into a more useful defense that can be used to detect and defend against oncoming threats. When you spar in a school that stresses using good control and focus, you know that your opponent is not trying to actually hit you; so, you can gradually train yourself to face your opponent and react to oncoming attacks without flinching.

Some anti-flinch drills

Glove tapping drill

This drill is recommended for all fighters regardless of their skill level. To perform the drill, two fighters get into their fighting stances with their guards up and start moving all around the ring. One fighter starts firing quick taps at a varying rhythm to the other fighters’ gloves. The defending fighter wants to be able to block all the light punches while keeping his or her eyes open and his or her breathing in perfect rhythm.

Jab with a jab counter drill

This drill helps train fighters to not lean back when taking a punch. To start, two fighters move around the ring taking turns at jabbing each other. Fighter A jabs at Fighter B. Boxer B immediately blocks it with the right hand and returns with a counter-jab just above Fighter A’s head. The key to this drill is, when you are taking a jab, do not flinch, blink, or lean back; instead, quickly block the punch and step forward with snappy counter-jab into your opponent. In time, you will learn to quickly catch a jab return a counter without wasting time by leaning back.

Pool noodle drill

Using pool noodles is a safe and painless way to retrain your neurological network to resist flinching.

First, obtain a pool noodle and cut it in half and have the attacking partner hold one half of the noodle in each hand.

For the drill, your partner tries to hit your head and face with pool noodles while you try to block or slip the attacks. The partner continues the onslaught no matter how many times you get hit until the instructor calls stop. Though not dangerous, the repeated blows can be uncomfortable, but you will gradually learn to face the attacks and deal with them.

Some other ways to control flinching 

  • Volunteer to be the dummy when your instructor is demonstrating techniques to students. This means you must stand still and face the instructor while he or she throws full-power, full-speed, precisely focused techniques at you while you stand still and not flinch.
  • Spar with a partner who you can trust to be accurate and exercise control. You can begin to slowly and progressively train the eye and brain to perceive and follow the line of movement and coordinate it with your defensive motions. Have the partner continuously attack with a variety of techniques and trajectories. Practice systematically. Begin with VERY slow-motion attacks and gradually speeding up only when you can dodge, slip, and deflect attacks without flinching or blinking.
  • Another exercise is to use a small basin of water. Have a partner use their fingers to flick droplets of water at your face. Concentrate on your awareness of the water and your response. Try to develop a diffuse range of vision, not focusing directly on the incoming threat but on developing an overall vision that uses both your direct and peripheral vision. 
  • Another method to reduce flinching and blinking is to control the muscles of the eyelids. To stop or reduce the tendency to blink, you should slightly narrow your eyes into a squint. Have a partner jab toward your face so you can practice controlling your blink reaction. Keep your eyes narrowed, observing everything, but not focusing on anything. 
With training and regular practice, flinching will gradually improve.

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