Wednesday, March 07, 2007

How effective are eye gouges and biting?

I occasionally (though not often) "lurk" on forums to see what other martial folks are talking about, and came upon one which made me think about one of the mainstays of "traditional" (whose tradition?) martial arts, which I will leave undefined here – eye gouges.'s forum has a thread titled, "Eye Gouging, biting and Sticks Oh My," which addresses this very subject very well.

Many forums, especially those focused on MMA tend toward discussions which are merely one-upmanship or bravado ("I can kick your a**," and, "no, I can kick your ignorant a** even better!), which preclude intelligent discussion. What I mean is that they usually don't add much to the breadth or depth of martial arts knowledge. This one's different (though it does contain a good bit of the aforementioned insults), because it raises a good question: How effective are eye gouges and biting in self-defense? Are they the be-all, end-all? Are they able to defeat your best choke and my best throw?

I believe there are two parts to this question:
  1. Just how effective are eye attacks and biting?

  2. If effective, how do you train them?

The thread starts this way:

"The Points that have been raised so far.

Side A: Eye gouges and
biting are incredibly useful techniques that everyone should leap at and the
fact that no one trains them effectively and they don't show up anywhere is

Side B: such techniques may or may not have a place under certain
circumstances but there are far better options, all of which are safer for the
fighter and less destructive to the opponent. Aside from that if they WERE so
useful then they'd show up at least once in a while as an effective means of
stopping violence."

OK, here’s my take: I posit that yes, eye gouges and biting are incredibly useful techniques, some do train them effectively (we do, at least the eye gouges), and that they probably do show up as "an effective means of stopping violence," though I haven't researched it.

Common sense dictates that if your eye(s) has been put out, you'll be less effective, and less likely to want to continue the fight, and consequently, they are effective. But how effective? A poster on this forum discussion brought up the case of a Vale Tudo or MMA match where a fighter’s eye was gouged, and he won by submission. In other words, he kept fighting, and won.

Does that mean that you should throw out the eye gouge as a valid technique? I don’t think so. I use the eye jab as a lead because it always gets a reaction (which is the purpose of an effective lead), and puts him on the defensive. I think a gouge and biting would be a great technique if that’s your only choice or option, like a head butt.

Some other thought on this:

  • We train with goggles on, specifically so that we can eye jab and gouge. Because they are a target, they increase our awareness of their vulnerability, and we defend them more and better. I'd include them as a technique you train if only because you can learn to defend them.

  • Bites are probably not something you'd want to first, considering you'll definitely ingest some tissue that could contain HIV/hepatitis, and that may ruin your day, but if you’re in a fight for your life, it's probably better to live with the HIV/hepatitis risk than just die. A good example of this is in a struggle with a stronger attacker who's got a knife. You need to do whatever it takes to prevent that knife from gutting or decapitating you and biting may be effective and sensible.

  • As with any technique that can cause permanent injury, there's an ethical aspect to determining if, and when, you should use that technique or weapon. Just as we don't go around shooting or stabbing someone who looks at us the wrong way, neither should we go around breaking arms, leg, and knees, much less gouging eyes. All of those are permanent injuries to one degree or another, especially eyes.

  • A good example of a supporting point is Orlando Brown, the NFL player a few years ago whose eye was damaged so badly from an official's flag toss that he was out of the league immediately after it happened. Never recovered. But you may also recall from that game that as soon as it happened, the player was holding his eye, but went after the official, and would probably have hurt the official if he hadn't been restrained by teammates! Could he still go after the "eye attack?" Yes. Would he have been as effective? No, but he still could've killed a little ref! You need to have other weapons in your arsenal. Will it end the fight? Maybe? Maybe not, but you still need to know how to defend it, don't you?

As far as training eye gouges, I'd recommend the goggles, but I'd also recommend that when you achieve a gouge that you train with that eye closed, to simulate the damage (though not the pain). I'm going to try that in the next couple of weeks.

A great quote on eye gouges:

"Done on the ground, it might have some legitimacy if you have enough control over someone not to fear repercussions. But even then, there are better fight-ending moves like chokes that can be done from similar positions, and if you're plainly in control you've little legal grounds for employing such tactics."

OK, but I will close with the best post on this thread, "Look, dirty tricks of all kinds, not just eye gouging, are something you should have in your arsenal, or at least be aware of. But they can never take the place of fighting fundamentals."


Scott Hughes said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ralph Charlton said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nathan Teodoro said...

Scott and Ralph: while I always appreciate comments, I don't appreciate spamming. If you have something legitimate to share, or want a link back, just email me instead of putting unrelated links into your comments. Email me. No problem. Thanks.

George said...

Excellent and thought provoking post Nathan. Thanks for adding legal as well as moral considerations to these types of techniques.

Nathan Teodoro said...

Thanks George!