Wow, how’d we get here?” Wonders one of my students aloud as he pulls off his blindfold following fighting a match that took the grapplers, via a circuitous route, clear across the gym floor. “I thought we were still over there. That was disorienting! Cool!”
Disorienting, yes, but only visually so. Blindfolded grappling is a liberating experience. It’s unusual to think of your visual reference as a crutch, but as a primary sense, it necessarily dulls the others from contributing to your responses during a match.
We keep a stack of tee shirts in my gym for these special occasions. When paired with a pair of ear guards, they make great blindfolds. I have yet to discover a blindfolding process that survives more than a half round of grappling, but the tee shirt and ear guards matchup is tight, light-proof, and cheap. At some point in the match, the honor system is invariably brought to bear, since the arrangement invariably loosens a bit. The match starts differently, of course. We have to pair up and kneel close to each other before putting on our blindfolds, or else hilarity will ensue as you seek out your opponent. Imagine the results shooting a single leg only to eat the wall behind them instead.
Despite these limits, blindfolded grappling allows you to tap into your senses for a more creative roll than you’ve enjoyed in a long time. When we roll blindfolded, you hear the usual grunts and umphs that accompany typical matches, but you also hear a lot of laughing and awe-inspired comments about the techniques which spring forth, unleashed by the creative release that seems to come with darkness. A complete lack of vision on the mats reveals more useful information about your surroundings, balance, and partner than you might find with the full use of your eyes. I have personally discovered, utterly surprised, brand new techniques that I wonder where they have been hiding.
Hiding in plain sight, you might say.