I've been thinking about the stare down lately. J.C. had an interesting post on his recent meeting with a military boxer. See that post here. It got me thinking about different ideas on where to look when you're involved in conflict.
I'm undecided on the topic. The big three options I see are:
1. Look your opponent in the eyes.
2. Unfocused gaze, settling in the chest area, but looking through or beyond.
3. Watch the hands.
All three have their advantages and disadvantages.
1. Looking your opponent in the eyes -
Advantages - This can be intimidating if you have a good mean look. It can also show a lack of any fear (ideal state in my mind) which can shake your opponents confidence. It is often possible to sense an attack before it's thrown.
Disadvantages - You could get intimidated by your opponent. You may be slower to recognize an incoming attack from an outer limb. Your opponent may be able to sense your intended attack.
2. Unfocused gaze, focus on chest area, but looking through or beyond -
Advantages - You get the whole picture of your opponents body, you can detect movement more quickly from this unfocused state. It can be unsettling to your opponent if they can't get a 'read' on you.
Disadvantages - May be interpreted as a sign of weakness. Can't read your opponents intent.
3. Watch the hands -
Advantages - The hands are the delivery system for most attacks, especially weapon related. Watch the hands and most times, you'll see the start of any attack. You won't get 'stared down' if you aren't looking.
Disadvantages - Can't read your opponents intent. Can't 'psyche' them out. You might miss a head-but coming in or be slower to detect a kick.
If I look someone in the eyes, it's to show that if necessary, I will prevail. I 'will' them to know that I am prepared to do what it takes. A calm confident gaze is what I try to use.
If I use an unfocused gaze, it's usually in anticipation of a physical altercation that I couldn't avoid. I can then see my opponents body as a whole and can usually see anything coming a tiny bit sooner.
If I watch the hands, it's because I'm not sure if my opponent has a weapon of some sort tucked away. If he/she is going to pull something, I can't be involved in a stare down at the time.
This is not to say that all these approaches can't be used in any given situation. My gaze may shift back and forth depending on the surroundings and my own threat assessment.
I'd love to hear what others think on this topic and why.