Have you ever tried balancing on one foot?
Not too difficult, right?
But what about balancing on one foot with your eyes closed?
Quite more challenging, is it not?
Ninjas have three systems to help them balance: the visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive. Together, they help us stand in place, walk straight, and move throughout the world with what may seem like minimal effort.
But what happens when one of those systems shuts down, even temporarily?
More importantly, can doing this purposely and strategically help us improve our ability to balance – a key skill every jump rope ninja must possess?
Those are the questions I hope to answer in this post.
Let’s take a look.
Try this Experiment
I want you to try a simple experiment for me.
Find a big open field somewhere. Take some chalk or tape and mark a 30 ft straight line on the ground. Stand on one end of that line and face the other end. You should be looking straight down that line.
Now close your eyes (or put on a blindfold) and try your absolute best to walk straight down that line.
After you’ve taken about 20 steps, open your eyes.
Where did you end up?
More than likely, you ended up strolling far away from the other end of that line. Nice.
How we Balance
Like I said earlier, we have three systems that help us stay balanced.
The vestibular system – working primarily in the inner ear – provides us with the sense of movement and orientation in space.
Composed of multiple components, this system sends signals primarily to the neural structures that control eye movement and to the muscles that keep us standing upright. The fluid in our inner ears moves around as we move our head and this lets the brain know where our bodies are in relation to the pull of gravity.
The proprioceptive system – which plays a key role in jumping rope – is what allows us to know exactly where our hands and feet are at all times, even when our eyes are closed. It gives the brain a sense of the relative position of our limbs.
Proprioception is essential to developing and mastering any new skill.
“The brain uses information from the vestibular system in the head and from proprioception throughout the body to understand the body’s dynamics and kinematics (including its position and acceleration) from moment to moment. integrates information from proprioception and from the vestibular system into its overall sense of body position, movement, and acceleration.” [source]
Lastly, we have the visual system which provides us with what is known as the point of reference.
To understand this better, let’s go back to that experiment for a second.
Why did we fail walking down that straight line with our eyes closed?
While our vestibular and proprioceptive systems allowed us to stand upright and walk in darkness without falling over, our lack of visual sense prevented us from getting valuable and necessary feedback we’re used to getting from the environment.
It’s the reason we have so much trouble balancing on one foot with our eyes closed.
The truth is that the brain needs all three systems to work together to maximize balance and eliminating the visual system makes it next to impossible to walk down a straight line without a point of reference.
“There is, apparently, in humans a profound inability to stick to a straight line when blindfolded, or when there is no fixed point –no Sun, no Moon, no mountaintop – to guide them. For eighty years, scientists have been trying to explain this tendency to turn when you think you’re going straight… But try as they might – and we’re still trying these experiments – nobody has really figured out why we can’t go straight.” [source ]
So how can this information help us with improving balance when jumping rope?
The Power of our Senses
It is said that when you lose one sense, all your other senses become heightened.
In blind people, for example, the part of the brain that is usually used for vision can be overtaken by other senses, resulting in improved hearing or touch.
In the Scientific American, Mary Bates writes:
“There is mounting evidence that people missing one sense don’t just learn to use the others better. The brain adapts to the loss by giving itself a makeover. If one sense is lost, the areas of the brain normally devoted to handling that sensory information do not go unused — they get rewired and put to work processing other senses.”
This rewiring process is fascinating.
When deprived of one sense, the brain reorganizes itself through a phenomenon known as cross-modal neuroplasticity to maximize the efficiency of the other senses.
When reading through all these articles, I couldn’t help but ask myself if this rewiring process could work for temporary sensory deprivation – like putting on a blindfold.
I found my answer in the fascinating research conducted by assistant professor Hey-Kyoung Lee from John Hopkins University and biologist Dr. Patrick Kanold from University of Maryland.
In their attempt to analyze how hearing is affected by temporarily limiting sight, the two discovered that minimizing eyesight and causing temporary blindness for just one week has the power to reverse hearing.
The brain is able to adapt incredibly quickly. The rewiring process is fast and efficient as the brain is altered within the short time-frame to compensate for the hindered sense of sight.
How to Jump Rope Blindfolded
“At first, Bruce [Lee] blindfolded me and made me move in conjunction with what I felt his movements might be, on all sides. We practiced that for weeks before we began anything specific.” – Bruce Thomas [Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit]
So how can all of this information be applied to improve balance, an essential skill necessary for becoming a jump rope ninja?
Simple: eliminate your visual system.
Just like eliminating one sense heightens another, strategically eliminating one system of balance can help us better develop the other two, particularly proprioception.
By taking away the visual system, we improve our sense of balance and proprioception with the rope in hand.
Jumping rope with a blindfold on allows us to make use of the brain’s powerful adaptation capabilities and develop impeccable balance. Here’s what my very first attempt at jumping rope blindfolded looks like:
Click play to watch the video.
Notice something interesting?
The difference between where I started jumping and where I ended up is rather obvious.
Just like the experiment we discussed in the beginning of the article, it becomes extremely difficult to maintain the same jumping position without a point of reference.
But, with practice, it is something that can be improved.
That’s how ninjas do.
Good balance can be a jump rope ninja’s greatest weapon.
To help you improve on this aspect, I’m going to propose a simple challenge. Here’s what I want you to do:
Put a piece of tape on the floor before your next jumping session. Put it exactly where you’ll start jumping rope. Set your timer for two minutes, put your blindfold on and start jumping on the spot where you placed the tape.
After the timer goes off, take off your blindfold.
How far away from the piece of tape did you end up? Take a measurement if you can and share it in the comments below.
What you’ll find is that, over time, it will become easier to maintain your jumping position. With practice, shutting down one system for balance will help you improve the others.
Before you start putting rags over your head or turning the lights off, you have to get your fundamentals down. If you’re looking for something to get you started, be sure to go through my free jump rope crash course below.