Two months ago, I seriously injured my piriformus, a horrifically unpleasant experience that lead to me not being able to train for about two months. It's only within the last few weeks, since starting physical therapy, that I've been able to do more than push-ups. A horribly frustrating experience, to say the least. Now I'm working my way back into shape, and into training. Finally started sparring at the beginning of the week.
Anyone who has ever taken time off from sparring knows that you get "ring rust". I certainly have it. I feel off. The timing on certain things just isn't quite there. Tricks that I was starting to use regularly are now back to being experiments. My game feels different. The leg still fatigues relatively quickly, which has forced me to go back to using/relying on some slightly different tools. In some ways, that's a good thing--I think I had been stuck in playing a particular game too much, and this may force me to evolve something new and different.
What I've really noticed, however, is the difference in perception between different people I work with. My fellow trainers and fighters pick up on the rust quickly; they see that I'm not moving right. They pick up on tells and twitches that have crept in. They see the changes in my game. Some of my long-time students see it too. Other students notice no difference, and see no weakness. They perceive me as chugging along as normal.
None of them are right or wrong, it's just a matter of perception and relative skill. Those people who have the experience and knowledge to pick up where I'm rusty see it and exploit it (or not, if they're being nice). Those people who don't, don't.
I do, however, wonder how much of that lack of perception comes from the student-teacher relationship. Would my students pick up on the change if I wasn't their coach? If I was just another guy in class, would they see it? Are they blinded by a deficiency in skill (something that is correctable with time), or are they blinded by a self-imposed perception of the teacher as invulnerable (something that is extremely dangerous)?
Time, I suppose, will tell.