The truth is, if you playing the fight game for real, you are going to get hit. It doesn’t matter who you are, or how good you are, everyone gets hit. It is only in those neatly packaged self-defence responses on YouTube that the defender always seems to be able to not only predict what the attack will be, but in response always seem to get the right counter moves in to win.
The very nature of fighting means that no one comes out unscathed. If you don’t want to get hit, then fighting simply isn’t for you. And here’s the thing no one wants to hear: The truth is, you are not designed to get hit, to face danger, in fact, you are designed by evolution to move away from danger as primacy. So like it or not, you going to have to come to grips with the fact, that getting hit, is the nature of the game, and that you going to have to learn to override your evolutionary imperative to move away from danger, and now rather towards it. Even though you will get hit, no matter how much you have trained, it doesn’t mean that you cannot lessen the amount of times that it will happen to you, or apply strategies to help you recover quicker from being hit – because you can.
As noted earlier human beings naturally want to move away from danger, not towards it. Our overriding need to survive at all costs always takes precedence. This is why, even when two people who begin their journey into fighting and are sparring super light for the first time — you can still see this evolutionary imperative to ‘live on’ kick in. Even though the match has been set up so no one can get hurt, with punches being thrown at half speed and light — just the thought of being punched in the face, makes most people want to turn tale and run.
While human beings have an innate imperative to survive, it is, at least in my experience as mentioned earlier hardwired to run, rather than to stand ones ground and fight. This is why, there is little or no choice but to learn how to fight, if you actually want to face threats head on. As such like it or not, you have to get used to getting hit. You have to override your innate flight survival mechanism, and learn to stand your ground. This is why sparring has a natural tendency to build a person’s grit. The stereotypical clenching of teeth, in order to keep one’s resolve when faced with what is at first an unpleasant experience is unavoidable.
The question then is, what can you do to manage this experience more effectively? After thousands of rounds of sparring, and real fights out on the street, here are my top two suggestions.
1. Avoiding The Spin Doctor
Most times, it’s not the punch that connects and hurts you that drops you, but rather the thought about that punch that does. In other words, often, people crumble at the mere sight of a barrage of punches hurtling towards their face — not because those strikes really have the power to hurt them, or even knock them out — but rather because of what they think the potential is of those punches being thrown at them.
As it is we spend most of our day in a ‘predictive’ stance of living. We are constantly trying to anticipate the future, and or rely on past experience to help us make an appropriate choice in the next moment. All this living in our heads, is based on our history, or expectations, but it is never grounded in the reality of now. This then crosses over to fight training. It is not uncommon for someone to want to try and predict what the opponent will do next, because that’s how we live (no wonder then that this becomes the main way people teach others to fight, as if you can really know what will happen next).
Prediction is the minds way of trying to overcome ambiguity. But in sparring, in a fight, where things are happening so fast, with chaos, this kind of prediction can quickly get you into trouble. That moment of ‘Oh Fuck’ when all these punches get thrown at you, the flinch, and the desire to turn tale, is far more likely if your mind-state is fixated on what is about to happen. When the mind can’t cope with the amount of incoming data (i.e., the overwhelming barrage of punches hurtling towards your face) it naturally wants to default to getting the hell out of there (the survival minds natural state). The consequence, this is the time that you are going to get hurt or knocked out.
My advice to my students is this, get out of your head and onto your opponent. Shift your focus from a narrow internal state, to an external narrow state instead. In a sense, it is like unhooking your mind, and pushing it outwards towards the opponent in front of you. When you are internally narrowly focused, you naturally have a tendency to over analyse a situation. Over analysing, like trying to predict, takes you away from the present moment, the very moment that someone is punching you in the face. The outcome, you fall victim to analysis by paralysis, and as noted earlier, your mind defaults to what it thinks is the best survival outcome in that kind of situation, get out of there, and remove yourself from harm. By shifting your focus outwards, towards the opponent, you can avoid this happening to you. It does take practice. A lot of practice. In short, shift your focus onto the opponent, not on yourself.
2. The Lock Down
This is somewhat of a mantra in my studio. How you show up matters more than you think. While an open, loose structure may work for some fighters, generally it isn’t a solution for most. In order to play a loose, open game, you really have to have confidence in your ability to avoid danger. While there are some fighters that are incredibly good at this, in my view, it’s not an effective strategy. It wouldn’t be my default approach I can tell you that. Generally speaking, most people who use this open style tend to get hit a lot as a side effect of playing that kind of game. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to get hit as little as possible.
I have always been of the opinion (and from personal experience too) that an open game, equals an open mind. Open in the sense that it tends to be unruly, undisciplined, and all over the place. As noted earlier, if you don’t have serious confidence in your game, and you start getting tagged with punches, there’s a strong likely hood that you will panic. Locking down your stance, making it as impenetrable as possible (what we call the Hunchback in Crazy Monkey Defence), armours the mind too. This is why I have often talked about the defensive system of CMD, not only as physically keeping you safe, but building psychological armour too.
Think of it this way. When you watch two people sparring, fighting etc, when one person becomes overwhelmed, and can no longer handle the pressure, they tend to either run away to create space to survive or ball up into a somewhat foetal like position. Both bodily positions activate a survival instinct. The later however is still a place you could potentially fight out of, while running, well, you just want to keep running. We now know through research that how you hold your body, your posture, changes your biology, which in turn changes how you feel and think about yourself. How you show up, how you hold your body then matters, but it also changes how you ‘think’. Locking down all the hatches, making yourself hard to hit, by not presenting unnecessary openings — is not only going to keep you physically safe, but mentally you will feel safer too.
Three things I teach all my students based on what I just noted. When you hit, go in tight, when you finish hitting, come back tight, when you get hit, don’t open up and run (because you will get hurt), now is the time to lock down and go tight. Each one of these pieces of advice keep you safe, but change how your mind perceives the incoming danger. Rather than wanting to run from it, you now feel you can take it on. It is also a whole lot easier to have an external narrow focus from a tight structured stance than from an open one (don’t take my word for it, try both in sparring and feel for yourself).