The world of combative sports and self defense trains you, the participant, how to throw an endless assortment of devastating punches, kicks, elbows and knees. Indeed, by virtue of these techniques, there is no shortage of confidence you feel when you are hitting the heavy bag or working focus mitts with a partner. In your mind,you have the power of Tyson, the speed of Pacquiao and the footwork of Ali. You are the master of the universe and you “pity the fool” that dares to square up against you.

A funny thing happens, however, when there is actually a combatant firing back at you. Suddenly your breathing changes, your body gets a bit stiffer (and therefore, slower) and all these slick combinations you have dazzled your gym mates with devolve into the occasional 1-2 punch and maybe a kick. The last thing you notice is that time has stopped moving altogether! Regardless of the length of round you are working, it seems like time is moving so slowly that you are convinced you need to replace the timer, because it must be broken.

Then the unthinkable happens…you absorb a strike. It can be to the head, the body or the legs. Your defenses were just a bit off and now you’ve been hit. All your strategies start to leave you as you focus on the pain from the shot that got through, you begin to mouth breathe due to anxiety and now you regrettably start going into survival mode…”when is that bell going to sound and end this round?” you think…

What an amazing regression from your envisioning being the (youngest, oldest, quickest, etc.) person to win the title in your sport and weight class to wondering what the hell you were thinking when you stepped inside the ring.

We’ve all been there.

The reality that we must all face is that every person that enters a combative contest, whether professional or amateur, whether world champion or weekend warrior, gets hit. There are no exceptions. Part of the training that all students need to consider is not just physical training, strength training or agility training, but mental toughness training. We must all have training sessions where we allow ourselves to be at our most disadvantaged position. Whether that be knocked to the ground and mounted, up against the ropes and continuously hit with punches and kicks or some other variant that takes us to the most uncomfortable place our sport of choice can place us. Those are the key moments of training when we get to test not our technique, but our GRIT.

Fights almost never go as planned. Invariably we need to adjust to a situation we never considered:

  • a blow that catches us unexpectedly
  • a change of strategy from our opponent which confuses us
  • fatigue as the fight goes longer than expected
  • pain if we are injured during an exchange

There is no way to prepare for every possible variable, but you must train in a way that places you in many different uncomfortable circumstances. For example, challenge yourself to fend off an attack minus the use of your dominant hand/leg, run sprints for 3 continuous minutes and then begin a 3 minute round of sparring, grapple while wearing a blindfold and see if you can achieve dominant position by using your other senses. Fight continuously for 8 minutes with a fresh opponent entering the ring every 2 minutes.

What’s the point?

To prevail in a combative sport or in a self defense scenario, you must know (not think, or hope, but KNOW!) that you can handle whatever comes your way. Working mitts and heavy bags prepares the body to throw your techniques with proper power and speed, but you need to train the mind to be able to adjust to those situations when you are least comfortable, most exposed to injury (or injured) and close to fatigue, so that you can steady your nerves, take a deep breath, and rely upon strong defenses while unleashing your various combatives to end up victorious. It’s not about how well you hit or defend, but how well you trained.