Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Become familiar with discomfort.

My second professional fight had me at the headline of a renowned show in Norwich. It wasn't the first time I'd been the headline fight. Though it was the first time I'd done so as a professional. A handful of years back I was fighting on this show as one of many amateur fighters, who stayed till the end to watch the headline pro bout. Now I was that headline pro bout. What's more, I would contend for the WKO English title.

As I gain more experience, the pre-fight nerves are expected. We anticipate them. The feeling of tiredness, both physical and mental that washes over your being as you warm up; a feeling of things not being quite right; a desire to curl into a ball and hide untill it's all over with. Constantly questioning if you're ready, if you've done enough, if you've turned every stone in preparation.

Your punches feel odd, not like they do in the gym. Not as snappy, a little less sharp than usual. There remains in the background, a dizzying sense that people have bought tickets, traveled and waited all night for your moment under the lights. 
All the while you sit in the eye of this psychological storm. Calmly reminding yourself "I've done the work".

It becomes a mantra. We return to it in the face of doubt; "I've done the work".

It's our secret weapon to settle the racing mind; "I've done the work".

We don't rise to any occasion, only sink to the level of training.

Now that we expect the pre fight nerves and associated feelings, we can point to it and laugh. We jovially acknowledge them: "feeling shit yet?"

The underlying idea behind this is that I can't control how my physiology is reacting to all the anticipation and stress of performing. So I might as well embrace and greet the feelings with positivity or light heartedness. The other option is to fight your self in the back before the actual fight. Many fighters have defeated themselves before they got in the ring!

I am learning my mind. Every fighter undoubtedly feels slightly different in the hours leading up to a fight. Consequently I feel there is no solution or technique of thinking that can be of help to eveyone. No specific mental buttons we can all press to help the doubt and fear subside.

However, a principal we might all benefit from investigating is the idea of knowing ourselves and learning how we as individuals respond to stress; how we best deal with fear and discomfort.

Practice being uncomfortable. Practice adapting to stressful situations.

Make fear, discomfort and stress familiar.
And eventually they will lose their power over you.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Reflecting on my final amateur bout

My final amateur bout went by very quickly. It wasn't the biggest show I'd performed on and, cards on the table, the guy I fought didn't match my experience level, this made me slightly cautious about my next fight which was already lined up a couple month after, it would hardly seem impressive to finish your amateur career with a loss to a lesser opponent on a small show.

However I pushed all thoughts of my pro debut to the back of my mind and focused on the task at hand. I grafted hard again for this one and it's that hard work that allows you to feel confident; or at least look it. I'm finding as well that with experience comes familiarity. You expect the sluggish feeling, the niggling whispers of doubt that you must quash in a whack-a-mole fashion. While you must not neglect appreciating your opponent and the dangers/threats they bring to the table, you must also be careful to try to not entertain too many thoughts of defeat.

Some philosophies in the Samurai vein of living teach us to rehearse the worst case scenario in our minds before battle. To imagine in great detail the crushing pain of defeat (physical and mental) and the disappointment that comes with it. To try and feel the emotions and picture the events unfolding. Supposedly, having already experienced the defeat, you no longer have anything to fear. You have addressed the tumult that would come hand in hand with a loss and have accepted it as a possibility and know you are capable of dealing with the consequences...
This in turn will loosen you up and allow for smoother access to flow state. Because your mind is not preoccupied with the possibility of failure, it's free to fully focus on the task. Rather than being stiff and tight, on edge; your demeanour is light, loose and aware. Flood light rather than spot light focus.

I feel I understand this mode of thought. However I have an intrinsic feeling of repulsion upon entertaining thoughts of failure. As if thinking about something- some event or circumstance- silently beckons it into existence.

This sounds absurd even as I form this thought on the page. But I have for a long time been torn between inoculation to the worst case scenario and only entertaining positive thoughts. The latter proves difficult because any man when faced with a stressful situation can not help but consider the possibility of failure. Thoughts of what he must tell his friends, his family. What must he post on social media? (A 21st century problem indeed!) What about sponsors and financial supporters? What will happen to his relationships if he fails to meet expectations? All of these questions rear their ugly heads when the time to perform approaches. And I feel that if I answered them, I am accepting failure as a possibility and thus opening the door for it to walk into reality.

Instead I slam the door shut on these questions. I won't need to apologize to anyone. I'll only be writing a summary of success on social media. I wonder what doors this will open for me down the line with sponsors etc. I feel like not allowing the seeds of doubt to germinate in my mind garden keeps the physical reality of performance weed-free. Yes that metaphor was a stretch.

But you understand the point I'm making about the two different schools of thought approaching a stressful performance.

It's strange all the conversations I have to various friends and colleagues before a fight when they're asking all the usual questions... Are you going to win? What if you loose? I bet he thinks he's going to win just the same as you! I put on this air of invincibility. I wear a cloak of brash confidence and calmly dispell any illusions of the possibility of failure.

And this is more for my benefit than theirs. I care little what anyone else has to say about me on a personal level. My feelings are hard to hurt, and years of fighting make you a fairly calm person who is difficult to annoy. As when you step in a ring infront of hundreds of people in your undies and stop another man from trying to separate you from your consciousness, on camera...the rest of the world seems muffled, safe, as if it just matters less.

So if I'm not rising to childish games of belittlement when a torrent of over confident clich├ęs about my inevitable greatness splits from my mouth, I feel it must be to convince myself that it's true. On some level I'm talking to myself when I'm addressing others. Always observing my emotional and verbal response to praise, criticism, high expectations, mocking, doubts, blatant rudeness... I watch the cogs turning in my head as I form a response.

Controling this response to always sway towards some version of "whatever you say dude, I'm the fucking best, I work hard and I'm doing this shit" Is always how I deal with people playing these games.

When a man I work with or a supposed friend questions whether I can make it as a fighter or if it's even worth trying. I steam roller through everything they say with "I'm very good at this, I will make it happen'

What's interesting is that I have the same questions of myself. When a civilian asks "so you think you can actually make a living from fighting then?" I spit my stock answer from above but I am also thinking "I guess we'll find out".

'Become so good they can't ignore you'

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Part 1 - Is it speed? Or just "Familiarity"

Pattern recognition is an integral part of any complex activity that requires you to respond to a stimulus in a timely and accurate fashion.

For example in a game of tennis, the player is gathering information from his opponent's body before they have hit the ball; and this information collates with the eventual swing of the racket to indicate to the player how he should respond.

The case is not that the opponent strikes the ball and the player must react as quickly as possible to get into the best position to return the shot... This is the common misconception about speed in sport.

Bringing it to the kick boxing game; to describe someone as being 'fast', 'really quick' or as having 'good reactions' is a mistake of the same ilk as the above tennis example.

When the opponent is hurling strikes, there are signs and patterns that alert a fighter of the incoming attack before it materialises.
What the layperson sees as lightning fast reactions is actually a fighter who has seen what his opponent is trying to do hundreds of times before: and so RECOGNISES THE PATTERN. What this means is that the fighter is in fact not "responding" at all. They are "reading".

The shuffles of the feet; flicking of the shoulders; the way the elbow flairs, facial expressions, where the eyes look, the very breathing of the man opposite you can all be interpreted to predict attacks in such small intervals of time that an onlooker is unaware of the masses of communication that occur between two fighters unless they themselves are a fighter.

I would say that at a higher level about 75 percent of these 'reads' a fighter has access to in his opponent's movement, these patterns; are all seen and responded to automatically. Unconsciously, out of thousands of hours of purposeful practice, their nervous systems are engrained with the counters and defences to many aggressive patterns of body language. The compensating footwork and postural alterations happen automatically. A good way to think of this is to describe them as 'trained flinches'. The fighter has trained his body to flinch in a very particular way that is effective.

An easy example to point to is in a Thai fight; the lead leg lifting up is not a natural reaction or flinch that we are born with. Instead, years of checking kicks have engrained this 'flinch' into the fighter when he is exposed to the visual stimulus of common patterns of movement that have always lead to the low kick being thrown. So he reads the posture of his opponent, he unconsciously compensates for the leg and hip position and his leg comes up in defence.

So you have this 'trained flinch'. Perhaps reaction time and 'reflexes' may play some part in a fighter's effectiveness in these situations. Though, in reality the largest factors effecting how well a fighter's 'trained flinches' work on fight night is simply the number of times you have:
 1-  repeated the movement, the simple act of lifting the leg to check a kick or parry a jab etc...

2- most importantly- responded to the stimulus with the movement.

This is my largest bug bear among all the gyms and styles I've come across in training...

Yes you can repeat a movement thousands of times, it will 100% stand you in good stead for the real performance.

However, if you have not been looking at that jab coming at your face in real time, you will not be able to put the pieces together in the fight.

Let us, for example, imagine we are doing a parry drill, where one partner jabs and the other partner must parry the jab to defend it.
If the timing never changes, if the two fighters just go through the motions repeating the movement:
Jab...jab...jab...jab...jab; then they have fallen into a predictable rhythm and the drill looses 50% of its effectiveness.

The other 50% comes from the jabber making his timing unpredictable. He might throw 3 quick jabs in a row. Then 10 seconds pass with nothing, then out the blue, 'pop' another jab. He might feign the jab and instead throw a lead hook, this tests the defence of the other fighter; is he alert? Is he aware? Is he parrying too forcefully and leaving an opening for the lead hook? Is he taking the timing for granted? In essence the parrying partner needs to focus and concentrate on his opponent to try and read what they are doing. They don't simply trust that a metronomic stream of jabs will come for the next few minutes and simply have to repeat the parrying movement with their hands...

This focus, concentration and unpredictable timing should be extrapolated to every single drill you perform.

Otherwise there is little point in having training partners, you might as well shadow and hit the bags.

It should be considered of equal importance for hitting pads. The pad holder must be unpredictable and pose a threat to the fighter, mixing in strikes of his own between those the puncher throws. Otherwise, in sparring and fights, things just don't work because the fighter is not accustomed to having to find his way in past, through and around the opponent's strikes to land his own.

At lower level fights this is obvious to see because both guys just come forward throwing any old strikes and the fight becomes less of a chess match, a game of timing and wit; and more a sloppy mess of poorly timed strikes because neither fighter is used to shots coming back at them.

As fighters get more advanced however, they still make the same mistakes in their training camps; their performance improving only because of the amount of sparring and ring time they have accumulated.

Augmenting the drills with unpredictability is the very best way of what a famous coach calls
"Upgrading the software without damaging the hardware".

Monday, 3 April 2017

Pre-fight nerves don't affect performance.

My most recent fight was the worst I have felt mentally going into it. I have never felt in a deeper rut psychologically than for this one. My mind was racing in the weeks coming up to it. Also this is the most scared I have been. Constant 'what if's and doubts creeping into my mind. I was physically shaking after seeing the size and shape of my opponent at the weigh in.

However I employed the following logic and reason to quell my nervous disposition...

I'm not trying to gain the approval of my friends or family.

I don't need to impress anyone despite feeling pressure not to disappoint.

The worst that could happen is a knock out and the world will go on.

I'm going to die and this moment will not matter one bit when I look back at my life.
We are on a rock flying through the cosmos.
My way of dealing with the pressure, it seems, is to zoom out. To observe the bigger picture and my tiny place within it. This helps not just with fighting but will all issues in life. Taking stock of one's own mortality and insignificance, I feel, is a valuable perspective to have...

As for the fight it's self. As usual many techniques that usually flow with ease and grace are stripped away by the occasion and the perceived need to make every shot devastatingly powerful.

But my skill and experience was still too much for him. As was my cardio.
I was still breathing hard of course and my throat burned. I should have a longer, more active warm up for my next one. My legs were jelly. But I still lasted longer than him. I scored a knock down in the first round. After he wilted from a body shot I poured on the pressure and landed clean. The second was fairly even then in the third round as I began to overwhelm him, the referee separated us for an 8-count but he shook his head to the referee indicating he was done.

I felt proud and elated of course as anyone would after a stoppage victory. However I was more baffled that yet again before the fight when warming up I had the same old feelings... nervous, sluggish limbs, lethargic, and a seemingly crippling anxiety.

We always laugh in the back because we now expect these negative feeling before battle. However I long to train my brain to feel happy and free in that warm up.

Some say that the nervous edge is the mark of a switched on mind and an alert fighter... Surely it must be more advantageous to feel relaxed. To feel no pressure. No anxiety. To feel no expectations weighing down on your shoulders.

I know some fighters thrive in this chilled out state. Regardless of subjective experience, it is must be a good idea (or at least worth experimenting with) to make the 'fight-night' as much akin to the 'sparring-night' mind as possible.

Because as Miyamoto Musashi says
'You can only fight the way you practice'.

Friday, 4 November 2016

On dealing will unfavourable circumstances.

So less than a year since my post about how against cutting weight I am, I agreed to take a fight where I would have to cut weight...
I managed it quite well following a legit program I'd seen work for others. When it came to the sweating part, I had less than half a kilo to loose! Nothing at all really.
So I get myself in a hot bath and think a couple 10 minute stints will be more than enough to see me to the finish line.
However I drop my phone in the water which means I can't time my session.
So I reason (stupidly) I'll just wait 'until I've got a good old dab on and call it a day.

When I felt this point had arrived and i got out, the day took a turn for the worse. I was barely in the next room before I felt completely out of it. My vision was going, I was very dizzy and so laid on the bed for a while.
I didn't want to be found naked and spread eagled by my dear mother though, so after a minute I valiantly rose to find a dry towel. I made to my brothers bedroom before finally loosing consciousness. I awoke on the floor a moment later and immediately felt that my two upper incisors, were missing.... Oh dear...

Yes I had feinted and smashed my teeth out on the end of my brothers bed.

My impatience proved my demise as I got up too quick from a hot bath.

Now we don't know whether I'll be able to keep a gum shield in without pain tomorrow.

I feel fully alert and refuelled.
Adversity has reared its head yet again before a fight but I choose not to surrender until the last.

I've worked very hard for this and need to at least try.

I see this as an exercise in fighting through adversity against unfavourable circumstances. This episode will serve as a teacher
I will learn to trust others to help when I need it and not see this as weakness.
I will learn patience.
I will learn to trust my self.
I will learn that I can bring my game in spite of what some see as a set back.
If all goes well tomorrow I'm really no worse off in the grand scheme of things.

I have felt bitterness at times throughout today and resentment towards the path I've chosen, however the fact remains I'll be dead one day and so rising to the challenge ahead with a warrior's heart, and a strong roar as I do battle can never be a mistake. I sometimes question whether I'm deluding myself, and this is ridiculous, I also think maybe it's not as bad as  it seems and I'm making mountain of a mole hill. Either way ill move in the direction of my goals with all the physical and phsycic vigour I can muster and be content with how the universe responds.

Even as i write this sentiment, a small thorn of accusation prods at my side, allegations of self doubt creep around my brain....why should I look to surrender control of the situation to the universe? Isn't that the same as saying, 'Well, it's out of my hands now'. As if I'm seeking a way to rid myself of responsibility in the event of failure.

I must stand firm and reason that I have done all I can in preparation and so now in a way; my response to the high stress situation that awaits this time tommow night is already 'programmed' (so to say) in my physiology.

The mental rollercoaster that we combatants ride is quite intriguing to observe. And perhaps this piece is just my way, out of the thousands of ways fighters choose, to deal with it. As I've said before my dear reader I write as much for me as I do for you! But if anyone reads this and finds it at all resourceful then I feel I've sent something good out to the universe...

Peace and love x

Thursday, 25 August 2016

A word on real cardio.

There is a point in a workout where your body is calm in the knowledge of the hard work you are doing. A blissful state where trouble and doubt fade away, leaving only your harsh breath, the beat beat beat of your heart and the thud thud thud of your feet as you move.

This state is described as the runner's high. Though it is not exclusive to running as the form of exertion. (The thud thud of you pounding the road could be replaced with the rattle clink rattle as you attempt to kick the heavy bag through the wall). Many think that it is the holy grail of cardio states and you know you've worked hard if you experience it. And you have.
However, there is a deeper level than this.

When you go beyond this meditative state, the body does not take as kindly to your efforts.
It takes a lot to achieve the runners high state but going beyond it requires a reckless abandon of your biologically programmed 'conservation' approach to the workout. This must be exchanged for the attitude of being ready to die.

Indeed, the state of exertion past runners high is painful. It is stressful, and characterised by tears and a grimace, and cries and grunts, and snarls. It is an ugly state and reduces one to something not quite human. Something more base, primal. All that matters is the pace, the  work. You are unintelligible in this state. All you care about is breathing. The body is in a state of panic and begs for conservation of energy. For recovery. For a few seconds to greedily gulp air. But your grit and pure will must overpower the programming. At this point, performance is almost 100% mental. And the question is not how fit you are, it's how fit you believe yourself to be. Or even simply, how badly you want to a achieve your goal. You vocally snarl through each shot you hit the bag with. Each rep. Each tuck jump. Each press up. And along with this torrent of animalistic growls comes frothy spit not unlike that of a savage ferrel dog ready to devour the next animal it sees. In short you are not only ready to die in such a state, you are quite ready to kill as well.

It is as the dust settles down after such an experience that you reach a knowing calm. Because you know you reached another level. A new depth to your gas tank that has previously remained untapped.

The dreadful pain haunts your thoughts now and then. As you recuperate. But you are more than willing to go through it because you know your opponent is not. Every time you wonder... 'how hard is he working?'

Over the following days the body aches and groans at the abuse you have put it through. But you inevitably recover. And not only do you recover but you grow stronger, physically and mentally. Finally you wake up a week later ready to go to war again.

This is not an experience had by hobbyists. You can get very fit by tracking performance and incrementally improving. But can never develop an unwavering, enemy-slaying willpower.
And such an attribute is arguably essential to those of a violent, martial inclination.

Peace x

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Why is dying so bad?

During my surfings of the various internet communities I'm connected to; I find increasingly frequent posts relating to longevity and prolonging life. Many headlines tout the click bait of "Vegan lives to 205 years old"
Or "70 year old wins body building competition".

But here is my question: what's so bad about dying? Even in the technology spheres I frequent we babble about the life-prolonging abilities future technologies will bring. But why must we always endeavour to carry on?. What's wrong with the storey coming to an end and leaving this dimension contently?

Religions all whisper (and some shout) of an after life. Where consciousness carries on and your identity means something.

The health service seeks to keep the elderly and ill alive for couple more years. When really the patients are taking longer to die; we applaud their valient struggle to cling to this life. (Of course the will to live is hardwired into our biology). But the culture still has that attitude of the 84 year old taking 5 days to die instead of 1 is good. Or they pretend keeping them alive with machinery is any sort of existence.

Can we just surrender into rest peacefully?
Man's fear of death is very irrational. It is a phobia. Death of family and friends is some morbid issue that we tiptoe around.

Fear of pain is completely normal I understand that. But death is like a sigh of relief. I see it akin to the feeling when you lie in bed exhausted and relish the sleep you are about to get. You relish that freedom to switch off and not worry about anything.

So why don't others see death like this?

I contend that if you are afraid of dying it is because you have not lived a life true to your potential and aspirations.

Then when your time is up and the universe says
" It's time to make room for another now sir!"....
You stammer and stutter with regret and plead...
"Just a while longer! I never got to X, Y, or Z".

And this is harsh I know. I am aware that there are circumstances and bad people who bring about the untimely death of others but if their lives were lived properly up to that moment, then it's not such a gigantic tragedy.

What is 'properly' living your life? Only you know dear reader. But to find out can you copy 50 cent's words and say
'If I die today, I'm happy how my life turned out'.

If not, perhaps it's time to make some changes. Lest your time runs out.

A close friend of mine died at 21. And though we were heartbroken he wouldn't be around any more. He was one of the wildest men any of us knew. And I thought he's squeezed more out of his 21 years than most will suck out of 70. Thats a proper way to live.