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'.