Monday, October 11, 2010

Overcoming Fear in Combat

The following is a guest post from Josh Christopher who runs Sparking Turtle. He's a good friend of mine who has a love for both the martial arts and anime. Josh is a great guy, who like me, has been training in the martial arts for quite a while and has a deep interest in internal training and its application in real world combat.

In Qigong, breath, posture, and mindset are of utmost importance. In combat, the same things are also very important. In order to perform as well as possible you have to have a good stance, you have to have your head in the game, and you have to breathe correctly with your movements in order to protect yourself from injury during body blows and to generate power in your own techniques without sacrificing too much energy.

Fear is normal. It's how you handle it that matters
Of course, when things get to the level of full-contact fighting we get nervous and we have less motor control. Everyone with experience in full-contact fighting knows that this is part of the game and that's why we train so hard to make our techniques a part of our muscle memory. Still, some people can't overcome nervousness and they become too tense and breathe in ways that may cause them to start hyperventilating. Some people get so nervous that they just freeze up! In combat sports this could easily determine who wins and who loses and is often a huge factor for beginning amateur fighters. In more serious times such as self defense these sorts of things could mean life or death!

However, a little bit of stance work and a certain breathing technique, you can regain some of the motor skill lost through the adrenaline dump and boost your confidence!

 Starting with the easier one, your stance is something that cannot be neglected. While a good combat stance will help protect you from injury, stabilize your balance, keep you as light on your feet as you need to be, and help make landing techniques easier without creating easy-to-exploit openings, stance can also determine your mindset in combat! According to The SAS Mental Endurance Handbook, "In unarmed combat, adopting a strong physical posture actually leads the brain to generate greater confidence -- the body actually leads the mind, not the other way around." So, next time you work on your stance, take some time to notice the confidence boost you get from assuming your stance and moving around in it correctly. That confidence will help you next time you spar or fight.

The other, slightly more complicated, half of overcoming fear is in your breathing. This is something I learned from my time training with Martial Concepts. When you start to feel pre-fight jitters or if you're in a dangerous situation and you need to keep your cool, there is an easy breathing method that will help you regain your composure enough to gain better control over your thoughts and actions. You start by breathing inward through your nose for a count of four, expanding your abdomen so that your lungs are entirely filled with air. Second, hold the air in for a count of four. Be sure not to "hold your breath" so much as you simply stop inhaling and just don't exhale. Third, exhale through the mouth for a count of four. Lastly, count to four once again before starting over with the inhale. So, it would go like this:

1) Inhale (count of four)
2) Hold (count of four)
3) Exhale (count of four)
4) Hold (count of four)
5) Repeat

If you do this correctly, it will calm you down somewhat so that you can act more skillfully rather than just reacting on pure instinct out of fear or not reacting at all due to freezing up. This will also keep you from being tense and hyperventilating.

Of course, this can work while moving through a dangerous situation, while preparing to fight, or while squaring off with your opponent but I wouldn't recommend it while executing techniques. You should breathe the way your instructor taught you while actually executing techniques in order to conserve energy, generate as much power as you need, and protect yourself from being winded or having your internal organs injured.

A strong stance and proper breathing might just make you a bad-ass motherf***er!

If you've read any of the Internal Training page here on (Un)Caged Fighter, you might've noticed that this breathing style is strikingly similar to Buddhist Breathing in Qigong meditation! If you're a regular reader of this website, you already know the benefits of meditating as part of your training. All this does is further help your ability to focus on the situation at hand in real time when you need it the most.

There you have it! Everything you need to supplement your training and overcome pre-fight jitters is in your stance and your breathing. Remember and apply these things and you will be a better fighter!

Josh Christopher runs the blog Sparking Turtle which covers a range of topics like martial arts and conditioning to anime and internet humor. Make sure you check out these popular posts: 

Warm Yourself Up with Ki
 Why We Train
 Real Life Kamehameha


  1. Breathing can definitely have an effect on calming you under pressure. Dave Grossman teaches a similar method as well. So we can see people from all walks of life teaching the same thing. Buddhists and people researching the physiological effects of combat along with fighters. Many people totally ignore breathing but deliberately slowing and deepening breathing has an almost immediate effect on heart rate, even when resting. Nice post.

  2. THANK YOU for this posting.

  3. I like pictures, I will like to become bad-ass motherf***er in real road fights.