Fear is the mind killer. Well, it certainly can be, if you don’t know how to control it.
Many people worry about how they would react if they suddenly had to use their martial arts skills in a real life situation. Even if you train regularly, there is a huge difference between practicing in the safety of a dojo with a partner, and dealing with the wildly unpredictable chaos of a street fight.
Factors you have to consider include, does he have a weapon? Is he high on drugs? Does he have friends who will join in the attack? None of these are things you truly have to fear in your training.
Fear of these situations is natural. It’s how you deal with it that matters. In this article we’ll cover three methods you can use to control and overcome fear of combat.
Here’s a video I shot on the topic of dealing with fear.
As I went over in the video above, here are 3 effective strategies of dealing with fear and not allowing it to become paralysing.
1, Accept the fear. When you start feeling sweaty and jittery, your heart rate picks up and your breathing gets shallow you are experiencing the symptoms of an adrenalin dump. This is your body’s “fight or flight” response, and it’s been helping humans stay alive for a very long time.
Reframe the problem! Understand that your body is preparing to perform.
Yes, your hands may be shaky, your heart will start to race, and your fine motor skills may degrade a bit. That’s because your body is priming you with increased speed, strength, and pain endurance. Recognize this and welcome it.
You can think of this adrenaline dump as being linked up to a team of wild horses. If you just let them run wild then you don’t have any control over where you’ll end up…
But if you can harness those horses, use that adrenaline, channel all that extra strength, then that adrenaline dump will give you superpowers and you won’t believe what you can accomplish.
2, Control your breath. Many systems, from running, to meditative practice and yoga emphasize that controlling the breath controls the rest of the body. You want to avoid both hyperventilation and holding your breath as you approach a potential conflict and experience fear.
Focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. This will help keep you calm and rational as you’re trying to figure out what to do.
Now of course if things go sideways and you’re in the middle of a full blow, drag down fight, then of course your breathing will become more rapid. That’s normal and part of the system that keeps your hardworking muscles supplied with oxygen. Just don’t allow your breathing to get ahead of the action.
3, Progressively desensitization. This has to be developed in training. It’s not something you can start thinking about for the first time when you are dealing with a situation.
When new recruits join the army, they aren’t immediately thrown into full combat simulation. Basic training begins with exercise and stress, as the drill sergeant yells at them and tears them down. Very soon they become used to this, and having someone yell at them isn’t really very stressful anymore.
Then they move on to increasingly greater levels of stress, marching in formation, loading weapons under stress, doing obstacle courses, until they’re able to crawl under barbed wire with machine guns firing over their head, a condition that would paralyze most other people.
The key is that it’s progressive. Start with a little bit of stress and gradually increase the stress as you adapt.
The same thing should be happening in training.
You practice a new technique, maybe you screw it up and get hit in the face. Then you realize this isn’t such a big deal. You move on to more advanced sparring with more skilled partners who subject you to physical and mental stress as you work to keep up.
Before you know it you’ll be able to deal with someone who is trying to squish you into a grease stain on the mats or attacking you with a volley of blows from multiple angles.
Competition is a great preparation for self defense. It forces you to train rigorously, and then puts you in a high stress performance situation. The more stress you are used to experiencing and performing under, the better prepared you will be.
In conclusion, don’t worry too much about being afraid. This is a normal response. The difference between people who fight and people who fold is not fear—it’s how they handle it.