Letters: Ring psychology

14 November 2004

I was wandering if you could give me some advice, or an explanation. For the fight I had bought a book on sports psychology and was using all the tools in the book (visualisation, performance cues, relaxation, breathing, concentration tools, positive mindset etc). These things really helped all the way up until we actually touched gloves with the opponent and suddenly all the adrenaline kicked in! The 5 minute round felt like 30 seconds, I was wondering is there a way to make yourself calm while fighting, or do I just let it go at that? What I mean is, do I use tools (sports psychology) to keep myself focused before the fight and then just let my self go in the fight, or is there a way to keep yourself calm while fighting?

Neil North

It’s not unusual to start off in a red haze, settle down, and work your way through the fight more workmanlike, as you become familiar with the environment. Now that you’ve experienced that environment, the crowd, the fighter, etc. you can replay it in your mind’s eye hundreds of times and become more accustomed to what you’re going to have to deal with. But it’s no good finding that mindset AFTER you’ve been punched in the head–you’ve got to be there beforehand.

Sports psychologists take information which has been referred to them by athletes about real scenarios, then analyze it and arrive at conclusions,usually using esoteric methods by which to address it, without ever having experienced any of these phenomena for themselves, much less dealt with them successfully under pressure. The easiest way to deal with anything is simply find that mindset which you’ve rehearsed in gruelling and punishing workouts. Hard training plus previous experience will give you it, provided the training is reality based. What you have to do in the fight will take care of it for you.

One more thing. If you’re going to fight at that rate shown on the DVD, you have to do variable interval training, specific, non-specific, and mixed so that you can comfortably work in the anaerobic zone. Training in the aerobic zone is for pussies. Conditioning is one of the keys, particularly in a small ring such as this when both fighters are coming out intending to force the other guy to react to them. There’s very little space to move and play a more open strategy. That’s why you’ve got to work on the short punches, the clinch and takedowns from it. And ground and pound. As well as escapes and reversals from chokes, locks, etc.

It goes without saying that you should have a move within a move, in other words anticipate how your opponent’s going to react to you and perhaps counter your initial move. Have counter-moves already built within your actions, both on the feet and on the ground. But the real key to this is always being able to cover the space in between your moves, that is, the half-beat. You should walk, breathe, do everything in that half-beat, broken time. Play it in your head, day and night. The mistake, if any, is made not so much in the actual move, but the transition from one move to another. If you don’t cover that with another move, you effectively could be dead. Equally, that’s where he’s going to make his mistake and not be covered, particuarly if he’s trained in submission wrestling, where the tempo tends to be slow.

Bottom line: don’t worry about concentrating on your naval, or doing special breathing. Just concentrate on what you’re going to do to him.