Sunday, 16 February 2014
What is fear? And what is courage? Are there different types of fear? Does everybody have the capacity for courage?
Competing for the first time? Boxing? Kickboxing? Muay Thai? MMA? Can you feel the gut wrenching fear eating you up inside?
I know you can and those who have competed more than once know that (sorry to disappoint) it will NEVER go away, no matter how many times you compete.
The technical definition of fear refers to emotions of anxiety and stress regarding an imminent threat; characterised by a sympathetic nervous system response (increased heart rate, breathing rate and rapid thought processes). When under direct threat this is the well known fight or flight response to danger. But we are going to discuss the anxiety fighters feel in anticipation of their bout.
The first step in dealing with fear is to realise that it is not synonymous with the weak or cowardly... In what way is it courageous to do something that doesn't scare you in the slightest? The answer is that it is not. And courage can only be exercised if there is fear; the two go hand in hand.
After this realisation there comes a choice; do we evade the fear, so that it cannot harm us? Or do we expose ourselves to it, and place ourselves at its mercy, so to speak. You see, many of us flirt with facing our fears, and dance with our fears and generally get through life trying to think, as a snooker or pool player might, numerous steps into the future. We try to perceive how events might unfold should we take a particular course of action. This perception was vital to us when we were struggling to survive on the African grasslands during our species' infancy, but now we have less need for forward thinking and more need for simply forward 'doing'. Trying to imagine how our choices may bring us further from or closer to our fears is both futile and unhelpful.
It is unhelpful because it robs us of the present moment. Which is the only time we have to act. And if we spend our moment, our present thinking about fear then fear is 'winning' for want of a better word. It is immobilizing us and stopping us from acting.
It is futile because there is no possible way to calculate every possibility and weigh up the pros and cons of each.
It might be said that the fear fighters experience is more of a phobia; which means an irrational fear. Because what exactly is it that we get scared of? Humiliation? Well not for me because I know the people that matter in life will never think less of me for being beaten.
The fear of pain, or injury perhaps then? Well again for me Ive suffered more damage sparring heavy with big dudes than I've ever taken during a proper bout.
Maybe we get scared of actually losing itself then, but why specifically? We cant put our fingers on it can we? Hence the definition of irrational fear, we have nothing to be frightened of.
But this is not the point, I know. The fact is we DO get scared, maybe anxious is a better choice of word. And how to deal with these emotions is the real reason youre reading.
Id like to regurgitate an idea I got from Alan Watts who in better words than I have, told the storey of a man who asked a zen master 'Its hot, its hot and how do I escape the fire?'. To which the master replies 'go to the bottom of the furnace'
'but how to escape the flames?' the man presses, wondering what the master means. 'Go to the heart of the furnace and the flames can do you no worse'
I cant remember the exact quote so I apologise for that but the basic idea is that by exposing ourselves to our worst fears we become free from them. I have yet to loose (touch wood!) but some say that it is important for new fighters to suffer a loss early on, that they may be free from the paralysing fear of defeat. Because when the worst case scenario occurs there is nothing left but the choice to give up there and then or carry on with the sport and exercise a determination to improve. This is understandable and maybe Id be a better fighter today if I had lost terribly in my first bout.
So lets try some fearful forward thinking for a moment shall we? Its your first fight and everyone who matters to you is going to watch, you feel their expectations weighing you down as you step in the ring or cage. Why cant you seem to move very fast, and why does your opponent look so fast and strong? The bell goes and your training goes out the window, you are knocked out in the first round and wake up surrounded by friends and family.
Your best friend comes and says, bloody hell man my nanna could have lasted longer and you all have a good laugh. Did the world end? Did you die? Did you suffer agonising pain? Are you injured beyond recovery? Did your family disown you? Did your friends disown you?
The only person let down by a poor performance is you. And you have the power to improve, so no sweat. Get back to training, and be better. And don't make any excuses. The most important sentiment is 'enter the ring with no excuses because then you know if you come up short it was because the dude was simply better, and that's okay'.
So, irrational fear of defeat! Train hard, challenge yourself, be better than you were yesterday, give your all 24/7 and by the time you get to round one, youre in the zone doing your thing, there's no time for fear; only doing what we love.
People often ask why I smile so much when Im competing, and its because I love what I do, if you're not loving it then why are you there? It just so happens that I have an irrational fear to face everytime, which is a bit of an annoyance. But hey; if I wasn't shit scared, I wouldn't be very brave now would I.
'There is no underlying meaning to this thing, the universe. It isn't really going anywhere or doing anything, it just expresses itself and explores itself by way of all the things that are going on. There is no meaning, just as a piece of music has no meaning other than itself, if it was going somewhere, the best songs would be fastest ones' - Alan Watts