“Quieting your mind and allowing your instincts to take over during performance is one of the most effective ways of accessing the mental state known as The Zone.”
-Craig Townsend, Sports Mental Trainer
The modern martial artist needs to spend at least some of his or her down time (time away from physical training) focused on the mental aspect of the game.
The person w\o control of their thoughts, feelings, and emotions has no control over their words and subsequent actions.
Here are some excellent quotes from two high-level athletes on the cusp of extreme stress and in need of high levels of performance:
“There’s always butterflies,” he said. “Right now, it’s not going to be more than usual. When you get in the grind of training and everything else, it kind of gets your mind ready for what’s ahead. Yeah, there’s definitely butterflies there, but that makes make me feel ready. It’s natural for me to be a little nervous, but no more than usual.”
-UFC Heavyweight Champ Cain Velasquez
“I think it’s very important to keep your emotions in control because the goal inside the cage is to win the fight,” “You have to keep your focus on that. That’s what I try to do.”
– heavyweight contender Junior Dos Santos
The mental aspect of training can be the most difficult to master for the beginner, as they may have no idea how to overcome and re-train the conditioning of their “beginners mind”.
There are many stages your mind will naturally go through before, during, and after stressful events (like a match or fight). In order to better understand them, we can talk about what your beginners mind is for: prediction and survival.
“I have a system of ridding my mind of negative thoughts. “I visualize myself writing them down on a piece of paper. Then I imagine myself crumpling up the paper, lighting it on fire, and burning it to a crisp’.
The process of training and sometimes competing is the process of confronting and defeating not others, but your own self!
“This is a literal will-against-will sport where a ball isn’t used as a metaphor to impose it. If there are metaphors to be had, it’s usually the opponent. Fighting is, on whole, a hellish encounter with self. Many fighters do it for this very reason — to overcome themselves. That’s the subtext of a fight. We watch because we know it carries those kinds of reserves. It’s personal. There is pain.
And there are so many fears that only get magnified in MMA. Fear of failure, fear of exposure, fear of panicking, fear of death. Fear of vulnerability. Going back through fight game literature concerning some of the greats, part of the euphoria a fighter feels after winning a fight — and oftentimes on the idea of merely having fought in a fight — is the fact that they went through with it. That’s it. No amount of torment, doubt or pressure — whether coming from the outside or self-induced — could hold them back.”
-By Chuck Mindenhall
Sometimes when we get in there and it’s time to perform, our mind gets in the way of our body doing what it has trained to do. This is what happens when you let the mind do the only thing that it knows how to: to predict the future based on the past. Got hit hard in the face? Taken down? Let it go, reset to neutral or your entire game is shifted off its base now. The athlete has to learn to accept the fact that the mind does this for its own survival. Once this is accepted and understood you can then focus instead on the narrative in your head that you compose: think it, say it, do it. Train the mind to clearly focus on the goals you create for yourself. What thoughts are you thinking? What statements are you saying? Who are you being? This is the beginning of your mental training.
“While I was there fighting, I was hesitating and thinking too much.” -Dustin Poirer, after his loss to Chan Sung Jung.
Mike Tyson – “The essence of fighting is this: to push yourself to the limit. Say you get defeated. Do you push yourself to another limit to overcome that defeat? This is what fighting is about. That’s why it’s such a metaphor for life. Even though you’re going to lose and you know you’re going to lose, you still have to fight and fight to win.”