Calm in the Storm

The following is a post by our longtime friend, Nico Ball. There's a short bio after the article and you can also keep track of her on her own blog.

 

You climb the stairs, slip through the ropes, and step onto the canvas to see your opponent waiting stoically in the opposite corner. The crowd is pulsing around you. The lights are blaring down upon you. And while the final seconds count down before the contest begins, you try to remain focused and relaxed. Once the bell sounds to start the bout, your breath suddenly catches heavy in your chest, your eyes dial in on your opponent, and you seem to float across the ring. Despite the hours of training you’ve endured at the gym, it only takes a few minutes of battle before your muscles begin to feel paralyzed with exhaustion. 

What you’re experiencing is an acute stress reaction, often called an adrenaline dump. Your brain perceives the situation as potentially threatening, and this perception causes high levels of epinephrine to be “dumped” into your bloodstream in preparation for action! You’ve heard of the “fight or flight” mechanism. Well, this is it. And the exhausting act of your body pumping hormones into your body becomes a major obstacle to your achieving peak performance. Women, especially, experience heightened levels of anxiety in intense situations, exacerbating the problem.

As a fighter, it’s important to understand that the adrenaline dump is a natural biochemical reaction that your body produces in response to stress and anxiety. The good news, therefore, is that, just like any other physiological response, it can be addressed and treated.

The first step to counteracting adrenaline dump is to control your breathing. This is something that you should work on in training leading up to the fight, and not just once you feel the butterflies. During training you should attempt to establish a constant breathing pattern: inhaling deeply through your nose, pausing to hold the air, and then exhaling through your mouth. Use this same method to regain your calm: hold each phase for several seconds and make sure to fill your lungs entirely and not just the shallow, upper portion of your lungs. The deep breaths will help carry more oxygen to the rest of your body and will help counteract the fight or flight mechanism that is getting you revved up too high.  

Developing mental discipline is another important facet of boxing that you should be working on during training. Focus is an essential tool for anyone that wants to master an art, especially one as mentally exhausting as fighting. By design, combat training is learned by rote in order to build kinesthetic memory, which in turn, makes your reactions become second nature and allows you to focus your mental energy on your fight.

It can be easy to lose focus when training gets repetitive, but establishing focus in the gym will help you stay focused in the ring. Learning to control your concentration during training will help you reign in feelings of anxiety that will trigger the adrenaline dump. So, the next time you find your mind wandering in the middle of drills, take a deep breath and refocus all of your energy on a very specific training goal or objective. 

You can also try teaching your mind to perceive situations, that may otherwise provoke fear and anxiety, as an exciting new challenge, thereby mitigating the psychological effect of adrenaline dump before it even starts. 

Even though you’ve prepared amply in training, it’s natural, even for experienced fighters, to feel a little nervous. Physical activity will help cut the edge of your nerves, that’s why its important to make sure you get in a good warm up before fighting. MiKiDo Mixed Martial Arts Centers trainer Rob O’Heran recommends that his fighters complete a full workout in the morning before competing in order to desensitize your body to the effects of adrenaline when it comes time to compete later that day.

Making sure to address both the mental and the physiological facets of boxing competition will give fighters an added advantage when entering the ring. Instead of being tormented by overly rambunctious nerves, a skilled fighter experiences what Cappy Kotz from Cappy’s Gym in Seattle describes as, “…that delicious moment when all notions of doing things correctly fades away to the performance itself. [You] see the punches way before they arrive and [your] training instinctively makes the necessary adjustments to handle the situation.” This transcendental state of mind, described by Cappy, is what athletes call being “in the zone”.

There is no step by step guide as to how to reach “the zone”, but one thing is for sure: practice makes perfect. The more competition experience you gain, the easier it will be to manage ring anxiety and maintain mental calm and focus. It is important to remember that muscles are amazing, but the mind is primary. Eventually, psychological resiliency will put a “boxer” ahead of mere “physical fighters.”

The ability to remain calm in the storm is indispensable, especially in a sport as mentally and physically exhausting as boxing. Not to worry, it’s normal to feel nervous in the ring. Heck, most fighters forget large portions of rounds because they are so hyped up!

Ellen Marcus from MiKiDo Mixed Martial Arts Centers said that it felt like she was in a dream the first time she stepped into the ring. Despite losing her first fight on points (after breaking her nose in the second round), she got right back in the gym with her trainer and they began working on mental and physical strategies to prepare her for her next confrontation. There is nothing more exhilarating than having your hand raised in victory, but in the end, it's the relentless spirit and willingness to confront personal fears, come hell or high water. That is what truly defines a champion.

 Dan Behring

Dan Behring

Nico Ball recently left her life as a teacher to train mixed martial arts full-time in Brazil. Originally from Pennsylvania, she attended George Mason University in Virginia and received her Masters degree studying the impact of martial arts-based social projects. She’s now living the fighter’s life and pursuing her dream to become a pro mixed martial artist.

Additionally, Nico has found a way to continue her interest in creating social change by helping organize The Tererê Kids Project, a nonprofit for the children living in poverty in the favela of Morro do Contagalo. You can keep up with Nico through her blog as she trains and competes in MMA, Muay Thai, and Boxing alongside one of the world's fastest growing female fight teams, Parana Vale Tudo (PRVT).

 
Posted on May 24, 2016 .

Tenacity & Discipline, Get Some

The following is a post by our longtime friend, Nico Ball. There's a short bio after the article and you can also keep track of her on her own blog.

 

Many want the status of being a “fighter,” but few are willing to put in the required work to truly deserve it. When push comes to shove, psychological, not physical, development will separate the women from the girls. It’s tenacity and discipline that defines the proverbial cream of the crop.

Tenacity will drive you to embrace the suffering that comes with hard work and life’s hard times. Discipline will allow you to hold fast to your beliefs, to your dreams, and to your goals even when others question you. It is both tenacity and discipline that form the commitment that separates serious athletes from the recreational enthusiast. If you let hardships in life kick your ass before you even get to the gym, what’s going to happen when you step into the ring?

"All excellence involves discipline and tenacity of purpose."
– John William Gardner

 

To achieve your goals, to ascend to the champion status, you have to do what others won’t. Simply showing up and looking good in training isn’t the same as grinding your body to its limits (and then beyond). That’s where tenacity comes into play. Success begins with your mind. It’s only through tenacious and disciplined efforts that you are able to exceed any physical and psychological limits and elevate you to your full potential. Disciplined athletes embrace the grind. They learn to shed the shackles of inner doubt, developing instead the mental discipline to block out work, school, and all of the other everyday concerns that constantly assail our psyche. 

Excuses come wholesale. They are easy to fabricate and even easier to convince yourself of. Stressful careers, difficult relationships, tragic losses, and absorbing social media inundate our everyday lives and often distract us from our goals. Assigning blame is an easy way to avoid responsibility, but it also impedes growth. Champions don’t make excuses, they find a way.

Lack of time is rarely the cause of failure, but lacking tenacity and discipline usually are. Having strength enough to grit your teeth and face daily hardships is what separates the relentless from the rest. Self-pity is a symptom of mediocrity and usually attitude will determine the outcome.

If you want to be a stronger fighter, you need to develop a stronger mind. One’s actions, both inside and outside of the gym, create results. Top athletes can minimize distractions and maximize their time spent at the gym. When you’re training, are you thinking about your technique or your text messages? Are you focused on the task at hand or thinking about whether McDonalds is an acceptable post-workout meal?

"Success, in general, is all about sacrifice"
– Mike Tyson

 

Pros understand that real training means committing oneself to the present process, not just future outcome. They make personal sacrifices in expectation of personal glory. If you have the tenacity and discipline to dedicate all of your resources towards a desired goal, you will inevitably reap the rewards of a stronger will, a better body, and the satisfaction of a job well done.

 


 Dan Behring

Dan Behring

Nico Ball recently left her life as a teacher to train mixed martial arts full-time in Brazil. Originally from Pennsylvania, she attended George Mason University in Virginia and received her Masters degree studying the impact of martial arts-based social projects. She’s now living the fighter’s life and pursuing her dream to become a pro mixed martial artist.

Additionally, Nico has found a way to continue her interest in creating social change by helping organize The Tererê Kids Project, a nonprofit for the children living in poverty in the favela of Morro do Contagalo. You can keep up with Nico through her blog as she trains and competes in MMA, Muay Thai, and Boxing alongside one of the world's fastest growing female fight teams, Parana Vale Tudo (PRVT).

Posted on September 16, 2015 .

Confidence is Key

The following is a post by our longtime friend, Nico Ball. There's a short
bio after the article and you can also keep track of her on her own blog.

For fighters, confidence can mean the difference between an expertly-timed parry or a too-slow slip that leads to a devastatingly landed blow. Feeling confident is often the difference, ultimately, between raising your hand in victory or hanging your head in defeat. As fighters, we all aspire to a heightened state where each movement is infused with the deadly calm that can only come when self-doubt is shed. While you can’t be taught heart, you can most certainly develop confidence.

 photo by Dan Behring

photo by Dan Behring

Step 1: Use Positive Affirmation
 Do you realize: your mind does not make distinctions between imagination and reality? Thus, your imagination can be a powerful tool for developing confidence (or breeding self-doubt).

Muhammad Ali came to be known for his swaggering presence and his self-proclaimed greatness. While some people may think that he came off as highly conceited, it’s important to consider that the psychological aspects of training and fighting are just as important as the physical. This is why your trainer gives you an aggressive pep talk before you step to ring center. Positive affirmation is a powerful way to build confidence and allay doubt.

Fighters should always approach training and competing with a positive attitude and a strong mental state. Failing to do this, will set the fighter at a disadvantage before even entering the ring. A strong deep-seated conviction about the outcome of any action will inevitably impact the results of said action. That’s why sports psychologists advocate for the use of positive self-affirmations and visualization techniques to help athletes bolster their mental swagger. 

So the next time you find yourself facing a difficult endeavor, like a big fight, use your mind to practice what you need to do to succeed. By putting your mind to work in this way you’re taking a big first step towards fighting confidently.


Step 2: Practice Repetition, Practice Repetition
Confidence leaves room for the audacity of original thought. Therefore, a fighter should train until confidence in the face of adversity becomes reflexive. The act of repetitively drilling a single movement or technique until it becomes embedded into your very being frees your mind to focus on the more dynamic, technical aspects of fighting and makes it easier for you to feel confident.

Various acts, like punching, blocking, and parrying, should become as natural as breathing to a fighter. The basic mechanics of fighting should not be bogging down a fighter’s mental process. Through repetitive drills the fighter will eventually become more at ease. Controlled movements, relaxed posture, and calm in the thick of battle are all elements of a confident fighter that can make an enormous difference in the judging of a bout.

Repetition in training does not mean just going through the motions in a rote mechanical fashion. Being mentally present during training and pushing one’s self to the limits day in and day out is essential to improvement. If you never push your threshold and rarely perform outside of your comfort zone, then you will always be fighting reactively and limiting your ability to grow confident. 

It is important to set goals, mark progress, and ultimately, test yourself. It is the process more than any outcome that will shape the athlete and grow confidence. 


Step 3: Confidence in Competition
Okay, so not every athlete who puts on a pair of boxing gloves does so with the expectation of entering the ring, but whether it’s sparring or an actual contest, competition not only allows athletes to check progress and modify training routines in order to maximize gains, it tells them a lot about who they are as people. By testing one’s self outside of the usual comfort zones, a fighter is able to shed false pretenses while simultaneously gaining self-knowledge and a better understanding of her true abilities.

An athlete must be able to overcome a fear of failing, whether that means stepping into the ring or just stepping onto a scale. It is only by confronting this fear time and again that one can develop the habit of facing challenges and the fear of failure with a sense of confidence. 

Competition should not be confused with comparison. It’s not about comparing progress with others; the idea is to confront individual fears and limitations. By constantly confronting and testing limitations in competition both inside and outside of the ring, athletes are able to embrace new challenges with confidence whether the result is satisfactory or devastatingly contrary to the desired outcome. 

In the end, confidence boils down to a fighter’s faith in her ability. Not just to win, but to learn and evolve as an athlete. A fighter’s willingness to work continuously, not just in order to achieve the desired results, but also to learn from the process itself, is essential in building confidence. 

 


 Dan Behring

Dan Behring

Nico Ball recently left her life as a teacher to train mixed martial arts full-time in Brazil. Originally from Pennsylvania, she attended George Mason University in Virginia and received her Masters degree studying the impact of martial arts-based social projects. She’s now living the fighter’s life and pursuing her dream to become a pro mixed martial artist.

Additionally, Nico has found a way to continue her interest in creating social change by helping organize The Tererê Kids Project, a nonprofit for the children living in poverty in the favela of Morro do Contagalo. You can keep up with Nico through her blog as she trains and competes in MMA, Muay Thai, and Boxing alongside one of the world's fastest growing female fight teams, Parana Vale Tudo (PRVT).

Posted on August 13, 2015 .

Boxing, Healing, Faith

(edited, originally posted by Arcaro Boxing)

When I think of the healing process, I think of training. Both are challenging, painful and uncomfortable. Both lead you to new understandings about yourself. Both transform you and take you places you never thought you would go and both put you back on your feet with renewed vigor.

Both healing and training are unbearable if all you can think about is making things different or if you focus on the outcome only. Healing and training require faith and belief in the process. It doesn’t matter what you have faith or belief in… it is the practice of believing, of having faith… the practice of sticking to what you know, even when doubt or fear want to put you on the mat!

Healing and training are most beneficial when you can fully embrace the process and are aware of everything that comes up. When you are scared, it’s best to acknowledge your fear and give it a second to have a voice, then you must go back to your belief and training. When you doubt you can do it or have the outcome you want, it is best to acknowledge that feeling, let it be spoken out loud and then go back to your original belief and knowing.

Champions aren’t the ones who never get tired, never have fear, never feel inept, never have doubt. Champions are the ones who know they are tired, weak, scared, inept and have doubt. Champions know when they should rest and when they need to push because they have allowed themselves to have a voice for everything they go through.

Healing is uncomfortable, but the process is powerful and especially when we all collectively go through it as aware as possible. Healing is a community effort and connects us all in unknown ways.

Posted on June 25, 2015 .

Battle Psyche

For a sport that has been often maligned as being for meatheads with extra thick skullbones, boxing, along with her sister disciplines, can actually be quite challenging, mentally. Oh sure, some fighting is pure animal brutality, but in a good match there is subtle strategy, a need for mental toughness, and a good bit of psychology. It’s chess with punches instead of pawns.

Fighting hand to hand is timeless. It began, presumably, when primitive primates developed fists to fight and feelings to hurt. And when two individuals face off in battle, whether in spirited competition or bitter dispute, every sense gets heightened and the peripheral world starts to fade back. Your mind will sharpen its focus so you’ll have the clarity needed to perform optimally. But beware, you can easily lose this focus, like if you’re suddenly thinking about the pain from a punch, feeling frustration from a knockdown, or being utterly annoyed at shorts that keep riding up! And once you lose composure you will find it most difficult to regain.

 the Phrenology of Fighting

the Phrenology of Fighting

Our friend, Rebecca Hoffman, owner of Western Avenue Gym in Oklahoma relayed a story where she was struggling with sparring early on in her career because she was thinking and worrying too much. Her (edited) story goes “... When I used to spar everything moved so fast, it was as if the world had sped up, I couldn't process everything that was happening and I felt like I was purely trying to survive rather than actually do or achieve anything. The advice I was constantly given was 'relax, just relax.' Well I just kept on getting in there, the world would get faster and I'd just try to survive. One day I got tired of being so fearful and stressing out so much, and, with a shrug of my shoulders and an air of giving up, I said to myself 'fine, I'm just going to relax, I give up.' So I did. I relaxed, and guess what… the whole world slowed down. Right there and then, mid spar. I started to see openings, I could see what was coming at me. I could breathe.”

So good battle psyche begins and ends with feeling comfortable in your situation. To get there you need to be motivated and focused on your task and confident in yourself. It’s not enough to be naturally confident. To fight confident you need to be prepared - physically and mentally. This means many hours of training in the gym and plenty of time spent in the sparring ring. You need to have faced adversity and been given opportunities to make mistakes, suffer setbacks, and ultimately to learn from those experiences. When you’re prepared you know it and you feel it, and this will feed your whole attitude. A positive attitude goes a long way towards feeling comfortable, motivated, focused, and confident in and out of the ring. 

Even for the vastly experienced and talented fighter, it may help to talk yourself into being confident before battle. Self-talk is a powerful way to tap into your subconscious mind to influence your attitude, so be sure to say positive things that reinforce how you want to feel. Self-talk is also a great way to reinforce strategies and techniques you want to use. If your trainer keeps on you in the gym to keep your guard up, use self-talk to build this up as part of your battle psyche. Just make yourself a playground chant to repeat, something like “I got this, strong jab, go to the body, guard up… I got this, strong jab, go to the body, guard up…” 

Your imagination is another great tool for preparing your psyche for battle. When you’re in the thick of action things can happen unexpectedly, after all, this is combat, not choreography. It can be very difficult to know how to handle certain critical situations, especially for rookies. While you await your turn to fight, you can create mental video of scenarios using your imagination to visualize how to respond ahead of time. In the military they call this Emergency Conditioning. It’s becoming familiar with potential trouble by “experiencing it” with your imagination. This way, when trouble arises, your recognition of the moment can automatically trigger the proper response that you’ve already worked out in your mind.

Finally, you never know when you might get clocked and wind up with your behind resting on the canvas. It’s humiliating and frustrating, and that means you better have solid mental fortitude to stay focused or you will find yourself down there again soon enough. In fighting, just as in life, bad things happen to good people. Deal with it, sister! Develop fortitude, but also accept that emotions and anxiety are part of the sport, just don’t let them interfere with your performance or hijack your aspirations. Every loss is a lesson and every setback deserves a comeback. Let this be your mantra if you don’t have a better one already.

Physical strength is not enough when it comes to fighting. You also need to be strong mentally. Like the Henry Ford saying goes, “whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right”. How you think things will be greatly influences how they’ll actually be. Since you can’t fool yourself towards greatness, you’ll just have to put in the time and work towards it. In the meantime keep your chin up… no, wait, keep your chin DOWN… you know what we mean!