Fighter Mail: Fight Nerves, Tunnel Vision and Does it Go Away?

Fighter Mail I get a lot of private message communication from (mostly) women and I really enjoy having a back-and-forth with other folks experiencing the innumerate facets of Muay...
Fighter Mail

I get a lot of private message communication from (mostly) women and I really enjoy having a back-and-forth with other folks experiencing the innumerate facets of Muay Thai.  What’s really wonderful is that the path of Muay Thai is not a linear one in that people far down the road have all the answers and at the beginning all the questions; rather, no matter where you fall on the line of beginner to retired, the experiences we all share allow us to exchange encouragement, inspiration and advice across all positions.

For a long time I’ve wanted to share a lot more of my communications, mostly because the experiences are largely universal and I think everyone can benefit from both the questions and the suggestions offered from both sides.  It’s a shame to keep all private communication private, even if the privacy of the persons writing are maintained.

So here I go.  I got this message from a woman in the US who I like very much.  We’ve never met in person but we have exchanged contact online for long enough that I feel invested in her as a compatriot of female Muay Thai.

Her message indicated that she considers her few fights to be on the early end of the fighting spectrum and that this limited experience has her wondering whether some of the things she’s feeling in fights are jitters and thus will pass or whether there is something she can do to address and hopefully resolve them.  Firstly, she feels what some athletes call an “adrenaline dump” only in fight scenarios: “I am immediately tired, my body feels heavy & everything is in slow motion.”  She is, however, able to hear and respond to her corner – which is great – but feels that she has a kind of “tunnel vision” in trying to get to her opponent.  She is now in “fight camp” and she describes how her trainers are approaching preparation for this fight, which sounds brilliant: they go through the entire process of a lead-up, including wrapping hands and oil-massage, really getting into the head-space that one would be in before a fight.  Then they have a “round robin” sparring scenario in which the fighter stays in and five persons cycle in at each round so that there is a fresh opponent at each bell.  She doesn’t say whether or not they complete the mock-fight with a cool-down period of reviewing everything that happened in sparring – the “fight” – but I assume there is a decision read aloud with the fighter’s hand being raised.

I think this training is great and I know first-hand the issues described, so below is what I wrote to her and whether or not the jitters will “go away”:

Hey, totally normal and yes, it will go away. However, it will take FOREVER to go away on its own, whereas there are a few things you can do to help it along and get it pacified or to go away quicker. What you’re doing with the fight training is really good for resolving it.

Look at it this way: with a few fights you have between 24 and 40 minutes of fight time, depending on how many are three round and how many five round fights. That’s TOTAL fight time. With 55 fights I have somewhere in the ballpark of six-seven hours in the ring, but probably nearer to six because of KO’s and 3 round fights as an amateur. That’s still not a lot of time. I’d never consider myself an expert in something I’d spent only 6-7 hours doing. But the point is that with so little time spent in an actual, real fight, you can see why it takes a long time to get comfortable or used to the situation.

Strangely, we spend more time in the hours before a fight than we do actually IN the fight. So that’s where we end up solving a lot of the issues we face in the ring – in training and in the mental practice of preparing for a fight. What you describe as being perhaps too narrowly focused and feeling fatigued sound to me like the result of being over-stimulated. You’re zoning in on your opponent, which is great, but maybe forgetting your own strengths and abilities in the fineness of the focus; and then you’re not breathing due to stress (or “arousal” as they call it in psychology) and that makes you feel like you’re gassing.

In my last fight I came back into the fourth and fifth rounds feeling like my arms were made of lead. It was crazy. I haven’t really felt that before. However, I was able to realize that my mind was playing tricks on me. I couldn’t actually be that tired, I told myself, because I’ve been pushed WAY harder than this in training and I never stop. So I just told my body to keep going and it did. You’ll feel this in running – your legs tell you that there’s no way but you can actually just keep going regardless. So for the “fatigue” aspect of your description, first realize that it is literally impossible to gas out in 6-10 minutes; I defy someone to try. You’d have to be carrying a damn car or something for the body to literally be spent in that amount of time. Once you convince yourself that it’s not possible, you’ll stop fearing it so much. Then spend a lot of time in training focusing on your breathing. Like, entire rounds in sparring devoting your attention to how well you’re breathing.

 With the tunnel vision, I still experience this a lot. I think it’s that my mind is going all over the place in what I want to do and then I end up just “standing on the porch” within striking distance but not actually throwing anything. It’s maddening because I can do it in training but it’s just not there in the fight. But I have noticed that the more comfortable I am with a sparring partner, the more I can throw. When I face someone who I expect to kick my ass (like my trainer Den, who does exactly that – every time – like I’m a mouse dangling from his claw) or if it’s someone I don’t know at all, I end up freezing and focusing too much on what they MIGHT do. I think it happens in fights because I don’t know my opponent. So, I try to grab sparring partners who will imitate this. People I don’t know (easier to do in a gym that has high turn-over of tourists) offer the “unknown” element. But when I get all over-focused with Den I try to either pick ONE THING that I’m going to try – like only try to kick his body or only move forward so my foot never, ever goes backwards – that tends to get me to relax a bit. I can’t zero in on him as much when I’m too busy trying to accomplish one, simple thing. The caveat there is that you have to not beat yourself up for only getting one kick in an entire round. The point is not pass/fail but to focus on your own goal or skill.

 Those are my two cents. Let me know how your training goes in the next week, if you’re able to try any of this out and what your thoughts are on the experiment. But rest assured the feelings are normal and even when you start getting past them, they come back in and you just have to work through them again. There’s never a “now everything is so easy” place in fighting, you just move stuff around all the time, rearranging strengths and weaknesses forever. But that’s kinda cool, I think.

If you are a fighter or are seriously training in Muay Thai (even if you’re just starting out) and have questions or want a sounding board for something you’re facing, please feel free to write to me and I’ll do my best.  Women tend to be a little isolated in gyms around the world but the global community of female fighters is strong.  I certainly have depended on a global community throughout my time in Muay Thai.  (Email:  or Facebook: Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu – Muay Thai)

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A 100 lb. (46 kg) female Muay Thai fighter. Originally I trained under Kumron Vaitayanon (Master K) and Kaensak sor. Ploenjit in New Jersey. I then moved to Thailand to train and fight full time in April of 2012, devoting myself to fighting 100 Thai fights, as well as blogging full time. Having surpassed 100, and then 200, becoming the westerner with the most fights in Thailand, in history, my new goal is to fight an impossible 471 times, the historical record for the greatest number of documented professional fights (see western boxer Len Wickwar, circa 1940), and along the way to continue documenting the Muay Thai of Thailand in the Muay Thai Library project: see


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