This is an expansion on two previous posts: my husband’s guest post Precision – A Basic Motivation Mistake in Some Western Training then my follow up post How to “Train Like a Thai” – Why Many Get it Wrong and then lastly Training with Hippy Singmanee – With Relaxation Comes Power. It’s part of an informal relaxation series.
One of the hardest things to learn is how to relax in contact sports. It’s also one of the most important things and something that separates “good” from “great.” This is by no means an exhaustive list and most of these are just observations and tactics I’ve used in my own path toward greater freedom from relaxation, something I’m concentrating on more recently.
Initially, my first response to my trainers telling me to relax was, “you’re hitting me in the face, it’s hard to relax.” I think that my assumption was a common one, which is that relaxation is being inert. But when I think about things that I can relax while doing, it’s more that I’m neutral, unaffected, or even enjoying myself. But overall it’s a lack of tension, which is where the call from trainers comes from. “Relax,” means “don’t be so tense.”
- Breathe. Yeah, it’s obvious to the point that it sounds useless, but it’s the base of everything. Every time you fall asleep, it’s because you’re breathing deeply and steadily. Ultimate relaxation. In all my experiences of doing well or doing badly, it has to do with my breathing; if I’m tired versus if I’m flowing, it has to do with my breathing. Kevin reads a lot of theory and in all of the military strategy and combat training talks about getting the heart-rate down through breathing. One technique is as follows: inhale with a count of 4, hold that breath for a count of 4, exhale at a count of 4, hold that breath for a count of 4. I do this before starting padwork or between rounds if I feel I’m nervous or too excited.
- Shift. Take yourself out of the task that’s making you tense. If you’re sparring and growing too tense, try to put your mind somewhere else. Singing a song in your head, doing math, thinking about dinner, or even “performing” as one of your favorite fighters or just any confident personality, like a rockstar. I like to imitate my favorite fighters and this little 12 year old at my gym likes to imitate Saenchai. All the kids at the gym will call out the name of a fighter when they’re stealing one of their signature moves; even my trainer does it. It helps turn it into play.
- Teep. When we stop breathing because of being overwhelmed by pressure, we need space. We backpedal or swing our arms furiously to try to get the pressure off of us, but any opponent worth their salt sees when you need to breathe and go after you. The teep is an active rest. You can keep someone off of you to not feel so crowded and you’re controlling the distance so you don’t have to feel like you’re retreating. A good, well-timed teep is a brilliant way to catch your breath.
- Smile. I hate this one because I’ve lived my life as a female and so all those in the category can sympathize with the agitation of this – women do not like being told to smile. But, but, in this case I’m suggesting it as a way to cheat into a different frame of mind. It’s like lying (which smiling in the real world can be also), but you can convince yourself also. If someone lands a strike on you and you smile, they are often confused. And you don’t make too big of a deal of it to yourself by starting the internal dialogue of the super critical coach inside your head.
- Identify. Identity when you are relaxed. If you can’t find a moment in training context, pick one outside of it. When you are sitting reading a book, are you relaxed? Is watching Netflix relaxing? Okay, so identify what your body and mind feel like when you are relaxed and then go sit in a chair and recreate those feelings. When you start feeling tension, return to relaxation. It sounds odd, but sometimes it can be difficult to even know what relaxation feels like, especially for those who spend a lot of time in stress. Once you’ve figured out how to better identify the difference between relaxed and tensed, bring that to the context of the gym. Start doing a simple exercise, like hitting the bag or even just shadowboxing the same 1-2, 1-2. When you feel tension growing stop and return to relaxation, then start again and try to maintain it being at ease. Anytime you feel tension, abandon your efforts and return to relaxation until you can start up your efforts again while trying to remain relaxed. But don’t stress it; go slow. If it’s hard, go slower…take your foot off the gas.
- “Shake it out” as you go. If you feel tension in your shoulders, drop your hands and shake your arms out. I see my clinching partner Team do this all the time – he kind of flicks his fists down to loosen up his arms. If you’re tense as you’re doing pads, take a moment to bounce in place and “shake out” the tension before throwing your next strike. Likewise, if you’re babbling away in your mind about how tense you are, shake that out too, mentally. Your mind doesn’t have to be blank or clear, just quiet. Don’t hold thoughts.
“Mental training requires a skillful balance of disciplined effort and joyful relaxation, which means the more joyful relaxation you can already count on, the more disciplined effort you can commit, and the more of both you have, the faster you can establish attentional stability.” – Joy on Demand, Kindle page 105
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