In the line of mixed martial arts, there are probably hundreds if not thousands of new budding fighters, all with different styles and attitudes. But one thing that all new fighters will feel regardless of creed or diction, is fear. This fear when mismanaged, can stunt the growth and potential of the fighter; conversely, it can make the fighter stronger than ever before.
To me, when I first fought sometime ago, fear was the crippling feeling of dread that wraps its long slender fingers around your throat, tightening its grip more and more as the fight approaches. It's the culprit that makes you question your own competence, the feeling that makes you question your true purpose, and the thoughts of insufficiency and doubt slowly creep into your mind.
It is the desire to meet expectations, the desire to be good enough, the desire to validate your worth. That is the fear that many, if not all, new fighters will feel. But to have the strength and will to stand up and walk against the tides of these insecurities is what that will determine the longevity of your stay in the sport.
It is also, in the weeks before and after the fight, that you will learn so much more about yourself than you ever have. It will be a true test of your mettle in the face of doubt, confusion and frustration. It is during those weeks (before) that you will be forced to pull something out of yourself that you never knew you had. In the weeks following the fight, you start to realise and recall the lessons and experiences, good or bad, and syphon to see if you've really left it all in the ring.
Jiabing (@jiabing) was one such fighter that felt all these things during her preparation for her virgin fight. And as if the stress wasn't bad enough, she was matched inappropriately against a more experienced opponent who had already fought her way up a higher category. While I wasn't pleased with the matching, Jack's words are final, and is steel. As Onyx, we fight.
My own stress began when I was tasked to train Jiabing in her final phase of training camp. I was also tasked to corner her on fight day. It was easy for me as a junior trainer to just commentate when it was Jack and Phan training the rest of the fighters, by for myself to beat the fear in my fighter, it was different.
One question loomed over my head, "How do you train/help a fighter deal with fear?". Jiabing was technically sound, but she lacked confidence, and it didn't help that she knew that she was facing someone who's had much more experience at fighting than her. She'd often cast shadows of doubts whilst training, and often, I see the soul in her being defeated.
The difficulty in this, is also the fact that the trainer is unable to directly help the fighter find a solution to fear. It is a emotion that only can be gauged, harnessed, or removed by the fighter herself. But the trainer is able to shape the circumstances in which fear is being generated. The trainer can harvest the fortitude and strength within to brace against the waves of fear. With Jiabing, it was a little more challenging, her first response to me with regard to fear was not to face it, but to avoid it.
My answer was a simple one; pit my fighter against fear in a corner with nowhere to run. Throw her into the dark abyss that is fear, and have her stare straight into the deep, cold, endless despair. The aim, to either come out above it, or be consumed and be lost forever. With time ticking down to the fight, I took the risk.
For most fighters, their grit is formed from hours of constant training, hours of pain, and hours of attempts to push their body beyond its normal limits. Jiabing was again, different; she was unable to gain this hardness of grit even with the many many many hours of training that she was put through.
I thought long and hard, and speculated that it could be because she has never been really put into a situation where she had no way out, no safety net, and where the only way out was forward. At the same time, knowing damn well that walking forward means straight into the hollow cave of adversity and pain.
It was my job, as her trainer, to force that particular buried section of strength she needed to walk into that cave. Jiabing had to learn to trust herself and her own abilities, she had to learn to let go of her insecurities, she had to realise that she was actually a different Jiabing than the silly girl that kept looking at her fighter peers in awe. She had to believe herself, and she had to believe me.
She was not used to being pushed to her absolute limits, by that, no normal person would be. So, I made changes to her training. I would even tell her lies about how much she did, while actually she had done much more.
Consequentially, Jiabing did much more in time and effort during training that she never knew she could. She handled much more than she ever imagined her tiny frame could handle. All the items in her prolonged 3-4 hours training session designed to drained her every bit of energy, and to push her to the limits.
That was just the prologue. After draining away all energy possible, it was then time for me, to properly put her in a corner against fear, to force her to stare into the vast blackness and never look away for even a second. There is a subtle difference between expending all your energy, and having all your energy drained out from you by a trainer. Jiabing was thoroughly exhausted, before I even began inducing fear. Her once shiny eyes were drained of a soul. She was soulless, exhausted, and beaten to a pulp. I knew, clearly, this was where I began.
We skip the gory details here. I was trained the same way by Jack as well, and I never looked back. Sometimes when I'm in the deep end, I might bite my gloves abit harder, but I pushed on.
Jiabing did too. She fought brilliantly. A pity she didn't win the decision from the judges. But I'm sure she has indeed found that strength, albeit not all of it. But she is one step closer to realising her true potential and learning to work through that one thing that all fighters feel. Fear.
Click and watch Jiabing's fight here!