Sparring can be scary. And those nerves threaten to overwhelm me during a match if I’m not careful. What helps me? Acknowledging that fear, and using it to my advantage.
The following is my dialogue with fear. I created this script and video as a reminder to myself that fear is normal. And that no matter how overwhelmed I may feel, those nerves can help me. With careful self-talk, I can channel that fear into a positive form of aggression. I can be scared, and I can still fight my best fight.
You’re about to step into the ring. Your favourite thing in the world. And yet here’s something funny: it’s also the scariest thing.
You think about sparring—you get nervous. You talk about sparring—you get nervous. You get your gear on—you get nervous. Even me talking about it now—I can guarantee you’re getting nervous.
How can something you love so much turn your stomach into knots like this? What the heck’s going on?
Here’s a crazy thought: fear is normal. You’re about to fight someone. Naturally, your body is going to perceive that as a threat. Your opponent does pose a threat to you. They could kick your ass.
So get this: your fight-or-flight response will ALWAYS be triggered when you step into the ring.
And Bam! You’ll get this release of adrenaline, and the sweaty palms, and the rapid breathing, and the pounding heart.
Every. Single. Time.
Eventually, with experience, that rush might not be so intense. But, for now, see it as a given.
Another point to remember: your lizard brain HATES uncertainty. And it HATES struggle. And guess what? That’s exactly what sparring is all about. Your lizard brain is trying to tell you to run. It’s saying: pick flight, not fight.
But here’s the kicker. You, my friend, are a bit of a weirdo. Here are all of your survival instincts, designed to keep you safe, trying to convince you that this is a bad idea. But you? You LOVE fighting. You can’t wait to get in there and start doling out pain. For reals.
There is that part of you that wonders if you’re normal. (You’re not.)
That wonders if you’re a bit of a freak. (You are.)
That tells you you shouldn’t love fighting so much. (Don’t listen.)
Those people in your life who don’t appreciate this side of you; those people who would rather you weren’t so stubborn and aggressive: don’t listen to them. This is who you are. Love it, embrace it. This is your strength: your courage.
You were bullied as a kid— and yet you choose to fight. Your first time sparring in competition went badly—and yet you choose to fight. Who are you now? You can’t be bullied. You’ve toughened up.
You’ve beaten all sorts of people—younger than you, tougher than you, more experienced than you, of a higher rank than you.
You’re not afraid to get hit—you actually like it. You’re not afraid to get hurt—unless it means less training time at the dojo. You’re not afraid to put yourself out there because you know that this is how you’ll grow.
You’re just afraid, because your body wants you to be, and because that voice in your head tells you you should be.
So let’s reframe this. You’re not scared—you’re excited. You are kinda nervous, but you’re also grateful, for all that this fear can teach you. For your opponent for forcing you out of your comfort zone.
You choose what enters your bubble. You choose to fight. This is a controlled environment, so relax.
Sit with that discomfort, and be patient with yourself, because you’re doing the difficult thing. You’re taking the tough path.
Feeling nervous is a good thing. You ALWAYS perform better when you’re nervous. Because you care. The more nervous you are, the more “aggressive potential” you have.
Take that anxiety and channel it. Take all of those sensation—the butterflies, the sweaty palms—and use them to your advantage. Feed them. You are the bull, out of your mind to be let out of that pen, ready to rip someone in half with your horns. (But… wait… don’t ACTUALLY do that, because contact penalties.)
As you prepare to fight, be the bull. When you enter the ring, maybe a little less bull from now on, cuz you’re getting tired of getting punched in the face. From now on, be the coiled snake. Sneaky, patient, taking your time.
Your opponent is a puzzle, and you CAN solve it. You CAN beat them.
Ultimately, sparring is an act of love for you. It is the most exciting, the most difficult, the most challenging, and the scariest thing, and these are EXACTLY the reasons why you love it so much.
You love struggle. You love sweat dripping in your eyes, and that burning feeling in your muscles, and the ache of new bruises. You love having an outlet for this part of you.
Spar because it’s scary. Spar because it’s difficult. Spar because it’s exhausting. Every time you spar, it takes a piece of you. And always give it willingly and with a grin on your face.
So get out there and fight, you crazy freak. Make me proud.