FIGHT, FLIGHT, FREEZE: How To Overcome Freezing in a Fight

Article Curated for Project Battlefit by Pushkraj Shirke. 
Originally Authored by MMA Fighter and Coach - Susovan Ghosh.

Freezing in a fight, is way more common that people talk about. Especially for amateur fighters – and extremely common in the first ring experience.

A major problem I noticed with 3 of our fighters during the GAMMA World Championship was FREEZING. It is basically a scenario where your mind goes blank and your body has no idea what to do once it steps into the ring. You basically become a deer in the headlights.

I have personally experienced it during one of my bouts, where although I was fighting instinctively, I had absolutely no clue what was going on; and also during my open-weight match in WPJJC 2015.

Here is my attempt to give you some pointers to ensure that you are better equipped to handle it next time that I have learned over the years as a professional fighter.

The simplest reason why you experience freezing is due to conflict between what is being told to you by your sub-conscious mind and your conscious mind. Your conscious mind is forcing you to step inside the cage because that’s what you are there for and all your teammates and coaches are egging you on. However, your sub-conscious mind, for various reasons (listed below), is not sure it wants to fight and is pulling you away from the cage. And in this conflict, your body does not know what to do.

So how can we avoid this?

  1. For starters, practice hard enough to have answers to “WHAT IF”:
    It’s important that you drill all scenarios in the training room so that you know what your response will be to most probable attacks. Anytime you start thinking “What if he takes me down?” replace the thought with “When he takes me down, I will…..” That way in your head, you are ready for all possible scenarios. Of course you have to drill everything sufficiently so that you are able to do them under pressure. Know in your head that you have done all that you could have done. Theoretically, if you train more/harder than your opponent, you should ideally win. However, there is no possible way to know how hard your opponent is training. So the next best thing to do is just train as hard as you possibly can. If your opponent has endured more than what you have in the training camp, then probably he deserves to win. “I am always going to come in confident and I have reason to. Because I train so hard in the gym, that I leave no room for doubt in my mind. I never go in there to lose. I train confidently, and I think confidently. If I didn’t, I’d be a fool” – Bernard Hopkins
  2. Win in your head before you win inside the cage:
    You will NOT win if you do not see yourself winning. Do not defeat yourself by negative thoughts like ”There is NO WAY I can win this” or “I have no idea how to beat his striking”. Always win in your head. If you see yourself winning, you will fight hard to make it true. If you see yourself losing, you will simply accept the fact when you actually start losing. Of course, going back to Point 1, you must have trained hard enough to have the tools/attributes needed to win. John Wayne Parr once said that he would often say to himself “Whoever steps up in-front of me is getting his ass kicked today.” See if something like that works for you.

    However, don’t just visualize scenarios of you dominating, but it is important to visualize scenarios of you being put in bad situations and then coming up on top. Imagine you being taken down and then scrambling hard to get on top or stand up. Imagine being knocked down and then getting back to your feet to win the fight. Imagine being dominated for 2 rounds and then getting a submission-win in the third. That way if it does happen, you will react better because it has already happened in your head and you already won that exchange in your head. Always end every visualization practice with you winning. You losing in your head will happen more often than you like, but practice turning it around by seeing yourself win.
    “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”
    – Henry Ford
  3. Don’t let your mind “trick-intimidate” you:
    Evolution (the process, not our gym) has programmed us to run away from fights instead of going toe-to-toe with a predator. Your mind will play all possible tricks to prevent you from fighting. All minor injuries will seem to flare up. You will think of all the areas where your opponent is better than you. Don’t let this trick you into being intimated by the imaginary BEAST your mind creates out of your opponent. Understand that in spite of all his outward bravado, you are a fearsome predator too in your opponents head.

The best way to handle this is by going back to Point 1. What can you do vs what can he do. As an example, if it looks like he has great kicks, don’t think to yourself “I hope he doesn’t kick me”. Instead turn the thought around by understanding how it will probably be easier to take him down since he commits his hips so much to every kick. If he has explosive takedowns, don’t think “How will I stop his takedowns?” Instead turn it around by knowing that you can probably reverse him easier since hard takedowns means he will have extra momentum when you hit the ground.

  1. Understand pre-fight jitters/adrenaline stress:
    Every time you get close to fight time, or even sometimes when you think about it, you will feel the effects of adrenaline in your body. It is simply the way our body prepares itself to handle a stressful situation. Heart rate goes up (to supply more blood to major muscles), you feel butterflies in your stomach, feel nauseous or even the urge to take a dump/pee (all 3 in an attempt to lose the unwanted waste matter inside your body to make you feel lighter), sweaty palms(contraction of smaller muscles) and dry throat (you won’t eat now so body stops producing saliva). It is important that you understand that these are normal reactions of the body. It is simply getting ready for a violent conflict.
    Many fighters confuse these with FEAR and that in turn paralyses them mentally (“I am so scared I have no idea what to do “).
    Every time you feel these effects on your body, do not let it affect you negatively. Know that when the fight starts, it is these affects that will help you perform to your full potential. A good mental switch is to tell your-self – “My body is now prepared for the fight.”
  2. Be pro-active instead of re-active:
    I remember Marcio Gracinha (BJJ/MMA coach of AKA Thailand) telling us “Du notch starch slowww”. I believe what he was trying to convey was, don’t wait for your opponent to come to you and then start reacting to what he does. This was the reason why lost one of my fights. If you are telling yourself to move ahead and attack him, it is hard to freeze up. Focus on your game plan and how you will impose your will on him. This will in turn help you initiate the action instead of waiting for him. Always practice being pro-active in the training room. Unless you have the skills of Anderson Silva, it’s hard to beat someone by being reactive in nature. The attacker is always going to be a few steps ahead of you in the mental chess game. Always take the fight to him. Of course you can’t get reckless in your attacks but it is important that you impose your game plan on him. Always think of putting pressure on your opponent so he is playing catch-up to you.
  3. LOOK confident to FEEL confident:
    Understand that physical posture directly affects your mental state and physiology. Standing tall and walking briskly cultivates a feeling of self- confidence whereas a slouched posture and shuffling your feel has an opposite effect. Before a fight, do not sit in slouched posture and look down. Walk around, shadow box and reinforce the positive thoughts. In addition to keeping you warm, this will also ensure that your confidence levels are up before you step into the cage. Do not talk to anyone who might feed the negativity in your head by suggesting how strong your opponent looks. Listen to music and get into your zone.
Me in a fight at @yoddhafc Kohima. 

Used correctly, your mind can your best friend or worst enemy. Don’t think of your fight camp as a preparation for your physical skills only, but also as a time to develop your mental and emotional skills. Understand that as a fighter, the fight starts much before you enter the cage. Make sure you win these pre-fight battles in your head to better prepare you for the battle inside the cage. If you have your head right, you may win or you may lose the physical battle. But if you lose in your head, there is no way you are winning the physical contest.

Author: Susovan Ghosh

First Indian to fight at ONE FC Singapore, National Kickboxing Gold medalist, Evolution Grappling Indian Open Gold medalist,
ADCC Singapore 2018 – Gold medalist, Assistant Coach for Team India at GAMMA Mixed Martial Arts World Championship.
Certified MMA Referee & official under GAMMA. BJJ purple belt and Coach at India’s top MMA team – Team Relentless.

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