Boxing and Fear

I ran into a guy who used to train with me at a gym that had both boxing and BJJ, he was a purple belt at the time and had just gotten his black belt, he jokingly said that he had the surgeries to prove it. He went on to tell me about his stand-up experience which wasn’t as good, he had to step back since he had gotten a few concussions and according to him “couldn’t think straight for 6 months”.

I also got this email about a month ago:

“I’m a little embarrassed about this, but even after boxing and training in MMA (on and off, it should be noted) for 6 years I still have a tendency to cover up when I see a punch coming. I’m pretty much afraid of getting hit. I was wondering if you can help out fighters like me get over this annoying fear of being punched. Got any advice?”

Some people who are passionate about combat yet still are afraid of getting hit. The harsh reality of boxing is that you are going to get hit, and there ways of getting hit that take away your will and desire to train. Below is my response to the email above, I think my response might help a few people. I don’t think I can remove the fear of getting hit nor can I prevent you from getting hit, but if I can help you get hit less and with less damaging shots then it might help spur your motivation.

1) I’m not sure if in your stand up game you guys use headgear and full 16oz sparring gloves, I don’t think MMA guys usually do because it interferes with what MMA is all about. However, even pro boxers these days are using full face headgear. If you can get away with this in class once in awhile without looking like a pussy then I would do it for now. As well, any extra stand up sparring you can get outside of class with full head protection and 16oz gloves will give you extra time to work on seeing punches coming with less risk. Consider that as a top up option.

2) What level are the guys you are sparring with? If the guys are way above your level then you are gonna get beat down every time and it’s not always good for your confidence. Sometimes you also need to find guys at your level or below so you can relax and experiment and try different things to see if they work.

3) How good are your fundamentals? If I am one step away from you and I can just throw a fast jab and ping you off, or if I can just come in with the jab, cross and catch you straight on then it means you aren’t proficient yet in basic blocking. This is not a height/reach issue but more of a reaction issue. You need to spend time drilling with a partner, move around and let them throw either the jab or the cross (this keeps it a bit unpredictable), do it all day long until you can easily see those basic punches coming. This is the key for most people, make sure to keep proper distance when doing this drill.

4) Do you move your head when coming in to punch and what do you do when you are done your combo? When I started boxing my favorite combo was to slip with the jab and throw the overhand right. You need to move your head off the centreline when you throw and then quickly come in with more punches. Once you are done your combo you need to cover up like a meteor shower is coming and step out to the left or right. Do NOT take your eyes off your opponent when you cover up, you will feel lost and overwhelmed if he comes after you.

5) When are you getting hit? Solve one problem each sparring session. Are you getting hit with the jab while just moving around? then refer to #3, are you getting hit with the jab coming in? then refer to #4. Are you getting hit with the jab or other punches after your combo is done? then you need to learn to cover and move after your combo.

6) Are you implementing fakes or lateral motion before coming in? Refer to my “how to use the heavybag’ video for lateral motion. Don’t be a sitting duck and let the opponent know where you are going to be at all times. Move side to side and then go in for your attack on your watch. Don’t just make small motions while standing straight in front of your opponent, the minute he sees you step he knows you’re coming to attack. Move side to side like as if you have all day. Tall guys hate not knowing when you are coming.

7) Think about what’s going on and solve the puzzle mentally and see yourself executing the solution, then go try it in sparring. Most boxing problems can be solved either through awareness or better conditioning, you don’t have to learn a complicated technique like the triangle choke or peruvian neck-tie, go home and figure out how you got hit and come up with a solution. For example, I used to quarter turn a lot off my combo and this one guy would wait for me to finish my turn and then he would attack me and catch me. My solution was to move my head as soon as I finished turning and throw some more shots. He started to walk into my punches and had to rethink his plan. Visualization can help with this.

8) Do your opponents just move away after your first attack and leave you hanging and missing your shots? You need to develop the stamina and mindset to come in for a double attack. Throw your combo, step and get out to the side, or take a quick step back and then immediately come in for a second attack. Watch the Paquioa / Marquez fights for good examples of this constant back and forth.

9) Are you gassing out after a couple rounds? If you find yourself too tired to launch an attack or keep pressure then you may need to work intervals and the heavybag hard for the next 3-4 weeks to bring up your conditioning. Even the best guys look bad when they are out of shape, a conditioned amateur can hang with an out of shape pro, but when the fitness is there it’s a game changer. Sparring while not being in shape is the best way to hate boxing. Step aside from sparring and get your punch volume and power endurance up to speed. This can be done within all your training and being consistent.

10) Develop a tight turtle shell defense and learn to deal with onslaughts. If you cover up tight and let someone throw a barrage of punches at you, the only place you should get hit is around the lower side of your waist, and even that can be avoided if you dip and roll into the shots. If you are getting hit in this situation you need to tighten up your defense. turtle shell defense and lateral motion together is the best way to avoid a striking onslaught.