Keeping Your Emotions In Check
By: Ronnie Najjar
By: Ronnie Najjar
By: Ronnie Najjar
An advantage and skill often overlooked, and one that can suck the confidence out of your opponents- is learning to keep your emotions in check.
Look at the Thais when they fight: stone faced and emotionless. Is it because they have no feelings and are cold-blooded? Or is it because they’ve trained themselves to hide signs of weakness? Which is what exposing your emotions is considered in Muay Thai- A Weakness!
Imagine the difference between these two opponents:
One who mocks you and smiles when you land a shot (everyone knows you hurt him). Grunts when taking a body shot, flinches, shows frustration when he misses. Huffs and puffs when he’s tired, raises his hand when he lands one shot, and is generally reckless and emotional
The opponent you can’t read. You give your best shots and they keep coming forward. Whether or not you hurt them, you can’t tell. They have a cool, calm and collected demeanor. When you land strikes they don’t flinch or panic. They seem unfazed by you, totally composed.
Which opponent would have you be more cautious? Who would be more intimidating? If you answered the second one, that would be right for most fighters.
Is it because the composed fighter is supremely confident in his skills? Not necessarily. Whether he’s super prepared or under prepared is not the point. It’s the Act of Acting. It’s the SKILL of remaining cool, calm, collected and unfazed, regardless of how you feel or what the circumstance is in the fight.
You’re blitzing your opponent? Don’t get excited- remain composed, relaxed. You’re getting walloped- don’t panic. Grit your teeth, and fight- keeping your emotions in check.
In other words maintaining a POKER FACE is a powerful skill for your fighting toolbox.
It can sway judges, get the crowd on your side, ooze the confidence out of your opponent and decrease his performance.
I cringe at some of my early fights. My emotions were all over the place. I used to get frustrated, angry, aggressive, and be reckless. Far from the cool, calm, and collected type I’m advocating now.
The worst of the worst was when I got knocked out in a fight right during a cocky performance when I wasn’t respecting my opponent. Thank God YouTube didn’t exist back then as I would surely be in some cocky fighter gets KTFO highlights.
But, I also experienced the opposite result, when I was forced to control my emotions and hide my vulnerability. That fight I did a lot better than I should have.
I get a phone call asking if I wanted to fight at the end of the week on a Foxtel show.
The Key word for me was Foxtel- the televised sports channel shown across Australia. I was like of course! I’d do anything for exposure back then. There was no YouTube or social media and so Foxtel televised fights were the place to be, to get known across Australia.
The main events’ opponent had dropped out and they were looking for a quick replacement. Normally I would be anxious taking a fight less than a week away against an opponent with over triple the fight experience (45 fights vs. my 13), but the opponent wasn’t intimidating- a technical fighter who won mostly by decisions. Plus my stable mate Brett had beat him and I figured I should do the same
I wasn’t in bad shape but I wasn’t fight fit either- far from it. I figured I could get a few days in of hard pads with my friend Kenny at fitness first, which would boost my conditioning up a notch and I could last five threes if it went that far. I’d pick my shots, not waste energy, favor elbows and hopefully cut him and end the fight early before gassing out.
That was the plan.
The next day, after confirming the fight- I come on with a FEVER. And I rarely ever get sick! So, that meant no training. The next best thing I could do was to clear up my sickness before the fight. I fasted and drank fresh vegetable juice and slept a lot the next few days.
That was my “training camp” for a Main Event fight in Sydney.
Fight day comes and I’m feeling a little better. My fever subsided and I’d started to regain some strength again. But, I hadn’t trained or kicked pads in weeks so I didn’t know how fit or unfit I was.
It’s fight day.
Backstage, I go through my routine of stretching and shadow boxing and wait to be called up for the main fight. I think about my opponent: I’m sure he’s trained his ass off. He’s had months to prepare for this fight and it’s his hometown so he’s coming out to win.
As I shadowbox; I focus on my elbows. I tell myself to land one good one, just one! I have to be accurate, take my time, and land one.
First round: We start trading. I noticed straight away my body wasn’t doing what I wanted it to. I was missing the mark with my shots and my reaction time was slow. I kept pressing forward and looked focused, even though I was frustrated and my body wasn’t working properly.
The round ended and I walked back to my corner; heart pounding out my chest, blurry vision and lungs on fire. I thought to myself- I have to stay composed and not let him know how fucked I feel, because if he knew, he would finish me off quick.
I got to my corner and my trainer Jeab offered me water but I shook my head and didn’t take it, as if I didn’t need it. I knew if I opened my mouth I would gasp for air and expose how exhausted I was. I was aware of a camera that’s pointing straight at us in the corner and so I had to act for the TV. I kept a straight face as best I could and mentally prepared and accepted 4 more grueling rounds, (with the slight hope I would land an elbow, end the fight early and save me a lot of pain fighting).
I got through the second and the third, pushing my body as hard as I could. The fourth and fifth were a blur. I tried to land my elbows in the clinch but he was too evasive.
The fight finally ended. I had finished the 5 rounds. I wanted to collapse in the ring but I stood tall and stayed composed. I made it to the change rooms where my foot blew up like a watermelon. I had fractured it in the fight. My shins were banged up and when the adrenaline wore of I felt like I had been in a car accident. I lost the fight by decision.
But, it looked way more even than it should have.
I had a major disability is this fight- conditioning.
So I replaced it with a bluff. I acted like I was ready, waiting to land my shots, calculating, and this staved off my opponent from advancing.
This is what I believe happened in the fight:
I lowered his performance, by making him think I hadn’t switched gears yet. And that I had plenty in the tank, and he should pace himself. Which he did pace himself. He seemed to be cautious- he was hesitating.
And he totally didn’t have to!
I was buying time. In reality I would NOT have been much threat and if he knew how I felt and how really weak my body was, he could have just walked through my shots and crushed me.
But, he didn’t.
Hide your feelings and keep a straight face. Don’t give away what you think or feel. No matter what your circumstance is in the fight, never communicate it. There is no benefit in giving your opponent any unnecessary confidence. Maintain a good stance and act strong and unfazed whether it’s real or faked.
This isn’t just for when you’re losing or unconditioned. Either way, it will be an advantage to keep your emotions in check. It looks better, cleaner, more professional and always more intimidating.
So why not have that as your default demeanor when you fight and train?
Practice it in the gym. Master your poker face in sparring. Rehearse standing tall in between rounds. Make this into a habit!