If you have never been in a fight, let me describe it to you. You and your opponent may be staring each other down. Hands are up, feet are planted and your mind may be racing. The most common factor: your mind. When it’s your first time doing any fight, your mind will get to you. When you’re standing across from someone that is physically trying to hurt you, your adrenaline spikes up faster than any roller coaster. This adrenaline gives you strength, but it has some huge costs. Mainly, adrenaline spikes make you move wildly, but also the adrenaline spike causes you to crash when it drops. Whether it’s on the street, in a ring or on the mat, the common thread of adrenaline control and focus is key to not getting winded too quickly.
Even if you watch professional MMA fighters, you’ll see the adrenaline spike drop especially in heavyweight fights. Those fights are terrible to watch as they are just sloppy, mouths are open and punches are so wide and wild.
So how do we overcome it? In this article, I want to show you how to control your adrenaline for any fight and then I will specifically delve into controlling your gas for sparring, tournaments and on the street.
Tips to keeping your gas
Breathe: Obviously breathing sounds easy, but are you doing it correctly? When the adrenaline spikes, rookies take in a lot of air through their mouths, but just blow it all back out. No oxygen is actually entering their blood. Instead, take deep breaths through your nose. By oxygenating our bodies, our blood cells have what they have to make full deliveries to our cells and to keep our bodies and mind moving.
Breathe in for 3-4 seconds and exhale out of your mouth again for 3-4 seconds. By doing this deep breathing technique multiple times, you are counteracting the adrenaline spike by oxygenating your blood while also pushing the carbon dioxide out of your body. In addition, by making sure you are breathing for a full 3-4 seconds, you are going to help slow down your heart beats so that you do not feel overexerted. By lowering your heart beat, your body won’t work harder than it needs to.
Think: Too many fights get sloppy because no one is thinking. Inexperienced fighters end up doing whatever they feel rather than thinking about what makes sense. So what should you think about? Try to quickly answer these questions when you see your opponent:
Is s/he left handed or right handed?
Is s/he wearing any clothes that would inhibit movement?
Are their hands by their face or down by their hips?
If on the ground, is your opponent on their feet or are both knees on the floor?
What is the sound of their breathing?
Again, while you may think you don’t have enough time to think, you do. Within 1 second, you can answer all those questions and that will help you focus on weak points you can expose during a fight instead of fighting wildly without a plan.
Now that you have some game plan to control your adrenaline, let’s talk about what it’s like to be in a fight and how that affects your gas in each of these situations (talking from experience):
For any martial arts sparring, the art doesn’t matter so much as the experience. For instance, I grew up doing kickboxing sparring and was very comfortable on my feet. I could go 10 rounds no problem. However, when I first started doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), I was gassed after my first round. Why? Because I didn’t know what I was doing and I was worried about hurting my opponent and them hurting me. I mentally panicked and as a result my adrenaline spiked. So I dedicated years to BJJ. Then, when I went back to kickboxing, I was gassed. Why? Because I had not trained it in so long and was worried.
So when you are sparring with your teammates, the way to not be gassed is to have enough confidence and a game plan of what you want to do. Otherwise, you will get panicked and your adrenaline will cause you to crash. Now, I can move effortlessly between standup and ground fighting because I’m always looking to execute my game plan. Seriously, thinking is what can help you go from a Ford F-150 to a Tesla in terms of gas usage.
The tournament scene is very strange. There are lots of people around and if it’s your first, you almost think everyone there is your opponent- even the person who is just selling hot dogs! So that’s the first thing. Get that out of your mind. Your only opponents are those in your bracket- no one else. Don’t be a hater.
So let’s talk about the tournament or exhibition. Your feet touch the ground and everything becomes real to you. You’ll most likely be much more nervous than sparring. Your adrenaline might also be going crazy. I’ve had many kickboxing and BJJ matches and it’s funny to see grown-ass men finish their 5 minute round drenched with sweat and looking as if they just ran a marathon. A common sensation you may feel is your forearms or calves cramping. This is mostly a result of our friend adrenaline.
The best advice? Have fun. Honestly. It sounds so simple, but that’s the trick. You have a ref so use that. By having fun and seeing this as play, your adrenaline goes down. You still need to have a killer’s mentality, but instead of a Hannibal think of it more as a Chucky. Chucky is always having fun slashing away and does he get gassed? Have a game plan so you can focus, but have fun so you don’t psyche yourself out. That psyching out is what causes the power of your mind to dominate the power of your body and is what causes you to lose even before you fight your opponent.
I’m not talking about drunken fights. I’m talking about fights on the street where one person is trying to assault someone and knows what s/he is doing. Personally, I’ve been in a couple street altercations where I have ended up holding someone down until either the police came or they calmed down.
One story was that there was a man on the train and he was being very aggressive towards a woman. I signaled her to come by me and she did, leaving him alone. Later, he was sitting across from a man and shouted for people to make space for him to get off the train. We did and as he got up, he sucker punched the other guy so hard that his glasses flew off and the assailant tried to run. I quickly got him in a seat belt grip behind his back, transitioned to body lock and held him down until the cops came. My head was tucked towards his back so I was safe from any head butts or punches or kicks. I held him for about 5 minutes until the cops came. Afterwards, I was fine. Why? Because I had a plan. Within a split second of the punch happening, the plan was to protect myself and control the guy so that he couldn’t move and that is why I was able to keep calm.
So if you are ever in this predicament, your game plan should be to focus on subduing your opponent so that s/he can’t move anymore to hurt anyone else. By focusing and knowing what to go for, you help keep your adrenaline in check
Ultimately, adrenaline is there to help you. However, the cost of it is your gas tank. So instead of pouring gas on a fire and burning it up your fuel in one shot, you have to learn how to control your gas. To do this, breathe and think. In almost all situations, that is what will help you stay calm so you can keep fighting without feeling like you’re dying of exhaustion.