Calming the nerves during sparring?

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Talk' started by labellevie, Oct 29, 2018.

  1. labellevie

    labellevie White Belt

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    Hey!

    Newbie here. I'm a green belt, ITF TKD student, and have quite a bad problem with getting horribly nervous and losing my temper during sparring (in class and tournaments).

    Basically without rambling on, I've had issues with anxiety/panic attacks due to being bullied in my teen years and it's slowly getting better. I was physically beaten up by other girls and made to look "small" in front of other kids. Fast forward to now - when I've been sparring, I've been feeling absolutely sick with nerves beforehand because I start thinking "people are watching me, I'm going to look stupid if I fall over or fail, I absolutely cannot allow myself to mess up" and if they manage to get a shot, I take it really personal.

    I end up over thinking every move, I become frustrated and can't keep collected. I lost my cool in a tournament - I won gold thankfully but I lost my temper and let myself down. Also I've been turning down tournaments because I am so, so, nervous even though deep down I would love to go. I haven't told anybody in my class about my nerves because it's quite personal and they continually ask me why I don't participate often.

    So basically I want to learn to enjoy and look forward it! I know many people get nervous but for the most part, most people I talk to are excited beforehand. While they're excited, I'm throwing up in a bin somewhere. It's really getting in the way actually and I feel it's hindering me a lot. One of my instructors wants to train me up to elite level eventually as I train hard, I've got good movement and strong kicks (as a result, I feel extra pressure to look good when I spar!) but I really need to learn to detach myself from my emotions and my past in order to do well later on.

    Does anybody have any tips or advice? Thanks :)
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2018
  2. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    How much sparring have you done, thus far? I'm assuming it's some significant amount, given your performance at the tournament, but I don't want to assume anything. (And I'm not familiar with the belt order in your style.)
     
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  3. jobo

    jobo Grandmaster

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    well yes, if you let the past adversely effect your future, you are still being buillied.

    But is it the bullying thats the issue here or are you using it as a cop out ?, Putting undue presure on yourself is all you, its sports, it matters a bit but not a lot if you win or loose or look silly or look great, you go back and do it again next week, the big thing with sport is it teaches you to loose which is good if your not using the sport to define yourself.
     
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  4. _Simon_

    _Simon_ Master of Arts

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    G'day labellevie, and welcome to the forum :)

    Ah yep I'd say it's much more common than you think, so you're not alone there!

    There's alot of things you've mentioned, but I'm sure they're related to each other.

    Have you thought of looking into the anxiety a bit deeper? Whilst it's quite normal to be nervous before a tournament (I certainly get pretty nervous), when it gets really bad it's worth seeing what sort of thoughts are playing out in your mind. You've already mentioned a few like being watched, not wanting to stuff up etc, so it's worth looking at and challenging those thoughts. I have some perfectionist tendencies and anxiety stuff too, so whenever I tighten up and am frightened at not getting something 100% absolutely perfect (and more importantly, believing that it will be seen by many, judged harshly and that that says something about me), it's worth taking some nice deep breaths deep into your lower stomach, and asking "What am I really afraid of? What do I really think could happen that I'm scared of?"

    Usually the fear of judgement can just really paralyse people... and often it's a fear that people's judgements are not only true, but that it's a DIRECT reflection of your self-worth and value as a human being. So probing into that and really questioning it, you see that it's really that my deepest fears about myself (how I feel about myself) will be confirmed here and will turn out to be true. Question it! Are other people's judgements about me actually true? And even if someone else does judge me (which does happen), does it mean anything or is just a thought in someone else's head that just as soon as it came up, will be completely gone again anyway within a few seconds? And more importantly, is how I see myself... actually true? Do I have actually evidence for it at every moment of the day, or are there things that show me it actually isn't true?

    It goes deeper than just sparring and tournaments, and it feels like much more than just martial arts related, so it may be a bit of a process of unravelling it, and learning to challenge it within your every day life, but as it's seen to be completely false and untrue, the framework of it begins to crumble, as you see it never actually had a solid foundation to begin with. Here's where martial arts can bring out some painful stuff within us, but only to help us heal it.

    To me it's a matter of learning how to release that immense pressure you've put on yourself to be perfect and not look silly. That's a really, really big burden to carry... and I know how crushing that can feel.

    Be kind to yourself. Do little things every day that are little acts of kindness to yourself. Learning to let go of putting pressure on yourself means to live with more ease and treating yourself like you would an innocent frightened child who needs comfort. Listen to and speak to the inner child within you and be kind to her.

    Being aware of the grade A++++ standards you've placed on yourself and being more realistic will help to see that you don't have to be perfect. You can (and will) make mistakes, and that is how you really learn.

    Your past definitely played a part in this, but it's time to forgive the past and learn how to not blame it, but use it as your own tool for healing.

    The frustration, temper and taking it personally is another thing, but I'll leave it at that for now.

    More experience with tournaments will help too! The more you expose yourself to it the more you will learn how to relax for yourself. But you may feel that you need a break from tournaments for the moment while you address this, and then you can go back when you feel ready. No need to add extra pressure on yourself, forcing yourself to do tournaments! It'll be your own journey in this, and what I said may not even apply at all, so take what is useful and see what works for you.

    It sounds like you've already got some really good self reflection skills, so you're already doing well there :)

    I wish you well, let us know how you're getting on :)

    Ps. It's late and I'm tired hence why I rambled on and on haha.. and am in that sort of frame at the moment XD
     
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  5. JR 137

    JR 137 Senior Master

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    I don’t know the severity of your anxiety/symptoms. No one here does, as all they are are words on a screen. Most people get nervous doing these things, especially when it’s new. But that’s just generally speaking. If you feel your symptoms are severe and have the same symptoms in other aspects of your life, have you gone to or considered counseling? If you haven’t dealt with your previous experiences, you it could be PTSD rather than just simple anxiety. It all depends on how much this is actually hindering your life and happiness.

    Aside from that, a lot of people have anxiety when they begin sparring, and even seasoned MAists have some anxiety sparring with new people. Simply, they haven’t earned your trust yet. After some experience with them, you should become more relaxed due to trusting them - trusting they won’t hurt you, judge you, laugh at you, etc. That trust works both ways; you have to earn your sparring partners’ trust as well. In a person without any underlying issues, the only real cure for this is time and experience. There’s no substitute for experience.

    I’m not going to say “get out there and do it, you’ll be fine.” That’s advice I’d give to someone without your history. It could very well be all you need to do, or you might need some counseling. I don’t know you well enough, nor does anyone else on a forum. The good thing is many people have these issues and get past them. Everyone’s path to that is a bit different though; you have to find what works for you.
     
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  6. dvcochran

    dvcochran Senior Master

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    Welcome to the forum. It means a lot that you reached out for advise. It sounds to me like your glass is a least half full instead of half empty. You do not mention your current age but you have taken a hugely proactive step in starting Martial Arts as a conduit to help with your anxiety. Getting to green belt is fantastic. A really fun time in the journey. The fact that you have been to even one tournament AND won gold is solid. I wonder if, in that moment you overcame your fears, and just had some fun.
    Green belt is a time when our mind starts catching up and questioning all this stuff our body is being told to do. So it is great that you are questioning, trying to reconcile some of your own opinions with what you may see or hear in others. Yea, it happens when we are adults also. The two best things I can suggest is to look at the comparators as motivation, not criticism. That way there is no fear or condemnation. The second thing is reflect on what you do. Find a few things that you do really well and feel good about them. Confidence usually comes in really small pieces. It usually goes away in really big chunks so find a few things that you can always hold on to. If you instructor is recommending you for elite level training, take that the way it sounds. GOOD! Sounds like one of those good things you can use.
    If your emotions are controlling you to the point they stealing your joy, maybe it is time you sat down and talked it out with someone. If you are expecting perfection every time with every thing you are really making your road rough.
    Keep in touch and let us know how it is going. All the bests.
     
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  7. drop bear

    drop bear Sr. Grandmaster

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    Grind it until you overcome it. And have a good support team. And loose. Sparring, comp. Loosing is part of the development.
     
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  8. Headhunter

    Headhunter Senior Master

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    Just keep sparring and it'll feel more normal....best way to stop being scared of water is to get in the pool
     
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  9. labellevie

    labellevie White Belt

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    Thanks so much. So much helpful advice :)

    I haven't done a huge amount of sparring - not as much as I'd like to anyway! We have pure sparring sessions, and I want to go, but I become so nervous that I've only gone once or twice.

    You know, I wish it was a cop out then maybe it'd be easier to deal with but yeah there's an element of the bullying that still bothers me today (and outside the dojang, also). For example, the reason that I lost my temper in a tournament was because my opponent was constantly trying to hit my face. Long story short, this is something that girls did to me in school so I started thinking "Oh you're trying to hit my face, you want to disfigure me and make me look small" and I lost my temper. With hindsight, I should've used my speed to get out but instead I got in her face aggressively which was a poor judgement as she was heavier than me.

    When I read it back, it sounds silly. I'm an adult now and not a kid. But the fact that I allowed it to cloud my judgement is the most frustrating part and I ended up making myself look as bad as her (she was sloppy and made numerous fouls).


    Thanks for the warm welcome!

    I'm sorry you've experienced similar thoughts and feelings. It's great that you're learning to deal with it better though.

    It actually feels somewhat silly, when I write it down and read it back to myself. I know that the reason we do MA is purely for ourselves and not other people. So why should they matter? But actually convincing myself of this is a problem. When I started TKD, I enjoyed it much more than I do right now. As times gone on, I've been putting more and more pressure on myself to do good and I suppose that I (partly) feel this way because my instructor thinks that I've got a lot of potential. But I know it's only me putting the pressure on. I just want to enjoy it and not be so stuffy!

    You're right that it's probably going to take time to deal with this and I suppose that part of dealing with it means that I'll have to force myself to do more sparring and tournaments when I'm ready.


    Yep that's the thing, I know its completely normal to get the jitters before a fight and I've seen this with classmates. I don't mind a healthy level of anxiety but the anxiety is far greater than the enjoyment I get from sparring (and even performing tuls) in front of other people. I enjoy both immensely when nobody's around. Love it even. But doing both in front of other people has made me literally throw up.

    I'm actually receiving some help for generalised anxiety so I'm hoping that it'll help with this too! But I just wondered whether other fighters experienced similar issues - especially with regards to temper - and how they dealt with it.

    Thanks!

    You're totally right about having a glass half empty attitude. If I was more glass half full, then I'd learn to enjoy it more and see the positives rather than the negatives. I'd love to be excited at the thought of competing and potentially winning medals but instead I'm thinking of all the things that could go wrong which is sad really and takes away from the experience. Before my first ever tournament I was told by a Master "just enjoy it...". Such a simple thing really and I need to learn to do it.

    Yes it is exciting to be a green belt though!

    Yeah you're both right. No doubt I'll lose at times so I need to learn to be OK. Suppose I'll have to force myself to spar more often eventually and overcome it.
     
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  10. _Simon_

    _Simon_ Master of Arts

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    Sounds like you've got an awesome attitude about it all, and the fact that you're aware of it and are willing to address it is massive, willingness is all you need actually. Will take time for sure. Really great that you're talking to someone about your anxiety too.

    And while it's going to be very helpful to spar, I'd just suggest to not force yourself into tournaments as another pressure on yourself. But if you have an excitement to enter a tournament, go for it! There may still be nerves, but at least it won't be driven by more unnecessary pressure on yourself. Thoughts that come up will be symbolic of core beliefs you hold about yourself and others, so yeah I recommend looking at what thoughts are coming up without judgement, and your awareness of them will help you to see them through. And through and through and through..

    Let us know how it all goes, I definitely know the feeling though :)
     
  11. jobo

    jobo Grandmaster

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    Its all about context, i got big when i was about 17 and then spent a long time over reacting to people who were trying to " bully" me.

    If this is light sparing and she is over stepping the agreed bounds, by trying to hurt you, then it is indeed bullying, if its a Points match that has a winner, then not so much, so eeither you stood up to a bully and made iT plain your not putting up with it or you perhaps over reacted, but thats what commonly happens in contact sport, the adrenaline starts flowing and people get cross, every time i play five a side soccer a scuffle breaks out, ussually involving me,,, either way If no one gEts hurt, its of no consequence really
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2018
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  12. dvcochran

    dvcochran Senior Master

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    From what I read, a common theme is sparring as the main trigger. How do you do with say forms in front of a crowd, partner drills, etc...? Are there other things that stress you as much as sparring?
     
  13. oftheherd1

    oftheherd1 Senior Master

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    Keep us informed as many here would like to help, and will try. Hopefully some can help. I would echo the advice to consider counseling specifically for the feelings you have and how you might overcome them.
     
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  14. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Okay, given that, a lot of what others are saying is true: sparring experience will help. What you're running into is a self-created failure scenario. You've convinced yourself there's a high chance of failure, and that the consequences are bad. You've made a vivid story, and replayed it enough in your head that it actually feels like truth - the mind is susceptible to treating these scenarios as real experience, and expectations are based on experience.

    I know of two ways to change that expectation.

    The first is to spar and get some experience that counters the story you've run in your head. That will absolutely work in most environments. The only problem you may run into is if you've done too good a job building that failure scenario.

    The other is a mental exercise, and I'll be happy to share it if you PM me. I don't want to confuse it for you by getting it mixed in with other posts. Using it can help you get to where you can do more sparring, so you can get the experience you need for confidence.
     
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  15. Prostar

    Prostar Orange Belt

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    I used to smile while sparring. Not only did it relax me, but I had students tell me that it nu-nerved them. I saw it as a win-win.
     
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  16. Xue Sheng

    Xue Sheng All weight is underside

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    Don't forget to breathe....and relaxed, normal breathing is best....
     
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  17. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Agreed. And to the OP: remember that your "normal" breathing during these times is not probably actually normal, so you'll have to pay it some attention to get yourself to breathe normally.
     
  18. kempodisciple

    kempodisciple MT Moderator Staff Member

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    As far as I know, I still do. Some friends have told me it makes me look crazy.
     
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  19. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    The Hobbit used to scowl during attack lines exactly like this:
    upload_2018-10-31_18-41-58.jpeg

    She asked me one time why I was always grinning when she was doing an attack line. I told her she looked like an angry chipmunk. Somehow, she still eventually married me.
     
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  20. DaveB

    DaveB Master Black Belt

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    Hello. One thing that I've seen help people is to try to keep in mind that sparring is training not competition.

    This might seem obvious at first but, if you look at each sparring session as an opportunity to practice specific skills then you can focus on that and not think about winning or losing, just getting x technique right.

    So for example, you might practice trying to land a side kick off your back leg in one session, and then next class work on moving sideways around their kicks and punches instead of backwards etc. As you focus on your technique rather than the opponent you should hopefully be less vulnerable to emotion.

    The hope is that you can treat it as any other area of class while actively improving your skills and in the background of
    your mind get used to the environment to where it won't bother you anymore.
     
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