Dealing With the First Big Hit


The first solid hit I ever got was rewarding. It was in my first month or so of MMA training, back before I ever picked up a sword. I was a young and not so spry 30, my opponent was a broad shouldered 19 year old beast. I caught a left hook to the temple so hard that both feet left the ground, and I flew sideways for about a meter before crashing into the wall…still on my feet, still in guard. The world was pretty wobbly, but I was inordinately pleased that I was still up and in guard.

George St. Pierre just retired from MMA competition after booking more time in the cage than anyone else. One of the concerns people had brought up was the amount of damage he had taken in the ring. It accumulates. Muhammad Ali had an incredible ability to dodge blows, but he’s still suffering from the cruelest effects of being hit repeatedly. You can win all of your fights, but still walk away with life-altering damage.

Not that I’m talking about the long-term effects of pro fighting, but just pointing out that even the most winning fighters still take epic blows in the process of winning a bout. To be an unarmed fighter means coming to grips with the fact that you are going to getting hit, and getting hit hard. And it can’t faze you in the slightest when it happens, or you will get a world more hurt in short order.

There are conditioning tricks you can do that ease things…and before any gets any ideas, getting hit hard repeatedly in order to get used to being hit is a stupid idea. Just ask Mr. Ali. I’m not going to talk about the physical things today. I’m more interested in the mental process.

The first hurdle to overcome in learning to box is to overcome the fear of being hit. Most people never start boxing because they have a simple and wise desire to not be hit in the face. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just common sense. In our classes, most people can do our boxing lessons and never have to deal with being struck. But as you train more, the temptation to put on the gloves and join the advanced students becomes more tempting. The temptation mixed in with the desire not to be punched in the face can start to turn into anxiety and even fear.

I like to watch a student’s first contact sparring session. Safety and pedagogy aside, it’s always rewarding to see someone get rocked for the first time. It’s a serious life-altering moment for everyone. They will not be the same person afterwards, and it’s a privilege to see that moment. It’s almost always the same response. They get hit, you see them briefly fade out just a tiny bit…not from the force of the blow so much as from a moment of pulling into themselves.

For the tiniest second, they have a little moment of introspection. They realize they have just been hit hard and wobbled. The initial flash is shocking and overwhelming…the brain screams about horrible things. But then reality floods in. In the moment, there is little or no pain. There is a little bit of fog over everything, but you can sense it starting to fade almost immediately. You are still alive. Still functioning. It’s not so bad at all. And…what the hell! They hit me! I’m not going to let them get away with that!

Nobody likes getting hit. Once you get past that first blow, you start the process of learning to keep moving and keep fighting, ignoring the impact. It becomes a skill…a feature. A part of who you are. You learn to not get hit, but you also learn to move past being hit. It’s an essential part of being a martial artist. It’s not one of the enjoyable parts, but it is key. It’s not a thing you can avoid.

The photo above, by the way, is not quite what it seems. Justin has been rocked back not by the right hand in contact with his waist, but by one of She-Hulk’s wicked left hooks. You can see from the distance his head has moved back that it was one hell of a punch. It only slowed him down for a second, though. The favour was returned later. The things we do for fun…



6 thoughts on “Dealing With the First Big Hit

  1. Stu

    The day I stopped caring about getting hit was just amazing. Watching students get over it is really rewarding.

    I disagree with you about getting hit for acclimation as there are some wonderful ROSS drills for accelerating the process and learning to absorb shock but this is a great post! I’ve missed reading your log David.

    Do you guys ever worry about not having a soft surface underneath you in case someone gets knocked out? We spar on mata for this reason.

    1. Tao Roung Wong

      Depends on where we are. With 2 locations, dragging the mats back and forth can be hard. But we do pull them out when we can and try to keep things in the mats when they are available.

      1. David R. Packer Post author

        Three locations if you count the park, which includes a nice damp and spongy built in mat. And don’t forget no vehicle for transporting things, either. All of our classes are basically limited to what we can carry on our backs and on transit, with the exception of the loaner swords that Kieth transports for us. Hopefully we can move to a permanent location this year and get some real equipment.

    2. David R. Packer Post author

      Getting hit for acclimation isn’t really what I am concerned about and opposed to. What I’m opposed to is people who think you need to make every sparring session an all-out effort thing. Intensity needs to be managed and cycled for healthy fighters. I don’t want someone having to blow off a bout because they got jacked in sparring. I’ve also run across people who think that a concussion or three every few weeks is just something to shrug off.

      I suppose I could have been clear that I was thinking of those people, and not the more normal smart folk out there. But I do write my posts shortly after waking up, and they are all stream of conscious, so…their will always be gaps in what I write here.

    1. David R. Packer Post author

      Thanks! I would have written one yesterday as well, but my health went south. I’ll see what I can do today, though. I had to pass on writing new posts for the last few months…work went into the christmas shipping rush, and I had to work full-time instead of my usual part time.


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