We see it all the time. Someone will come into a class with the goal of learning realistic self-defense. However, they have no intention of getting hurt in the process. And then the first class happens. They realize that goal is a little bit more difficult to achieve than they had imagined. So what is at the root of this fear? And how do we combat it both mentally and physically? In reality, true martial art injuries are less common than that of football and hockey players. But the martial arts is still viewed as the more dangerous activity – Still Afraid to Get Hit? Let’s unpack that.
Afraid to Get Hit? Mental Preparation
Fear of getting hit is a common enough mindset. It most certainly makes sense: why would I intentionally do something that would hurt me? We all have built up layers of protection in our minds that keep us from doing things that will hurt us. The body has countless mechanisms in place to protect itself and is reluctant to consciously allow harm. But when it comes to martial arts, we have to weigh the risks against the benefits. Do I want to (a) be able to defend myself when I really need to or (b) avoid the possibility of immediate injury in my martial arts class? Choosing option A is the first step toward changing this mindset and moving toward being an effective fighter. The second step is a bit more complicated: accepting that you are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, going to get hit. A lot.
Hopefully your school implements safe sparring practices like gloves, a mouthpiece, and head gear – and doesn’t glorify students beating each other into a pulp. But if they do implement safe sparring practices, be rest assured that there is little to no risk of serious injury. Minor cuts and bruises yes, muscle strains and sprains maybe, but serious injury – unlikely.
Afraid to Get Hit? Physical Preparation
After you have accepted that you will be getting hit, the best way to prepare for that is a lot of practice. Practice in the air, against a punching bag, and with a partner who is willing to take it slow until you get the technique. Learn the defensive techniques and practice them until they are a part of your muscle memory and engrained in your subconscious. Practice until you no longer have to think about which technique to use, because you already know.
No one is going to be a great fighter their first day, like everything it takes practice; but if it isn’t the right kind of practice, it could only make it worse. Say you are practicing with someone who always throws their attacks in the same sequence. Or they aim toward the side of your head instead of straight at it. Or obviously telegraphs their moves. The amount of progress you make working with this person is going to be considerably less than working with a good partner.
Ultimately, it is possible that your fear of getting hit is actually a fear of failure. A fear, not of getting hurt, but of losing and being considered lesser than your opponent. When I first started sparring, I was a purely defensive fighter. This was solely for the reason that I was afraid to try and attack. I was afraid to attack because I knew at first I would fail. In my mind trying and failing was worse than not trying at all. For other people, they fear the pre-punch anticipation. Meaning, not knowing when or how they are going to get hit. But if you ask any instructor, they would rather see someone who puts in the effort and fails over someone who never gets hit any day.