Fear is a basic human emotion that has existed since the beginning of time. While fear is a necessary tool that is useful for our human survival, fear can completely cripple us when it comes to performing at our best.
The key to performing well in fighting is to stay loose and relaxed throughout so that you can enter the “zone” during your competition. If you can find the “zone” in a fight, you will put your mind, body, and spirit in a place where you can perform at your peak level.
Unfortunately, fear can cripple fighters and make them look like completely different people. Nobody is immune to fear. Just because a fighter has a lot of fights doesn’t mean they don’t experience fear. Fear is the reason why you see some fighters completely choke in a fight.
When a fighter chokes, everything shuts down, and they become overwhelmed by anxiety, fear, and other emotions. An inexperienced fighter may end up doing nothing the entire fight or even going down after a couple of easy shots, while an experienced fighter may end up putting on very poor performances in the ring.
People don’t understand that most of fighting is mental and learning how to deal with the fears, pressure, and anxiety that comes with experience. If you go into a fight without understanding some of the mental pressures that you will face, you may get crippled by them.
The biggest tool a fighter can have is the ability to recognize, identify, and understand the fears that you will experience in the ring. All of these fears have the ability to take you out of the Zone and can cause you to have a poor fight.
The following are 7 common fears that you will experience if you decide to step into the Muay Thai ring.
#1. Fear of Getting Injured or Hurt
What If I get injured or knocked out in the fight?
The most common fear among people who haven’t fought is the fear of injury. This is by far the biggest reason why a lot of people don’t want to step into the ring. While injuries do happen, it is much less common than you think.
The human mind has a funny way of blowing things out of proportion and making everything seem scarier than it actually is. Even though there is risk involved in fighting, the risk is much smaller than you think. If you go into a fight prepared with good fundamentals and defensive skills, you will be just fine.
The problem is when you read worst case scenario stories of fighters who have died or have been seriously hurt in the ring the mind starts to imagine it happening to you. When you watch highlight reels of fighters getting knocked unconscious, sliced up by elbows, and having their legs chopped down by low kicks, you are watching guys who are probably much better than you (assuming you don’t have many fights). Fortunately, in your first few fights you should be facing someone who is at your level (hopefully).
Solution: Understand the risk of injury is much less than you think it is (especially in amateur fights). I have seen hundreds of guys compete in the ring and I have cornered dozens of fighters, and you would be surprised how few get injured or hurt. Yes, you will walk out of the fight probably limping and having swollen shins, etc., but serious injuries are rare.
#2. Fear of Being Unprepared
Did I train hard enough for this fight or could I have done more?
Can you think back to the last time you took a very important test in school? The type of make or break test that determined something that was important in your future. If you are like me, going into the test you were probably worrying about whether or not you studied hard enough and had prepared for all of the possible questions that they could ask for the test.
If you think of fighting, it is very similar to preparing for a written exam in school. You learn techniques and develop your skills in training and every time you fight you get to test yourself to see how much you know. Your opponent is essentially the exam. Whether you win or lose the fight, you will learn a lot about yourself.
The fear of being unprepared for your fight is a real thing that many fighters face. Sometimes no matter how hard you train you will always question if you could have trained a bit harder. Could I have run a few extra days in the weeks leading up to this fight and should I have been sparring more?
Solution: Having a good coach is crucial when it comes to being prepared for a fight. Even though you may feel unprepared, your coach will have a good idea of whether or not this is based in reality or not. If you have been skipping training and slacking off leading up to the fight, then this fear may be reality because of the lack of hard work.
As long as you go into the fight giving everything you have in training, there is nothing more you can ask yourself. Even though you may feel the need to constantly question your conditioning and preparation before the fight, you are probably much more ready than you think.
#3. Fear of Failure
What will happen if I lose this fight?
Every fighter fears failing. You might go through the best fight camps of your life and get caught with a big shot in the first round and get knocked out. That is life.
The truth is that Muay Thai is a very harsh world. If a Muay Thai fighter at a gym continues to lose fights, their gym will get rid of the fighter and sell him to another gym. In Thailand Muay Thai is a business and if you can’t produce results, then you are expendable.
While most people don’t have to worry about being kicked out of their gym if they lose, the fear of failure is very real. In the Western world, people place a lot of merit on having a “winning” record. Losing a few fights could result in making it difficult to get fights in the future.
The more fights and experience that you accumulate, the more you have to lose. When you are having your first fight, nobody places high expectations on you. However, when you become “good” and people start looking up to you as someone who is at another level, you suddenly failing becomes a lot more significant.
Solution: It is important to learn how to remove the emotional component of winning and losing from the equation. Most people think if they lose, they will somehow be a failure and everyone will look down on them. Focus on factors that you have control over and the results will take care of themselves. If you lose, think of it as a lesson learned so you can come back stronger.
#4. Fear of Not Being Good Enough
If I can’t manage to have one good week of training how can I ever succeed in this sport? I lost my last two fights; I can’t even win anymore.
Whenever you experience a setback or loss in Muay Thai, the first thought that will rush into your head is, “am I good enough” or “do I have what it takes to succeed?”
You may experience these negative thoughts when you have a bad day/week of training or after you lose a few fights. You may question whether you have what it takes to make it, even though you’ve proven in the past that you do have what it takes.
Sometimes your life experiences will even affect your outlook in training. Someone who has struggled with work, their career, or a relationship may start to see those failures as validation that they are not good enough in all aspects of their life.
Being afraid that you are not good enough can cause you to give less than your 100% in training and will make you suffer when it comes to your training and competition.
Solution: It is important to understand that you are human and everyone has good days and bad days. You won’t always perform at 100%, and you will lose fights. What really determines your strength as a person and a fighter is how you deal with these setbacks and come back stronger. Can you push past your fears and come back even better than before or will you let those fears conquer you?
#5. Fear of Not Living Up to Expectations
What will people think if I lose this fight? Everyone expects me to win, so I have to win!
Nothing is worse than going into a fight where everyone is expecting you to win. Having your trainers and fellow students tell you how great you are is good, but it gives you more pressure to go out and perform.
The truth about competition is nothing is guaranteed. No matter how much better you are than your opponent, it doesn’t mean you are guaranteed to win. I have seen fighters who had no business being in the ring pull off some pretty mean upsets.
If you are someone who sets high expectations for yourself, it can create fear of failing to live up to your expectations.
The better you get, the higher the expectations and the more pressure that you experience. Pressure and expectations go hand in hand.
Solutions: Even though you should expect success when you compete, it is important to focus on the process and not the outcome. At the end of the day, you can never guarantee a win, but you can guarantee that you will try your hardest and give it 100%. That is all your can ask of yourself.
One of my Thai trainers, who was the champion of Thailand 14 years ago, told me that he had a lot of pressure when he was fighting in his prime. When the gyms would bet upwards of a million baht on his matches, he would have a difficult time breathing and controlling his nerves before the fight. In order to calm himself down, he would often visit the Buddhist temple so he could help clear his mind and release some of the anxiety.
#6. Fear of Being Judged
What if I look like an idiot in the ring and get destroyed? I will be the laughing stock of everyone around me.
The fear of being judged by people around you is a very real fear that people face in all aspects of their lives, especially fighting. If you find yourself thinking about what other people would say if you lose or have a poor performance, then you are worrying about things that are out of your control.
If I lose the fight what will other people think?
Given the huge impact of social media, every time someone fights the evidence gets put up on the internet for everyone to see. Nobody wants to be that guy at the end of a brutal highlight reel who is lying unconscious as his opponent is standing over them victorious.
This is a similar fear to failing to live up to other people expectations because it is a fear over something that you have no control over. If someone wants to make a nasty comment about your fight on YouTube and troll you, that is something that you cannot control.
Part of development is learning how to ignore the hate and negativity that some people like to spread and focus on trying to make yourself better. Dealing with haters is something that all of us have to face at different points in our lives, and they will always be around.
Solution: Don’t give a damn about what others think. The truth is that others people’s opinions are irrelevant. The only opinions that should matter is what your coach is telling you and what your training partners tell you. People that actually have an importance in your life matter, the rest of people are just noise. Whether they think you are good or not, don’t let any of the chatter get to your head.
#7. Fear of Success
I haven’t succeeded in anything in my life, what makes me think I can succeed at this?
One of the reasons why some people never live up to their potential is because they are afraid of succeeding. We all know talented individuals who could have made it far in some sports but failed to succeed. The fear of success is a fear of the consequences of success. If you win a big fight, it means you will have more pressure and more expectations.
Fighters who are afraid of success, won’t push themselves to their limit in training and will self-sabotage their chances of winning a fight. These are often the fighters who always lose close fights, where they could have won if they pushed themselves a little bit harder in the later rounds.
The fear of success is usually a mental block that comes from other areas of someone’s life. Even though a fighter could have the skills and technique to compete with their opponent, their minds will tell them they are not good enough.
I remember a guy who was having his third fight in Thailand, convince himself that they were going to give him a tough opponent because he won his first two fights. Weeks leading up to the fight, he was talking about how hard his fight would be. He was afraid of success, and he ended up getting knocked out in the second round of his fight.
Solution: Believe that you do deserve to win and be successful in whatever you do. Just because you have had setbacks in Muay Thai and other areas of your life, does not make you a failure and incapable of succeeding. Embrace success and realize that you can succeed if you put enough hard work and effort into your training.
Eliminating Fear-Based Thinking
If you are consumed with worry of not meeting expectations and losing, it increases the likelihood of those outcomes occurring.
People who can fill their minds with positive thoughts and feelings are much more likely to have better performance. If you are worried about getting injured, you are much more likely to get injured because you are putting that outcome in your head.
I wrote another detailed article about facing my own fears in the Muay Thai ring and how I overcome it. To read that article you need to subscribe to our free newsletter and you will get an email with access to it.
Here is an example of fear based thinking affects the outcome of a fight:
A fighter named Billy has a high level of fear. He is extremely scared of his next opponent who is known for his knockout power. Leading up to the fight Billy keeps telling himself, “don’t get knocked out.”
When the fight starts, Billy has already filled his mind with the thought of getting knocked out. Even though Billy has the skill and technique to win the fight, he doesn’t believe he can beat his opponent.
Because Billy is fighting scared he doesn’t fight to his potential. He is extremely tense in the fight, which makes his body move slower. Instead of throwing his normal powerful strikes, he fights more defensively because he doesn’t want to get knocked out.
Since Billy is now fighting “not to get knocked out” it gives his opponent confidence. Billy’s confident opponent now feels he can destroy Billy, who has already lost the mental battle in his head. Billy’s opponent can see the fear in Billy’s eyes and it is only a matter of time before he knocks him out.
As you can see from this example, the fear of getting knocked out ended up turning this fear into a reality.
It is important for you to avoid negative thinking because it will only affect you in a negative way.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be aware that your opponent has knockout power, but you shouldn’t dwell on it. Instead of thinking about what your opponent has, start thinking about the many dangerous weapons that you possess and why he should be afraid of you.
By replacing the negative thoughts with positive ones, you will perform better because you are giving your brain the right signals.
Fear will Always be Present
The most important thing you need to understand about fear is that it will always be there. When you are strong and confident it will often take a back seat hiding in the shadows, however, from time to time it will rear its ugly head and try to hinder your progress.
By accepting fear, it will allow you to move past it and focus on more important things. The truth is you will feel fear before a fight, and that is simply something you cannot control. What you can control is how you react to that fear and what thoughts you put inside your head to motivate you going forward.
Do you want to learn more?
If you enjoyed reading this article I suggest you check out my book Muay Thai Strategy. I have a complete chapter on the the mental game and I offer strategies on how you can ensure that you don’t suffer from breakdowns in your fights.
This book was written to give people a template on everything that you need to know to build a complete Muay Thai game from the ground up. You can learn more about the book HERE.