The reset effect

If you ask many martial arts practitioners how they feel after a training session most of them will describe a sense of well-being, relaxation and other positive factors. The biochemistry behind this well-being is relative simple; the adrenaline initially released in the blood stream due to a stressful situation helps releasing dopamine at the end of the training which makes us feel good.

In my long experience in training and teaching martial arts I repeatedly noticed a standardised outcome from all of my training sessions; I decided to call this the “reset effect”.  My way of describing it is: “it doesn’t matter in what mood I enter a class, I will always come out feeling good, physically slightly tired, with a well-being feeling of having completed a great and complete workout”.

In fact I end up in a good, positive and relaxed mood which helps me to look forward to the activities which will follow in that evening: dinner, relax, family time or eventually going out and meet other people.  I have been training martial arts 2-4 times per week for 30+ years, which is a very long time.

As training is usually after work or, on Sunday, after a relaxed day, it’s quite usually to arrive at training in a variety of moods:

  • Happy or euphoric because I just closed a good deal or achieved something good
  • Irritated because of an argument with a client, supplier or the boss
  • Stressed because of a dead line
  • Shocked (just once but I still remember it) because I was told my company was going into liquidation
  • Anxious about an upcoming important event like a university exam or a job interview
  • Sleepy because of lack of sleep or just woken up from an afternoon nap

Usually the fact itself I am entering the training room is already partially smoothing down the previously described feelings.  Then I warm up for about half hour and the fact that I have to concentrate on the exercises it helps me detaching even more from these feelings.  Then the 60-90 minutes training, which requires full concentration, truly helps resetting my whole mood.  So the next few times you train martial arts try paying attention at how you feel at the end of each training session and check whether it has for the same “reset effect” on you.

Five lessons I learnt from “Idris Elba: Fighter”

It used to take many months of training for a beginner to be ready to fight at amateur level and often years for professionals; thing have changed in recent years.  Nowadays is relatively common to hear of individuals with less than two years’ training experience having their professional debut in MMA or Kickboxing.  I watched last night the last episode of the reality TV series “Idris Elba: Fighter” and I was pleased of the overall content.  In fact it was a nice learning experience about Idris Elba, his ambitious project and the result he managed to achieve.  Here are the five lessons I learnt.

You can make a kickboxer in 12 months

I come from the traditional martial arts background where anybody with less than 5 years’ experience is considered a beginner.  Over the last couple of decades I learnt, from teaching some of my highly motivated students, that is possible to teach most of the techniques within a few months and these techniques can be perfected in the next half a year or so.  When I teach kickboxing to Cambridge University Kickboxing I often meet in October beginners  who want to fight the following March and, every year, at least a few of them, achieve amazing results and scores. “Idris Elba: Fighter” shows that a 44 years old actor with no previous martial arts experience can become a kickboxer in 12 months.

Never underestimate the underdog

His opponent was very full of himself; his fight plan was about finishing the fight within 30 seconds, maximum 1 minute.  He assumed Idris would not be a decent kickboxer because he is an actor. In fighting sports KO do happen and this one was one of them.  In all honesty, I am not too impressed of a kickboxer with 16 years’ experience who loses against a guy who did not know kickboxing a year ago.

The coach has a main role

A good coach knows what to teach you, how to get you fight ready, how to maximise your strengths and to avoid exposing your weaknesses. With a good coach Idris went from total beginner to a professional training proficiency within a year.  He had the right support in terms of training, recovering, therapy and nutrition over a year of very intense training.

Money helps, always

Coaching and gym cost money, supplements and the right food cost money, therapists cost money.  Training cost money because while you are training you are not working. So having money in the form of savings or a sponsor helps your dream to become true, faster than if you have to support your dream while working a full time job.

It’s all about determination

Training is hard; preparing for a professional fight, however just 3x2mins rounds, is draining for the expected fitness level, the technical skills required and the mental attitude.  These three components are essential but determination, together and the right coach support in the dark moments, is what pushes you forward, when it hurts, when you are tired or you feel you cannot continue.

At the end of a full year preparation the fight lasted a relatively short time; Idris was surely loosing badly for the first minute or so.  He got hit everywhere by punches, kicks and knee strikes; then he managed to hit back a few times.  His opponent was not prepared to this retaliation and got scored badly by a few punches then a knee strike in the stomach put him down.  The referee counted to 10 and gave to Idris the victory by KO.

Did Idris move with the smoothness of a jungle cat?  No he did not; his positions, foot work and guard looked similar to many beginners I coach.  In one of his last training session when he was training with an American champion it was very visible the difference of many years of experience between the two guys in the ring.  However Idris set himself an ambitious goal, he worked hard for it and, by all means: well done Idris Elba.

Jeet Kune Do trapping by Inosanto

Dan Inosanto is a martial arts expert amongst the best known in the west world due to his early work with Bruce Lee and then being one of the few certified teachers of Jeet Kune Do the way of the intercepting fist defined by Bruce Lee as a non-style of fighting that encourages students to learn different styles, peek and choose the essential bits of each and discard the superfluous.  Dan Inosanto is a true master of many different martial arts and I always like in his interviews and videos the continuous reference to one or the other art, pointing out differences and similarities. In many ways this approach marries my philosophy about martial arts.

In this video he shows a few basic principles about Jeet Kune Do trapping.  Trapping is mostly used by a few Chinese, Indonesian and Filipino arts and essentially it manifests by grabbing, slapping or deflecting an attacking limb with the intent of neutralise the attack or prevent a block or counter attack.