Factors that make a Fighter

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In this context, fighter refers to competition or gym environment fighter, not a streetwise fighter. The difference between competition and a street fight is the obvious absence of rules in a street fight. A competitive fighter may not necessarily be a good street fighter and could actually be hurt in a street situation. This can be due to a host of reasons, ranging from improper attire, unprepared for “disallowed” techniques, training for point technique, wrong perception of effective point techniques, unexpected reaction or unconventional moves of opponent, “hostile” environment,  use of weapons, etc. The factors below are not necessarily in the order of importance or effectiveness.

Courage: arguably the most important component or else the competitor will not put up a fight.

Instincts: without fighting instincts one cannot fight, as there will be no retaliatory response to an attack. A butterfly will not attempt to retaliate when it is being threatened but a bee will. 

Confidence: is gained by being prepared for the actual event, in other words, training extensively for it.  Be careful not be over confident!

Attitude: Proper attitude towards training, fighting, success and failure, will determine how long you remain a competitor and how successful you remain.

Fighting Spirit: Never Quit!

Fitness: Having good cardio-vascular to go the distance and execute the necessary techniques effectively, eliminating fear or panic which sets in as one is running out of steam. Techniques will be strong throughout the bouts, which affects an exhausted opponent, as your shots appear stronger than they are, when your opponent is at his weakest. Reflexes remain quick and openings can be used to full advantage. 

Strength: Being strong definitely help, contrary to traditional beliefs that the martial arts is based solely on technique and that strength does not matter. 

Deception:  Remember your opponent also know the same techniques.

 Balance: without which all techniques will be inefficient and ineffective. Posture, stance and correct weight distribution determine balance which in turn affects accuracy, speed, power, timing etc...

Timing: is absolutely essential in ensuring successful attacks, or for counter offense.

Speed/acceleration: necessary to generate power and to reach your target or evading/countering an attack. Fluid and smooth actions enhance speed and acceleration, creating explosive force with less chance of injury.

Accuracy: or else you hit or block nothing.

Reflexes: which come from both instinct and good training

Coordination: to effectively execute any technique, for even the simplest of actions requires a myriad of complex activity on the part of the brain and the body.

Power/force: dependent on mass and acceleration in order to inflict pain, wear down, knockout and or deter the opponent from doing as he pleases.

Flexibility: increases endurance, accuracy, speed, balance, power, timing, acceleration, reach, etc.. It also reduces the risk potential injury and allows the fighter a wider range of techniques firing from a wider angle

Breathing correctly. Place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. As you breathe in, the hand on the stomach should rise more than that on the chest.  Observe a baby, only the stomach area moves in and out. The baby breathes naturally and nature can’t be wrong. Poor posture and improper breathing attitudes make us breathe incorrectly. Generally, exhale at the execution of a technique retaining a pocket of air and tensing the diaphragm, to act as a cushion should there be a counter hit.

Intimidation: comes in many different forms, psyching out the opponent, not being tired, seemingly unaffected even after a hard blow had landed, superior evasive or neutralizing techniques making opponents attacks seem futile, attacks or counters that score decisively, having a reputation, etc.. all allow you control of the fight. The inferior fighter is hesitant to press his attack even when there is an opportunity and often slow down or attempt feeble token attacks, which sets him up for a counter or any unexpected change in tempo.

Knowing the rules and what you can get away with before you are penalized may not be a very honorable way of fighting, but that is what competition fighting is all about. The number of fighters knocked out right at the edge of the ring is evidence of this. The rookie who retreats to the boundary line feels he is out of bounds, lowers his guard expecting the fight to be broken off, the veteran fighter within the ring is very much “live” and will press his attack. It is the referee who breaks the fight and until that occurs, the fight is very much live.  Similarly, a low kick can slow down an opponent and make him less potent but, may only draw a warning from the referee. The “victim” is already hurt and not 100 per cent.

Proper training program. Train specifically for the challenges ahead. While it is sometimes good to cross train, do not stray too far. You do not spend more time at an aerobics gym or go swimming, than being on the road if you want to run the marathon. Peak just before the competition to be at ones best and stay injury free. Condition the body, forearms, shins, instep and thighs, which take most of the punishment in TKD competitions.

Endurance: both physically and mentally during the competition as well as in training.

Toughness: The ability to take shots is crucial as no matter how skilled a technician, if you are unable to take a shot, the competition is over.

Correct Weight for your height in the division you are in is very important!  Taekwondo does favor the “lean and mean” long legged fighter but as in any sport, superior technique, speed, power and determination can still overcome reach or weight advantage.                                     

Nutrition:, sometimes the least emphasized, is very important. A very high carbohydrate diet is necessary for the energy level needed for training as well as for the competition itself. Protein is for building and rebuilding muscle tissue and complex carbohydrates are needed to supply energy to the tired muscles that occur during prolonged exercise.  Fiber and lots of fluids help in waste removal, maintain chemical and mineral balance and prevents dehydration. A nutritionist would be better able to give the right advice.

Moral support and team spirit can motivate and push the fighter to dig deep when it is needed.

Proper Rest & Recreation before, during and after training prepares you physically and mentally and is essential to allow the body and the mind to relax and replenish itself. 

Footwork: assists bridging or maintaining the gap, coordination, stamina, balance, momentum, evasion, rolling with the blows, etc. Be careful that footwork and bouncing is not just for show. My British students will quote me saying, “when they are busy looking good, nail them”. Footwork creates momentum as it is easier and quicker to move a body already in motion than one that is still (Newton’s law of motion). It can disguise the angle and direction of attack, especially when the stance is being switched.

Strategy: The element of surprise. A sudden unexpected attack or from an unexpected angle is usually successful. The shot that you don’t see is usually the one that knocks you out. Too often, fighters fall into a rhythm; first one launches an attack, the other then retaliates and it sways back and forth. Set up your opponent. An attack or counter should not be predictable or expected. Military strategy follows the same principles especially with an ambush or attack; Little Big Horn, Pearl Harbor, Raid on Entebbe, all examples of unexpected attacks. Terrorist attacks (911) usually inflict casualties and create havoc as it strikes without warning. When two competitors are evenly matched, the more aggressive fighter normally wins. It is generally to your advantage to attack, as it is harder to counter attack.  When you attack, you determine the technique, and when to execute it, whereas in counterattacking you are responding to it. However, especially, in Taekwondo where the fighting distance(reactionary gap) is greater, it allows a quick counter fighter better than an even chance for a successful counter. Successful counters are usually the result of a superior combatant, having very quick reflexes and a correct response to an “anticipated” attack, reached by a rapid process of elimination. Judges too tend to favor the aggressive fighter.

Experience: Crucial in developing and honing most of the factors mentioned above. You can spot inexperienced fighters at a competition, they are the ones warming up much too early. Remember experience is useless if you don’t learn from it. Experienced competitors will peak their training just before the competition, knowing they are at their best.  

Having a good “coach” to guide your training and point out weaknesses and strengths of your opponent and yourself and especially to inspire you to go that one step beyond.

In conclusion, do not be consumed by the glory of winning, losing sight of the real rewards of  traditional martial arts training. Remember you are only champion for that day and only against those that competed that day".