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Composure Under Pressure (2017)

What is meant by this term? How does it apply to a Martial Arts context? Simply put, composure under pressure means being able to remain calm and retain one’s faculties when faced with a difficult situation.


A Martial Artist can be defined as an individual who has mastery of himself in terms of his physical and mental faculties, someone who is able to act under pressure calmly and morally. However, sometimes in times of fear, an individual may inadvertently and unintentionally kill another in self defence because they did not know when to stop, whereas another example would be an individual who crumbles under the sheer pressure and freeze.


There are many practitioners who are excellent at what they do in training and in training only. For some reason, they are unable to translate their skills to real life situations, which may be due to aspects discussed in previous articles (Traditional to Modern Parts 1 and 2) of having a limited skill set. Many may be able to analytically describe how they are able to defend themselves theoretically and therefore write cheques that their bodies simply cannot cash, where they are unable to apply what they know when they are under pressure.


We have all been there; it does not need to be a situation involving physical confrontation, it could be an argument or dispute with someone else or almost anything of that nature. So what happens when we are under pressure?  Generally, we freeze, clench up and we do not breathe properly; with the surge of adrenalin pumping through us, we are unable to act appropriately despite our training. Of course, having ample training does help; it is absolutely advisable to learn as much as you can to be able to contain and effectively deal with situations as best as possible (Whilst this may sound vague, the purpose of this is for you to be able to apply this to almost every situation you could face); you will simply not come into possession of new knowledge in times of pressure and stress.


It is all to do with your fight or flight response; when we are suddenly faced with danger, our bodies automatically make a switch to allow for us to deal with the situation in preparation for defending ourselves. The Sympathetic Nervous System activates when we are under threat, where those changes are made. Many of us crumble under the fear as we freeze up also. Our minds often concentrate on what might happen as opposed to what is actually happening, which contributes towards our powerlessness. This is something that will be discussed in another article.


If you are to examine your breathing right now, it is safe to assume that your breathing is not laboured, relaxed and slower than what it would be if you were afraid. The body engages the Parasympathetic Nervous System when relaxed. When we are in a situation, it is essential to return your breathing, which by now would be laboured, back to what is it when you are relaxed and thus, disengaging the Sympathetic Nervous System in order to for us to reengage the Parasympathetic Nervous System. To do this, you must take very deep breaths and fill your lungs with oxygen. It is important to do this as your lungs will have opened up more due to the nature of the SNS.


Once you are able to do this effectively, your physical and mental faculties will return to you so that you are able to overcome the freezing and the fear. This can be applied to every situation that compels you to be afraid, from physical confrontations to job interviews and driving tests, so that you are able to relax and perform to your maximum capability.


Knowing how to breathe and apply it to such a situation can be a Martial Artist’s  best tool so that he can act and react accordingly. Nervous individuals about to go in for their driving test go through similar if not the same processes as competitive fighters who have nerves before a fight. Though, it is not just the Martial Artist who can benefit from this.

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