How to Breathe with the Punches

A punch can kill you, there is much to be said for living in a world where the risk of someone hauling of at your head with their fist is next to nil.

Punching and Hormesis

Despite this I value the physical altercations I  had when I was young and often feel like people who have never been punched are missing something, that their conflict immune system is calibrated poorly.

This goes back to the concept of hormesis, allot of a given stressor is bad but a little bit is necessary to adapt to it, when something has been part of our adaptive environment for millions of years its complete disappearance can lead to us becoming weaker and less adaptable.

I first encountered this idea in regards to the hygiene theory of allergies, allergy rates have increased dramatically over the last century and it still not clear why. One of the most promising theories is that our immune system is actually designed to essentially calibrate what it responds to, through exposure to microbes in the soil and the world around us. Lacking these inputs the system becomes hyper  reactive.

I started noticing a similar phenomenon with falls in the early days of teaching parkour, when watching experienced practitioners or people with extensive athletic backgrounds you would see them take falls that looked potentially very dangerous, but you could see relaxation in the body and know they would handle the fall fine.

Raw beginners were at risk on even the smallest fall because they would overreact to the fall lock their limbs out and land stiffly on them. This is an over reaction to falling caused by a lack of exposure. Every kid learns to fall as part of learning to walk and run but as we master these movements if we don’t continue to challenge ourselves we can go through years without every falling and it turns out this is really bad if you ever do fall and if you are movement practitioner you will.

Physical Force

Physical force is another thing that was typical of our ancestral environment 10-60 percent modern hunter forager males die from homicide or warfare and again when we look at small children they do explore expressing their emotions physically and working for physical domination to control resources. While this level of violence is not something to be admired or romanticized I think once again the complete loss of this stressor from our development is damaging.

When I start training people in combatives the first issue that needs to be solved is their reactivity to contact, just like someone who never falls will tend to over react to falling someone who never gets hit will have excessive, fear, anger, competitive or avoidance responses to relatively mild amounts of contact, when people jump straight into sparring they will develop bad habits to avoid contact, or the will get hit hard and be to afraid to continue or they will escalate forces levels and end up sparring at far to high a level to be sustainable resulting in allot of training injuries.

Just as we can use focusing on the breathe as way to control the reactions of the nervous system while training at heights we can do the same thing when training combat.

Just Breathe

Practicing taking punches (to your guard not your face at least to start) at a safe but not completely comfortable level while focusing on diaphragmatic nasal breathing will develop your capacity to stay calm under the pressure, and the ability to recognize when your past your tolerance in training and likely to have negative reaction unless force levels are brought back down, is  incredibly valuable for a productive practice of combative movement.

So my challenge for you today, is get someone to hit you, at level you can handle while practicing calming breathing. If you have some martial arts experience you can then move into sparring and see if you can maintain the level of force that you determined through the drill was sustainable.

Take a look at this awesome combative work from the legendary Fedor Emelianenko. Fedor was well known for his calm approach and strong mental game.

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