Flinching is a reflex that is very often seen in beginners who take up fighting styles of karate or Tae Kwon Do or boxing. Especially if it is a student who is quite confused or is very hesitant or quite scared of sparring, flinching comes as a natural response to them when faced with an opponent. We are going to discuss here, how to stop flinching.
Usually what happens is that when they see the attack or the punch coming in they put their hands up to cover their face, their eyes close shut and their head turns to their side behind their raised hands, and often, their back are turned to the front to completely expose themselves to their opponent in fear of getting attacked.
This is what constitutes flinching and it comes as a natural reaction or response to some beginners. It is not something to be ashamed of or to be worried about. Because you are not used to being in such a free fighting scenario, your body reacts to it in a way that it deems appropriate because it knows a probably painful attack in oncoming and it has no way of calculating the right defensive response because it is not used to that quick decision making while under stress, which is why you flinch. But the good part is that you can train yourself to do just the opposite and rid yourself of the flinch.
This act of flinching can definitely cause a lot of problems going forth in the sport. Because of which you will have to go through some training through which you will have to train yourself to stop flinching altogether. The downsides of flinching are substantially many: the momentary distraction will make you lose sight of your opponent which will in turn give them the advantage over you since you have your guard down and you have exposed yourself to them, making yourself vulnerable to any oncoming attacks.
When you are in a supervised combat setting such as any competition you will even end up losing a point of two for flinching. But more importantly, if you are on the streets and are engaged in a dangerous life-or-death situation and have to defend yourself, flinching may cost you a much bigger thing. Which is why it is important that whether you take up the sport as a serious trainer or even as a casual self-defense method, you will need to work on letting go of any flinching in case you are prone to it.
There are certain techniques of training, where you can employ both your mind and your body and train yourself through both these mediums and let go of any habit of flinching. These techniques are either training of the mind through serious concentration or using physical materials to train the mind which will train your mind to keep itself alert and anticipate and calculate against the oncoming attack or punch. Below we have discussed and detailed a few methods of training that you can try and take up to see if it will be your habit.
Training the neurological response
Our body’s neurological network all leads to the brain where the real work happens. The neurological response is pre-programmed and when the brain senses an oncoming threat (in this scenario, an attack or a punch), it responds with the body through the appropriate response of withdrawal or blinking as in shutting the eyes or squinting them, or pulling your body closer in towards itself. These actions come as a natural response.
So, if your brain is accustomed to a particular scenario or situation like catching items thrown at you with your hands (balls, keys, anything else suited to throwing at another person), your brain would not perceive it to be a threat and therefore, it will react in a way that is rational and push your hands to catch them instead of withdrawing your body. This is what pre-programming is.
So, when you are in combat scenarios, what you have to do is train yourself through them in order to discipline and make your brain get used to those situations where instead of perceiving it as a threat worth withdrawing from, your brain will instead perceive it as a move to calculated and a defense move strategize against instead.
In this way, you can use pre-programming of your neurological responses to avoid flinching. Further, using this method as a basis, there are several kinds of training that you can undergo to pre-program your brain. This method is more or less an umbrella solution to the issue of flinching.
how to stop flinching? Try Training your reflexes
Your reflexes that come through during a free fight which involve flinching, squinting, withdrawing etc. are all associated with the element of fear which is what you will have to control and train against in order to train your reflexes.
Directly diving into combat or competition will not allow you the time or space to eliminate such a fear from inside yourself which is why you will have to do this in a safe and supervised environment. Which is what you can do in a training session through a number of drills. This will give you the right kind of environment where you can take your time in order to let go of your residuary fear.
For such training you will need a partner who can use a training tool to stimulate and simulate attack scenarios in many ways which you can then try and deflect. For instance, your partner can put forth hooks and punches, kicks and body attacks using a training pad. This will simulate a combat situation which you can then try and fight.
While doing so assume the proper fight stance where you keep your body straight and steady and your hands up to your chest in a fighting stance. When you encounter the punches and attacks from your partner, try and dodge them by ducking or slipping, and shifting your position as required. Simultaneously, try and practice blocking while evading the oncoming attacks by using either your forearms or your hands.
As you go along, you can increase the speed and pace at which you are attacked which will increase your tolerance and focus. This gradual increase must happen in a way that it slowly but surely pushed you over your comfort zone, on the other side of which you are more relaxed and focused when faced with attacks. This allows for gradual improvement in your performance.
Remember, the above have all been done using a training pad. Eventually, you will have to introduce actual kicks and punches to evade. This too must at first be done at a slower pace so that you can first get used to it. Then later on, you can gradually increase the pace of the attacks against which you can train to dodge. It is only natural that during the course of such a training, you will at first be more defensive in your response.
After a while, you will be able to also take up offensive responses after you are properly comfortable with evading and dodging the attacks. Through this, make sure to use protective gear in order to protect yourself from any kind of injury.
On a much more advanced level, what you can learn is to actually take a punch by letting yourself take a few punches that are soft. If you are a little more advanced in level, you might even allow slightly harder punches to take.
This is a good step since it can altogether eliminate the fear factor by allowing you to understand the pain level and aspect of the punch that elicits the fear in the first place. Once you know and realize the level of the pain and how to revert back from it, you will altogether let go of the fear that any oncoming punch or attack could evoke. While such training does encourage attacks to the body, keeping the head safe from such impacts is highly recommended since it may lead to a dangerous situation.
Training to employ the offense
Usually what happens with beginners is that because they are afraid of the punch that is about to hit them, they focus more on not injuring themselves and defending themselves from the attack instead. So mostly, they try to employ defense techniques like blocking or dodging instead.
They are looking forward to the attack that is about to hit them and are waiting for it to make impact because of which they anticipate the pain beforehand and when it comes close, they jump or withdraw in response because they are physically not prepared enough to respond to the attack calmly. Even if they do, it is mostly defense.
In such scenarios, what you have to concentrate and focus on is to take away your focus from the defense aspect of the attack. Instead, you must allow and focus your mind to concentrate on an offense strategy instead. This is because, if you only focus on evading the attack, then you will never be able to learn to perceive the right time and opening to throw in an attack yourself.
When you train your brain to respond to an attack with an offence strategy, you then start responding to them in a way where you can respond to a punch rather than just evading it. This will also rid you of any hesitation and instead will allow you to focus on the attack, and not away from it.
Adjusting your visuals
You flinch because you see an attack coming that you do not know how to respond to. What you have to try to do here is to train yourself to keep your eyes wide open. A common mistake that people make while trying to do something like this is that they open their eyes wide thinking that it will keep them that way.
But the lesser known fact is that the muscles that help keep one’s eyes open are not the ones that are responsible to keep your eyes open but rather those that keep your eyes closed. So, the way to train your eyes is to slightly narrow them which will allow you to have control over their reflex.
Now, while having your eyes narrowed, then practice punching and jabbing drills with your partner where the attacks are close to the sides of your head so that you can try and keep from squinting or shutting your eyes. In order to control your vision and reflex, take control and observe your opponent carefully. Reducing the surprise of the attack is a definite way of keeping yourself alert and ready for response. It also, obviously, minimizes flinching or withdrawal since you will not be caught off guard by the attack.
More importantly. when in free fighting, look beyond an attack i.e. do not look for when an attack is about to make impact but rather when they are created by your opponent. What this will do is allow you more time to think up your own reaction and upcoming move so that you can respond appropriately and also land in a counter-attack yourself. For this, the power and control of your vision is absolutely important. So, train hard to keep your eyes open and focused.
Recommended Training Gear: Pool Noodle
This equipment is for you to train to pre-program your neurological responses. The stage of using a training pad that we discussed previously in the article can be substituted with the pool noodle, and we highly recommend this.
It will not only allow a safe environment for you to practice avoiding flinching but will also allow you to take a punch that will not injure you but will allow you to get used to the prospect of an attack. This equipment is highly recommended for use in the beginning stages of your training. Then later, you can move on to dodging actual attacks from your partner during training.
Like we have said, flinching is a natural response, especially when you are a beginner. But with some serious training, and absolute focus, you can easily get rid of this reflex. So, go ahead and pick one of the above methods from the list to overcome such an unwanted response.