What is Truth?

The combat underneath – Dare I say: Emotions


Emotions, those foggy, sticky, muddy things, that culturally we don’t talk about. Especially, if someone was raised to be a ‘man’. This often means that, when they needed it most, their emotions were suppressed. We have all heard the slogan ‘boys don’t cry’. This phrase sets a man up for a lifetime of struggle to understand his own emotions. Why we talk about that? Because as you will see in the tournament psychology course, during combat, you have nothing but emotions. The cognitive layer is numb of stress and your driving forces are your emotions.

Emotions, or more intuitively, e-motions, are the internal forces that make you move (or freeze in place). In practical terms, Joseph LeDoux (👉) has defined emotions as the result of a process which occurs in the body in response to a trigger from the environment. This bring us a little bit closer to why it is an important topic.

Since they have chemical presence in the body, emotions create physiological changes to make you act based on the environment. As a simple example: if a lion were to walk towards you, the body would evoke fear: your breathing rate and blood pressure would raise to supply your muscles with more oxygen, you would sweat to release excess heat and, importantly, your legs would move you away as fast as they could.

As you can see, emotions are intractably linked to elements in our environment. The dojo is an environment where you are constantly under attack. These attacks will inevitably produce strong emotional responses.

It annoys the hell out of me when coaches force the idea that fight is nothing personal, implying there is something wrong with you if it makes you feel emotional. That shows a lack of understanding of human conditions. In reality, fight couldn’t be more personal. Every sparring session, in fact every close human interaction, creates emotional responses. That is not something you have control over. What you can learn to control over time, though, is catching them before they take over, so as to maintain some control over your actions.  

In the everyday life of a dojo, it’s beyond common that someone gets pissed off. This mostly comes about because their sparring partner tries to make a move beyond their skill level, risking their partner’s health out of curiosity, or something similar. The suffering party will experience anger. Anger is the most common, and a perfectly appropriate, emotional response. We evolved anger as a prevention method to stop harm coming to us.

That anger will drive the technical choices of that person. Commonly, they may raise the power of their own moves in an attempt to end the fight as soon as possible to reduce the chance of an injury to themselves. This is the normal response for someone with a healthy connection to their own emotions.

Without emotional awareness, though, the aftermath of this anger is much less cut-and-dried. The participants, and potentially the peers, start to moralize what happened, making out stories about who is what kind of person, attaching morals to the story and leaving bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

The more of these kind of experiences accumulating during the course of the training, the higher the chance of an emotional burn out, leading to stop training all together.

If one wants a sustainable practice that results in growth and improvement, it is mandatory one realises that the majority of interactions within the dojo are driven by emotion.

Quite a high level of awareness and emotional control needed to comprehend this in practice. In my experience, only about 10% of students will manage this. Coaches are no exception. One of my former coaches often warned the budokas not to go full on him unless they’re black belt, because he wouldn’t care what belt they are: if they attack with their full power, he’s gonna cut them down, he said. He explained it as a question of respect and ethic. Well, it is not. It’s the question of action-reaction and with no awareness on the natural drives behind them, he practically has no other chance than cut them down.

If you want to feel it on your skin, just try to remain completely still while someone executes a choke on you. You likely won’t be able to. The brain does not distinguish between controlled environment (dojo practice) and noncontrolled environment (street attack). Because there isn’t. Regardless of the opponent’s intention, they can accidentally cause serious injuries, hence the brain is absolutely correct classifying them as ‘threat’ and launching a defensive response – which is probably would be using a brute force technique to make them stop.

This response it not conscious and in most cases not overridable. It wouldn’t be a good idea to overwrite it, anyway, a full force attack is dangerous, regardless if it’s in the dojo or on the street.


This short summary was focused on just one single interaction. If we zoom back out, there are dozens of these interactions per class, hundreds of them per week and hundreds of thousands of them during your entire martial art journey. Just how draining they can be if the boundaries are not set properly? Very. So draining in fact, that this is the main underlying reason for students fading out of the dojo. Getting tired of the personal fights, because mental resilience is not built up fast enough or in some cases not at all.

I had to restart my BJJ journey 3 times in 3 different dojos to have the emotional awareness and control build up gradually. Some of them was too intense, I needed time to digest the experience and put everything into place. If you are a budoka in this position, I recommend changing dojos when start to feel the training getting heavier, especially if your current dojo has a ‘no rules’ policy. Because in that environment, as a beginner, getting overpowered every single session by almost every member, will give you no chance to improve your emotional reactions (neither improve your technical skills 👀).The mind doesn’t grow as fast as the body gets destroyed, and that leads us to an other story, the story of the dangerous ‘immersive approach’.

It is important for any budokas to put effort into their mental development alongside their physical training. Your emotional responses otherwise will become an obstacle for your physical development; but as soon as you begin your journey to understand your own drives and responses, you will have an advantage over most other students in your dojo. You will be one of that 10% who knows what the game is really about.

What is Truth?