Fear Factor

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

In Frank Herbert’s Dune, Lady Jessica teaches this litany to her son Paul Atreides, who uses it to survive the psychologically excruciating “death-alternative” test of the gom jabbar. If I had to depend on that little mantra I’d be toast.

Fear is my companion, every single time I get in the ring. It actually does it’s worst work the night before I know I’m scheduled for ringtime. I think, “My stomach just isn’t right tonight,” and after a bit I remember, “Oh, I’m anxious about sparring.” Then I start to churn.

I have a stupid-long list of what I’m afraid of: What if I suck? What if I get in over my head? What if I have to take some really earth-shattering hits? What if I get in the ring with someone who’s significantly heavier than me and unable to control their punches? What if I can’t get my breathing right and run out of air? What if my trainer makes me keep going even after I’ve got no hits left in me? Will I look really sloppy? Will my trainer be embarrassed at how pitiful a boxer I am?

My list of excuses for bailing is even longer. I minutely inspect myself for injuries that might prove problematic: my knees might be hurting, or my right shoulder could be starting to give me trouble again. I consider my energy level and my mental state, what’s going on at work, home, Taiwan, Nigeria, Israel. Once I move out of the country I can really expand on my theme; world hunger is just as dependable excuse-wise as teen driving.

I can run this damn hampster wheel for hours, no lie. Do base-jumpers do this? Trapeze artists? Matadors? I would do better if you just popped into my office and told me to spend the next 10 minutes jumping rope because I was going to step immediately afterward into the ring. I’d jump rope, I’d fight, and we’d all be happier.

What’s even worse is the fact that I do fine in the ring. (Did I just say “what’s worse is I do fine”? Yeah, thought so.) I might take a beating, perform well, or go back and forth between holding my own and looking like crap. I’ll have a glorious punch here and there, somebody will rock me a time or three, but mostly it’s just damn hard work, and work I love once I’m actually doing it, and not just getting ready to do it. And in some screwed-up way I love it even more once I’m out of the ring. It’s not at all a feeling of “Thank God I’m done with that,” it’s more “That was incredible, I can’t wait to do it again!”

I keep waiting for this fear factor to shift down in intensity (perhaps after I’ve been boxing two years? Three? Ten?) but meanwhile I seem to only have two alternatives: either I live with the fear and box anyway, or I let the fear kick me to the curb and make me give up boxing.

So far it looks like fear and I are roomies for the duration.

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6 Responses to Fear Factor

  1. Sine Botchen June 10, 2009 at 9:06 pm #

    The Dune reference brings two passages to mind – one about fear and one about resolution..

    “That day, I understood,
    fear lived in our deepest being…
    and that a mountain of muscles,
    or a thousand soldiers,
    could not change a thing.” – Leolo.

    “I do not aim with my eye;
    He who aims with his eye has forgotten the face of his father.
    I aim with my hand.

    I do not shoot with my hand;
    He who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father.
    I shoot with my mind.

    I do not kill with my gun;
    He who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father.
    I kill with my heart” – Roland Deschain, The Gunslinger’s Creed

  2. Lisa Creech Bledsoe June 11, 2009 at 7:40 am #

    Damn those are good quotes. That first one makes me think that maybe fear just lives in us because that’s where it lives; time may not change that. And the second one makes me know that the reason you force yourself through all those miles, and the reason I box, and the reason all of of push ourselves to great things is because of our heart. Yeah. I can dig that.

  3. christina April 29, 2014 at 4:43 pm #

    this is an old post but i’m so glad i found it. i train in kyokushin karate and we spar at the end of every class (sometimes light, sometimes harder – it depends on the night). i can relate to “What if I suck? What if I get in over my head? What if I have to take some really earth-shattering hits? What if I get in the ring with someone who’s significantly heavier than me and unable to control their punches? What if I can’t get my breathing right and run out of air?” this is me too! in fact, i have to spar in a few hours and may get paired with someone a few levels higher than me who doesn’t control their punches and is really there to just beat people up. i’m feeling all the anxiety right now, but am so glad that i’m not the only one who does. thank you!

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe April 29, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

      Hi, Christina! Wow, I wrote this four or five years ago and I STILL get anxious. And I box pretty much every single week. Yep. Maybe not quite as bad, but still anxious. Maybe that’s okay, though. Maybe we need some of that to keep us from thinking we took up knitting, or scrapbooking. Nope! It’s still boxing! 🙂

      Hang in there. It actually does get a little better. But this badass, challenging sport is SO worth it!

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  4. Yvonne September 27, 2016 at 10:02 am #

    Hi Lisa!
    I really can’t express exactly how great of a resource your blog has become for me lately! I found your website after googling “when you have an awful first time sparring” so you can imagine the mind frame I was in… Well I read the post that came up and have been devouring your blog ever since. You’ve inspired me to keep going into the ring despite lowkey being terrified of sparing (terrifed /embarrassed of how awful I look ). You’ve also inspired me to keep blogging about my own experiences training!

    Here’s my latest post. I’d love it if you check it out.

    Anyway, thanks again for sharing your stories and wisdom! I feel like you are my new trainer/motivational coach. ;P

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe September 27, 2016 at 10:27 am #

      Hi, Yvonne! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

      And wow, sounds like you had a shit time in the cage recently — sorry about that, girlfriend. It sucks, for certain. But I’ve been boxing now for almost 10 years and I promise you it DOES get better. But it takes a long time, and the key factor in your growth will be how well you take care of yourself as you continue.

      You sound like you already know that, which is awesome.

      Scrutinize every sparring partner and make sure they can hear you when you tell them what you need and don’t need. Refuse to train with shitty coaches who don’t take care of you. Keep resting, eating well, getting back up after you royally wreck everything, and look after yourself. Speak up for yourself. Get out of the cage when you need to.

      It’s not for everyone, as you already know. But it’s also unbelievably rewarding for those of us who decide to make this sport our own.

      Fist bump and high five to you! Hope you’ll check back in and let me know how things progress.

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