Okay, so you’re at the site, your stuff is set up, armor’s looking good. You feel good physically and you’re confident about how your fighting has been lately. Now what? Now we wander into the more esoteric aspects of mental preparedness. Some of this may sound like corny Zen drivel, so take it for what it’s worth.
Basically, all of your physical training is to prepare your body to do what is necessary when it is necessary. Your mind must be prepared to allow it. When you step out, you must eliminate pre-conceptions about yourself and your opponent from your mind. While there is value in watching potential future opponents in their fights, be careful not to get too caught up in trying to predict them. Recognize and assimilate tendencies, set up to minimize threat and maximize opportunity and be ready for anything. If you try to predict consciously it’s too easy to be surprised. Or to hesitate and get lost when your prediction fails.
Many guys develop a laser-like focus in the fight. They have a target and a plan and nothing can divert them. They approach their opponent as an obstacle that must be destroyed, blasted through. Well, you better be absolutely sure you’re an unstoppable force, because I’ve met some pretty damn immovable objects in the list.
To avoid this, instead of trying to focus through the fight, relax into it. Instead of trying to dominate your opponent’s fight, invite him into yours.
I recommend that you try and develop an expanding and contracting focus. Expand your focus until you encounter the moment to act, then contract your focus to the action and the target. The expanded focus allows you to take in information: your opponent’s stance, balance, sword position, even breathing rhythms. (Don’t laugh. Lots of fighters give away a shot by a sharp intake of breath.) all these things, with experience, help you predict the nature of the next blow. If you are relaxed, and your training is sufficient, you will have an integrated offense and defense. Your body will do what is necessary while your mind is free to analyze potential threats and targets. If it’s working right, you will sense where the opening is going to be, before you can actually see it, and your weapon will be on its way to the target before the opening exists. Some of my best, most effective, most efficient fights are very vague except for that final shot. In fact, there have been times when I have remembered them completely wrong. That’s because my mind reconstructed it after the fact, after thinking about it. Seeing the fight on tape later, I find that I did the right thing at the time, and if I had taken the time to think about it I might have done what I’d thought I’d done and gotten killed.
Whether they recognize it or not, I believe the integrated offense and defense, the ability to make the transition between expanded and contracted focus, and the speed with which that transition is made, are what mark the very best fighters.
Above all, when the shot presents itself, you must, MUST, commit to it totally. I have seen too many excellent fighters, whose prowess was remarkable and at the peak of their form, step into the semi-finals of Crown and lose because they became afraid to lose. They were not willing to throw the one shot when it came along because it might have left them open, or it wasn’t their most comfortable shot. At that level of competition, the winning shot doesn’t come around many times. Even so, passing up low percentage shots and waiting for the right one would have been better than seeing it, and hesitating on the decision to take it or not.
The samurai would say goodbye to their lives when they went to battle, effectively counting themselves dead so that they would have nothing to lose and commit totally to cutting their opponent. Bat Masterson said that the most dangerous man isn’t necessarily the fastest draw, he’s the guy who’s willing to stand there, draw a bead, and kill you. Now, that is the epitome of focused and relaxed. I can only try to imagine stakes that high.
In closing I remind you that, in truth, the stakes are not that high. I’ve had some victories, but I’ve had lots more losses. Take it from me, there have been times when the losses have felt better. One of the purposes of your training is to build your confidence. Confidence comes from knowing your abilities and limitations. The only way you can be truly prepared to win is to be unafraid of losing. You cannot “psych” yourself into thinking that you can’t lose, that belief will lead to rationalization and bad feelings. When the shot comes, take it. Whether it be to your opponent or on you. In your judgments, be strict with yourself and generous to your opponent. And honor your lady, for it is her joy that will make winning a Crown, and the burdens that go with it, worthwhile.