I often find myself not doing anything because everything I can think of will get me killed. I have been taught a number of different shots, but I avoid throwing them because I’m terrible at them. What should I do?
Overthought and Outfought
The answer is really simple: throw a shot. Like most simple answers, though, this one isn’t very useful without some context. So let’s look at the different scenarios when either overthinking or a lack of confidence is causing you problems; being unable to choose a shot, lack of confidence in a shot, and a lack of confidence in your strengths.
Being Unable To Choose a Shot
The most common form of over thinking leads to freezing up in combat. Ironically, it often starts to afflict fighters as they become more knowledgeable and skilled. The fighter begins to think through their attack plans and anticipate the responses of his or her opponent in place of raw newbie aggression. However, it turns out that there is a counter to every move. There is no such thing as a guaranteed shot. So the fighter gets locked into a loop of, “If I do X, he will counter with Y and then hit me with Z. So I better not do that. But if I do A, he will counter with B and hit me with C. So I better not do that.” The fighter will enter an endless cycle of this, since every move has a counter, and end up doing nothing.
The short term solution to this is to give yourself a count; after your third discarded plan, you have to do the third one. You don’t get to try to figure out a fourth plan that will ensure your victory. You don’t get to pick one of your earlier plans (and then procrastinate longer while you try to pick one of those three.) You just execute Plan Three, even if it seems doomed to failure. This will accomplish two things; first, it keeps you from standing there until the other guy decides on his plan, and kills you. Second, it teaches you the important lesson that just because a shot has a counter, doesn’t mean the other guy is going to do it, or do it correctly. You will find that your “discarded as a doomed failure” plan sometimes leads to victory.
That second lesson is the long-term solution: learning that you are not seeking the guaranteed win (because there isn’t one), just the plan with a good chance of leading to victory or survival. This lesson is something that is easy to understand intellectually but hard to internalize so that you can act on it. Doing something, anything, is usually better than doing nothing.
Another tool you can use is to talk things out with the other fighter. Go ahead with your plan, even if it seems horrible. If it works as planned, hooray! If it does not, ask the other fighter about his thought process. What was he expecting, what was his reaction, why was that his reaction, whether he has any alternate suggestions, and what would he have done in your place. This discussion can help you reach the long-term goal of understanding that there is no perfect plan, give you confidence in your planning, and help you devise better attack plans. Good fighters love these sorts of theoretical discussions.
Lack of Confidence in a Shot
Fighters often artificially limit their shot selection to shots they are good at or that they know will work. This is a fine thing to do in a tournament and a terrible thing to do anywhere else. The fighter believes that he or she is unable to throw the shot correctly, and, rather than throw it incorrectly, the fighter chooses not to throw it at all. Often this is done under the reasoning of “not wanting to practice it wrong.”
There is no way to learn to throw a shot correctly without first throwing it wrong. Many, many times. There is no shame in screwing up a shot; every single good fighter has completely botched every shot they can throw. It is how they learned in the first place. A fighter needs to practice throwing a shot, failing, and trying to figure out what went wrong, over and over and over and over and over. That is how you get good at something.
When you are sparring or ditching, that is precisely when you should be throwing the shots you are bad at. Do not hold off on throwing a shot until you feel you’ve perfected in on a pell. Do not avoid throwing a shot because you know it won’t land simply because you’re bad at that shot. Throw it and get some practice in! If you are doing it wrong, or think you are doing it wrong, ask someone to give you critique on your shot. The more you have practiced it, even “wrong”, the easier it will be for you to understand and incorporate their feedback.
People also sometimes avoid throwing shots they think they are bad at in order to avoid being embarrassed, especially in front of their instructor. If someone has taught you a new shot, throw it on them the next time you fight them, even if you’re still awful at it or haven’t had a chance to practice it much yet. That’s the best way to show them that you valued their instruction and advice. If you get it wrong, this also gives you grounds for asking for help refining it. No one expects you to master a shot the first time, but they do expect you to keep trying it out.
Lack of Confidence in Your Strengths
Fighters often talk themselves out of victory by convincing themselves that the other person is better (which may be true) and then failing to play to their own strengths. Often a fighter will change their fighting style.
The most common way this manifests is in switching to a passive, rapid-retreat and arm-snipe fighting style. I recently saw an up-and-coming fighter, who had just fairly conclusively demonstrated that I could no longer get one-shot kills on them, at all, due to rock-solid primary blocks and counters, completely abandon this hard-earned skill-set in favor of trying to keep the range open, evade shots rather than block, and then trace arm snipes at the opponent. I wanted to jump up and down and scream.
There is no easy solution to this, except to remember to always fight like you and not suddenly change your style just because you’re facing someone who you think is better than you. It is perfectly acceptable to adapt your style because you have an alternate skill-set that will better defeat theirs, or because you are testing out something new or learning new stuff. It is not okay to change your fighting style out of fear of defeat.
The best way to do a self-evaluation and check if you are doing this is to decide if you have ceded control of the fight. There aren’t any hard and fast rules to this, but there are several scenarios where the answer is “you are probably letting uncertainty rule you.”
If you’re being passive instead of using a specific concrete plan (not get hit and snipe arms is not a specific or concrete plan) to control the fight, you’re letting uncertainty rule you. Figure out a plan and put it into action. Even if you want to snipe an arm, you should have a plan to control when they throw a shot, what shot they will throw, how you will avoid getting hit, what shot you will use to hit the arm, and so forth.
If you are spending all your time retreating and evading instead of engaging and blocking, you’re letting uncertainty rule you. There are definitely times to open range, and there are times when evading is better than blocking, but if that is all you’re doing then you are probably avoiding the fight instead of participating in it. Sometimes a fighter will be doing this in order to maneuver into more favorable positioning, but often the fighter is telling themselves they’re “maneuvering” but they don’t have any plan behind their maneuvers except “don’t get hit”.
If you normally fight a certain way, but not you aren’t doing any of the things you normally do, you’ve probably let uncertainty change your fighting style. If the person you were fighting was a low-skill fighter, would your overall style be different? If so, you’re letting uncertainty control the fight instead of yourself. Pretend the person you’re fighting is a fighter who is just a little bit less-skilled than you. Now do what you would do in that situation. You will probably find more success than you were having.
Overall, the answer to all of this is “be yourself” and “just do something.” You do this by accepting that you can not win them all and that there is no shame in failure. You ultimately need to learn to embrace failure (which sounds easy but is ultimately very difficult) because failure is an inevitable side-effect of learning. So go out and try those new shots. Mess them up. Bop people in the head. (But not me!) Accidentally fling your sword across the field. Lose ingloriously because your plan failed. These failures are the hidden fees and surcharges that you have to pay in order to become truly good. It will all pay off eventually.
As always, if you have questions for Ask the Champion, send an email to email@example.com and I will answer them in my column.