What can you do under pressure?

One of my Bando teachers, Sayaji Errol Younger, would point out the difference between knowing of a technique versus having it truly in your repertoire of techniques that can be counted on. He would say: It’s not what you know that counts, it’s what you can do under pressure. Being able to do a fancy move in class with a training partner is a lot different than being able to do it under stress or in a situation where my well-being actually depends on it.

I remember early on being so nervous at tournaments that I had to nearly run to a bathroom with diarrhea before I could compete, or stammering my name when called up to perform. And when I’ve judged, I’ve felt some sympathy for the participants who loose their place in a form and had to start over.

There’s many stages to knowing something – here’s an example of a progression:

  • Beginning to learn the technique or skill enough that it be done with concentration
  • Developing the ability to perform a technique or skill without active thought of how to do it
  • Performing the technique or skill under pressure (such as when being judged or under keen observation)
  • Executing the technique under some level of threat or danger while incorporating some level of adaptation to fit the actual situation, instead of the ideal situation

The first two stages involve intentional practice, repetition, and more repetition. It creates that “muscle memory” so that techniques become effortless.

To get to the 3rd or 4th level of progression, you need a way to simulate the situation so that your mind and body gets some experience of performing under stress. In our Bando class, we do that by asking students to individually perform in front of the teacher or the others in the class, by encouraging tournament participation, and through progressively more challenging partner exercises.

Not everything you learn or are exposed to may be worth getting to that 3rd or fourth level. For your basics – knowing how to evade, knowing how to block, and knowing how to deliver at least one solid strike, this is gold. Find your go-to block, your go-to step, and your go-to strike (a punch or a kick) and learn these well enough that you can do them under pressure.