Do you ever close your eyes or jerk around when you’re about to get hit? This is a natural response. Some people even say you can never fully “stop” it. However, with enough training and discipline, you can dramatically reduce your flinch response, or even use it to your advantage.
Why do we flinch?
Although frustrating, flinching is an interesting phenomenon. Flinching is a hard-wired response to a physical threat. The more sudden and harmful the threat looks, the more dramatic the flinch response.
Flinching takes two phases: (1) an initial startled reaction to stimuli followed by (2) a defensive response designed to ward off the threat.
During the startle, the body’s reactions tend to be symmetrical and less responsive to the size, speed, and direction of the threatening object. One common response during this phase is automatically blinking with both eyes.
During the defensive response, the body movement’s are longer and tend to respond to the size, speed, and direction of the object. Think of a squint that is stronger on one side of the face, or an automatic block or lifting of the arm towards the threat.
Reducing the flinch
Because flinching is natural, some people say you can never “think” it away. However, as with many natural responses, you can condition your mind and body to automatically control your innate flinch response. Here are our key suggestions:
- Mindset shift. Fear comes from the unexpected and the painful. The sooner you accept, first, that you will get hit, and second, that the pain from a punch is not that bad, the less dramatic your flinches will become. Accepting these facts is not easy, but this mental shift is a habit you can build.
- Maintain visuals. Greater visuals will make incoming punches and their impact less sudden, thereby reducing your flinch response. The best way to maintain your visuals is to focus your eyes on your opponent’s chest. You can also (1) use a different guard, (2) use open headgear (forthcoming), or even (3) sense incoming punches by anticipating your opponent’s rhythm (forthcoming) or patterns of attack. This last point is related to timing.
- Defense drills. You can condition your flinching responses through drills. Drills that incorporate blocking, parrying, and stop-hits in response to a consistent incoming object or punch will help you get comfortable with impact. The next level would be reactionary defense drills to help you deal with the unexpectedness of a punch. Of course, you will want to maintain proper technique during any of these drills so that your flinches will become embedded within your form. Brainstorm with your coach or training partner for more drills!
- Patience. Not to state the obvious, but conditioning away your flinches will take time. Since flinching is largely automatic, it’s not a response you can make disappear within a day or a week. (Probably a month though.) You’ll have to consistently use each of these strategies to condition your flinch response away.
Converting the flinch
If flinching can never be eliminated, some programs choose to “convert” the natural reflexes of a flinch to the boxer’s advantage. For example, the natural flinch for a punch may be to lift your whole arm up to block the threat and lean away; the boxing response would be to slightly adjust your arm to block and brace; the converted response may be to block and brace away from the punch. Bracing away is the natural, fast reflex most of us have to an incoming object. However, in addition to the speed of the reflex, the advantage in converting the response lies in allowing the boxer to create more (1) cushioning from the impact, (2) space to land something, and (3) leverage when countering. This idea of conversion shouldn’t be too foreign: blinking when taking a shot is a conversion many boxers naturally adopt, since it refreshes and protects the eyes and helps the boxer maintain visuals after the impact.
If I missed anything or if you have any questions, please leave a comment! We’d appreciate hearing from you.