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Courage and strength make your enemies hesitate

Competition Mindset

Zach Springer
Zach Springer

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I’m in a room with a couple dozen fighters and staff. On the other side of the double doors are more than 100 people eager to watch the finals of Longpoint 2017. Someone calls my name and I stage just on the other side of those doors, moments away from all those eyes.

What if I don’t do well?

My heart rate jumps up in anticipation of the fight. I look out, I step out, I look down.

Do I even deserve to be here?

I stand across the mat from my opponent. They announce us, but I barely hear it. I can’t make eye contact.

He trained more than me.

Negative thoughts race through my head, anxiety that I can’t uphold the standard of someone who has gotten this far, that everyone knows I shouldn’t even be on the mat, that if I don’t get these two points all the ones before are meaningless. I worry so much about doing well that when the fight starts I forget to DO.

I promptly get thrown.

Image by Véronique McMillan

Fortunately, although the spectators don’t think so, I land hard off the mat. A surge of adrenaline pumps through me, and I know that no matter what, I can’t be thrown more decisively than that. Every negative thought is left on the floor as I climb to my feet.

The next two points are in my favor.

As athletes we get so caught up. Should we take the path we know, the path that is safe? What if we achieve our goals, but are unable to maintain that position? What if we don’t win? Do we even want to win? These are anxieties that we all feel at one time or another, but they don’t need to affect how we fight.

Fear of Failure

This is that nagging voice that says you won’t win, so don’t try. It is what demands you to perfect your skill before you test it under pressure, which never happens. Fear of failure is the negative self-talk that convinces you that your opponent has prepared more than you, and defeat is assured.

What ever it is, we don’t like feeling disappointed. If not trying means not failing, sometimes that’s what we do.

Fear of Success

What if winning causes more attention, pressure, or work than you wanted? What if it doesn’t give you the satisfaction that you craved? Maybe you don’t want to feel like you’re being arrogant by winning?

Fear of success can show itself in many different ways. It is what has the most debilitating effect on me, and it sucks. If it’s easier to accept the way things are instead of embracing what could be, we might resist growth.

What to do

Being freaked out happens. Once your mind becomes accustomed to negative thought patterns, they’re hard to break. We don’t even need our opponents to beat us when those thought patterns start running, we’ve already beaten ourselves. It doesn’t have to overtake us, though. There are ways to break the habit without being thrown on our butts.

How do you master a new technique that you can’t get right?

Diligent practice, focused on the proper technique, enough time, and maybe a bit of coaching.

It’s no different for your run of the mill competition anxiety. What I’ve personally found works for me is when I notice negative self talk edging it’s way in I remind myself why I’m actually doing this. I didn’t start practicing HEMA for the medals, I started because it’s fun. I wanted to study a fascinating subject. It doesn’t matter if someone trained more, I trained as hard as I could, and I’m going to give my best effort in the fight. That’s all any of us can do anyways.

Besides, at the end of the night, you get to fight anyone no matter what they wore around their neck at the dinner. We’re all on equal ground, a community united through this fantastic art.

Eventually, with enough practice, bringing your thought patterns back to a positive place where you can fight your best is as easy throwing a proper cut. That is to say, not mindlessly easy, but easier than when you first picked up a sword.

Worst case, I always have getting thrown as a secret weapon.


Image by Véronique McMillan


  1. This is the difference between competition and combat mindset. In combat you cannot afford to get thrown once to get your head straight. You must learn to put that aside and win at all costs when the time comes to perform.

    • Zach Springer

      October 9, 2017 at 1:10 pm

      Definitely Brad!

      I touch on that a little bit in the HEMAPE group with Richard Vang. If you want to check that out and go in depth.

      Being a Marine and HEMA competitor I’ve seen both sides of that. Of course, in the Marines I never experienced anything close to the combat we study, so there are some differences there.

      • Definitely. I did not mean to diss the competition mindset. They are just two different things. I reread my post and wanted to make it clear that both have their place. Just remember that a weapon needs to be at least 8 inches long to penetrate a lung when silencing a picket through the clavicle…

        Some folks will wonder why that is even a factoid and some will go “Duh”. One of my fears is that HEMA will drift too far in the direction of the competition mindset when the art was born from the combat mindset. It gives me hope though, when I see so many healthy active discussions on the topic.

        Long Live HEMA!

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