It is an accepted fact—if you free spar, you will get hit. It is how you react to the hit that is most important. How you react depends on how you view getting hit. There four reactions you may take: fear, anger, gratitude, and disregard.
Fear and anger are detrimental to good sparring. When students first start sparring, they always fear getting hit or hitting someone. The fear of getting hit makes novice fighters tentative in their actions, which leads to getting hit. They are afraid to get in and "mix it up." With experience, the fear usually subsides or disappears.
Anger has no place in sparring. It detracts from clear thinking and usually leads to more hits, from both sides. An accidental hit is just that, an accident. It is as much your fault as it is the opponent's fault since you did not properly block the attack. If the attack was because of the opponent's anger or lack of control, do not get angry since you are then no better than the opponent. Let the instructor or referee handle the situation. If you feel anger, channel it into making powerful blocks and perfectly focused attacks that show the opponent the error of his or her ways.
Gratitude and disregard are the best reactions to have when hit. Use a hit as a learning experience and do not let it happen again. Actually, you might even thank your opponent for showing you where your weaknesses are located. As a seasoned fighter, you will learn to ignore a hit and disregard it as a minor occurrence that is merely the "cost of doing business."
Taking a Punch
When you get hit, it hurts; that goes without saying. However, how much pain you will perceive depends upon many things, what is hit, how hard it is hit, and how you process pain. If you are a person who fears and avoids pain, the strike will hurt more than it would if you were a person who deals with pain on a regular basis and has learned to ignore it.
Pain is the body’s way of alerting you to an injury. Some minor injuries are very painful, such as kick to the testicles, while a major injury, such as gunshot wound, may not even be perceived due to the flood of adrenaline in the body due to the stressful situation. Most pain received during a fight is temporary and will go away at some point.
Ignore the Pain
If you ignore the pain, you will be able to “shake off” the effects of a strike and recover very quickly. However, if you focus on the pain, it will consume you until you are unable to defend yourself effectively. Train yourself to counterattack instinctively when hit, so you will not continue to get hit while you are recovering from the first strike. For intense pain, just as is taught to expectant mothers, rapid breathing in through the nose and out through pursed lips may help ease the pain.
If not in a controlled fighting environment, such as a ring, try to keep your wits and not focus on the person who struck you. Instead, use your peripheral vision to detect any other assistants who may be present. Do not think about the pain or yourself; instead, think about the situation in which you are in, and how you may improve it. The time to consider your reaction to pain is not just after you have been hit, it is in the months and years leading up to getting hit when you trained your mind and body to deal with this moment.
Boxers strengthen their necks so they will be able to keep the head more stable when it is struck. To do this, they may use a head strap connected to a pulley and a weight, and perform repetitions of moving the neck in different directions. They may also use a neck strap connect directly to a weight, lie with their heads hanging over the edge of the ring so the weight hangs down, and then move their heads up and down.
Practice getting hit. Spar with headgear, mouth protector, and gloves and use moderate contact. Increase the level of intensity and power of the punches as you and your partner develop a tolerance for getting hit. This will also help you learn not to flinch when a punch is approaching. Learn to keep your eyes open during an attack. It is instinctive to close your eyes when something is coming toward them, but you cannot avoid or block what you cannot see. As you spar more, you will learn to face a punch and deal with it. The more you get hit, the less fear you have of getting hit. When you do not fear getting hit, you are more relaxed, which means you will be able to react and move more quickly, which means you will be hit fewer times.
Kiai at the moment you are hit; it help you focus your attention on absorbing the strike. If you are hit in the abdominal area, the kiai, when done correctly, expels air and tenses the abdominal muscles. This helps keep you from having the “wind knocked out of you,” and helps protect internal organs. If hit in the abdominal area, do not bend forward and expose the back of your neck; a downward elbow strike to back of your neck could be deadly for you. Even after being hit hard, maintain your slow, deep, controlled breathing. Avoid getting hit at your breathing transition points, the points in time just before starting to inhale and just before starting to exhale. The body is at the moist vulnerable at these points.
If a taking a strike to the head is inevitable, shift your head so the punch hits your forehead or skull rather than your face, throat, or chin. The skull is able to absorb more force without damage than other parts of the head, and the attacker may injury their body part that strikes the hard skull. Keep your chin tucked to prevent presenting a clear target to a punch that could cause a knockout. Keep your mouth shut, but not clinched, with your tongue well inside the teeth. If you do not do this, the jaw may be broken, teeth may be knocked out, or the tongue may be severed. If punched to the side of the face, try to keep the head from twisting too much; if it does, it may injure the neck, lead to a knockout, or at least stun you. Since the head area has a high blood flow, due to the brain’s great need for oxygen, a cut to the face will bleed profusely. While a cut may not be serious enough to be life threatening, it still could be enough to scare you or it could allow blood to get into the eyes and impair your vision.
When a body strike is inevitable, "roll the body with the strike," which means rotating the body in the same direction the attack is traveling. This increases the time of the impact (the time the fist is in contact with the body), which causes a change in momentum (impulse) and decreases the striking force.
An alternative is to move your body toward your opponent and jam the opponent’s weapons, similar to a boxer's clinch. If you can catch your opponent in a moment of off-balance, the movement may knock him or her down.
Protect your vulnerable areas, such as liver, kidneys, and groin by shifting less vulnerable areas, such as shoulders, arms, or fists into the trajectory of the strike. The centerline of body contains the most vulnerable areas, such as nose, throat, solar plexus, and groin, so always keep the centerline turned slightly to the side to protect it. Keep your elbows tight to your torso to protect your ribs.
Maintain your balance, especially after being hit. If you are off-balance, you are venerable to more attacks, or falling, which may injure you further and leave you even more vulnerable. Keep a stable stance and use minute body movement to maintain your balance. Large movements can leave you vulnerable and even cause you more instability.
Do not let the first punch you take be one that was thrown in anger by an attacker. If it is, it may be the last punch you ever take.