How to Overcome Your Fear of Getting Punched

May 7, 2014 May 7, 2014 by Johnny N Boxing Training, Mental Training 47 Comments

fear-of-getting-punched

Q: Johnny, Why am I afraid of punches and what can I do?

The fear of getting hit cripples even the best of us. I’ve seen dozens of amazing athletes…all talented, intelligent, fast, powerful…all reduced to easily fatigued punching bags in the ring because of this fear.

And it’s ESPECIALLY a common problem among beginners learning how to box. I mean…how do you expect someone to fight well if he’s afraid of getting hit? It’s almost damn near impossible.

Fortunately, there IS a solution and ANYBODY can overcome this fear….

 

Understanding your fear of getting punched

The first thing is…you have to know why you’re afraid of the punches. In my opinion, it really comes down to these 2 reasons: 

  1. because the punches hurt 
  2. because you can’t see them

Getting punched is not a good feeling. Punches hurt! It’s not ice cream, it’s not a back massage, it’s not a birthday present. It’s PAIN! You’re not supposed to like it, ok? Right off the bat, if you’re getting by punches that are too hard and too painful, you are going to be afraid. There’s no way to get around that. Whatever hurts you, will scare you. Actually…whatever MIGHT hurt you, will scare you.

Secondly, there’s a good chance you’re not seeing the punches. Imagine hearing a scary sound around the corner but you can’t see what it is. It’s creepy as hell! Imagine trying to fight with your eyes closed. When you don’t know what to expect, that ambiguity can wreak havoc on your confidence.

 

Getting over the fear of getting punched

First off…you need to spar at your level

Don’t go faster or harder than you can handle. Don’t fight a guy with far more experience, size, speed, and strength on you (unless of course, he’s going on really easy on you). With time and practice, your body will react better and be able to take harder punches without feeling pain. It’s not a matter of toughness but natural instantaneous reflexes developed through time that allow you to do this. It’s no different from being able to react quicker in other sports.

 

Second…you need to do slow sparring

Slow sparring is something I’ve been advocating for a long longggg time. You’ve probably heard me echo this throughout numerous Youtube videos and other articles. And I think people misunderstand WHY it is that I recommend slow sparring so much.

Slow sparring is not about getting you used to fighting at slow speeds and “making it easier” for you. Slow sparring is to HELP YOU SEE MORE DETAILS. The problem with many beginners is that they really don’t have the ability to see punches. They’re not able to detect different kinds of punches until it’s too late. Is it a jab or a left hook? Is it a hook to the head or the body? Is it a straight right or an overhand right? Some beginners cannot even tell when a punch is coming until it’s already halfway out…and by then, it’s too late.

And so I recommend slow sparring to help you pick up on different visual cues and details on how different fighters move. Sometimes they twitch certain parts of their bodies and telegraph their movements very slightly. It’s not important that you consciously notice this and be able to repeat back to me how everyone throws certain punches (although that’s not a bad idea)…but it’s important that you’re comfortable being around these movements and little by little, your body learns how to react NATURALLY to these subtle movements without you having to think about it.

Slow sparring helps you pick up more subtle details
and telegraphs from your opponents’ punches.

And so slow sparring is actually not “slow intensity” or “slow thinking” at all. You actually still have to do a lot of thinking and process as much information as you can. Whereas in a high-speed sparring match, beginners will typically rely on raw instincts and pure muscle memory (which gives terrible results for untrained fighters)…slow sparring offers beginners the chance to actually think and flow. There’s time for beginners to process information and commit their opponent’s patterns and movements to memory. Not only are they not getting hurt, they’re also learning.

Slow sparring gives you a chance to see more, and the more you see, the more information you have to help you decide how to react appropriately.

 

The real problem behind this fear 

I truly feel the problem comes from beginners pushing themselves too hard. They have all these unrealistic expectations from watching TV, movies, and Youtube videos that they actually think they can channel the spirit of Mike Tyson after only a week’s worth of training. It’s just not possible. Imagine a beginner surfer trying to take on a 16 foot wave on his first day. You can bet he’d be wiped out in no time.

Now I’m not saying that beginners SHOULDN’T challenge themselves but I think it should be done in moderation. Sure…you always have tough guys here and there that are genuinely built with a strong mind and have no fears and of course, THOSE guys can do it. But if you’re not like them, then you need to take it slow or else you’ll get hurt—physically AND emotionally. And getting destroyed emotionally takes forever to come back from.

 

Getting beat up does not make you a better fighter

Sure, it MIGHT make you tougher. But it also MIGHT make you a more psychologically damaged fighter. Your ego can only take so much abuse before your self-esteem is damaged. I can bet you right now that the most confident fighters you see in the gyms are probably not going to be the most beat-up ones.

Often, the reason why fighters are scared of getting hit is because they’ve subjected themselves to getting hit hard. They’ve somehow made up in their mind that they need to get hit hard in order to learn how to fight.

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47 Comments

mike May 7, 2014 at 6:15 am

coach jhoney i have flexible elbows does it mean im not a natural puncher?

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hitter November 19, 2014 at 12:34 pm

i think the fighter whether he wins or lose , he must do his goals of purpose to get over something he wants , something like revenge , or old enemy , or some annoying person , i think the revenge is a must , to end this bullshits
when you hold the rights to fight , and regain your honor , that is the win , even if you got hits , you have to fight till the end , if you have the rights to end it in your own benefits

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Ricky Ray taylor May 7, 2014 at 8:07 pm

I tend to agree with some of the mindset behind this article yet, the large majority of it – no. Granted, getting punched hurts, and since most average joe’s aren’t inclined to dodge fists flying into their faces, it is certainly scary. This FEAR (the fear of getting hit) is usually the catalyst shielding most people from ever boxing anyone.

However, the “slow sparring” solution is almost entirely absurd. In fact, just ONE slow-sparring session at the outset is in my eyes
the surest way for someone to be KO’D when the missiles start flying in real-time. PLEASE DONT EVER GO THERE.

Secondly, sparring at ones level is one thing for experienced fighters yet, pairing two first-timers against one another could be extremely dangerous.
Having grown up in boxing gyms, I’m well aware that this is usually the case though. Two green fighters losing their virginity with one another (per se)
seems like a natural fit if it’s the case that they’re close to the same weight. Sadly however, the session may suddenly crash into a sick-reality that the
second-coming of Mike Tyson is actually paired with-a-pancake. AND since nobody really knew “how” the first-time-slugfest would actually transpire
(because neither novice had ever sparred before), once the gloves are already flying – it could be too late. Furthermore, at that point there’s no bother telling the stronger guy to “hold back” because remember, he’s just as scared as his weaker “foe”.

Thus, the solution is to ALWAYS pair a first-timer with a veteran. What I do is allow the newbie free reigns to “bring the house” -and tell him to try to knock the other guy out. It won’t happen though. Why? BECAUSE HE’S IN THERE WITH A FRIGGIN VETERAN! A veteran knows how to “work” and understands much, much more about what’s going on in the opponents mind than does his frightened opponent. When the scared newbie runs out of gas in 90-seconds and realizes that he’s burned his load much too soon, he will learn more about the sport in the final 90-seconds of the round than any “slow-motion session” will ever teach him.

Now, of course I’m assuming that the given gym actually has one of these polished pugilists hanging around to break the newbie in. Don’t make the mistake of snipping around the edges by giving “free-reign” for a newbie to “bring the house” against someone who hasn’t actually seen it before OR can’t handle it. A slightly more experienced newbie is still a newbie and far too green to control someone without using FORCE. Do that – and the real-time-missiles are sure to explode.

There are a few more things I could pick-apart about this article but I won’t. I love what you guys (and gals-?-) are doing at your site and look forward to reading your stuff much more than I see anything off-kilter.

Besides, I’ve been in the gym all day and this veteran is now disabled for the night.
-RRT

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Johnny N May 7, 2014 at 8:20 pm

Great points, Ricky. I’ll have to clarify for the everyone because it seems as though my article was misunderstood.

When I say “spar at your level”, I meant SPAR AT THE LEVEL YOU CAN HANDLE.
– I am referring to a pace, an intensity. And so yes, it’s probably best to spar with more skilled opponents who can go easy and control the environment for you so that you are challenged perfectly without getting hurt.

What I didn’t mean was SPAR WITH AN EQUAL SKILLED OPPONENT.
– This is obvious because two beginners will only hurt each other and hurt themselves.

With that said…another thing I noticed about how I was misunderstood was that slow sparring is not supposed to replace ACTUAL sparring. It’s simply training wheels. Another option for BEGINNERS to work on their craft and eventually work their way up into hard fighting. If they can do it sooner, GREAT…do it asap. But if they need more time and more assistance…then this is a great way for them to work out some kinks. And this is especially necessary for the guys who aren’t naturals. Because we all know beating someone up is not going to make them instantly tougher. Some guys respond well to it, some guys need something else.

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Simon July 24, 2014 at 4:39 am

At our gym our trainer starts guys out with a large emphasis on blocking training and learning how to absorb shock using your guard with blocking drills. With regular training in these blocking drills Beginners quickly get accustomed to harder and harder punches actually enjoying the thrill of the impact over time. Blocking training is an aspect of our training that many karate people and football players come to learn for shock absorption training. All of our fighters find with lots of this type of training they very quickly learn to absorb shock and thus can relax under pressure and defend much better without the constant flinching and hesitation to move in you see with people worried about getting hit. My recommendation is to include lots of blocking training and learning to absorb impact using your guard.

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Kadu Araujo May 8, 2014 at 12:00 pm

“However, the “slow sparring” solution is almost entirely absurd. In fact, just ONE slow-sparring session at the outset is in my eyes the surest way for someone to be KO’D when the missiles start flying in real-time. PLEASE DONT EVER GO THERE.”

Hey Ricky! I understand your concern here, although I agree with your point of view, I can’t say that Johnny is wrong here. I’ve been doing occasional slow spar trainings since I read about it here, and I must say that it helped me A LOT. Sorry for the silly comparisson, but I would say that this method is similar to the dificulty modes on rhythm games (such as Guitar Hero, Dance Dance Revolution, etc) where you begin slow in order to get used to the location of the digits (in this case punches) and then, according to your skills, the dificulty and speed grows. I don’t know about other begginers, but for me this technique works.

*sorry for any misspellings

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Johnny N May 9, 2014 at 8:42 am

Kadu, you expressed my opinions perfectly. :)

I recommend slow sparring (not only as a way to get better) but as a way for BEGINNERS to feel comfortable with getting punches thrown at them. Sure, some may not like it as a training method and it’s certainly not necessary once you get comfortable… but for a scared beginner, slow sparring is a great training wheel. Obviously, you cannot subject somebody to something until they’re ready to it.

So to clarify, use slow sparring as a step towards faster (and more realistic) sparring…it’s simply a means to an end. Not the end goal, ok?

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john Curry November 26, 2014 at 9:00 pm

I understood the article perfectly the first time. Just got done with my first sparring session. I took turns going with the instructor and an experienced student. The instructor was slow but not too slow. The student was hard to go against. I didn’t really know what I was doing and I got punched in my right eye pretty good about 4 times. It definitely made me more nervous and less technical. I also realized I’m naturally passive, not aggressive at all, so I need to work on that otherwise I’m a breathing punching bag

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Kevin May 10, 2014 at 9:57 pm

lol nice comparison

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ali May 7, 2014 at 8:59 pm

johhny i have that thing wre.i really feae but dont want fear
to overcome my dream i have been trainibg 4 about 1 month but that fear really
needs 2 go i think everyday can i do it or not but i keep my sel
dedicated nd think i can do it im only a begginer yet i.jus want 2
be the best word champion 1 day also johnny im from england
my plan is 2 have few amatures fights in england nd do the rest over there
at mayweathers gym or virgil hunter(dont know who 2 choose can u help)
coz america style of training nd the best trainers in the world r over there

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Skyler Carson July 17, 2014 at 3:17 pm

Ali, Honestly that fear goes away after you get in more experience. You should most definitely keep training and keep working with other fighters. A small thing that helped me get the fear of getting hit out of my mind was to focus on other things while sparring. Always keep your mind busy on how you’re going to be a step ahead, or what your next step will be. Boxing is boxing and you’re going to get it, you just have to get your brain to the realization of that. Also, learn how to pick shots, block shots, work angles, and other defensive tactics that way you’re not getting hit as often. This will lessen the amount that you’re getting hit and bring up your confidence more. The more confidence you have the better you will do in the ring imo.

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Simon July 24, 2014 at 4:48 am

Get your trainer to give you lots of blocking drills so that you learn to absorb impact using your guard. Spend a few maybe several sessions just working on this aspect and get your partners to gradually punch harder as you get comfortable with greater levels of impact. Don’t however go all out, just hard enough to give you that shock impact experience. Go back to your training you’ll find a lot of that fear will have dropped off and you’ll actually defend much better because you’ll be a lot more relaxed. Try it, I’m sure you’ll start to incorporate a lot more blocking drills into your training.

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j May 7, 2014 at 10:06 pm

Natural means your free of limitations working to your bodies capabilities, as for this article basically saying your going to get hit it’s boxing. Just do my best to know the starting point of punches to better defend them, then again both fighters are usually moving around with the same goal in mind, boxing is fun once it’s understood. I been following you since 2010 and I learned experience and just go out there and attempt the goals you have planned to achieve in sparring

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Yuhi May 9, 2014 at 1:13 am

Hi Johnny, I completely agree with you and I’m so happy to share the idea of slow sparring.

In my surroundings, it’s really hard to find a sparring partner who can go slow. (By the way, I love hard sparring and being challenged, too, though.) Most guys go very(too) fast and too hard, stay too far, and stay way too less busy. Without slowing down, especially for beginners and intermediates, it’s almost impossible to exchange punches in close range, naturally, you have almost no opportunity to throw hooks and upper-cuts.
My suggestion is, for example, to start sparring in the SAME SPEED each other (i.e. faster guy has to slow down by 40% and slower guy slow down by 30%.). By this way, the difference between the two boxers comes out of SKILLS, assuming that the exchange is done LIGHT, too. The pace of the spar should be picked up as the rounds go, so that you can adjust to the faster pace with less fear.

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Carlos May 9, 2014 at 2:24 pm

Is it a huge disadvantage if you have a parrots nose?

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Skyler Carson July 17, 2014 at 3:19 pm

That’s a funny way to put it but I’m sure having an large nose does create a bigger target to hit, and there is a chance of it getting hurt but it’s a risk when doing the sport.

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Johnny N July 22, 2014 at 5:35 pm

The advantage of it getting broken, yes….it’s very annoying.

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ali May 10, 2014 at 7:24 pm

*
johhny i have that thing wre.i really feae but dont want fear
to overcome my dream i have been trainibg 4 about 1 month but that fear really
needs 2 go i think everyday can i do it or not but i keep my sel
dedicated nd think i can do it im only a begginer yet i.jus want 2
be the best word champion 1 day also johnny im from england
my plan is 2 have few amatures fights in england nd do the rest over there
at mayweathers gym or virgil hunter(dont know who 2 choose can u help)
coz america style of training nd the best trainers in the world r over there

Reply

Luc May 11, 2014 at 6:11 pm

It’s funny reading this… I really wish I was given the “slow sparring” when I first started, at my gym I was kind of thrown to the wolves, had my nose busted by a decent amateur first time I ever sparred… I rekon it took me 10-15 more sessions to get over that first whooping…

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Kevin May 12, 2014 at 6:40 am

Very interesting article Johnny. I suppose everyone has their own specific fear. My fear that kind of nags at me is that my right eye is partially blind and my left eye is obviously very important to me. But then I correct that fear by reminding myself that not many people go actually blind from boxing, and I’ve never met anyone at an amateur level who has anyway. So the fear is 99.99% groundless.

Incidentally, I’m going through your paid 10 days to learn to box (as I’m approaching boxing with a beginner’s mind, even though I used to box when I was younger at amateur club level) and it really is fantastic, in the fact that it concretes the fundamentals and tightens up many flaws that I have encountered in my technique after a long break and has taught me many new things.

I am using ‘Seconds Pro’ for a round timer on my iPad which is fantastic when training. As you know, most boxing round timers are useless on a tablet or phone when you are gloved up, but I can start it with my elbow lol or with my nose even if I have gloves on. Also, for a more ‘all round core workout’ with some core exercises that will shock your core muscles with every workout (rather than just straight sit ups) I’d definitely reccommend ‘6 Pack Promise’ on iTunes. I’m not affiliated with either of these apps by the way but I am recommending them as I think that they are valuable for anyone with an iPhone or iPad who is boxing.

Slow sparring I’ve never done, so I will try this in the next few weeks.

Thank you for your advice.

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Johnny N July 22, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Let me know how it works out for you, Kevin. Thanks for the long insightful comments, btw. I enjoy reading them. :)

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Tim May 18, 2014 at 3:24 pm

I work 10 hours a day but I want to train/compete boxing. is this possible? how should I go about this?

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Johnny N July 22, 2014 at 5:42 pm

It’s a common scenario…even for many pro boxers. Because their fights don’t pay enough to make ends meet. All I can say is…if you love what you’re doing, you keep doing it.

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Erwin May 18, 2014 at 11:33 pm

Hi Johnny,

Got beat up yesterday by a heavier and stronger foe. He was throwing hay makers the whole practice. Told him and the referee about this but he still kept on throwing wild punches. He was trying to knock me out.

God those punches hurt. People really need to be re-oriented about sparring. Specially for beginners.

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Jean - Luc Gendron May 22, 2014 at 2:45 pm

My son is 13 years old and he has been training for boxing since he is 9.I wish you could take a look at his abilities ,so that you would pick up the bad habit before he gets to far with them. Is it possible to see you where ever you train?

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Johnny N July 22, 2014 at 6:26 pm

It’s possible to meet in person but I’m usually very busy. I do have a fight review service in the “SHOP” above that I will probably take down in the nearby future. I wish you and your son the best of luck. It’s always good to start young.

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Joe May 29, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Hey Johnny I was just wondering is there a workout or anything that will train you to block or slip while moving backwards or side to side? Or should jump rope and foot work drills help that? Id like to know your opinion if you want to give it.

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Johnny N July 22, 2014 at 6:28 pm

Mitt work and sparring. Shadowboxing is the next best thing. The thing is it depends on whether you’re training the movement coordination or the movement reflex. If it’s coordination you want, then keep repeating the movement. If it’s the reflex you want, then you need a more realistic training environment.

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Andrew May 31, 2014 at 9:52 am

It’s funny for me to see so much resistance to the idea of slow sparring in boxing. Maybe instead of thinking of it as sparring, think of it as a drill. You have the vet/coach tossing relaxed combos without lethal intent to teach the newbie a)to see the punches b)how to react to the punches c)to see the range this all works in d)to be confident under fire.

I don’t think bringing up Tyson as some kind of prodigy is really appropriate. A lot of his training is well documented and the guy worked his butt off to be slippery as hell on his way inside. I saw a neat drill he was doing with one of his trainers where the trainer had 1 mitt and 1 boxing glove. He would just jab like hell and retreat while Tyson did his aggressive forward movement & slip until he could throw a good hook.

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Eddie June 16, 2014 at 6:45 pm

I’m actually afraid to throw a punch inside the ring.

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Fionnlough June 16, 2014 at 10:58 pm

To be honest at my amateur gym growin up we were told te never stop being afraid of gettin punched lol. Just it was added that ye can’t let the fear rule you. Say ‘fuck it’ to the fear but always respect the reason ye had the fear. You start feeling easy in the ring ye gonna get hurt.

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falken June 19, 2014 at 7:21 pm

good article. I have just started sparring after a few months training and I got hammered. The fighter fought at my pace and level but I still got hammered. I just couldn’t see all the punches and so much was going through my mind – footwork, hands up, breathing etc that ducking and weaving was hard to do. My feet and brain also had delayed reaction. So I have lots to work on. My jaw is sore today that is for sure. I don’t have a fear of being hit, but I have a fear of looking like an idiot.
But you are right – its the punches I don’t see that I am most concerned about as you cant mitigate them. It’s just BAM. I still need to get used to the shock and feeling of being hit too since I have never fought in my life – even in school.
As a pacifist, I also need to get used to hitting people. My left jab is coming along well and is my best punch in terms of technique and speed/power. But I was so worried that if I connect with my opponent, I might really hurt him.

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Zia June 21, 2014 at 5:14 am

I see most guys in the gym (especially newbies) develop a fear of getting punched most often because they’re often thrown into sparring with a guy who’s been boxing for a few years-and the newbie usually gets lit up. That’s why I agree with Johnny-There’s a lot to learned from slow sparring. Thanks for another great article.

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Johnny Reitmann July 18, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Wow, there’s a lot of negativity in some of these responses! As someone whose been boxing for a few years now I would never go to town on someone who’s less experienced than myself in sparring, for the simple reason that I’d want to see him back there the following week! When I was first starting out I was paired with guys more experienced than myself and they took it easy on me – not too easy as they occasionally forgot and caught me with big shots, but that’s all part of it. You have to train yourself to the pain. This is why I recommend pairing beginners with more experienced guys who can control the pace of the session and throw in some occasional power shots so they get used to the idea of taking hits. Slow sparring is a good idea for beginners also. At the end of the day boxing is a tough sport. If you can’t handle being punched in the face seek life elsewhere.

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Johnny N July 22, 2014 at 6:30 pm

Great comment, Johnny.

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Tom September 1, 2014 at 4:40 am

Hi I just like to put my comment in , I just started sparring the other day at my gym only been boxing for 2 months , my trainer put me in with a guy whose being sparring for years and he went all out and my trainer what saying to push my sparring partner back and be the aggressor , now I’m not no boxing expert but I don’t see how I’m going to do that on my first spar when my sparring partner what trying to KO and what a shit first experience never got KO but black eye and blood nose is not a good start , and now my trainer says I’m not ready for sparring , I think I could do better without a trainer ??????

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Johnny N September 25, 2014 at 11:56 am

Try a different trainer.

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tim August 30, 2014 at 7:35 am

Johnny can you do a boxing shoe review like you did with the headgear?

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Johnny N September 25, 2014 at 11:57 am

Thing is I’ve been using the same boxing shoes forever. I’ve only tried one or two other brands so I wouldn’t know absolutely for sure what is the best out there. I suppose if the companies would all send me free review copies, I’d be more than interested. :/

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ahora October 4, 2014 at 3:17 pm

I’m a guy with glasses and my eyes are really weak, I don’t have the fear of the punches like i used to but the thing is i can’t see them punches till they’re like half inch away from me and that really sucks, do you have any suggestion about what possibly i can do???

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Johnny N October 15, 2014 at 9:13 pm

Wear soft contacts.

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Tom October 7, 2014 at 9:18 am

Thank mate , started at a new gym , love it

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Zakaria October 30, 2014 at 1:28 pm

While I was reading your article coach , I was smiling . ^^ It’s like this article was written to me. I have been training MMA almost 2 years , and I admit that I am still struggling in the fear of being hit . However, reading your article has provided me with a lot of techniques that surely may help me to overcome this fear . Thanks again coach ! :)

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Haider November 21, 2014 at 10:28 am

I have this exact issue, not because I push myself too hard as a beginner, but because my coaches seem to think the best way to get better and tougher is to get hit hard, which quite frankly I don’t like getting hit. I’ve even considered quitting because of it. I agree with everything on this post, no one should be subject to a battering if they’ve just started. It could easily make you fall out of love with the sport.

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David December 19, 2014 at 6:17 am

Johnny im 19 years old and ive been into boxing when im 14 years old but only last 2 years because busy with school college and other stuff , and i consider want to try again to train boxing now and to pursue my dream to be a great boxer , im 173cm 80kg , is it to late to box again to be an athelete? I used to be fat when im started boxing like 112 kg , but now i kinda fit , so what do you think? And i really admire mike tyason and his style , i want to be like him , nothing is impossible , so what do you think is it to late?

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