Athletically speaking, there’s a place called “The Zone” – It’s that place that people go where they can’t be beaten. You’ve been there before, albeit very rarely. That time in school where you “couldn’t be stopped” or you “didn’t know what happened”…or as they say now, you “went all beast-mode”.
The Zone is a place in your being where your mind, body and soul and in perfect harmony and everything is physically easy…you can tell the future in milliseconds but you don’t realize it. The second you do realize it, you’re out of it and back to normal. One accurate way to describe the zone comes from the book Mind Games:
It’s a very strange feeling. It’s as if time slows down and you see everything so clearly. You just know that everything about your technique is spot-on. It just feels so effortless; it’s almost as if you’re floating across the track. Every muscle, every fiber, every sinew is working in complete harmony and the end product is that you run fantastically well.
~Grount & Perrin, 2006
Sounds Matrix-ey huh? I’m here to tell you that the zone is absolutely real. I’ve been there, and as I’ve said before, you’ve been there too. The reason that people don’t believe in it is that nobody knows how to get into the zone. If we did, PEDs wouldn’t exist simply because we’d juice ourselves up with mental incredible hulkness.
However, there are guidelines to get into the zone. I remember losing my first 7 jiu jitsu tournament matches…SEVEN. 0-7. Yes…I know, terrible. I finally decided to say “fuck it” and let ‘er rip and absolutely destroyed my next opponent…then the next…then onto judo. My next 5 judo matches were all wins. So what happened? I was tired of losing, sure, but I was tired of losing the third and fourth time…what was so special about the eighth?
I started thinking back to the match. It’s the only one that I remember clearly. I remember every single move, every safe point, and I definitely remember knowing what he was going to do. I recall escaping an armbar because I knew he would go for it and I knew that by letting him I could roll over and escape, thereby using it to pass his guard. I was a blue belt, and I came up with that while it was happening, and absolutely knew I wasn’t in danger at any point.
“So?” you’re probably saying. Well, I backtracked to find out what I did different during that tournament than the previous ones, then researched a little internet and found out I was in the zone, and these steps may have helped get me there:
#1 GET FAMILIAR: There’s a reason that home field advantage is an advantage – you’re relaxed there. When you go into the cage or on the mat or in the ring, arrive early – go through the motions, feel the material of your chosen pit. Don’t let your mind get distracted with how the cage feels, how the ropes feel or how the mat feels during the match…get in there beforehand and your brain will have less to be distracted by in the fight
HOW I DID IT: I was at NAGA and while waiting an absurdly long amount of time for brackets to be made, I rolled lightly on the competition portion of the mat. After that I walked to the edge, went through my mind about walking out, taking my spot, shaking hands, then hearing “Go” at which point I would go back and do it again…all the time, going through the motions. Nothing was unfamiliar when it came to go time other than what would happen…which brings me to #2:
#2 REACT: To quote a man who had unbelievable moves and seemed to be in the zone nearly every game of his NFL career:
I guess in some ways I would just shut off the brain and react
The Zone preys on opponents that are one millisecond slower, one thought behind. If you’re thinking, you’re losing. By training the body to react (otherwise known as “absorption”) instead of think, you eliminate that precious amount of time. If you’re always a fraction of a second ahead, that’s enough for the other guy to wonder how the hell you always seemed to know what he was going to do
HOW I DID IT: I didn’t care about losing anymore. I didn’t care about being embarrassed or hurt. Other than planning on walking out and shaking hands, I didn’t plan on anything. I just let go. Instead of second guessing myself or vying to keep position, I just committed, reacted and I just did it…what was I going to do, lose again? My body seemed to take over separately from my brain…while I was planning on what to do, my body was actively defending and moving and I couldn’t tell you why.
#3 – GET YOUR VICTORY (BEFORE YOU COMPETE): Endorphins are naturally occurring substances released by the brain. Get this, the thing they most resemble are opiates (some opiates are opium (duh), heroin and morphine). You’re probably asking yourself how you fight better on morphine and heroin…my answer is that you don’t – so don’t do heroin before you fight. You get a morphine-like feeling without that whole being-on-morphine side effect when your brain releases the endorphins.
In short, you feel fuggin’ awesome, relaxed, and your brain is extremely aware of its surroundings….now take the red pill, Neo.
How do you get endorphins you ask? By physical activity…ever wonder why you feel fantastic after running, lifting weights, sparring, sex or a competitive game of cribbage? It’s because endorphins are released during all of these…especially during an intense game of cribbage.
Going into the match with endorphins flowing gets you one step closer to peak zonage.
HOW I DID IT: No, I didn’t have sex or run before my match. I closed my eyes and pictured every single moment that I could remember where I was victorious, then took myself back to the exact moment of excitement where I realized I was victorious. Now let me be specific here…I didn’t pull up memories of actual matches or moments…that would lead me to start thinking about how to fight (See #1). No, I just pictured the realization I had when I knew that I had one…and I felt good.
#4 DON’T TRY (TOO MUCH): The zone is a state that is perfect. You can’t do wrong in the zone. It does however, have an extremely thin margin of error. Think of it as buoyancy. You don’t want to sink to the bottom of the pool and you don’t want to float on top, you want to float happily in the middle – without even trying.
Now, picture yourself in that happy little buoyant state and someone taps you on the top of the head…you’ll sink a little bit, then gradually come back to the middle….same if someone tapped you from the bottom. Each time you’re bumped, you move out of the zone until your buoyancy brings you back it. Now think of those pushes as your effort level.
Huh? I know…I know…
When you stop trying, you’ll “float” to the bottom of the pool. When you try to hard, you’ll float to the top…either one knocking you out of the zone. You have to have a happy medium of effort and non-effort to remain there.
HOW I DID IT: I don’t know, man…I don’t know. Because I got in the right mindset and the correct physical state, I think this just happened on it’s own…but I guess if I could explain every aspect of the zone, I would be this guy.