• In this Martial Arts • Fighting Science paper, we will discuss the psychology and physiology of fighters in combat. This first article investigates the changes in entropy when two opponents fight. Entropy is the measure of “order” in a particular system. In the context of fighting, low entropy means a high level of control. High entropy means low control or high disorder. The exchange between two fighters can be a series of punches, kicks, elbows, knee strikes or even grappling on the ground.
• During a fight the level of entropy increases. In exchange each opponent has their own “fighter’s curve”. We can visualize this curve in a graph where the y-axis represents entropy, and on the x-axis is time. The longer it takes for an exchange to take place between two opponents the higher the entropy. In other words, both fighters lose some level of control in exchange. But the rate at which the fighter loses control depends on their experience, technique, “heart”, strength and conditioning.
• Novice fighters are very uncomfortable at high entropy. Martial artists that focus on self-defense also have little tolerance for high entropy. In self-defense disciplines, the defender wants to block and strike the attacker. Once that has occurred then they anticipate the end of the fight. Their entropy curve is sharp because a long exchange of strikes is not desirable. Kickboxers or boxers, on the other hand, have a shallow fighter’s curve. They are comfortable with a flurry of combinations, and will even stay in striking range for long periods of time while simultaneously blocking, moving, and counter-striking.
• The problem escalates when a fighter’s curve passes a threshold where they no longer know what’s going on. This is called the “chaos threshold.” High entropy can eventually lead to chaos – especially for inexperienced fighters. In this zone, a fighter has lost complete control and tries to survive mainly through instinctive reactions. Once the fighter passes the “chaos threshold” they enter the “chaos zone“. In the chaos zone, the fighter is most susceptible to a knockout or severe injury because they’re no longer completely aware of their surroundings. Fear easily takes over in this zone, resulting in the fighter closing their eyes and cover their face. In the chaos zone technique, timing, and power are significantly compromised. With the onset of panic, the fighter may “turtle” (enter a fetal position).
• Fear also causes a fighter to hold their breath – either when being attacked, and even when attacking. This accelerates exhaustion because the lungs and muscles are deprived of oxygen during the exact moment when needed the most. I often tell students that if they hold their breath during a fight they will succumb to exhaustion four times faster than if they breathed during each exchange. The physiological reaction of holding your breath results in a sharper fighter’s curve and a quick entry into the chaos zone. When the muscles are starved of oxygen then exhaustion is accelerated and the body becomes paralyzed to attempt any counter-attack.
• Experienced fighters learn to keep their eyes open even in the most fierce circumstances. Eyes need to stay open during an attack because the fighter has the best chance of survival if they see all strikes coming. Many knockouts occur because the opponent didn’t see the attack. If their eyes are open, then the body instinctively prepares for impact. Learning to keep your eyes open while being attacked help to create a shallow fighter’s curve.
• A fight is typically a cyclical series of exchanges: movement, exchange, separate, movement, exchange, separate, and repeat. These exchanges may be on the feet. Or on the ground where attacks involve breaking a limb or cutting off oxygen or blood to the brain. Once this happens then the opponent goes “to sleep” (Fight-speak meaning that the brain is deprived of oxygen resulting in the fighter going unconscious). A fight could very well finish on the first exchange.
• At the beginning of a match, the fighter’s curve is zero. Throughout a fight, the entropy level will never completely return to the same point as the beginning of a fight. This is due to the increased heart rate and less oxygen supplied to muscles as a fight progresses. Exhaustion also leads to a decrease in reaction time to an attack, as well as when attacking. Fear and panic also can contribute to preventing a return to low entropy. Strength, conditioning, technique, experience, and the fighter’s “heart” all help the fighter’s quick recovery to low entropy. Two fighters with equal talent and experience will be differentiated by “heart”. The fighter that has a higher determination to win will have the a psychological advantage.
• Furthermore, a fighter that keeps their cool in an exchange can capitalize on an opponent that has lost their senses (because they have transitioned into the chaos zone), and has begun to panic. Once an opponent enters their chaos zone, then they are the most vulnerable, and a quick finish could be imminent.
• Recovery from high entropy (or from the chaos zone), is for the exchange to finish so that the fighter can regroup and collect their senses. This returns the fighter’s curve to near their starting point and more importantly takes the fighter out of the chaos zone. The trick is to have a fighter’s curve that is gradual on the exchange and then sharp on the recovery. If the fighter feels comfortable during an exchange then they will remain technical in their offense and defense while simultaneously keeping their composure. Recovery from high entropy is quicker if the fighter is conditioned. If the fighter is not in shape then recovery to a lower controlled state is much slower as the heart rate struggles to return to normal and oxygen is replenished in the muscles. There is an added benefit for experienced fighters: Quick recovery to low entropy is more efficient since there is a much smaller recovery delta when compared to an inexperienced fighter.
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About the Author
Gabriel Dusil has been a practitioner of Martial Arts for over twenty years. Originally he trained in the traditional style of Shotokan Karate. Gabriel has also trained under the expertise of Sensei Martin “Sonic” Langley in the United Kingdom. More recently he has focused on circuit training, conditioning, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and kickboxing. Gabriel teaches both children and adults at the Ferus Fitness Fight Club, fffc.cz.