Physical training is as much about the mind as it is about the body. Especially when you’re facing high-pressure situations like a competition or an MMA fight, the mind can be your own worst enemy: Stress, fear, and defeatist self-talk are common obstacles to victory.
Faced with these internal, mental challenges, boxers like Ken Norton, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, and Frank Bruno, and cage fighter Joe Stripling all integrated hypnosis into their training. Ali only started using hypnosis after being beaten by Norton (who had been seeing hypnotist Michael Dean in the lead-up to the fight). As journalist Den Levin reported in 1973:
Dean met Norton in 1970, after his first and only loss, to Joe Luis Garcia. Norton had won 15 straight as a professional, 14 of them knockouts, and he says, “I wasn’t prepared mentally for improved competition. I was cocky as hell.” In the first round, his hands down, he got tagged with a straight right by Garcia and never recovered, losing in the eighth round by a knockout. Dean began teaching Norton self-hypnosis and working with his trainer, Eddie Futch, he implanted sound ring tactics in Norton’s subconscious mind.
When he was in the USA, training to fight Tyson, British fighter Frank Bruno was stressed and homesick. His trainer called in a celebrity hypnotist to help him focus. Bruno lost the fight. But little did he know that Tyson’s trainer, Cus D’Amato, had been hypnotizing him since he was twelve years old.
Tyson told Joe Rogan recently, “Cus used to have me professionally hypnotized two or three times a day – before sparring, before training, and before fights. My objective was to destroy.”
How I Used Hypnosis In Martial Arts Training
Having practiced martial arts for well over a decade, I have practiced both with and without mental training. And I have personally found that mental training (in the form of meditation, visualization, hypnosis, etc.) enabled me to improve my game and push through and beyond my perceived limits.
Yes, I used visualization to mentally rehearse techniques and situations. But I also used it to push through the pain of physical training and the fear of what, to me, seemed like pretty extreme challenges.
One of my biggest fears was always damaging my hand (made worse by a poorly timed block in one sparring session — resulting in me fracturing a finger on my writing hand in three places and pushing another bone about half an inch out of place.)
Told by my instructor to break a slab of concrete with my hand that fear bubbled up to the surface. (Do not try to do this at home — without proper training, you’ll break your hand, not the concrete.)
I put it off for weeks. Running out of patience, my instructor told me bluntly: “No excuses. You’re doing it next week.” I went away and visualized the concrete slab — its size, weight, and thickness. Then I visualized dissecting it, mentally taking it apart and putting it back together, meditating on how much speed and force it would take to break it if it was a quarter of the width, half, three-quarters, and so on. I did this every day without fail.
By the end of the week, I was confident that I could break the slab. They were a little under two inches thick. And they had air bubbles. But, don’t be mistaken. Being used in construction, they were solid. (I had seen people fail to break them, including one guy who was twice my size.) When the time came for me to break the slab, there weren’t any to be found. I thought I would just have to wait a week or so until they got more in. But my instructor went and got one of the thicker slabs. These were well over two inches thick. And they were solid. No air bubbles. Just dense concrete.
I wasn’t sure that I could break it (I had never broken a slab before). But I did the same visualization that I had been doing all week, visualizing this thicker, more solid slab and mentally dissecting it. Then I got up and — after about fifteen seconds more visualization — broke it. After that, I moved on to practicing the nail bed. One or two people told me that laying on a bed of sharp nails didn’t hurt them. Maybe they’re superhuman. The first time I laid on it, it felt like a thousand daggers were sticking into my back. I sat up, thinking that it was crazy. Then I forced myself to lie back down. In pain, I focused on my breathing and went into an intense meditative state, blocking out the two or three hundred nails pressing into my back (and leaving indentations almost half an inch deep).
I found that, within a couple of minutes, I could make the pain completely disappear. And, after that, I could actually enjoy the experience. That’s really the kind of transformation you’re looking for with hypnosis and physical training: turning fear into enjoyment, focus, or excitement.
Angel Millar meditating while lying on the nail bed, circa 2018 (left). Close-up of Angel Millar’s back with indentations from the nails, about twenty minutes later, after getting off of the nail bed (right).
Some Ways You Can Use Hypnosis
You can use hypnosis with your physical training or martial arts in a number of different ways. These include:
- Stress management.
- Pain management.
- Setting goals.
- Improving your self-talk.
- Visualizing and improving techniques.
- Visualizing and “virtually” practicing for an upcoming fight or personal challenge.
Starting With Self-Hypnosis
Whether you’re doing physical training or mental training, you’re always going to be able to go deeper and progress further and faster with a qualified trainer. However, just as you can work out and try some punches before you’ve even taken your first class in martial arts so you can also do some self-hypnosis.
Let’s clear up one misconception about hypnosis right now: if you go into hypnosis you won’t be turned into a mindless zombie, dependent on the hypnotist to get you out of that state. Same with self-hypnosis. You won’t get stuck in some psychological limbo. You’ll be relaxed and you’ll be able to visualize more clearly. But you’ll remain in control. Here are some tips for integrating self-hypnosis into your routine:
Make use of Hypnopompia:
When you’re waking up in the morning (but aren’t yet fully awake), you’re in a state of consciousness called “hypnopompic.” This state is similar to the state of hypnosis. You’ll be relaxed and your mind won’t be distracted by the daily grind.
Instead of opening your eyes and getting up, keep your eyes closed, and feel your face and body relaxing. And, whether it’s becoming a world champion fighter or improving on a technique, visualize yourself succeeding in your goal. Do it several times. Get clear about what you’re aiming towards. See it in your mind’s eye and make it as real as possible. Start your day off focusing on what you’re going after in life so that you won’t give in as easily to unhelpful temptations, cravings, laziness, or emotional traps.
When Training, Take a few minutes to visualize:
If you’ve been working on a new technique, take a few minutes after practicing it for a while (after maybe thirty minutes or so). Sit down for, maybe, five minutes. Close your eyes and visualize doing the technique. Slow it down. Break it down. And figure out the mechanics. And visualize yourself using this in sparring.
You can also do this after a lesson to help it “stick.” (It’s very important to balance the subconscious and conscious, doing things instinctively and consciously knowing what’s required.)
Clear Your Mind:
Today, we feel pressured to “work at” solving problems. We often feel that if we’re going over something, again and again, thinking rationally about it that we’re doing what’s required of us. But rational thought has its limits. Before the modern age, philosophers recognized that rational thought (Latin: ratio) had to be balanced with contemplation (Latin: intellectus) and that these two ways of thinking composed the mind (Latin: mens). Today, we also recognize the conscious and the subconscious mind, of course.
In our modern age, we’re constantly consuming data. We’re always looking at social media, the news, the computer, and our smartphone. We never give our brains any space. Yet, when we relax our minds, answers to the things we’re stuck on often hit us like a “flash” of inspiration. (You’ve probably experienced forcing to remember someone’s name and failing, only to have it “come to you” when you forget about it._
Instead of constantly “cramming” your brain with information, you must balance ratio with intellectus, the conscious with the subconscious. Think rationally about your challenge or goal for a while. Then relax and clear your mind. Don’t anticipate anything. You’ll find that valuable new insights often emerge during this time. Doing this, you’re allowing the subconscious to play its natural role of assimilating data and finding connections that the conscious mind cannot. This is what gives us creativity.
Ready For A Transformative Hypnosis Session?
Sessions are $120 for 90 minutes. Sessions include:
- Confidential discussion about your goals and challenges so that we can tailor the hypnosis experience for maximum effect.
- Guided hypnosis.
- Discussing and practicing related mindset techniques for success.
- Learning self-hypnosis.
Click the link below to schedule your session:
Results may vary from person to person. Do not attemp any physical techniques mentioned on this page without the guidance of a qualified instructor.