Like with any learned skill, absence makes the body grow strange and forgetful. For fighters, it’s called ring rust. . .
HOW TIME OFF TURNS YOUR RHYTHM RUSTY
You fought and are now taking some time off. Weeks turn into months, and months into years. Finally, the time has come when you tell your coach you’re ready to get back in the ring.
You train hard, make weight, and now it’s time to fight. The first round starts and you feel incredibly slow. This surely isn’t your first fight, but you feel very slow to react and have trouble finding your distance and timing. This goes on for another round or two before you begin to feel your familiar rhythm flow back into you.
Even if during your time off from fighting you were still training, you may experience something called ring rust when you start competing again. Ring rust is a phenomenon experienced by many when they take a (long) period of time off from fighting and they’re not feeling as sharp as they did when they last competed. They can feel physically slow; feel more nervous than normal; be less reactive in the fight; get tired more quickly than usual, or just have overall trouble performing as they expected to. An observant opponent picking up on this may turn up the heat to shut you down sooner than later – before you regain your composure and feel your fighting rhythm return.
Simply put, experiencing ring rust in a fight isn’t just detrimental to your chances of winning – it’s dangerous, too.
WHY DOES THE BODY FORGET HOW TO FIGHT?
Ring rust is something that makes sense if you consider central nervous system stimulation. If you do something over and over frequently and often enough, your body gets used to it and makes itself more efficient.
The body’s ability to adapt to routine is why you can navigate yourself to work every day on autopilot, without even really debating which way to go. This is why you’re able to take showers and brush your teeth while thinking about existential matters, all while avoiding drowning yourself. This is why you are able to throw a nice, powerful roundhouse kick now without being off-balance or getting tired, especially compared to when you first started. This is also part of the reason why, when you start fighting fairly frequently, you find your timing and distance more and more easily, and you can block incoming shots without giving it too much thought at all.
Now, if you stop doing something for a long time, your body temporarily “forgets” how to be efficient at it. Have you ever taken time off from training and felt like you didn’t know where your feet were when you started again? Have you ever gone on an extended holiday from work and upon returning to your job, you felt more attentive on your way there? It’s because of this psychological phenomenon having to do with effort in your brain (and therefore your body, as your brain controls everything). So if you apply this theory to what we think ring rust is, it makes sense.
IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD
However, not everyone believes in the existence of ring rust. Caley Reece, former Australian and Muay Thai world champion, has said:
“This phrase is null and void. To me, that’s self doubt. A phrase that is setting them up almost for failure before even giving themselves a chance and an excuse to use if they don’t perform.”
UFC fighter Eddie Alvarez has also said that he “doesn’t believe in” ring rust, so it “doesn’t work” on him. (Great job out-thinking ring rust, Eddie.)
Whether ring rust is a legitimate physiological condition is hotly debated, which is no surprise when it comes to metaphysical and highly subjective experiences like this. And like with most matters concerning the link between the mind and body, a lot the effects of ring rust can be purely mental. If you allow the fact that you haven’t fought in a while to get in your head and determine how you will perform, then it is indeed something that you have created. Its effects are a placebo in nature, pretty much a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, if the thought of being away from the ring and its possible effects on your performance hasn’t crossed your mind, yet you still experienced the dreaded ring rust, then it’s quite real. If it’s real for you, then surely it’s real enough, isn’t it?
Like everything in this world, ring rust and its effects vary from person to person. It affects some people, not all. It affects people on different scales – some can bounce back quicker during the fight, while for others it takes the entire fight. Perhaps some find it easier to say ring rust doesn’t exist so they will never be able to use it as an excuse. Whether or not you let the thought of it get to you before the fight is up to you.
- Plant-based fighter, foodie, and aspiring physical therapist. Angela is currently living in Bangkok and training full time.