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The Best Fighter Is Never Angry

I consider myself a very lucky person. In my 35 years of living, I have experienced so many offerings of life & magnetic experiences. The feeling of gratitude is a warm blanket I throw over all of them. Some experiences even become significant engravings to my memory pool. They feel right. They feel good! Here is one of them.

A few weeks ago, I woke up in one of the European suburban hotels, which was located within a neighbourhood park. The hotel used to be a catholic orphanage, so you can imagine the architecture of it.

I stepped outside with a yoga mat, which was provided by the friendly staff of the hotel. Drank my iced coffee on the terrace, overlooking the park and the pond within. Started walking towards the greener side of the park, to start my self-operated physiotherapy. Which consists of core exercises and stretching. I usually feel great afterwards, I enjoy starting my day with it.

As soon as I was done with my exercises, decided to take a stroll towards the big field behind the pond. The field was as green as that “Windows XP” wallpaper, with the size of 2 football fields. There was a group throwing a frisbee, a couple having a picnic, a group kicking the ball around & there was an Asian man. It felt like I walked into a Woody Allen movie. Asian man grabbed my attention, he was doing slow movements & it looked like Tai Chi. Which looks like a martial artist switching from one warrior pose to another. In slow motion, he was cutting through the air. Whilst, trying to keep himself balanced.

Honestly, it looked very appealing. He was moving in a way that was as if he was born to do this. He did not cringe, breathe heavily, flicker or do any sudden movements. The Asian man was in motion, but he seemed motionless. The switch from one pose to another while changing direction of his body, took him for about 20 seconds. I kept watching him for the next 20 minutes. Until he stopped to take a break. I started walking towards him & introduced myself.

Me: Hi I am Ali

Him: And I am Eri

Me: What are you practicing? Is it Tai Chi? I only saw this in the movies.

Him: *with a strong Asian/English accent* No! It is Wugulun Kung fu!

Me: It is the first time I have heard about it, would you mind if I join you? I want to learn.

Him: Of course, he smiles, just do what I do & listen. pointed with his finger to his ear

Without waiting for him to finish the sentence, I was already getting myself ready. Put down my mat and cross-shoulder bag on the grass.

Eri and I started. I stood on his right-hand side. We took a position & started moving together. I had no idea that I was about to have the best experience of my trip. I was his shadow for the next thirty minutes. Was following all his movements, with “jeweller’s” precision. He seemed to be enjoying socializing with me. Furthermore, he respected my curious approach & dedication. After a few moments of silent movements, he started giving verbal instructions.

Him: Ali when you are lifting your hands, just like this…Imagine your spinal discs getting unattached from each other.

Me: Mmmhm, ok

Boy oh boy, did that work so well! Eri showed me something that felt better than my best meditation. I did not think, I did not procrastinate, did not analyze anything & actually, it felt like we were alone there. Was not paying attention to anyone on that field. I felt recharged & to be honest with you, it was a good leg workout. Because Wugulun includes a lot of single-leg stands and slow switches of balance from one leg to another.

As soon as we were done, I gave a long sigh & big fat smile directed towards Eri. I thanked him, shook his hand & we told each other about ourselves. He surprised me with his age, he is 66 & he was from Indonesia. We hugged it out and took this photo as a memory.

Rashad Mirzayev and Eri at the park

Now you might ask, “Why does Rashad always start a story with a story?” This is my artistic foreplay, I want to get you in the right mood & wrap it up with my conceptualized idea of the main story.

Moreover, Eri is planning to show up again in some future paragraphs.

Experiences like Wugulun, meditation, yoga, golfing or any activity out in nature are giving me a specific kind of clarity. That kind of clarity can be easily ruined by irritation or anger if you let it of course. Those two feelings took out best of me in recent months. I know first-hand, how life-draining those two feelings can be. It usually shatters our calm state of being. I detest that shattering process & everything that comes after it.

I am not saying that I get angry no more, what I am saying is - I know exactly what makes me feel the way anger makes me feel & I stop that shit in its tracks. Feeling angry is OK, feeling irritated is OK too.

However, constantly living in that mode takes life and its essence away from us. I lived like that for more than a year, and almost every day woke up in a pool of sweat. Expecting another message or news which will keep me in that loop of irritation and anger. I am done with it now. I get emotional whenever there is a need for it. Whenever it is rational to be so. I do not take bullshit from anyone any more.

Decided not to carry that weight on my shoulders. I like the life that clarity, joy, gratitude, strength, resilience, health & faith are giving me. I was asked to read this extract out loud recently, have a look.

These thinking patterns are why I wrote the words “faith” & “gratitude” above.

"Dear Father, thank You for Your divine protection

and the support that upholds us from the inside

out. Please keep your commandments in my mind

Give me the discernment to see temptation for

what it is. Give me the wisdom and humility to allow

You to move in me so that I'll take the way of

escape You have already provided. Amen."

Thank you Junia for sharing this message with me!

Now, let us dive into the science behind anger. Why does it make us think, talk and behave the way we do when we are angry? Feel free to check the sources at the bottom of the article if what I write is not enough for you.

Flares and flashes. Outbursts and eruptions. The words used to describe anger tend to be volcanic. And science may explain why. When an angry feeling coincides with aggressive or hostile behaviour, it also activates the amygdala, an almond–shaped part of the brain associated with emotions, particularly fear, anxiety, and anger.

Everyone feels anger. Traffic snarls, unsympathetic colleagues, playground bullies; we all have our triggers. The problems start when anger boils over into hostility and aggression, behaviours that cause harm. Like other emotions, anger is experienced in our bodies as well as in our minds. There is a complex series of physiological (body) events that occur as we become angry. You know that feeling of a “wave of hot temperature” coming from within when you are angry? Yes, that's the one.

Emotions more or less begin inside two almond-shaped structures in our brains called the amygdala. The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for identifying threats to our well-being, and for sending out an alarm when threats are identified that results in us taking steps to protect ourselves.

The amygdala is so efficient at warning us about threats, that it gets us reacting before the cortex (the part of the brain responsible for thought and judgment) can check on the reasonableness of our reaction. In other words, our brains are wired in such a way as to influence us to act before we can properly consider the consequences of our actions. This is not an excuse for behaving badly - people can and do control their aggressive impulses and you can too with some practice. Instead, it means that learning to manage anger properly is a skill that has to be learned, instead of something we are born knowing how to do instinctually.

As you become angry your body's muscles tense up. Inside your brain, neurotransmitter chemicals known as catecholamines are released causing you to experience a burst of energy lasting up to several minutes. This burst of energy is behind the common angry desire to take immediate protective action. At the same time, your heart rate accelerates, your blood pressure rises, and your rate of breathing increases. Your face may flush as increased blood flow enters your limbs and extremities in preparation for physical action. Your attention narrows and becomes locked onto the target of your anger. Soon you can pay attention to nothing else. In quick succession, additional brain neurotransmitters and hormones (among them adrenaline and noradrenaline) are released which trigger a lasting state of arousal. You're now ready to fight.

Although your emotions can rage out of control, the prefrontal cortex of your brain, which is located just behind your forehead, can keep your emotions in proportion. If the amygdala handles emotion, the prefrontal cortex handles judgment. The left prefrontal cortex can switch off your emotions. It serves in an executive role to keep things under control. Getting control over your anger means learning ways to help your prefrontal cortex get the upper hand over your amygdala so that you have control over how you react to anger feelings.

Among the many ways to make this happen are relaxation techniques (which reduce your arousal and decrease your amygdala activity) and the use of cognitive control techniques which help you practice using your judgment to override your emotional reactions. I will elaborate on such techniques later on. Bear with me, science is almost over. Without deconstructing what's happening, you can not build up on the issue.

If anger has a physiological preparation phase during which our resources are mobilized for a fight, it also has a wind-down phase as well. We start to relax back towards our resting state when the target of our anger is no longer accessible or an immediate threat. It is difficult to relax from an angry state, however. The adrenaline-caused arousal that occurs during anger lasts a very long time (many hours, sometimes days), and lowers our anger threshold, making it easier for us to get angry again later on. Though we do calm down, it takes a very long time for us to return to our resting state. During this slow cool-down period we are more likely to get very angry in response to minor irritations that normally would not bother us.

The same lingering arousal that keeps us primed for more anger also can interfere with our ability to clearly remember the details of our angry outburst. Arousal is vital for efficient remembering. As any student knows, it is difficult to learn new material while sleepy. Moderate arousal levels help the brain to learn and enhance memory, concentration, and performance. There is an optimum level of arousal that benefits memory, however, and when arousal exceeds that optimum level, it makes it more difficult for new memories to be formed. High levels of arousal (such as are present when we are angry) significantly decrease your ability to concentrate. This is why it is difficult to remember details of really explosive arguments.

Now that you have an almost full understanding of what kind of changes occur in your body and brain when you are getting angry, let’s talk about things that can be done about it. As long as I remember myself I always was a moderately calm person. Those who know me, know that under normal conditions I rarely get emotional. I am talking about anger in particular. Nonetheless, I experience anger deep down quite often. I know first-hand how corrosive anger can be. However, I managed to contain it. Quite often, at my own wellbeing’s expense.

While anger is a completely normal human emotion, it is also really important to learn how to manage anger appropriately. No one enjoys the feeling of being angry, and yet sometimes, the struggle to find healthy outlets for anger management leads to simmering feelings of anger for a long time. Finding some techniques for managing and reducing anger will help you lead a healthier and more enjoyable life.

In general sports and physical activity is a perfect “release” of anger or can help manage it. Whether it is swimming, boxing, golf or team sports. However, today I want to elaborate on martial arts. When I was a kid I tried many of them. Had a year of Karate, a year of Judo and a few years of kickboxing. I may have forgotten a lot of technicalities of it, but regardless of that I remember the philosophies behind them.

Most importantly, martial arts make your body move! It makes you release a lot of energy and toxins. Exercise in general releases dopamine and endorphins into the body, which help you to feel happier and view your situations more positively. Moreover, exercise reduces stress hormones in your body, making it the best cure for anger.

I remember 5 months ago my nephew was going through a rough time with his teenage anger issues, and every time he was getting hyped up. I was reminding him to drop and give me 20. Push-ups…not AZN.

Martial arts make us more mindful, which means that it generates a unique way of focusing our minds. When you feel anger boiling up, martial arts will help you pivot your attention and focus on something else. Whether you find yourself sparring with a partner hitting a bag with certain combinations in a Muay Thai class, or rolling or drilling a position in Jiu-Jitsu, you will have to narrow your attention and be mindful of your movements, your partner, and your goals and tasks at hand.

Mindful focus is an excellent way to help manage anger, and martial arts is full of this aspect in so many ways. If you’re struggling with anger, try focusing your attention and practice being mindful through martial arts.

If you ever had a coach, whether it was football, fitness, yoga or any other sport. You have heard this from him or her…”Breeaaaathe”. By the way at every turn motion, Eri was giving a long sigh to remind me to breathe as well. Anger tends to quicken our breathing and keep us in a state of “fight or flight.” Martial arts combat this short, anger-laden breathing with slower, more intentional breath work.

In Jiu-Jitsu, your breath needs to be calm, slow and utilized well. If you are on the bottom of someone much bigger than yourself, or even just someone with great pressure, slow, long breaths will help you manage your position and avoid feelings of panic or anxiety.

Regardless of your chosen martial arts, breathing is typically an important aspect of the sport for one reason or another. If you neglect to breathe properly in martial arts, you will have a more challenging time carrying out the tasks of the sport. Breathing, coupled with mindfulness, is a surefire way to utilize martial arts as you work through managing anger.

I have a friend who lives in Lankaran all year round. His fictional name is Vinay.

My friend who lives in Lankaran

Vinay used to be an engineer, he travelled the world for his work and lived in Africa as well. However, he got tired of the urban lifestyle and decided to move to rural Azerbaijan, closer to… not closer, literally to live in nature. Now he is riding his horse, doing photography, beekeeping, farming and other rural activities. He has his horse, his saddle and a lovely dog who is always following him around. When I met Vinay in the city for the first time, it was during the pandemic and we were having a walk in the empty “Old City”.

Vinay: Have you ever tried breathing techniques?

Me: Only once, with our common friend. Never by myself though.

Vinay: You want to try again now?

Me: Sure let's do it.

Vinay put on Wim Hof’s breathing technique and we started breathing together, with Wim’s voice in the background. The clarity accompanied by excess oxygen intake was a feeling to remember. I giggled at the end and thanked Vinay for this new experience. Even if you are not into martial arts, you should give Wim Hof's technique a try. I do not do it regularly, however, I am mindful about breathing now & whenever I feel the need, I put on Wim’s assertive voice to guide me.

Visualization is another excellent way to manage anger. Fortunately, martial arts is full of these types of opportunities. Whether you are shadowboxing and visualizing an opponent, their movements, and their strikes, or you are moving through a new technique in Jiu-Jitsu on your own and visualizing how you will complete the technique, your body will begin to calm down.

Visualization also helps you with strategic thinking. Some even say that Jiu-jitsu is like chess. However it is even more than that, “Jiu-jitsu is not just about submissions and techniques. It teaches you humility, respect, and gratitude.”

Thanks to Joe Rogan I have got acquainted with many amazing people, concepts & ideas. For example, a former navy seal and an author like Jocko Willink is a prime example. In one of the episodes, Jocko & Joe were talking about police brutality and cops having not enough training to de-escalate situations. Here is the clip:

Let me rephrase what they are saying. An individual with knowledge of Jiu Jitsu has the ability to cause damage to anyone. However, the level of clarity and confidence those abilities bring gives them the power to handle situations much better than any other average Joe. In my opinion, it is a nice encapsulation of my martial arts thesis. I have started this piece with a story about a martial artist and I will end it with another one. I want to share a scene that I observed a week ago. I was walking towards my gym in Baku, whilst walking on the sidewalk with my headphones on, I saw a man “eyeballing” me. There is no other term for it, he was giving me “that look” that men give each other. I understand that behaviour is part of “primate” nature & quite often I play that game too. I “eyeball” back and depending on the situation I might end it with a smile or keep looking until the primate looks away. One thing we both did not realize is that, during that moment of eyeballing, he was crossing the road.

He had an athletic build and was almost as tall as me. His build was not the kind you build up with technology equipment surrounded by women working out with make-up. It was the kind you built up while grappling with 5 other sparring partners. He even had that “wide body” walk, with arms spread as if he were carrying something underneath his arms.

I was coming from the opposite side of the road and his back was towards incoming cars. That specific street near “Avtosh doner” is one-sided, as you may know. All of a sudden a Toyota Prius drives right by him! If he took one extra step, that car would have hit his leg with the front bumper and the athlete would have made a couple of circles before falling. The athlete, immediately screams at the Prius driver. I did not hear him due to music in my ears, but I could read his lips. He unleashed his anger on the driver with one sentence. The driver heard what he said, stopped the car and stretched his head out the window. At this point, I am just observing, waiting to intervene and break up the fight.

The athlete was looking for some action and he might just get it now. However, the driver of the Toyota was a skinny older guy, who was not causing any threat. He kept on saying that, this was not a crossroad & you should be on alert if you were crossing the road. The athlete walked with confidence towards the car, they exchanged some words which I could not hear. The athlete did not lose his cool or control. All he did was scream at the driver as he drove by. With every step he took afterwards and with every word he said. He calmed himself down. Right after the short exchange between the athlete and the driver who did not get out of his car, the athlete shook his head, gave a nod & without any words signaled the driver the following. “Just drive away, I am done with you“

Everything I expected to happen, did not happen. The athlete got angry & contained himself, with the understanding that he was wrong & he should control his anger. It is a rare trait, to see that archetype to admit that he is wrong that fast. Not only that, everything he did after the initial fearful outburst, was to calm himself down.

Was it his rationale, athlete's philosophy, faith or self control that calmed him down? Or was it all of the above? We will never know.

One thing is for sure, YOU will find far better ways to handle situations if you have that superpower too.

Pura Vida!


1 Comment

Nice one! Enjoyed reading, happy to be introduced to Vinay by you... Next time ask 20 AZN instead of push-ups and he will stop getting angry at least for couple of months 😅

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