Rookie Advice: Helmet Horrors
I'm not sure if I stole it, or if I actually coined the phrase, but with an influx of new guys to the Knights Hall ACL program, I've been saying it a lot; “You got Helmet Horrors, dude. Don't sweat it.” Most fighters in armor have had this feeling before. You're exhausted, trying to suck oxygen through the tiny holes in a steel face mask. You're sweating, maybe beat up, maybe laying on the ground with some gigantic bastard crushing your torso. Maybe you're stepping off the field, gasping and drained, and you can't get your helmet off over your ears. Your fingers feel numb and you can't work the clasp on your visor. You can't breathe. You're gulping down your own exhaled carbon dioxide, and your lungs are screaming. You panic in the helmet.
It's natural, and I've seen very few guys start on the journey to be an armored combat fighter who didn't have at least one moment like that. I remember I had it at Fort Tryon 2014, my first big ACL event. I walked into the arming tent, and got completely out of my armor, and just laid on the ground until the panic subsided. I don't even remember how I did it really, a visby coat of plates is a son of a bitch to get off all on your own. The second time I got it was in Poland during the World Championships, where I ended up facedown at the bottom of a dogpile. I couldn't see, I couldn't move, and every time I took a breath I tasted foreign soil. I had to close my eyes, make myself take deep, calming breaths, and remind myself that I wasn't buried alive, and these guys on top of me would be getting up real soon.
I've heard the panic and seen the panic in other fighters. Guys spinning wildly around after a hard fight, heaving and wheezing, screaming for someone without gauntlets on to pull their helm off or unbuckle the visor. That deep breath of relief once the helmet is off. Rookies, let me tell you, it does get easier. As your fitness level comes up, and your adrenaline during a fight levels out, and your comfort in the helm increases, the horrors fade away. You can actively train it out of your system by doing a HIIT workout in your helmet. Practice slowly, calmly drawing deep breaths in and pushing deep breaths out, (even as every mental alarm bell rings for you to get that goddamn steel trap off your face!)
Eventually, you'll feel like me and a lot of other fighters feel; your helmet is a safety blanket and not a cage. I might have nerves before a match, but as soon as that helmet goes on I get a wash of calm, because I know I can trust my gear to keep myself alive and relatively unmangled.
Don't ever let the fear of Helmet Horrors prevent you from putting on your lid and picking up your weapon. It's a hurdle to be leapt. For some guys, it's a big hurdle. For others, it might be a handful of times and then it's out of their system. For some guys, they never get that sharp stab of panic. Good for them, but that doesn't mean they're special, or a better fighter. Train hard, get mean, and start referring to your helmet as “your real face.” Helmet Horrors are temporary, and victory on the battlefield is eternal.