“Can you remember what you did?”

“Yes. I kicked him after the referee stopped us. I was standing, he was on the ground and I kicked him in his face.”

In an interview right after the kickboxing match between between Remy Bonjaski and Badr Hari in 2008, a journalist asks Badr what just happened. Badr is aware of his actions and the consequences – a large fine and being eliminated from the next world championship.

“It was an expensive error but I can’t turn back the clock. It’s a lesson for next time.”

Naturally, he understands the price he has paid for his transgression, yet he answers the interviewer’s questions in an indifferent, nonchalant manner. Casually, he compares his misbehavior to riding a bicycle on the sidewalk: “That’s also not allowed.”

 

Completely taken over by emotions

“I’m an emotional person and I let my feelings guide me.”

This is the strength of Badr Hari. If he puts his foot on the gas, he’s like a hurricane in the boxing ring that usually ends in victory by knockout. With Badr, there are no brakes or steering wheel on his emotions, which makes his biggest strength also his biggest weakness. He’s not being guided by emotions; emotions completely take over in these moments. This happens when an emotion becomes so intens that it seems like decisions are being taken for you, and this is called emotional hijacking.

During an episode of emotional hijacking, your emotions are fully in charge of your behavior. Since there is such a high level of activity in the area of your brain where emotions come from (the amygdala), it literally becomes impossible to think about what you’re doing, as in that moment, the part of the brain (the neocortex) responsible for that action – thinking about what you’re doing – stops functioning altogether.

Your emotions can take over in different ways, and the length of these episodes vary.  For example, being paralyzed by fear can be so intense that someone else has to give you that initial push to start moving again. Yet, not every takeover is necessarily negative. In some moments, laughter can be practically impossible to prevent, and we all know how long an episode of uncontrollable giggles can last.

 

Badr did not learn his lesson

Unfortunately, this was not a lesson for the next time. Two years later, the same thing happens. In a 2010 fight, Badr takes on Hesdy Gerges. In round 2, Gerges goes down and the referee puts himself between the two men. Two entire seconds pass, before Badr ruthlessly kicks Gerges on his head.

Something what could have been an incident, can now be considered a pattern: continuing to fight after it was permitted.

Badr Hari: “I scared myself after the match. There is a certain aggression in my body that I do not know how to handle, I don’t know where it comes from, or what I can do with it. It’s there, but I need to be able to channel it, and use it in the moments I want and have to use it.

 

What happens to Badr Hari when his emotions take over

After the match against Gerges, Badr decides to go to Morocco for a long period of time to reflect and contemplate his actions. In Morocco, he gives an extensive interview for the Dutch program Brandpunt.

Badr: “It’s not just in my head, it’s my entire body. If the brakes are off, there’s just an explosion of chaos and white noise. I can’t hear or see my surroundings. It’s a storm, a hurricane, a natural disaster.”

The power that is released when Badr enters the ring might be his most dangerous weapon. He calls it a natural disaster because it happens to him, instead of him making it happen intentionally. It’s a bit as though he’s riding on the back of a wild, untamed animal, and because of that he has no idea what will actually happen, and whether he will be able to stay on top of things. In the interview, Badr says the following about his improper action against Bonjasky:

“I was still on the fast train. I wasn’t done with him. Yet, in this moment, I know you’re not allowed to continue.”

“The referee hovered over Bonjasky, but i did not even see him. I only woke up after I ran into the referee for the second time. I saw him scream and give me a furious look, so I figured I must have done something wrong. Only when the storm settled I realized what I had done. Again, I kicked someone whilst he was down on the ground. Unprotected.”

Analyze your emotions

When there’s a fire in a residential area, causing an entire house to burn down, the fire department searches for the cause. They don’t stop before they know the origin of the fire. Otherwise, before you know it, the entire neighborhood could be consumed by flames because of a gas leak.

After the incident in the fight with Bonjasky, the manager of Badr Hari said: “I’ve talked about it with Badr, but not too much. He knows it was wrong what he did. It’s very difficult to find out what the reason was. I still don’t know.”

Not finding out why Badr did what he did is just like hoping there won’t be a gas leak in the neighborhood. This time, it turned out to be false hope. In the fight against Gerges, Badr was fully consumed by flames.

During his period in Morocco, Badr reflects a lot, and searches for reasons to explain the escalating storm in the boxing ring: “I owe my entire life to the martial arts, every penny I’ve earned. My parents, brothers and sisters all have a nice life because of what I do. Every time I’m out there, every opponent I see in front of me is a fighter who wants to be me, who wants to take my place or wants get in line behind me. He wants to send me back to that hunger, to take everything away from me. That is absolutely not going to happen.”

“I truly hate someone when I fight them. I can’t handle it very well. Emotionally, I don’t have the talent to suppress this. There is so much will to win, and so much will to really hurt someone.”

 

How can you prevent emotional hijacking?

An emotional hijacking can happen to anyone. Whenever you frantically yell at your teammate, opponent or referee in the heat of the moment, or even push or hit them, you are no longer in control. Whenever you ‘black out’ during a presentation, your head fills with mist and you can’t seem to move your mouth, you are no longer in control.

The first step to prevent emotional hijacking is to know what happens to you and why it happens. Because of this, you become conscious of yourself and what makes you tick.

Walking away and letting your emotions settle slowly can be a decent response when for example you’re getting into a fight. But walking away is not always a luxury that you can afford.

When you know from experience there are certain emotions of which the intensity can rise real high, you should not simply hope it will be alright. You can do something about this before it actually happens. For every emotion, you can prepare a plan, an approach. Whenever you find yourself in a situation that triggers a very intense emotion with you, without having thought about how you might handle it, you’re usually too late. It’s pretty strong stuff you know, these emotions.