One of the most amazing findings in neuroscience is when one of our sensory inputs is damaged or altogether missing, the brain rewires itself in various ways in order to fill in the missing information. For example, congenitally deaf Matt Hamill has revealed that instead of hearing his corner men when he is fighting, he “feels” them. MMA is already one of the most physically demanding and strategically challenging sports in the world, but to be a fighter and to be deaf is fascinating for at least three reasons, which Matt addressed in a blog he wrote for Sportsnet.ca:
“Above all else, being deaf impacts balance and a person’s ability to hear instructions from the corner. Thankfully, my balance is very good and I’ve never really had a problem with that. I’m able to stay in position to shoot takedowns and throw punches at all times, and rarely ever get taken off my feet. … The advice being fed to me from the corner is something I will never be able to fully hear, but it’s something I can feel. While other fighters rely on the words of their cornermen, I pick up on their body language and also use lip-reading techniques to work out what they are saying.”
Firstly, reading body language and lip-reading are difficult, but being in a fight makes them much harder than normal. You need superordinate control over your attention, which is hard when you have adrenalin racing around your body. Secondly, there can be no doubt that his wrestling training has been a great help in offsetting the balance issues which often trouble deaf people. Finally, touch is developed to a much higher level in deaf people and it is easy to imagine how this can carry over into MMA and ground fighting particularly.
I point these out not to detract from Matt’s career thus far in which his only two losses have come by way of a former UFC champion and a very controversial decision loss. Rather, these points serve to highlight what a unique fighter Matt Hamill truly is. Now, when you watch him face off against Rampage Jackson at UFC 130 in less than two weeks, you can impress your friends with the wonders of neural plasticity. [Source]