Office warriors: Combat sports provide outlet for stress

Fight…or flight?

Many businessmen and women in the area are choosing to fight.

Why are they throwing punches? To release tension and pent up aggression from too many hours at the office.

"Boxing deals with the fight or flight response. We don't need to chase a cougar out of our camp anymore, but that response still goes off," said Bill Bustance, champion fighter, trainer and owner of Trigger Boxing on Woodmere in Traverse City.

Every human brain houses this natural response in its deepest core layer. The "reptilian" layer is also responsible for heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance. Cultures across the world believe this important part of our brain is also activated when we dance.

Bustance understands this concept all too well. "Boxing is complex. There's a whole ballet involved, a kind of dance. It's different from cage fighting. They don't deal with vision and personal space issues the same way that a striker does."

Fight evolved, and was manifested in aggressive, combative behavior and flight was manifested by fleeing threatening situations, such as being confronted by a predator. The flight or fight response now, when exercised regularly through a physically and mentally challenging sport like boxing or martial arts, can be fine tuned.

"You develop that kind of confidence where you're aware of your environment. We're not aware. We're doing technology; we're not doing 'keep the animal out of your camp.' Yet, we're still designed to keep the animal out of the camp," said Bustance.

"It really does engage your mind. There's a lot more to boxing. It's how you conduct yourself with your family and your business career. Plus there's a kinship, and fellowship with it," said Mark Stackable, senior investment management specialist at Smith Barney. "The cutoff for an organized fight is 40 years old. I'm trying to build the circle of older boxers so I can actually fight. It allows me a great avenue for stress relief to take out aggression and allows me to center and focus on what's important in life."

Fellow "white collar boxer" Gerald Chefalo added, "When you find a way to feel better, it builds confidence. It's a sweet science, very subtle and complicated. It's amazing how quickly your blood flows with punching and then there's the rope jumping, running, cardio, weight training…"

The positive mood states associated with frequent exercise are so significant that some have suggested the chemicals released are a more effective treatment for clinical depression than either psychotherapy, or the use of anti-depression drugs.

A lot of people deal with the stress-filled business world by hitting the gym for a 5:30 Pilates class, lifting weights, swimming, distance running. But, some people just need a more aggressive outlet. Maybe it's in their blood? Their DNA code perhaps?

"I have an attorney in town who already does things for stress, like yoga, but she comes in here and it's really great because she just wails on the bag. She loves it. It's a way for her to bang out her aggressions," said Robbin Bustance, Bill's wife and former competitive boxer.

Robbin also served on the Michigan Association of USA Boxing as co-chair for women's boxing. She was team manager of the Michigan women's team at Nationals in 2002 & 2003.

The Bustances have been training people in boxing for their entire 24 years of marriage. Bill started boxing 40 years ago. He competed successfully in amateur boxing, professional boxing, and MMA.

"A lot of times people will come in here who have major weight issues," added Robbin. "They're working out but just doing the same repetitive routines over and over. Then, they come in here and lose 60 pounds. You know it's different every time. It's such a diverse workout."

Martial Arts Mindset

If boxing isn't your thing, but you'd still like a diverse physical and mental challenge, talk to Paul Vittorelli, Filipino Martial Arts Guru (A "guru" is someone who has achieved instructor status.)

"It is about discipline and confidence but it goes way deeper than that. Really training and understanding the art you have chosen will make you a person that has nothing to prove. It will make any goal within reason seem achievable because the ego of having something to prove will be gone," he said. "Really understanding your chosen art in depth will make you think about everything in a different way. It will make you see things in a more beautiful setting. It will help you to appreciate everything so much more."

Vittorelli, an electrical contractor and owner of Aspen Enterprise, Inc., has been in the martial arts since the '90s and in Maharlika Kuntaw for about 14 years. (Kuntaw is a martial art developed in the Philippines; Maharlika, the original name of the Philippines, means "free/royal.") He has taught numerous classes at Northwestern Michigan College and clubs around the Traverse City area, helping people to find a "lifestyle not a hobby" and to really mold their lives in a confident spiritual way.

How has this training affected his business life? "As a businessperson and an individual, letting Kuntaw in as part of my life and training has changed who I am today, and how I act on life's day-to-day pressures," said Vittorelli. "Confidence is a key factor in any business doing or relationship. Martial arts learned correctly establishes a strong mind and body, a will that doesn't understand failure and a will that drives you to succeed in any and all of life's ventures."

Robbin Bustance added that, "It's an individual achievement. It's yours. You're a success for yourself or you lose for yourself."

Visit for more information. Paul Vittorelli's email is