Blog Martial Arts Student

Developing a Competition Mindset

By Sensei Brandon Benenati

So you‘ve decided you’re going to compete in a tournament. That’s great. It’s important to take on challenges. Perhaps this is your first time or maybe you are a regular in the ring. In either case, here are some things to consider when it comes to making sure you have the best day possible in your competition. Feel free to bounce around these sections. If you are a more seasoned competitor you will already know a good amount of this information.

1. Preparation should start months ahead of your tournament date.

The first thing you want to understand is that people who put on their best performance at a tournament don’t just show up out of nowhere. They have spent months preparing for that performance and you should to. Plan ahead and practice every aspect of your performance. Once you get to the high stress scenario of competition day, it is very unlikely that you will be able to make significant adjustments to your performance. Intentional, focused practice is what is going to make yoursellf shine when the time comes.

2. Keep the big picture in your mind but focus on the details.

When it comes to making the preparations I just mentioned you’ll want to break things down into smaller pieces so it’s easier to manage. I’m going to try to cover as many bases I can in this section to try and provide you with something you may not have considered before in the context of competition.

Nutrition: What you eat has an impact on your performance. Put in the right fuel and you’ll get out the performance you want. If you notice that eating particular foods make you feel sluggish, they are probably not the best choice for your long term preparation and especially not the night before or day of competition.

Cross training: While it’s easy to just do another repetition of your kata or another round of sparring, it’s also important to do things other than karate to round out your fitness. To build endurance, try sprints or distance running (5K is a good distance to shoot for). To increase flexibility try yoga or being diligent with a daily stretching routine. Lifting weights can help with power and it’ll make it easier to move your body around when you don’t have those weights to contend with. These are just some activities that hit on different aspects of fitness. If you enjoy other activities then by all means continue to do those things but consider fitness areas where you could improve.

Sleep: If you want to recover from and continue to be able to work hard to prepare then you want to make sure you are getting enough quality sleep. Staying up late means you are taking away from what you did today and what you’ll be able to do tomorrow.

Time of Day: If you have any way of finding out around what time of day you’ll be competing try to get that information during your preparation phase. Your body has a rhythm and if you can adjust it over time so your peak energy time coincidences with your competition time then you’ll be firing on all cylinders when you are on the floor.

Visualization: Close your eyes and see what you want your competition day to feel and look like. What uniform are you wearing? What does the venue look like? What does your ring look like? How do you look and sound when presenting yourself to the judges? How does your kata feel when you perform it and how does it look and feel to the judges and spectators? See yourself performing at your best. Going through all of this in your mind is a way to squeeze in extra practice when you are in situations where you don’t have the space (i.e. in the car, on a bus, in bed, while you’re eating, etc.)

Consistency: It is important to keep as many variables as you can consistent when preparing. If you know what uniform you want to wear on competition day, you should practice in that uniform. Not every time necessarily but in the few weeks leading up to the competition its a good idea to get used to how it feels. The same goes for weapons forms. If you know what particular weapon you’ll be using, it’s a good idea to practice exclusively with that weapon a few weeks before competition so you get used to the weight and feel of the weapon. If you have to luxury of more than one set of sparring gear, it would be good to get used to how that feels as well. Will you have your hair done up a certain way? Will you be wearing glasses or contacts? How soon before and what will you be eating before you compete? These are all good things to practice well ahead of time.

3. When the day finally comes, know that you are there to do a job.

It’s important to keep your focus when you actually get to the tournament. There will be a lot going on. Plenty of spectators, competitors, and judges all around. If you can keep your head in the game, it’s perfectly okay to talk to people while you are there. Tournaments are a great place to make new connections and strengthen preexisting ones. However, when it comes time to get on the floor and compete, that needs to be your singular focus. Once you and your competitors are finished performing, feel free to go back to socializing.

4. Who you are in the ring reflects who you are as a person.

It is important to treat everyone around you the way you wish to be treated. Encourage your fellow competitors to do their best. Winning doesn’t feel so good when your competition doesn’t give it their best just like you. As much you may want to win you should want to make it difficult to accomplish. Everyone should finish feeling as though they put everyone on the floor. Don’t let your desire to win prevent you from being a nice person. People will want to come back and compete with someone who treats them respectfully.

5. When your division is complete, take the time to talk to the judges. 

Whether you place first, last, or somewhere in the middle of your division, take the time to talk to your judges about your performance. Get their insight into what they were looking at during your performance and ways that you can improve it for next time. As I said starting off above, preparation for a tournament starts months in advance.

6. Your mindset matters.

Have fun with this! Competition is a great challenge. It is a way to improve yourself mentally and physically. Tournaments are a great way to make friends. I have personally made lasting friendships through competition that also served to make me a better competitor. While it is important to be serious with all of this it is also important not to take everything too seriously. Find time to relax and let your hard work sink in. It feels great to win but even if you don’t, it doesn’t mean that you failed or didn’t do your best. It simply means that someone else was better than you that day. If you continue to focus and work on the things I’ve described here, you will have the chance to be that better person too.


I sincerely hope these words will help you to find ways to improve your martial arts training, your health, and your life.


All the best,

Sensei Brandon