Competition>Preparing for a competition

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Preparing for a competition


Once you decide to compete, you must prepare for the competition by shifting your focus from general training to training specifically for the competition. You must work on improving your weaknesses, building your strengths, and increasing your stamina. For pattern competition, this means performing the patterns as many times as possible while concentrating on achieving perfection of form and movement and get as much critical input as you can. For sparring competition, you must spar as much as you can with as many different opponents as you can while using the rules of the competition.

Training for a competition 

To be a successful sparring competitor, you must train to develop your competition skills, such as your:
  • Physical conditioning.
  • Mental conditioning.
  • Knowledge of competition rules.
  • Knowledge of sparring principles and tactics.

Training plan

Instead of just doing more of what you normally do, you need a plan. You need to set up a plan of what you need to do and schedule the times it needs to be done, and then adhere to the schedule. A typical training plan includes overall fitness training and, of course, skills training. 

More preparation is required for a national competition, so, if you want to compete nationally, you must increase the duration and intensity of your training. If you are a top-level national competitor, especially if training for international competition or the Olympics, you will probably have a state-of-the-art training plan developed just for you and you will have a coach that will ensure you stick to the plan. However, if you are an ordinary competitor, you will have to develop your training plan that fits into your available training time, with input and assistance from your instructor. Sticking to the plan will require a lot of self-motivation.

Fitness training

Some types of overall fitness training include:
  • Endurance training. A pattern and sparring competition do not require you to perform at a steady level of energy output over a long period, they require you perform at near-maximum energy output for short bursts over a relatively short period. To attain this level of endurance you need to do such things as running lots of wind sprints (run a short full-speed sprint, walk back to the starting point, and then repeat), long continuous kicking and punching drills on a heavy bag (ten minutes or longer), short full-power kicking and punching drills on a heavy bag, and sprints of jumping rope, swimming, rowing, etc.
  • Strength training. This includes such things as all-purpose weightlifting (free weights are better since the body must also control the weight while lifting) and general calisthenics, such as push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, jumping jacks, and plyometrics.
  • Flexibility training This includes such things as stretching, yoga, and palates.
  • Cross-training. This includes playing other sports such as tennis, ping-pong, or basketball that require quick movements with eye/hand coordination. Cross-training helps break training boredom and lets muscles relax by performing in motions not usually used in your martial arts training.
  • Relaxation training. This includes such things as meditation, yoga, and cycles of tensing specific muscles and then relaxing the same muscles.
Start early and intense with your endurance, strength, and flexibility training, and maintain the intensity throughout the training program, tapering it off as the competition date approaches. Relax your training in the week before the competition to conserve energy and let the body repair itself. Use cross-training and relaxation training to break the boredom and to ease the tension and stress of intense training. Concentrate on skills and sparring training throughout the training cycle but, as the competition date approaches, concentrate on just sparring while trying to avoid injuries.

Injuries are always a problem, especially if they interfere with or prevent training. Always warm-up before and cool-down after training. Stay hydrated and eat properly. Learn to recognize the difference between injuries that can be ignored and those that need treatment and rest.

Skills training

Some types of skills training include:
  • Basic training. This includes such things as hand target drills, practicing specific techniques at various speeds at various power levels. For example, perform techniques slowly with full-body tension while ensuring perform form is maintained and then perform them at maximum speed and full power. You can perform techniques using slow, precise movement against some resistance, such as another person’s body or by using resistance bands.
  • Sparring training. This includes such things as shadow boxing, sparring drills with an opponent, sparring sprints (attack fast and hard for 30 seconds, then the opponent does it, repeat several times), and of course free-spar as much as possible with as many different opponents as possible. Not only work on the physical aspect of sparring but also the mental aspects, such as sparring strategies and tactics and psychological control of your opponent.

    Competition sparring is different from routine sparring in class. The rules are different, there is more mental and physical stress, and there is an intense desire to win for both you and your opponents. And win you must if you want to fight again since only winners move up the sparring ladder.

    As a competition event nears, most instructors will shift their emphasis during class to competition fighting techniques and strategies. If you want to be a good fighter, watch good fighters spar, listen to good fighters when they teach, and seek to spar with the good fighters as much as possible. Competition training also helps to jumpstart your training after the boredom of doing the same routine training week after week.

    However, in-class training will not be enough if you want to be a top competitor. You will need to develop a personal training plan and stick to it religiously. With your instructor’s permission, it is helpful to visit other schools and spar with their students.
  • Pattern training. Pattern training involves everything used in sparring training except for the sparring. Pattern techniques are seldom used in sparring, but they complement sparring techniques and thus improve them. Perform the required patterns daily. Learn them so well that if you are interrupted during the performance you will know exactly where you left off.

    Patterns may be practiced up to the day of the competition. Practice concentration so your attention does not wander during the performance. Vary the way you practice patterns. Practice with extreme body tension in slow motion, as quickly as possible while still maintaining proper form, eyes closed, etc. Train in a large area so you do not truncate your movements. Train in a small area so you can practice stopping and resetting your position since this may have to be done during competition.

    Key things to remember about patterns are:
  • Body movement should be smooth, not too quick, not too slow.
  • Technique execution should be quick and powerful, except where slow motion is required.
  • Concentrate on stances; they are most obvious to judges.
  • Chamber for techniques and re-chamber afterward.
  • Hold kicks at full extension for a split second so judges may see the foot position and may appreciate the technique used, then re-chamber.
  • Remember patterns are a showcase for technical expertise, not a showcase of your artistic expression. You can use some artistic expression but do not add superfluous or extraneous movements or facial expressions.


As a part of your training, you want to practice visualization where you visualize yourself competing and winning. Visualize by moving from disassociated visualization to associated visualization techniques.
  • Disassociated visualization. Disassociated visualization may be either objective or subjective. First, objectively visualize some else, such as your instructor or a competition champion, perfectly performing a technique as if you were watching a video recording and then subjectively visualize yourself perfectly performing the technique in the same video.
  • Associated visualization. Then move to associated visualization and see yourself performing in a competition. Try to visualize the sounds, your feelings, your tactics, and most of all, your winning. If a negative visualization creeps in, stop the video, rewind to just before the negative spot, and start again. Repeat a short but inspiring personal slogan or mantra, such as "pilsung" (certain victory) over and over in your mind to calm and center your thinking.

Training schedule

Weeks before competition

Do your recon. Know the location, the expected weather conditions, the environment of the location (lighting, heating, air conditioning, etc.), the expected skill levels of the competitors, the number of competitors, the rules, etc. Train according to your reconnaissance.

While a sparring competition is a game, there is still a possibility for injury. For some, this causes anxiety. As the day of the competition nears, turn your focus toward calming your anxieties and developing your confidence. Replace all negative thoughts about incurring an injury, looking bad, losing, etc. with positive thoughts. This helps develop your character and motivates you during long hours of training.

Day before competition

Do not train. Relax and do relaxing things. Do not change your eating habits except to eat plenty of complex carbohydrates for the evening meal. Get plenty of sleep. If you must rise early to commute to the competition, then go to bed earlier. If the competition will involve a long commute, consider arriving the day before. Do not make any drastic changes to your daily routine. Do not drink alcohol the night before. On competition day you want to be relaxed, alert, healthy, and prepared to be your best and do your best.

Competition day

Wake in plenty of time to take care of morning routines and prepare for departure. Time your morning meal so digestion will not sap your energy during the competition. Estimate your commute time and add extra time for potential problems, such as heavy traffic.

At the competition site

Arrive with plenty of time to take care of competition business, such as registration, meetings, or weigh-in, and to allow yourself to acclimatize to the environment, such as temperature, humidity, and noise level. 

Familiarize yourself with the arena. Know where your assigned ring is located and be near it as your competition time approaches. Know where the near restrooms are located and where competition officials are located. Depending on when you ate your morning meal and when your competition time is, you may need to eat more to keep your energy level up. Eat light high-energy snacks, not hot dogs or pizza.

Check out the ring size. Find out the rules, such as what constitutes a foul and how much contact is permitted, the match time length, how competitors are designed red or white, the scoring system, the positions of judges, the personalities of judges and referees, and how they usually score. 

Study your possible opponents to determine such things as their size and reach, how they guard and block, what stances they like to use, whether they are kickers, punchers, counter-attackers, or a combination, how they make eye contact, do they run from attacks, stand their ground or rush in, do they move around a lot or do they stay relatively motionless, do they attack with front or back foot or in combination, and are they right or left-sided in their attacks.

As your competition time nears

Establish a routine preparation ritual that you perform each time you are waiting to compete; it helps ease your anxiety. Hydrate, don sparring equipment (for sparring competition), warm-up, stretch, and use the restroom. Keep moving to maintain your flexibility and focus. Relax and cultivate your fighting spirit. Focus on the task at hand and reject all other thoughts. 

Time your warm-up so you will have a light sweat when your competition time arrives. Stay hydrated. The tension and excitement of completion will cause more dehydration than usual. Drink a lot of water, but do not overdo it. 

When you are called to compete

When called to compete, answer loudly, run to your position, and compete as if everything depended on your winning. Just relay on your training and experience.

If everything runs smoothly, there is nothing to be done. However, if things start going wrong, you must control the situation. Do not panic, become Spock or Data from Star Trek. Do not display emotions, such as anger. Remain calm and deal with the situation in a logical, unemotional, and systematic manner.

Immediately after competing

Whether you win or lose, show good sportsmanship, run off the mat, relax, and think about what you did wrong and how you can improve it. 

If you lose, do not whine. Accept it as a learning experience and plan on how to change your training plan to improve your weaknesses before the next competition. Do not leave the area and pout. Stay and encourage and cheer your teammates in their matches.

If you win, do not brag. Accept it as a reward for your hard work and plan on how to improve. Do not leave the area. Stay, encourage, and cheer your teammates in their matches. Brag on their wins but do not dwell on your wins.

Attend to any injuries and relax. If you will fight again, start the preparation cycle again. If you win, you may have to condense the cycle, so you are ready to fight again on short notice.

Think about the event, your actions, and inactions. Consult with other competitors, your instructor, your coach, or fellow students about your performance and how you may improve it. Do not question or reply, just listen and to their comments, and evaluate your performance. 

Begin to wind down. Relax and do relaxing things. Go to sleep early. Sleep helps you to process and incorporate everything that occurred during the day.

Days following the competition

Do not take life so seriously! Things happen in life that we do not like, learn to accept them. If competitions were judged by the number of happy people leaving after their end, then most competitions would be judged as failures. Most competitions have a few happy people with trophies and many, many people without trophies (and some with trophies) who are unhappy and think the competition was either biased or judged by incompetents.

Discuss competition with teammates but only in a positive manner, no matter the outcome of the competition. Discuss what needs to be done for improvement. Return to routine training using all you have learned to adapt the training toward improving your performance.

Competitions are a learning experience, an opportunity to put your skills to the test, and an opportunity to meet old friends and make new friends. Do not get discouraged if you lose; do not get cocky if you win.

Some tips on competing

  • Sign up. If you know about a competition event, then you should know how much it costs to enter it. Sign-up early, pay the entry fee, and pre-order a t-shirt, etc., if desired. Other costs may include transportation, lodging, and meals. At the competition, you will need cash for snacks or memorabilia.
  • Show up. Get there at least 30 minutes before you are scheduled to be there. Plan for travel delays. The earlier you arrive, the more time you will have to change, stretch, familiarize yourself with the layout of the venue, and check out your potential competition. If you are a black belt or an instructor, ensure you are on time for the meeting of the competition officials.
  • Listen up. Pay attention to the public address system to track the flow of the competition so you will know when your division will be called. Listen-up for any other instructions that may pertain to you. Follow the instructions of officials, ask questions if not clear about something.
  • Line up. When directed to a staging area or a ring, go there quickly, and stay there. Don’t get complacent, be ready to compete first when you get there. If you are a judge, get to your assigned ring in plenty to time to receive instructions.
  • Shut up. No complaining, griping, crying, temper tantrums, or whining! Compete, have fun, and keep your mouth shut. If you have a legitimate complaint, see your instructor. If you must talk, root for your teammates.


  • Turtle Press. (2002). [Online], Available: [2002, October 21].
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