I’ve done quite a bit of competing in my Martial Arts career. Starting as a high school wrestler, then boxing, and leading all the way to where I am now as a Black Belt Master’s 3 Jiu Jitsu competitor. That equals 20+ years of combat matches to my credit. During All that mat time I’ve made common mistakes I notice young competitors make all the time. Here are a few tips from my run that might help you younger or less experienced competitors not fall into the same traps I did.
First, Don’t forget tournaments are an all day affair. I constantly see competitors drilling hard, running sprints, or performing whatever elaborate warm up routine they prefer sometimes hours before competing only to sit back down and cool off again. All that up and down activity burns your energy reserves and zaps your psychological state to a frenzy. It should only take 10 minutes to warm up before your match. Better to relax and be ready to go on short notice than to blow your wad on the warm up mat hours before you get a chance to compete. Also try your best not to work yourself up too much before stepping on the mat. Get ready, get into fight mode, but don’t become a psychopath!! Adrenaline is the body’s natural defense mechanism, normally reserved for short bursts. The more hyped you get, the more your heart pumps blood to your muscles, which burns through oxygen levels and glucose. That equals fatigue. Don’t hype yourself up into failure.
Second, is eating habits. This one also correlates to understanding that you might be sitting for hours waiting for your matches. So make sure you have some snacks squirreled away for the day. Keep it light; fruits and power bars, maybe a sports drink to suck down. Don’t rely on the vedors at the event either. A chilli dog and some nachos is not what your body needs to maintain the workload. Eat a good breakfast, if you can. If you are cutting weight, have a good meal ready and waiting right after you get off the scale, but make sure you stay simple. That goes for eating the night before as well. If your body isn’t accustomed to certain foods, don’t take a chance on that spicy Thai noodle bowl. You might not process it the way you intended to the next day.
Next, know the rules of the event. Each tournament has their own rule set, so plan your strategy accordingly. Your training leading up to the event should also reflect this. Trust me, that is what makes champions become champions. So don’t be that guy that complains about the rules not being what you prefer because someone else played the game better than you. That guy won because he did what was necessary to win. End of discussion.
Next is an interesting tip I learned from multiple time world champion Berarndo Faria while having lunch with him after a seminar he hosted at my academy. He told me a story about how he was sick with the flu once for a week before he competed at the worlds. His entire pre tournament routine was disrupted and he felt horrible going into the event. But, instead of dwelling on it, he decided to give it his all and do the best he could. He ended up winning. He then went on to tell me about previous competitions where everything was prefect. His training was on point and he felt 100% ready for success. Then he lost. The moral behind the two stories is “don’t dwell on how you feel the day of the event.” If you are there, you’ve done enough to deserve to be there, and whether you believe in your mind or not, your skills will be ready for you if you let them. All you need to do is perform. Expending emotional energy on overthinking how you feel is a waste and will only take your mind off of the task at hand. Keep your eye on the prize and get it done.
Competitions are not a display of anything special. Nothing you will perform during them will be anything more extraordinary than any technique you have hit on the practice mats 20 times before. What makes a competition special is the atmosphere they create; the fear of losing, the hard work put into preparing, not knowing your opponent, and knowing that friends and family will be watching. It’s the thrill that all these unknown variables builds in the pit of your stomach. So number one, more than anything else, you need to learn to embrace all of it. Love that feeling, live for that moment, and make it yours. Always remember, no matter how afraid of those failures you may be, the feeling of conquering them and winning with be worth every moment of anguish. I promise.