Fear is the Mind Killer: Competition Mindset with James “300” Foster

Coach James “300” Foster is one of the most widely respected black belts in the BJJ community.  He is a third degree black belt under Giva Santana and is a Shoyoroll sponsored academy owner and competitor.  Nicknamed “The Gentle Giant” by the one and only Saulo Ribeiro, Coach Foster has shared with Jiu Jitsu Times a behind the scenes look at how to properly harness the power of our most important and probably least trained assets, our minds.  Digest these points and put them to use.  Your opponents WON’T thank you.

Photo courtesy of James Foster.
Photo courtesy of James Foster.

One of the most important yet overlooked (and under trained) attributes you possess is your mind. This holds true in many facets of life however most of those who actively participate in a form of competition will most easily identify with the concept from that perspective. Mental preparation is actually one of the easiest assets to train, however most of us never make the time to do so. Whether due to laziness, procrastination, or disbelief, it’s often the afterthought when it should be priority number one. Mark my words, all of the conditioning and technique in the world means nothing when your mind betrays you

On my way to teach a seminar on the East Coast earlier this year I was seated in First Class next to former MLB pitcher Rick Ankiel, who is now a mental coach for the entire Nationals baseball franchise. We had a wonderful conversation about all of the parallels between our respective artforms/sports in regard to the mental game. He told me that mental training is often looked at as a sign of weakness and players are even made fun of or looked down upon for seeking it out to improve themselves. Maybe that’s something that’s subconsciously hard wired into our being and could serve to explain our aversion to brain training. Regardless, it’s no coincidence that every top level athlete in nearly every sport attributes their prowess and subsequent success to their mental approach.

I can tell you without hesitation that I had never performed at my best prior to cracking the code that unlocked my own mind through application of the mental tools I gathered from books, articles, and competitors I admire. If you’re serious about peak performance and achieving a level of greatness in any area of your life, you have to make a conscious effort to not only study these tools, but to put them into action on a regular basis. After all, knowledge is only power if you apply it!

I’m often asked how I mentally prepare for competition and how I stay in the right mental state during. Please keep in mind we are all unique and while some of my approach may hold true for all of us at its core, you have to find which tools work best to put you in the right mental state. Here you will find some of the concepts that I’ve found to be the most effective for me, which I’ve broken down into two sections. Each encompass what I put into practice both leading up to and during any given competition. Please keep in mind that both aspects are of equal importance as they work hand in hand with one another.

James "300" Foster after the 2015 IBJJF Masters World Championships--photo courtesy of James Foster
James “300” Foster after the 2015 IBJJF Masters World Championships–photo courtesy of James Foster

Leading up to the competition:

  • Do not dwell on the future competition, focus on the elements in your control such as your training, diet, and recovery. This also includes not dwelling on what your potential opponents may or may not do, and not visualizing yourself in bad spots. If you do, immediately see yourself getting out and into a dominant position/situation.


  • Picture how you will look, feel, etc after achieving your goal and winning. I actually will write out, plan, or visualize what I’m going to do after I win each match, and also what I plan to post on social media ahead of time. I find it helps to picture it like a movie, seeing each clip in my mind like a storyboard.


  • Have a phrase that goes hand in hand with something you visualize to put you in the zone. For instance, I say the phrase in my mind “stoic like Saulo” (calm under pressure) and picture a moment from one of his matches in which there was a scramble with an opponent, once the scramble settled Saulo looked bored, wiping sweat from his brow with one hand and flicking onto the mat (picture someone brushing their shoulder off like no big deal).


On top of the podium and pulling everyone together.--photo courtesy of James Foster
On top of the podium and pulling everyone together.–photo courtesy of James Foster

During the competition:

  • Adhere to the same routine that you would do if you were inside your own academy before rolling. If you listen to music beforehand do so at the competition. If you don’t, don’t! I often see people in the bullpen area practicing habits and displaying behaviors they never would at the academy, including but not limited to mean mugging everyone, rocking out to death metal, pacing back and forth, doing insane exercises, and more.


  • Don’t be too rigid with your gameplan. In other words, you have to be able to adapt during your matches. Too many times I’ve seen competitors crumble because something unexpected happens that they didn’t plan for. Upon entering the event venue your body contains all of the Jiu-Jitsu you know, it’s just a matter of being relaxed and focussed enough to let it flow.


  • Focus on making your opponents respond to your Jiu-Jitsu instead of changing your game to work around theirs. I personally do not look to see who’s in my division prior to or even during the competition. My idea is that they need to adapt to me instead of me reacting to what they do best and changing my game to suit their style.


  • Avoid sizing up your opponents, this is a sure fire way to mentally defeat yourself before even stepping onto the mats. If you think someone looks as if they’re super strong you’re subconsciously setting yourself up for them to feel super strong, regardless of whether or not they actually are.


  • Have a phrase (mantra) that you say to yourself or something that you visualize when you’re in a tough spot within a match. This can be similar to the Saulo mantra I mentioned in the pre competition section. It just needs to be something short and simple that takes you out of a negative state of mind, calms you, and puts you back into the flow state.

You now possess the simplistic core concepts that contain the potential to completely revolutionize and improve your approach to competition, training, and even life. Whether or not you choose to do your own research and apply these principles is up to you.

If you’ve enjoyed this article I encourage you to share it on your favorite social media platform and with any friends you feel may benefit from the read. Please feel free to contact me via facebook or email to fosterbjj@gmail.com if you need any reading recommendations or have questions, I’m always happy to help however I can!


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