Karate Tournament
Shutterstock / Eugene Onischenko
Let’s say that you signed up for a tournament, spoke to your instructor about a promotional test, or committed to demonstrating your style’s unique properties at a major event. Either way, there are things that you’ll need to do to get ready. Rather than overthink it, I broke down the preparation steps into just three: prepare yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally. By shoring up these three important areas, you will be doing all you can to ensure you’re firing on all cylinders and operating at your very best.

Prepare Physically

I’m starting with the obvious one here, but sometimes the obvious gets overlooked. Here are some practical tips for making sure your body is in the best condition to succeed.

  • Be in good condition - Physical conditioning should always be a part of training, but some people need more than others. Taking into account age and overall health, some students may need to add supplemental exercise, such as running, strength training, or just additional classes to ensure that their body is ready for the challenge ahead.
  • Accounting for injuries – It is not uncommon to acquire an injury during the course of practice or training. First, be sure to consult with your doctor and your coach and make sure it is still safe for you to participate in the event. If you can continue, then the next step is to determine if there are any changes you need to make to your strategy or game plan to account for it. Can you still use the same combinations? Do you need to go for submission rather than a throw to win? Etc.
  • Rest – It may seem odd or unusual to add rest to your preparation, but it is necessary. Sometimes taking a rest day before an event is a good strategy. Regardless, there should be adequate rest figured into your physical preparation. The risk of overtraining is a real one, and while you want to be physically ready, you don’t want to be so wiped out from training that you are defeated before you ever get a chance to compete.

Prepare Mentally

Should you go to a mountain top and meditate for a day? Say affirmations and try to speak positivity into the universe? I think it depends on you, but you should do something. Mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation. As the quote attributed to Winston Churchill says, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” A teacher or coach is the best place to start with advice about preparing mentally, but over time, people often come up with their own program. The important thing is to have something that works for you and to use it. Here are some suggestions.

  • Meditate – You don’t have to go to a mountain top as I mentioned above, but taking a few minutes to sit in a chair quietly, with your eyes closed and just focusing on your breathing can be a very cleansing practice. I don’t think there is a need to make it complicated, just make it purposeful.
  • A positive mental attitude – It matters what you think. Approach things from a solution-oriented mindset. Having a positive approach means improvising when necessary, making changes quickly, and not expecting the worst if things don’t go as planned.
  • The Unexpected – While it is good, and necessary, to have a plan, one has to expect that life does not follow it. Things will change, mistakes will happen, and circumstances will shift for seemingly no reason. All of these things are possible and fall under the heading of the unexpected. Acknowledge that there will be surprises, and with a proper attitude, they can be capitalized on to create an opportunity.

Prepare Emotionally

This may sound like a strange type of preparation, but it is just as necessary as push-ups, sparring, and hitting the pads. Emotional preparation might be even more important since it is often our unchecked emotions that can get us into trouble and cause us to react in ways that may not be to our benefit. Having emotional maturity is important, and like everything else, it requires practice.

  • Notice your emotions - How do you feel when you are bested in a sparring match? Are you so angry at the loss that you are mad the rest of the day? Inversely, how do you feel when you win? Do you feel invincible, or on an incredible high? It is natural to have a sense of satisfaction when you are successful and to be a bit disappointed when you lose, but both emotions should be kept from growing beyond what is appropriate. Success and failure are times to strive to see what can be gleaned from the experience as opposed to just absorbing the emotional results.
  • Control anger – Anger is a very strong emotion. If not controlled, anger can derail not just a competition, but a life. Tempers can flare, especially if one feels wronged or cheated. It is important to stay calm and choose words and actions carefully. From a calm state, one can deal with the source of the anger in a much more effective way. If you tend to be a hothead, then be wary of your emotions.

“Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation.” -Zig Ziglar

The quote from Zig Ziglar is important to note. People can indeed get lucky, and things can just happen, but if you always prepare and do your best on the day, then you are increasing your chances of success by as much as you possibly can. You will never regret being prepared.

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