Top 10 Mistakes Martial Artists Make in Competition

Win more in martial arts competition by following the practical advice provided in this Black Belt mag post.

In Part 1 of this story, the author outlined the top 10 mistakes martial artists make in the dojo. Presented here are the top 10 mistakes martial artists at tournaments.


10 Failing to learn the rules

Countless students unknowingly throw an illegal technique and get disqualified. They end up frustrated and discouraged because the strike they learned in the dojo is not allowed in competition.

Solution: Read the rules and review them before the event begins. If you don't understand something, ask a judge to explain it. Don't allow yourself to be one of the many who have been eliminated for wearing a uniform with too many patches, for sporting a gi top that doesn't match the bottom or for walking around the judges' table when they weren't called out to compete.

9 Competing in the wrong division

Some students stay in the beginning or intermediate division too long. Although they may win all the time, they're depriving themselves of many of the benefits they could be enjoying, and they're not being fair to other competitors.

Solution: If you win your division repeatedly, it's time to move into a more difficult division and challenge yourself — even if it means you won't win every time. The experience alone will improve your skill and character.

8 Failing to prepare mentally and emotionally

Younger and inexperienced competitors who score with almost every technique they launch in the dojo often find that nothing seems to go their way at a tournament. Their techniques are blocked, and they're scored on by simple moves they could normally block or counter.

Solution: Don't let yourself get psyched out. Seeing another competitor doing a perfect jumping kick over three chairs is impressive, but such techniques seldom win points in the ring.

Watch other competitors to detect their strengths and weaknesses, then develop a plan to stop them. After your first fight, analyze your match to determine if any mistakes were made.

7 Warming up too soon

Competitors often arrive at the tournament venue and begin their preparatory routine shortly before their division is scheduled to commence. However, with the delays that always seem to crop up, they find their energy has fizzled when they're finally called into action two hours after they expected.

Solution: Arrive on time, register for your division and relax. Find a quiet spot to review the rules or go over other paperwork. Gradually warm up in 10- to 15-minute time slots. Stay away from sit-ups or push-ups because such strengthening exercises are not needed to warm up your muscles. Jog at a slow pace. Avoid traditional kneeling postures and crossed-leg sitting positions because they can cause your muscles to tense up.

6 Competing when you are unprepared

Many students sign up for their first competition before they complete their first year of training. In the dojo, they can zip through their kata with their eyes closed, but when the adrenaline kicks in, their heart rate skyrockets and they run out of steam halfway through.

Solution: Train to build your endurance and confidence. Do your kata 30 or 40 times in a row to prepare for the stress of competition. If you're overweight, try to lose pounds gradually months before the event. Decide on an ideal competition weight and be at that weight a minimum of three weeks before the event.

5 Competing while you are injured

Attend any martial arts tournament and you'll see numerous participants with bandaged wrists, fingers, ankles, toes, knees, etc. They don't know that wrapping a sprain or strained joint will not prevent further damage. In fact, it can cause additional harm by reducing the amount of pain they feel and the volume of blood circulating in the area.

Solution: Do not compete if you're injured. Missing your chance to take home a trophy is a small price to pay for ensuring that you can practice your art for years to come.

4 Avoiding meals before a match

Martial artists often refrain from eating before a big event because they think having food in their stomach will slow them down.

Solution: Give yourself a fighting chance by consuming a light meal two hours before your event. Then, if you feel hungry as the time approaches, snack on a nutrition bar or some fruit and nuts to maintain your energy level.

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3 Sparring with another student before a match

Pre-competition injuries frequently occur because students horse around in the locker room, throwing kicks and punches at each other without protective gear.

Solution: Save your techniques for the ring. You will not forget your moves during the match if you've prepared properly. If you must rehearse before the action starts, do so mentally.

2 Stretching too hard with a partner

Many students have spoiled their performance by doing a quick stretch with a classmate or teammate just before a match. The result is often a pulled muscle or back pain.

Solution: Stretch on your own at a lower intensity. Don't try a new stretch that you happen to see another competitor doing. Just prior to a match is not the time to gain flexibility. If you compete more than once in a tournament, keep your body warm in the interim. Don't let your muscles stiffen up by sitting between the bouts.

1 Losing you temper

These days, emotional flare-ups are an epidemic at sporting events of all types, but it's worse when it happens to martial artists because the arts are supposed to teach people how to control themselves.

Solution: As you step into the ring, remember the importance of respect and honor. Never argue with the judges or storm off stage because of a bad call. If a video of the match is available, watch it afterward to see if a point was indeed scored or if the judges erred. If it was a bad call made against you, remember that it's not the end of the world and move on.

Story by Adam R. Weiss, a martial artist and chiropractor based in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

Photo by Kem West
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