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Why martial arts competition is good for you

Lessons from my friend preparing for her first national championship

My friend, Brittany won big-time at her first national championship, but she also had fun preparing for it.

For Brittany, venturing to the first competition was like walking into the great unknown — adventurous and exciting. She was nerves, and had many questions: who would her opponents be? What were their fighting styles? All she could do was guess.

I accompanied her in the competition. She was the highest-ranking black belt among her competition, but she wasn't overconfident.

“I didn’t need to compare myself to any of the other competitors. Having the mindset helped calm my nerves a lot,” she told me. “I told myself that as long as I performed at my best level, that’s all that mattered.”

Brittany's approach paid off. She took first in forms and second in sparring, and her only worry was perhaps how she’d carry a few oversized trophies back home.


Brittany intensified her practice two months leading up to the tournament. She practiced forms and sparring three days a week (versus twice a week), for two hours per session.

“In addition, I focused heavily on flexibility training and leg conditioning to get my kicks as high and controlled as possible,” Brittany said.

She cross-trained in yoga for flexibility and balance in forms. She also lifted weights four days a week, and trained in cardio five days a week.

“I like to keep this routine up year round so I’m never having to do too much extra work trying to prepare for a tournament,” she said.

Not everyone can train at Brittany’s level, but her routine highlights the need to put in extra effort ahead of your first tournament.

Adams took an especially smart approach to distract her opponents. A blue uniform gave her a psychological edge, and five embroidered bars in gold signifying her 5th degree black belt intimidated her opponents. Standing out in a crowd, especially in martial arts tournaments, make it known you aren’t just another competitor.

“I prefer to wear the blue because it’s more unique, most everyone else was wearing white. I like to stand out,” she told me.


If you’re going to your first national championship, don’t feel the pressure to win — go there to learn, enjoy and connect, my friend June told me.

Don’t worry about medals — make friends, take the opportunity to learn. And behave well.

“Regardless of the reason you compete, always remember that there is no such thing as a loser,” June said.


Enjoy the competition, but don’t take it too seriously either.

“Don’t freak out. You are neither better nor worse than any of the other competitors,” June said.

Martial artists prone to nervousness should stay light ahead of the tournament — don’t over- or under-eat or drink the night before the tournament

“Your body is what you perform with, so make sure not to neglect or mistreat it,” June said.


Competitive wins could be a key consideration in the run up to the test.

Competing at the national level adds to your credibility as a martial artist at any belt level. But have fun at a tournament, don’t knock yourself out with worry.


Organized martial art competitions date back to ancient times. Pankration — a mix of stand-up and ground-n-pound martial arts — was part of the Ancient Olympics starting in 648 BC. Judo and Taekwondo made their way to the Olympics, and Karate will be in the 2020 Olympics as a demo sport.

Tournaments tested skilled of opponents in older times, when the world was a bit more combative. Organized rules were set up by central bodies with formalization of martial arts in the previous century.

Competitions require martial artists to meet specific weight, gender, experience and other criteria. Competing is a great way for martial artists to build character, test skill, and just make friends and have a good time.

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