Tournament Prep

I recently got back into competing after a long absence. I had a few mixed experiences as a teenager competing and it wasn’t really emphasized in my first school so I didn’t continue with it into college. In the past year it’s been fun getting back into it, especially because it motivates me to train harder! Today we’ll go over training tips that help me get ready.


Practice “Wrong”

Forms – Usually I tell people to practice all their forms, not just the most recent one. I’m a firm believer in the adage that “every kata is a black belt kata.” Each one contains important information. However, when training for a tournament you actually should ignore all forms except the ones you’re competing with. There are only so many hours to train, and when you’re getting ready to compete you need to focus on what you’re competing in. If I have time to practice forms ten times, I should practice my competition form 10 times, not ten random forms once each.

Sparring – Similarly, I typically encourage people to be as well-rounded as possible. Good kicker? Don’t neglect punching. Fast with blocks? Practice evasion. For tournaments, you want your best weapons as sharp as possible. For example, if you have a quick left leg, now is not the time to try to develop your right leg. Now isn’t the time to switch leads, change habits, and experiment with new things. When I train for sparring competition, I want to get my best weapons ready!

Kata Angles

Perform your form facing the front of the classroom as usual. Then perform facing the back, then each side of the room, and finally on a 45 degree angle. When you compete, you’ll be in an unfamiliar room with none of the usual reference points you have in your classroom. It’s easy to get disoriented performing kata in unfamiliar surroundings. Training this way will get you used to doing your kata with no reference points. Also, consider training outside or in any other environment you don’t usually practice in.

Sparring Variety

When you compete, you’ll be sparring people of different shapes, sizes, and styles. You can’t train by practicing with your regular sparring buddy every night. Spar everyone in your school you possibly can, from novices to instructors. You need to be ready for as much variety as you can be. If you’re affiliated with other schools, ask if you can drop in to spar the people there too. You cannot spar enough different people when preparing for the unknown.

Kata Relaxation and Endurance

Practice your tournament kata full power, then immediately practice it again. If you can’t perform it twice without any drop in quality, you aren’t ready. When you compete, adrenaline kicks in and you’ll unintentionally hold your breath, tighten your muscles, and run out of steam faster. Developing more endurance by practicing forms repeatedly is part of the solution, but you also need to learn to relax.

When you do a movement in a form, you’re supposed to put 100% of your power and speed behind it. When people are nervous, they tend to forget the other half. Between movements you need to relax and loosen up.

As a drill try practicing your form the following way:

On each movement try to tighten as much as possible. After you tighten, consciously relax and loosen as much as possible. Repeat this for every movement in your form. Once it becomes habit, it will take less endurance to perform your kata because you won’t be wasting tension. Remember, relax before the move, tense on the move, and relax after. Relax-Tense-Relax.

Prepare for Taller Opponents

In sparring, height is typically an advantage. You should always prepare to fight someone taller than you. This is true in self-defense as well as sport competitions. Most people in the real world won’t attack people bigger than them.

When you shadow box, aim for someone taller. If you’re 6′, imagine your opponent is 6’3. If you have an adjustable punching bag, move the height up so you’re aiming your moves above where the corresponding targets would be on you. This way if you spar someone of your height or shorter it feels easy!

Etiquette and Protocol

Know the rules! In sparring, many people will try to take advantage of the rules and bait you into getting warnings or disqualifications.

I competed in a tournament where a kick to the headgear was 2 points, but a kick to the face was a warning. 3 warnings and you’re out. One opponent I faced would intentionally turn his face into every head-level kick I threw. I should’ve stopped kicking to the head after the first warning but the opponent did such a good job making his head a tempting target that I fell for it more than once. Long story short, know the rules because someone out there will be trying to exploit them.

Just like sparring, know your forms etiquette and rules. Top competitors not only practice the form itself, but they also practice their introduction. They’ve drilled bowing upon entering the ring, how they bow to the judges, and how they announce their form. Judges begin judging the moment they see you, and the best competitors know this and drill for it.

Have Fun

Tournaments exist to motivate us to push ourselves as hard as we can. They do not exist to give us bragging rights or personal glory. If preparing for the tournament forced you to get better, you’ve already won. The point is this: train hard, have fun, and remember that if you don’t do well, your training already benefited from the motivation of the competition.

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