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The Mental Game For Martial Artists

judo | 10/11/2018

This is going to be an ongoing conversation we have here on the FUJI Fit Blog. In today’s post I’m going to touch on a few pieces of mental preparation before competition and we’ll elaborate on each in the coming weeks. The most underrated and underutilized aspect of training is that small piece that lies in between your ears. For those still confused, your mental game is of the utmost importance when it comes to training effectively and executing appropriately. We touched on this in the “Simplify and Execute” blog briefly, but this will be a little bit more in-depth look at how to use the mental component of your game to your advantage…instead of letting it yank you around.

Going into any competition, you make sure your body feels good, you get your head in the right space, you control your mindset, right? But like anything else, if we’re not practicing it beforehand, it’s tough to get into the right space when you need to. Before you utilize a specific throw during a match, you make sure you’ve got the basics down and a good handle on it. The same needs to be true for your mental preparation. So how do you do that? What’s the most effective method? Truth is, it’s going to vary for each person, so you have to see what works best for you. What follows will be some suggestions but try a bunch out and what carries over for you into competitions might be different for others. That’s okay! Find out what works best for you and then trust it.


I’m willing to bet the first time you try something new, you’re not immediately a champion at it. Maybe you’re good, perhaps surprisingly so, but you’re not the best ever, and you’re not the best you’ll ever be at it either. While you can’t anticipate every single scenario you’ll encounter when you hit the mats, you certainly can prepare by imagining a variety of situations and preparing for each. If you’ve never anticipated what may happen on the mats, each situation, each move your opponent makes will be a surprise. If you’ve already thought through a competition and imagined what may happen, you’re less likely to be surprised, more likely to keep a cool head, and more likely to execute and accomplish exactly what you came to do. Again, we’ll get more in depth in the coming weeks on this specifically but keep this one in mind. Visualization can be an absolute game changer when utilized consistently and it has a lot to do with neurological components and the ability of your brain and body to perceive the inputs you’re giving it as real. No wonder you can handle the situations you visualize and prepare for so effectively! Your body and mind feels like it’s already done it thanks to the visualization stimulus you’ve given it in the weeks and months leading up!


I think a more common term for this is “mental toughness” instead of “grit.” Personally, I think “mental toughness” is too vague and often overused, so we’re going to stick with the term “grit” here instead. Grit is actually defined as “courage or resolve; strength of character” which is super applicable to sports, but especially individual sports, and especially combat sports like judo and jiu jitsu. When whether or not you succeed or fail is almost exclusively left up to you and defined in a moment where you stand alone by yourself, you’re going to need an extraordinary amount of courage and resolve to withstand good, bad, and everything in between. This is a tough thing to train, and even more difficult to teach. Oftentimes, you either have it or you don’t. But there are a few key components and tips and tricks that can really help cultivate this characteristic of grit. And it can take years to develop in adequate amounts, but ultimately I think individual athletes, and especially combat athletes start off in a really good position with preexisting levels of grit, cultivating it further is the fun part. It becomes a competition with you and yourself and you get to prove that you’re the grittiest, hardest working, scrappiest underdog every single day.

Competitive Mindset

The tips and tricks outlined above and soon to be elaborated upon will help create an incredibly solid foundation upon which you will be able to rely during challenging moments in your training and especially in your competitions. Ultimately, I want to give you some tips and tools so the following phrase rings true each and every time you step up to compete:

Have you done everything you possibly could to prepare? Then you have nothing to be worried about."

If you have done everything in your power to be in tip top physical and mental condition when you compete, (and by the way, this does include rest and recovery, we’ll touch on that too) then all you have to do is execute. That’s the fun part, where you get to showcase all of the hard work you did in the dark on the spotlight of the mats. Lastly, I also want you to think about that phrase every time you consider skipping a round, or a rep, or a mobility session. If you do everything you can to take care of your body, you’ll have nothing to worry about come match day. Use that as fuel to motivate you when motivation is low, when it’s easier not to do than to do. Work so hard during training that you don’t have a shadow of a doubt when you compete. Then be a champion.