As Martial Artists, some of us feel the need to test our skills in a competitive arena, whether that be an open mat elimination tournament, or on a fight show in either a Boxing Ring or a Cage. Some may take this more or less seriously than others, but this depends on the drive and dreams of the Martial Artist or Combat Sports competitor. It is also influenced by the set of rules for the event. Having competed in Traditional Karate, Light Contact, Semi Contact and Full Contact, I can say that there is nothing more sobering that the knowledge that at a specified time and date, you and an opponent are going to attempt to knock each other out in front of a crowd.


So how do we prepare for this type of event? What can we do to know that when we step into that arena, that we are ready to do ourselves justice? I think the first thing that changes is the attitude towards training. You imagine your opponent training hard and pushing themselves, and try to train and push harder. When before you might take a breather, or miss a couple of repetitions, you keep going. You hit the pads harder and faster, you spar harder, and so on. You supplement and enhance your training by getting the running kit on and getting out when you can’t train at the club. The great Mohamed Ali always said; “The fight is won or lost on the road!” And of course, there is a lot of truth in this.


For events with weight categories, weight has to be monitored and controlled. This is not rocket science, as it is done with a combination of training and diet management. Simply put it is energy expelled versus calories consumed. Looking more deeply, it is trying to make sure you eat the right foods to support your training regime. Each individual will find out what works best with their own metabolism, but the basic principle is to make sure that all food groups are represented in the right amount. Natural sugars, as found in fruit, are good to consume before training, and irons, proteins and natural fats, as found in vegetables and meats can be consumed afterwards. Trying to cut weight drastically is ill advised. It is best to cut over time and stabilise at around your fight weight so that any adjustments leading up to the event are minor, is much healthier and more likely to succeed. Martial Arts Sports and Combat Sports are a lifestyle, so long term adjustments to the way we eat are not unreasonable and will make us healthier in the long term. My personal recipe for this was to switch to soya milk from dairy, have regular intake of vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, green beans, soya beans, baked beans and as well as other vegetables, and fruits such as bananas, cranberries, raisins, grapes, blueberries, and raspberries, usually in a homemade smoothie. If you try living and eating like a monk, you will be setting yourself up to fail, but by simply controlling indulgence, and not bloating yourself to finish your plate, it is possible to regulate your weight.


For full contact, remember that large muscle groups have the potential to slow you down and drain you, and you need to keep a certain amount of fat reserve to help absorb impact, and as energy reserves. No matter how fit you are, you will be glad of these when competing. Fast food is worth avoiding, but it is also important to treat yourself with something you enjoy. Fish and chicken, as long as they are of a good quality, are good sources of goodness, including protein and carbohydrate. A good source of natural fat is the avocado, which goes well either in a salad, a sandwich, on dry biscuits or on toast. Brown rice is a good food, but remember, it needs soaking in water for a few hours before boiling. Overnight is the best, otherwise it is like eating toe nail clippings, which never did anybody any good. White rice is also a good source of carbohydrates. A useful tool for weight adjustment is celery, which takes more energy to digest than you get from it, however, dipping it in sour cream and chive dip, or humus, does defeat the object! I am no dietician, as that title has to be earned by academia, but anybody can call themselves a “nutritionist”.


Once you are in this mind set, however, it is difficult to fit rest into the schedule. We are not machines, and our bodies need time to heal and consolidate. Sleep is important to rest our minds, and give ourselves time for the benefits of all our hard work to take effect. This time can be used to visualise the event. Picturing the “Walk On”, the most nerve wracking part of competing on a fight show is good practice. Listening to your entrance track can be useful mental preparation, as well as picturing yourself engaging with your opponent.


Taking every opportunity to train by yourself when you cannot train with others, either at the club, or as extra curricular work is advisable. If bag work is part of this training, then music can help. Again, if you can include your entrance track in this, it can help you get in the “mode” when the day comes. Love it or hate it, running is the base of all fitness. Running to fight is different to running long distance. It is better to cover short distances quickly than long distances slowly. Interval training is a good way of simulating the explosive nature of Combat Sports. Properly cushioned footwear is essential to prevent and minimise injury.


Regular stretching exercises are a good way of maintaining health of your muscles and tendons, and preventing injury. This does not need to be taken to the extreme. Some of us are more flexible than others, and if you try and copy Jean Claud Van Damme you have the potential to cause yourself a long term injury. Ease yourself into the stretch, let your body settle and then ease a little further and hold. You do not need ballet dancer flexibility to do well in Martial Arts or Combat Sports, but keeping yourself as injury free as possible can never be bad.


On the week leading up to the event, this is the time to ease off, but keep yourself active without risking injury. You do not want any niggles or soreness on the day, but you need to be happy in your own mind that you have done all you can to give yourself a chance.


On the day of the event, you will find your own routine. Hopefully you will have done all of the groundwork. Now it is down to nerve control. If this is an event where you have to weigh in, have a medical and a referee’s meeting etc, just go with the flow but try to relax and focus. Take plenty of fluids, and eat foods that are beneficial, like Bananas, raisins, pasta, tuna or salmon I have always found this type of event easier to deal with than an open mat elimination tournament, because you have a rough idea of when it is your turn to compete. Elimination tournaments always left me mentally exhausted you can never relax, having to constantly monitor several areas at once. I think my record was the 2007 WAKO British championships, when we had to set off for Nottingham at about 0600hrs, weigh in and register at about 0930hrs, and I had my first bout at around 1900hrs. This was in the Light Contact category, each bout was 2 x 2 minute rounds, and I came away with a silver medal, which I really felt I’d earned by that point. I was just glad somebody else was driving as we travelled back to Somerset.