How To Overcome Nerves in Martial Arts

(This is great for Color Belt Testing or Competing)

Have you ever been nervous before a Color Belt testing or even competing? Well, there is good news. You are not alone!

Typically, one will experience one or all of the following before color belt testing or competing: sleepless nights, extra training sessions, and negative self-talk. So what is one to do? The problem isn’t really nerves; it’s about your approach.

Anxiety is a common issue for anyone having to undergo color belt testing or a competition. The fear is similar to public speaking.

You start running the “what if’s” in your head. What if I forget what I am supposed to do? What if everyone laughs at me? What if I fall when doing a kick or a punch? You quite literally are afraid to fail! Besides the fear of failure, you’re also afraid of disappointing your Master Instructor and being judged negatively by everyone watching.

Because of all of this fear, some students decide to over train. Over training is a bad idea! This is how many martial arts students get injured.

Another reason is because anxiety has been shown to negatively affect both your attention span and working memory.

Your nerves can undermine your performance! Have no fear; there are solutions to your problems!

Before moving on to specific methods, acknowledge that you’re nervous. Do not try to ignore it or dismiss it, rather understand that it’s normal to feel this way!

Once you’ve accepted it, the next step is to deal with specific factors that cause your nerves.

Here are 5 tips:

Five Ways to Reduce or Eliminate Anxiety

#1 Positive Reinforcement (“I Belong Here”)

You would never be testing or competing if you shouldn’t be. Just know you belong there! Even if you don’t trust your own skills, you should have faith in the judgment of the person who put you in this position. No one will ask you to do something they don’t think you aren’t capable of!

Say to yourself: “I belong here!”

For example, our policy is to grade our students only if they are ready to pass the test. We have already observed a student’s performance during regular sessions and deemed said student ready for the next belt. So, if you are asked to test, you are ready. Don’t believe us? Just remember all those stripes you’ve earned on your belt! You earned those.

The same goes for tournaments. You wouldn’t be thrown in the ring unless you could handle it. Martial Arts instructors are very careful about this. They know that if you have a bad experience you might quit. They would never want you to do that.

So, tell yourself; “I’m here for a reason. I belong here!”

#2 Overwrite Negative Self-Talk With Humor

Negative self-talk feeds on fear, but in 9 times out of 10, your negative self-talk is silly!

When you repeat negative inner speech, your brain starts believing it. It becomes habit, and this negative habit needs to stop.

What are you telling yourself?

Make a list of the fears you have, and say them out loud to yourself in a funny voice.

Here’s a good example:

  • I’m going to forget to bow. Then my foot will get caught in my pants, because they are too long. Then I’ll trip and fall, and everyone will laugh at me!

See how crazy this sounds? It is especially funny when you say it out loud in a silly voice.

The point of this exercise is to change your negative thoughts and replace them with humor.

If you’re able to laugh at yourself it makes your negative narrative less compelling, and as a result, you will perform much better!

#3 Use Inoculation Theory

Inoculation Theory in 3 steps:

  1. First warn yourself that you’ll feel a certain way in a particular circumstance.
  2. Highlight specific concerns you have.
  3. Give yourself information to cope with it positively.


  1. You are going to feel anxious on the day of testing. (Forewarning)
  2. You may worry about losing your balance and falling when kicking. (Specific concern)
  3. But you haven’t lost balance in the past 12 weeks of training. Therefore, it’s unlikely to happen. (Coping information)

By forewarning yourself, you allow the brain to feel prepared to deal with your nerves.

#4 Anxious or Excited? You decide.

What if after all of this you still feel nervous? Of course you will! That’s part of the test – to perform under stress!

Karate is a self-defense martial art meant to prepare you to deal with attackers. Unfortunately, being attacked spikes your adrenaline. The grading or competition triggers a tiny dose of what you’d feel when being attacked in the streets.

So, what’s the key and how do you keep a level head when your facing stress?

Find a moment of joy and it will help you relax.

#5 Focus on Being in the Moment

When you prepare for your performance, close your eyes and focus on doing the technique with an empty mind. Focus only on your movement and don’t judge what you’re doing.

Become “one” with your Karate.

If you find yourself making a mistake, acknowledge the mistake to yourself, then correct it. Do not pass judgment.

Remember, testing or competing triggers the instincts associated with an actual attack. When you are being attacked, you simply correct yourself and keep going. It’s about survival.

That’s it! Now take a deep breath, relax, and just do your best. You will do great!

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