Be better prepared for your next karate grading

Ever felt nervous or had sleepless nights before a karate grading? The sleepless nights, extra training sessions and harmful negative self-talk are widely experienced by everyone. The stress hormones and anxiety are common so don’t worry. Pretty much everyone is feeling the same.

However, the problem is not actually that you are nervous or unsure. you know everything you need to, that is why you are grading. It is actually your approach to the event.

So today we will discuss how you can overcome these feelings as overcoming these feelings is important for a number of reasons.

For example… Anxiety is a common issue for anyone grading to their next rank. It is similar to the fear of public speaking people have. Besides the fear of failure, you are also dealing with the fear of letting your Sensei down or being negatively viewed by those watching.

The trouble is anxiety has been shown to negatively affect both your working memory and attention span.

So all your misplaced feelings are actually going to undermine your performance.

Don’t worry though there are some solutions available.

How to Overcome those pesky nerves in karate

First up acknowledge you are nervous. Don’t try to ignore it or dismiss it. It is normal to feel this way. Once you accept that it is easier to deal with the next steps and specific things that are the cause of your nerves.

Top 5 tips to Reduce or Eliminate Anxiety

#1 Positive Reinforcement (“I Belong Here”)

You are there you belong there. You are grading because you are ready and deserve to be there.
Your Sensei thinks you are ready, so even if you don’t trust yourself have faith in the judgment of them.
Tell yourself: “I belong there!”
In most examples, instructors have a policy to only grade students if they are ready to pass their test. They have been observing the students performance during training and have seen they are ready for their next grade. So if asked to grade you are actually ready. Your test is just the formality. Karate instructors are very careful about this because they know that if you have a bad experience you might quit.

#2 Change the Negative Self-Talk With Humor

Negative talk in your head feeds on fear. however, 4 times out of 5 your negative talk is just plain silly. The trouble is that because your negative talk is internal and non-stop, your brain actually starts believing what it hears. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
That is why you need to carefully observe your internal speech and question what you are telling your self.
Make a list of the fears. Write them down and say them out loud to yourself in a silly voice.
Some examples are:

My kiai will sound weird when I kick if I lose my balance. And everyone is going to laugh at me!
My foot will get caught in my pants because they are too long and forget to bow then try to correct and end up tripping on my butt!
If I forget the sequence my Sensei is going to pretend they don’t know me!

Do they sound silly when reading aloud, especially in your silly voice.

The point of this exercise is to psychologically reframe your negative thoughts with humor. The more you can laugh at your silly thoughts the less compelling the become and the less anxiety you feel.

#3 Inoculation theory and why it works

Think about your grading and warn yourself that you will feel a certain way in a particular circumstance if it happens.
Then identify specific concerns so you can work out strategies to cope in a positive way.
If we use grading in an inoculation therapy example it might go something like this.

I am going to feel excessively anxious on the day of my grading. (Forewarning)
You may worry about losing your balance and falling when kicking. (Specific concern)
But you haven’t lost balance in the past two months of training so why would it happen now. It is actually highly unlikely to happen. (Coping information)
Identifying and forewarning yourself allows your brain to deal with the onslaught of nerves and it reduces your psychological stress and uncertainty.

That’s why Inoculation Theory has proved to work better than merely telling yourself not to be anxious.

#4 Remember it is you who decides, Anxious or Excited?

So you are ready to grade as Sensei has said you are. But you still feel nervous. Well duh of course you do. It’s all part of the test to p[erform karate under stress.

Remember karate is a self-defence martial art and is meant to help you deal with attackers in what will be a very stressful situation. Being attacked for real spikes your adrenaline. So your grading is set up to trigger a tiny dose of the same thing.

So how do you deal with it? try to find a moment of joy or fun. The human brain is pretty clever but your body not so much. It has difficulties distinguishing between positive excitement and negative anxiety. The adrenaline rush is pretty much the same. So the only difference is the story in your head. It is hard to be anxious when you are excited.

#5 Focus on the now

When you are getting ready close your eyes and focus on doing the techniques in your head. Focus on the movements without your inner critic judging the perfection of them. You simply cannot do and judge at the same time.
If you make a mistake, just acknowledge it and correct it. Don’t pass any judgment that is not your job. Your job is to do not to be the critic.

Remember, karate gradings are supposed to trigger the instincts associated with an actual attack. When you are being attacked it is all about survival, not about correcting yourself. Reprimanding yourself in the middle of an attack will get your injured or possibly killed. So apply the same thinking if you make a wrong move.

Beat your stress and anxiety with karate

And that’s it. Apply these simple tips for dealing with anxiety, fear, and stress at your next grading or in life in general and watch the difference in your own behaviour.

Come down and check out our Kids karate, Youth Karate and Life Skills driven Martial Arts classes in our Parklands, Christchurch club.

Update: The latest stats in New Zealand for Mental Health make for grim reading. Physical activity and being engaged in an activity that can enable you to clear your head and focus on one specific thing can have immeasurable benefits. Please see advice or help form medical professionals if you are suffering and chronic anxiety or other mental health concerns. Consider undertaking some form or activity like Martial Arts to help. You are not alone.