We have all heard the adage “practice makes perfect.” This applies to mental skills training too. But the unique thing about training the mind is that, over a period of time the mind gets conditioned to think along particular lines, and mental preparation comes to you almost by rote, automatically without having to consciously put yourself in a mental practice mode. However, for your mind to reach a conditioned state, a significant amount of regular mental preparation and use of mind techniques is essential. In other words you can reach a level where mental skills become a part of your life, if you employ mental skills training regularly. If you resort to mental preparation just before a match, and not follow up regularly, its effect on you will be temporary in nature and also incomplete. Consistency is the key here.

You can bring focus to your game through the following aspects of mental discipline:

  • make good use of practice sessions to develop both technique and mental skills
  • follow the principles in mental skills training consistently
  • improve memory retrieval to efficiently apply the mental skills techniques

Making Good Use of Training Sessions

1. Prior to starting your practice, spend a few minutes thinking about what you would like to do, learn, and improve. Clearly outline issues that you want to deal with, like styles, moves, concentration, intensity, alertness, and so on.

2. During the session try to be aware of what exactly is happening-How do you feel? What’s going on in your mind? What thought processes were effective? What thoughts or distractions drove down your performance? Were you able to give yourself the right cues at the right moment? Were you alert enough to execute perfect timing?-and so on. Being aware of all these finer points makes for a sharp focus that can add to your learning and bring about breakthroughs while practicing tough styles. The finer points also include details, such as the rush of adrenaline and surge in aggression, the rush of blood into your muscles, the process of calming down to get out of a hold, precise shifts and turns, etc.

3. Employ persistence and patience in learning difficult moves – persist until you perfect the technique.

4. For young athletes who are just embarking on their grappling or combat athletics careers, there will be a lot to learn and an extensive list of styles and moves to practice. Break down your learning objectives into manageable sections and spread out the training over a realistic period of time. Attempting too much, too soon may reduce the effectiveness of your training. Ensure that you’ve learned one set of techniques thoroughly before moving onto another. Your performance quality can be maintained at high levels when you’re learning progress at a realistic pace.

5. Display proactiveness and drive during training and treat it like a real game.

6. Exercise control over your thought processes during training in much the same way that you would have to do in a match.

7. After the practice session, spend a few minutes reflecting on what you learned and what you can follow up on in your spare time.

Enter your practice with an open mind and walk out with a commitment to rehearse your learning using mental skills.

Here’s an interesting look at grappler Daniel lgali’s practice and training regimen and the reason for his success today (based on an article published in Reader’s Digest):

“In 1994, at age 20, Daniel came to Canada from Nigeria. In 1995 Daniel started practicing with the Burnaby Mountain Wrestling Club. Coach Dave McKay found Daniel to be lightning fast and powerful, but lacking in stamina and consistency. Grapplers had to train four hours each day six days a week, but because of his night job Daniel often missed practice. During matches, Daniel was easily fatigued and his expression gave away his tiredness to his opponent. Coach McKay felt Daniel had to master his emotions as well as his game.

Daniel’s embarrassing defeat to Steiner in 1996 changed his attitude completely. Daniel started regularly attended practice sessions and worked hard and spent long hours in practice. He saved for a video camera and then studied his bouts thoroughly. Over two years, he also lifted weights and ran. Coach McKay, constantly pushed Daniel one step further until his confidence and determination grew.”

Daniel made his mark in 1988 when he was placed second at the World Cup. In 2000, he won the gold for Canada at the Sydney Olympics. Consistency in training and hard work certainly pays off, and Daniel’s case is testimony that grapplers and combat athletes benefit from a regular and consistent training regimen.

A Performance Monitor is a kind of diary or record to regularly track your training program and your skill improvement. You can either use a paper-based diary or record on audiocassettes. This performance monitor must be used after every training session to record different aspects of the session.

  • What did you learn? – Styles, techniques, moves, submission, defense strategies, and so
  • Your mental framework during the session – Rate yourself-poor, average, good, excellent – on each of the following factors.
  • Your ability to handle distractions
  • Your calmness: Were you relaxed or not?
  • Your confidence
  • Your alertness
  • Your attentiveness
  • What mistakes or slip ups did you make?
  • What do you want to learn in your next session? Make a list of learning objectives and a list of mistakes that you want to avoid

As your training progresses, the aim should be to minimize your slip-ups and advance your rating on mental skills issues to either good or excellent.

The performance monitor is a simple daily assessment method that has the dual advantage of taking into account your training on grappling or combat athletics techniques as well as mental skills preparation. You will be assessing yourself, and must be as objective and as tough on yourself as you possibly can to benefit the exercise.

Advantage of maintaining a performance monitor:

  • You always have on record a benchmark of your previous session on which to build and improve in a new training session.
  • You start out with a set of objectives for each new session, which makes the training sessions a lot more useful.
  • Mistakes don’t get swept under the rug. You address them in your next session.
  • You can monitor your progress over a period especially when you rate yourself on mental skills.


Lloyd Irvin is a martial arts coach. He holds the rank of 7th degree black belt in Thai Jitsu, 2nd degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, 1st degree black belt in judo. In 2002 he was named The United States Judo Federation International Coach of the year. Lloyd’s coaching experience includes having taught Secret Service, FBI & SWAT. Read more on: http://www.lloydirvin.com

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