How to Mentally Focus in Martial Arts Training

While everyone loves to think that getting into the mindset to train is as simple as entering the dojo, the fact is we live busy lives. We’re constantly thinking of this or that, trying to juggle school, work, kids, relationships, etc. Our minds are a jumble of thoughts and emotions, and training without mental focus is likely going to get you punched in the head. So here is a list of steps you can take to help clear your mind:

  1. Focus on Preparation. Every little task you do as you get ready to train should be treated as an unrushed ritual. When you enter the dojo, focus on making a crisp bow. As you put on your uniform, make sure you look as good as possible, pay attention to tying your belt knot correctly, with the ends the right length.
  2. Ritualization. This is part of the previous point, but the more you make everything a series of actions that require focus, you’re centring your brain on the activity at hand. As you bow to get onto the mats, this represents your mind and body becoming ready to the upcoming training. When you bow to your partner, it should be a wake up call that you need to be on guard, and that unexpected things may happen, in addition to showing respect for your partner.
  3. Focused Breathing. Some martial arts schools have meditation at the beginning of class (like we do) during which you can focus on your breathing and forget your everyday worries. But it can be hard to eliminate all the little thoughts, and that time of silence can occasionally bring back all your worries. If that’s the case, try to focus on your breathing while stretching, which brings us to the next point…
  4. Focused Stretching. Stretching and the warm-up can become a practiced rote where your mind has an opportunity to wander. Fight the urge, and try and feel your body. Focus on your movements, on how your body contacts the mats and how your movements are connected.
  5. Focused Training. If you have the option, choose really technical techniques and work on them as slowly as possible. Choose something that will undoubtedly fail without your complete concentration, but won’t injure anyone in the process. If you don’t have the option, really focus on the feeling of the technique. How your grip your partner, how it feels to shift your hips, or if applying a lock, the connection of their limbs.
  6. Get Hit. This generally isn’t so much a choice, but the result of failing in your previous attempts. This tends to focus the mind quite quickly. You’re probably better off asking your partner to tap your head, etc, if you drop your guard, or a poke to the solar plexus if they’re forgetting their body. You want to do something that might help shock you mentally without actually getting injured.

At the end of the day, if you’re really out to lunch and can’t focus, this might be a good day to take a mental holiday and do something else entirely. Safety comes first and you don’t want to injure yourself or someone else because you just can’t keep your mind on things. But if you follow some of these suggestions, chances are you can make the dojo a mental retreat from the daily grind, a chance to take a break from all that stresses you, and relax a bit.

Training kept me out of the crazy house during my stressful years of working my way through university. Does a trip to the dojo help you? Do you have any tricks for getting yourself into the training mindset? Share them below!


Comments (4)

4 thoughts on “How to Mentally Focus in Martial Arts Training

  1. Does this have anything to do with my lack of concentration when you refused to cover my grant application (only $50 mill)? If so, I protest!

  2. In our old dojo we used to meditate before training: while it was a bit too short for my taste (only a few minutes: for those relatively inexperienced in Zen it takes at least 10 minutes before the mind fully settles) it did help to slip out of the everyday humdrum and get into the proper mindset. Nowadays Zazen just isn’t feasible since we have to share the training hall with a thaiboxing instructor and his students.

    A second option is putting intention in your attacks (as Tori): this quickly gets their attention and forces them to focus on you instead of their thoughts and occupations.

  3. In our dojo we share the responsibility for sweeping the mats before each class. This is one of my favorite ways to focus on class. Most days I either sweep or help sweep. This puts my focus on the dojo and is a calming routine. Plus, then I have extra time to stretch and focus more.

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