My fiancé is practicing Karate in the style of Kanzen Ruy. She has a very good technique and strength, and was seen early as a promising practitioner. I have Kyokushin experience and support her in her development. Now I would like to hear advice on how to approach the following.

She has only one roadblock that prevents her from winning a lot of competitions: her mindset. I believe to win a competition, you must be confident and have fighting spirit. By fighting spirit I mean to use controlled amounts of anger against your opponent. Let me elaborate that small anger part of the fighting spirit.

When she gets angry, she forms a bubble around her head and emotions overwhelm her. The anger doesn't get outside of her head, which leaves a weak point to use rather than it is helping her. This is intertwined with the issue that when she reach set-backs, she doesn't get braced/spurred/stimulated. Quite the opposite; she resigns a little (psychologically).

This has a bit to do with self confidence and self esteem, but I think no one could give better tips on this than the Martial Arts community. Do you have any experience with these issues and what advice can you give us?

  • +1 Very interesting question. Personally, I compete to learn more about the art I practice thus I do not tend to focus on winning. Would this help her? Feb 20, 2012 at 17:19
  • I used to do Kanzen, later Kyokushin, Kanzen put too much emphasise on the style where as Kyokushin was far more strength based ( stil technically minded trumpted the brut force). Is she comfortable sparring with anyone? If she could treat the competition the same way as a comfortable sparring session maybe she would feel less pressured and enjoy it more. Otherwise if she keeps not enjoying the comps then switch styles, not all the styles fit everybody the same. The more exposure she gets to differnt styles the less presserued she'd feel.
    – jimjim
    Feb 26, 2012 at 3:42

4 Answers 4


My fundamental answer isn't going to change, but I will approach it from another angle.

You've identified a problem that many practitioners have to deal with. If they've never been involved in the world of sports, then they may not be used to the amount of focus that is necessary in fighting. It's a mindset centered on "what do I have to do right now?".

Anger is the enemy of focus. It can either make you reckless, or as in your girlfriend's case it can make you shut down. Whichever way a student or fellow practitioner tends when they get angry, the way to approach it is the same.

  • You have to face the internal demon--so you have to get to that ragged edge and choose not to give in.
  • You deal with it by teaching your body to move without the need to think about the move
  • You also have to build confidence in your training

That is why I suggest technique sparring. If you are used to point sparring, or one-steps, all action stops when the point is scored or the technique is complete. You don't have opportunity to stretch your focus.

  • Go over the techniques and combinations she should attempt to use
  • Keep sparring for a certain amount of time
  • If the other person starts to shut down, find a cue that gets them back in the game. The shorter the cue the more effective.

The technique sparring forces you to keep going and get closer to your ragged edge and face your demons. When you get to that ragged edge, you have to simply choose to focus on what's the most important thing right now. What I've seen in people who tend to shut down is that they are feeling overwhelmed, and that manifests in frustration, which works against them. When the combinations and techniques they are learning start to click, it's less to worry about. However, the discipline of shutting out all the unnecessary thoughts and only focusing on the fight at hand is not easy.

Original Answer

I think it is more constructive to use focus rather than anger. Focus is an aspect of many different sports, and is a very constructive force. In short, the challenge is to empty the mind of all distractions. From thoughts of winning and losing, from thoughts of anger and fear. Simply focus on the fight at hand.

You can only maintain that kind of focus for so long, and it takes time to develop it. It's not too different from the concept of a basketball player standing on the foul line with the crowd doing their best to distract the player. The player, when they are "in the zone", doesn't even hear the crowd. They simply see the basket and focus on the one thing that is necessary.

I would not be surprised if what we are trying to express is very much the same thing. However, different words are sometimes necessary to express the meaning.

To help develop the focus, try an approach my sensei uses with me: technique sparring. Technique sparring doesn't stop with a point scored, or when the technique is over. The goals are:

  • Perform the techniques in a sparring situation
  • Continue moving and be prepared for the next attack
  • Focus on the flow and movement of the technique

If the techniques are effective, they will work. It takes time to build confidence in the technique, and build up the automatic response of how the body needs to move. Muscle memory, if you will.

  • I'e updated my question and explained the "anger" part
    – Simeon
    Feb 22, 2012 at 10:11
  • I had a feeling we were talking around the same concept. The explanation still doesn't change my answer. Technique sparring is still an excellent way to build up confidence in the techniques--and her ability to execute them. When anger arises, it's time to stop and help her regain that confidence. Feb 22, 2012 at 13:03

First, as an obligatory comment, you should not be dating the people you are teaching. This is a big thing on multiple levels, if for no other reason than that I have observed on multiple occasions that it prevents effective student-teacher communication. Especially when it comes to the topic of attitude and approach. Coaches need a degree of professional detachment to effectively help here, something that any significant other is going to be too emotionally entangled with. I have seen a lot of good fencers seriously undermined by dating their teachers.

So really, the best thing you can do is separate the role of a coach and a the role of a boyfriend. If you want to be a boyfriend, the best thing you can do is provide a supportive environment to help her reach her goals here, while letting her coach handle the rest.

If you want to be her coach:

Anger is almost certainly not the right approach here, as anger makes you sloppy and careless out on the mat. It can make you hit harder and it can sometimes contribute to focus, but for the most part it is better to be perfectly controlled than it is to be angry.

Now, with those things having been said, what I have seen work here is a combination of:

  1. Sparring. Simply practice, particularly against people roughly your own level, which raises your confidence out on the mat. Any sparring works, though the recommendation of Berin Loritsch here is a good one.
  2. Full speed/force drills. Forms (both one and two person), one-step drills, pad work, etc. Basically anything done at full intensity.
  3. Time and patience. Confidence can't really effectively be brought about ex nihilo. It needs an environment where it can be allowed to grow on its own terms and the time to do it in.

On top of all that–and this is part of why you are not the ideal person to help here–she has to actually really want it for herself. That's something else that can't be forced (at least not without serious repercussions) and it is something that cannot be coached, least of all by her significant other. She will need her own intrinsic motivations for sparring to really excel.

  • You got the wrong idea; I am not her instructor, I do not train with her, and I am not her professional coach. We are engaged. We live together. And since I have Kyokushin experience, I would like to help her with the mindset that she feels is lacking. The word "anger" is misguiding you, sorry for that. There are several forum threads on the internet about how to translate the Swedish word I'm looking for. Suggestions include "fighting spirit" and "anger-controlled determination".
    – Simeon
    Feb 22, 2012 at 9:48
  • I'e updated my question and explained the "anger" part
    – Simeon
    Feb 22, 2012 at 10:11
  • 1
    I will stand by my statement: You can't (or rather really shouldn't) coach her on attitude or approach if you are dating her. You can be supportive–particularly when she is struggling or failing–and you can point her at resources that might help. But at a very fundamental level attitude and confidence are something that a coach needs to manage and help her with, in ways that you are not in a position to help with. Feb 22, 2012 at 16:45
  • 1
    Totally agree: if you're engaged, you can't give objective feedback. That said, you can talk about "what worked for me" and see if that's useful. Realize: it might not help. Her issues are not your issues.
    – Bob Cross
    Feb 22, 2012 at 20:16
  • 2
    The point of asking this question was to aquire ways of bracing her. You are focusing on me as a coach, which is completely irrelevant in order to help her. As I've said; I will not coach or train her, I want tips on what to say when supporting her in training the mindset she feels lacking. Hell, I won't even be looking at the trainings. BUT, if I know what she needs, I can support her and point the instructor in the right direction.
    – Simeon
    Feb 25, 2012 at 13:28

She has only one roadblock that prevents her from winning a lot of competitions; her mindset. I believe to win a competition, you must be confident, along with a little anger and a lot of determination.

Confident: Absolutely
Determination: Absolutely
Anger: No. Absolutely not.

I think anger goes agaisnt pretty much everything martial arts is about. What she actually needs to work on is some metal training. She should be doing visualization exercises, and positive self talk.

Some examples of these exercises:

Visualization (a judo example):

  • Close your eyes. In your head, watch yourself step up to the mat to the edge, walk in, bow again at your marker, step up. The ref calls Hajime, you take your grip, fake an o uchi gari, and drop in for a perfect drop seoi nage for ippon.

Basically what you're doing is visualizing exactly what your game plan is and replaying it over and over from start to end in your head.

Positive self talk:

It's pretty much what it sounds like. Talking to yourself about positive things:

  • "I have trained harder then anyone for this day."
  • "My technique is solid."
  • "No one can stop my harai goshi."
  • "I will win this fight."

These same things apply to any martial art, and any sport. To someone who's never done any sport psychology at all it sounds a little whacky, but as a coach, and a former athlete at high level competition, I can attest to their value.

  • The word "anger" is misguiding you, sorry for that. There are several forum threads on the internet about how to translate the Swedish word I'm looking for. Suggestions include "fighting spirit" and "anger-controlled determination".
    – Simeon
    Feb 22, 2012 at 9:48
  • I'e updated my question and explained the "anger" part
    – Simeon
    Feb 22, 2012 at 10:11
  • ahh, that makes some sense, the basics of my answer still stand. more mental training is what she needs.
    – Patricia
    Feb 22, 2012 at 14:25

I think you have the right idea, but you are playing with fire. If you really, really, REALLY want to get her anger out, then take a hint from the standard black belt test - spar people continuous, people who will push you, not stop, keep going, hit you when you want to breathe. You have to push her back into her trenches, past her comfort zone, so far past that the anger becomes the only way out for her.

Assuming that her instructor is good, he will do this for her when she gets to the right level.

Hey, there's a very important question that we need to ask, here. DOES SHE WANT TO WIN? Or is that your desire for her?

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