How to Prepare for a Martial Arts Examination

Methods for preparing and training for a martial arts examination. Though shotokan karate and tae kwon do are my specialty, these methods can be used for any style of martial arts.

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Whether you’re in Tae Kwon Do, Shotokan Karate, or something else, and whether you’re going for your black belt or yellow belt, preparing for a martial arts examination is very important.

Firstly, let me say, I’ve spent ten years in the martial arts and been through many five-hour-long examinations. I’ve broken a few bones along the way, busted my nose once or twice, and-at almost every testing-been to the brink of passing out.

Unfortunately, many people have not had similar experiences in martial arts examinations. Yes, I said unfortunately. At the end of your testing, you should feel as if you’ve earned that belt. Whether it be a green or rainbow, the belt is sacred and not given to just anyone. That thought should be in your head throughout your preparation and demonstration. Whether your school is the type that pushes students in a military style with five-hour or longer testings or whether your school makes you do a kata/form, asks the meaning, then ends the testing, you always should put 200% into your actions during a testing.

So, if your goal is to put 200% into your testing at all times and really believe that you’ve earned your belt, read on.

Preparation for your examination should start well before the week of the testing. Ideally, you should be training always for your next testing, but, of course, people are busy and long-term goals are hard to have. In general, make sure you start training AT LEAST a month before your testing. A month is a very short time to improve your body and mind, but with a specific training schedule and determination, you can do it.


Running is the best way, in my opinion, to increase your aerobic capacity. Aerobic capacity or endurance is essential to every martial art, and especially important during an examination of skill. How horrible would it feel to have the skill and knowledge necessary to perform your kata and spar at 200%, but not be able to keep up because you’re so exhausted?

2-5 miles EVERY day is essential. You should run it at a pace that is comfortable to you, but you should definitely be out of breath near and at the end. You should aim to decrease your time and increase your stride.

Walking for five minutes before running is important, as this will loosen up your muscles. You don’t want to risk pulling a muscle so close to a martial arts examination.

Also, stretching AFTER your run is equally as important. Your muscles are extremely volatile after your run and are susceptible to becoming more flexible or possibly less. This is the time when you need to stretch them.


Stretching is important enough to be its own category of preparation for a martial arts testing. Unlike conventional sports or activities like football or basketball, the flexibility of your joints and muscles-especially in your legs-is one of the most important things in martial arts. You should stretch at least three times a day. One of these stretching times should be after running of course, but the other two should be when you wake up and before bed.

It’s important not to overdue your stretching, especially in the early morning when your muscles are the tightest. Slowly stretch your legs and arms, being sure to hold the stretch for thirty seconds while not bouncing. Bouncing when stretching is inefficient and leads to pulled muscles.

By stretching every day, your flexibility will skyrocket in a month. You will be faster and you will actually use less energy during your testing when you’re kicking or moving. Stretching is an undervalued exercise in western culture, but by utilizing it, you’ll be able to set yourself above the rest.


Katas or Forms are a part of almost every martial art. They represent an ancient aspect, yet they are relevant and extremely important. They teach you how your mentality should be in a fight by emphasizing calm, yet forceful execution. They are a bridge to the past masters’ technique. And, of course, they look pretty darn cool.

Doing your Katas twice daily should improve your form and presentation rapidly. However, you need to do them EXACTLY how you would do them if you were at your testing and there were a hundred people watching and judging you. You should recite the meaning of each Kata before you do it. You should do your Katas in chronological order and then backwards. Some days you should start with a random Kata and work your up in rank or down.


If you have specific self-defense moves that you have to demonstrate, practicing them is essential. This is sometimes hard if you don’t have a brother or sister in martial arts with you. Try asking your dad or friend to be your practice buddy. Make sure you go gentle and don’t hurt them, though. Save the test-like demonstrations and practices for class.

This was always my worst area during an examination. Forms were my forte, always scoring top marks in them. I became better at sparring as the years went on, eventually being one of the best at my school. Self-Defense was an even slower progress, however. It was always the least practiced and, in my mind, the hardest.

But, in reality, it’s not the hardest. My mistake was my mindset. I viewed it as an extra, something that I’d have to get through as fast as I could. It was only as I got older that I realized how important getting out of those “silly” grabs and holds are. Hopefully you’ve realized this now. Try to practice your self-defense as often as you can get a partner, at least three times a week.


Most martial arts claim to develop the mind, body, and spirit. Developing the body is basically what this article has been about thus far. Developing the spirit comes with time and experience and can’t really be taught in words. Developing the mind, however, is an ongoing process and should be treated as so.

You should study everything you need to know for your examination: form meanings, terminology, translations, etc. You should not only memorize these things, you should understand them. With understanding them comes greater knowledge. By understanding, for example, why you should punch the way you’re taught to, you’ll probably improve your punching skill and gain greater insight as to how your body works.

Know your body, but don’t be afraid to push yourself. With all the adrenaline pumping during a testing, realize that you may be able to do some things that you never could before. Never think you can’t during a testing. If your instructor asks you to break three bricks, you break three bricks. Engrave it in your mind during your training period that there are no limits. Do not ever second-guess yourself during an examination of the martial arts.

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1 Comment
  1. Posted January 21, 2009 at 9:43 am

    You are obviously very committed to your art and are prepared to spend many hours a week dedicated to it. I hope you achieve everything you have worked so hard for. Good luck

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