Goal Setting in the Martial Arts

Ad: This forum contains affiliate links to products on Amazon and eBay. More information in Terms and rules


Tech Sergeant
Nov 5, 2005
One problem that I see restricting the progress of many martial artists is a complete lack of "useful" goal setting. Now I say useful because many do have goals, usually obtaining some colour of belt. But this sort of goal setting is not really all that useful and I will try to explain why.

The objective of goal setting is to give focus, increase effort, develop new skills and strategies and increase persistence. For some people it does some of those, persistence being one. Many people stay in martial arts longer so that they can reach that goal. Which leads to the lowering of requirements for that magic rank, making it more attainable so that people stick with it till they reach it rather then giving up and quitting.

Let's say you got a person who has been training for 2 years and is considering quitting, but the black belt is only a year away and that has been there goal. Chances are they will stick to it for that time and try to reach their goal. Now if that goal was 5 years away they would probably be on their way.

Attainability, is one of the requirements for good goal setting that actually helps. So there is a good reason behind making the time to black belt shorter, and that is it keeps more people doing martial arts longer. As coaches / instructors, that SHOULD be one of our objectives, to get people into martial arts, and keep them interested and motivated as long as possible. As business owners, it is what puts food on the table.

Another requirement would be to set short term goals, not just long term goals. Once again this has been adapted into the belt system. First by adding more colours, and then adding stripes to the colours. Which once again is a step in the right direction, but something is still missing.

Goals that are set should be performance goals, not outcome goals. In a team sport like basketball this could be something like "Our team should work towards recovering 65% of the rebounds" as opposed to "our team should win 65% of our games." The first will change the way the team plays in order to develop a specific skill. The outcome of the game (practice game, not competition) is irrelevant, what matters is the skill development. The latter will not develop any specific skills, it will keep players in their "comfort zone" and cause skill development to plateau.

Belts are an outcome, not a performance goal. They are the end result. Using them as a goal does not promote any specific skill development, it does not get you to change the way you train to develop anything specific.

The next thing you want to make sure of is that you express goals in terms of what you want to do, not what you don't want to do. There is a difference in saying "I want to catch x % of passes" and "I want to miss less then x% passes." The difference may seem trivial, but your mind plays an important role in performance, and you got to feed it right to get the most out of it.

Goals need to be specific, and measurable. YOU should be able to tell when you reach your goal, exactly how far away it is, and exactly how far you come. Something like a belt is not that. Someone else tells you when you reach it, someone else tells you how close you are. Let's say I'm running and my goal is to complete a 5 mile run in under 40 minutes. I can right it out on paper and chart my progress towards that. I can tell you how much progress I've made, I can tell you when I've reached it. But notice the difference between that and "I want to get faster."

So now you got a goal, it is specific, it is measurable, it is performance based, it is realistic and you got a target date. Now you need a plan. A simple breakdown from now till then on what you should be doing and how you should be progressing. After all it's fine to say "I want to make 5 miles in under 40 minutes by Halloween" But if all I do is sit at home and watch tv while eating Doritos it isn't going to happen.

So I look at where I am, where I want to be and figure out how I am going to get there. I also can't just go out there and try to make it every day until then. I got to break it down. Do I need to work on speed? Endurance? Both? Form? What else? And from that I lay out a training plan.

So now you got an idea on what to do, but how do you go about doing it?

First forget about your belt, it will only hold you back. If your school / system uses them that is fine, but it is not for you to worry about. They will come on their own and someone else will deal with that. In fact they will probably come faster once you start ignoring them.

Second figure out what needs work. Then, more importantly, WHAT needs work. "I get popped in the nose too much." That sucks! but WHY? Do you get popped in the nose too much, once you know that, you know what needs work. Is it footwork? Timing? Hand positioning? Leaving yourself open when you attack? What do you need to work on? Can't sink a triangle to save your life, ok... Why not? What aspects of that do you need work on?

Once you got that, break it down. Figure out all the things you need to do to improve in that area. You get dinged with counter punches all the time cause you got no footwork, open up when coming in, telegraph your attack and have a poor jab. Good, now break it down into steps and work one at a time. So you got a long term goal, split into smaller short term goals.

Now you need to figure out how to improve in those areas and set a time line and you are set. But remember, everything is flexible. You might have to adjust things as you go and that is fine. But stick to your plan as best as possible and take it one step at a time.

The tricky part lies in staying on task and forgetting about the outcome. If you go into every match trying to win you will not progress very fast. If you go into every match not caring who wins but trying to learn and progress you'll probably find winning is a lot easier then it was before/ "Everytime I try a arm bar from guard I get stacked and sidemounted" could very easily cause a person to never bother trying an arm bar from guard. But by not trying it you never get better at it. If you do try it you will probably loose because of it, but in the long term you will improve your skills, which is more important then who won the 4th round of Monday nights sparring session anyways.

Users who are viewing this thread