Become a “Judo Executioner”. Mental preparation for the Judo athlete.

This week I wanted to write about mental preparation for Judo. Specifically I wanted to write about how mental preparation can help Judo athletes to go from a “Randori Player” to a “Competition Player“. What I mean by this is this; we have all met Judoka that are amazing in Randori, yet fail to performance in competition. They have all the fitness, skills, etc. And yet they lose in competition, even against people they “should” be able to beat. So often the answer is their mental skills are not as developed as their physical skills. It is the mental skills development I wanted to address this week.

The Executioner's Axe, Tower of LondonSo whats all this “Judo Executioner” stuff?

In preparing to write this article I was brushing up on a few Sport Psychology articles and sources. One of the articles that took my eye was by Sean McCann (USOC Sport Psychologist), who writes about what he calls “Execution Mode”. I really liked the term and the article and it does form a core part of this weeks article.

“Execution Mode” as Sean describes it is NOT the same as being “in the zone” or being in a “flow state” which is a term which is gaining in popularity. “Execution Mode” is perhaps the predecessor and perhaps the trigger to a flow state.

Sean describes it has have the following three characteristics:

  • Simplicity and Clarity of thoughts
  • Certainty regarding focus.
  • Confidence in approach

So it describes a state where a Judo athletes mind is clear of cluttered thoughts, they have a simple game plan in their head, which can be described in words not paragraphs. In Judo we might be thinking “ashi waza”, or “Grip and go” or “Pull and turn”. In strategy terms perhaps it is “protect the wazari” or “inside grip”. You should be certain that you are focussed on what you are doing, you know that where you are mentally is where you need to be. You are in the right state of arousal, not too sleepy nor too hyped up. And you are confident that what you are doing is going to win the match. You know that you are going to execute the simple plan you have in your mind and that it will work. You know that if you do what you should it will work, and you know you will do it.

Execution mode is a simple mode of operation, where you as a Judo athlete have simplified everything and are operating with less “overhead”, so not worrying about all the details rather about the key concepts. So rather than worrying about the intricacies of your grip pattern against your opponents, you have switched to a state where that is handled sub-consciously. You have prepared well and know that your gripping can overcome theres, you don’t need to “sweat the details” you’ve done that in training and in preparation for the fight. In “Keep Them Out of Your Head: The Psychology of Fighting”, Dr. Randy Borum describes similar factors, specifically confidence and focus.

So, I decided to coin a new term, that of a “Judo Executioner” as I like the ominous overtones whilst it includes the “execution mode” core. As  Judo athlete, I want you to be a player that executes on demand. You want to be the player that on the big stage “gets to job done”, the player that follows a simple plan and executes that plan simple and effeciently; no stress, no dramatics, just get the job done.

How to become a Judo Executioner?

The simple answer is hard work followed by more hard work. What I would like you to include in the “work” is some mental preparation, you need to develop the ability to switch into “Execution mode” on demand. And just like a Ippon Seoi Nage, you need to learn how, practice and practice some more!

Step one is to decide that you need to make mental preparation part of your training routine and also part of your competition routine. You need to rehearse the steps in the process and experience it working and experience when you get it wrong, so you can adapt, improve and switch into execution mode on demand.

In terms of the specifics of “Execution Mode” here is the chart describing the three steps required to entire the mode according to Sean McCann:

As you can see, the steps build upon one another and in terms of mental state, it gets simpler and simpler as you go through the steps.

So in a Judo context, I am going to suggest you try the full three steps before each match in the day. The chart is not specifically designed for a sport like Judo where we have multiple “games” in one day. So consider using the three steps before each match. Obviously, this can put time contraints on how long you can spend mentally preparing, so your mileage may vary here.

Step one:

You need to understand the objectives, the opponent and how it all relates to you. You want to work with your coach and make sure you understand your opponents Judo. You need to know their grip patterns, their throws, there styles and their quirks. So you need to have done your homework. At this stage you can discuss how you will fight and how what you will do will overcome the opponent and ensure you win. You will discuss the grip battle, the movement patterns, the feints, the attacks, the transitions and the ne-waza that both you and your opponent use and how your Judo is going to beat their Judo.

What may seem silly, but is essential, is to discuss and have plans for where to stay before the event, where and when you are going to eat, when and where you will change, use the bathroom, warmup, rest, chat, watch video, etc etc etc.

Step one is the time to discuss and deal with all the distractions, get it cleared away.


At this stage you want to identify how you are going to win this match specifically. So map out from the first Hajime to the Sore Made how you as the player are going to do. You will again be working with your coach to define a simple clear plan for the fight. You will focus in on the specific grip patterns you will use. The throws you will use, the ne waza you will use.

t this stage you have stopped talking about all the variables, you are talking and thinking about how YOU will perform. How you are going to move, how you are going to grip, how you are going to break the opponents balance and how YOU are going to throw them for Ippon.

Although the focus is on YOU, you need to plan for your opponent, there is no point planning to throw with Uchi Mata Sukashi, if your opponent is a drop seoi exponent. You will have a selection of plans to contend with a variety of situations you expect to encounter.

Step Three: Execution Mode engaged!

At this point, you will be inside yourself. You will know what to do and how to do it. All the worries and concerns are gone. You have a simple simple plan for the match and you are ready to do it. You know precisely what you will do and both you and your coach have the same plan and you have keywords that reinforce the plan. You will know what to do and you will be confident that it will all work as planned.

You are ready for the mat, you walk on and you follow through on the plan.

Your coach may remain you of the plan if during the match you deviate. For example they may shout “tempo”, if your oppoenent for example has started slowing your movement down when you planned to pull them all over the mat. They may call “post the shoulder” if your oppoenent is taking an over the shoulder grip and you have stopped protecting against that grip.

The process of going through these steps will take time and effort to perfect, you will need to get advice and assistance in developing your mental skills for Judo. This Execution Mode is in ways the end result, there are tools you can use to acieve it. For example, a common tool youcan use is mental imagery. This is when you picture in your mind yourself performing your Judo.

In moving to execution mode, you may want to use imagery to “see” yourself performing your plan(s). Athletes like the British Javelin thrower Steve Backley; have used imagery successfully to reach the highest levels. You want to be able to see and feel yourself bowing on the mat, taking your grip (and defeating your opponents grip pattern). You want to feel your oppoenent in your mind as you see yourself moving them and breaking their balance. You feel their Gi on your back as you turn in for that perfect Seoi and hear the bang as they go over for Ippon.

When you fight and execute your Judo, when it works, it is what you expected, not a suprise.

So, you challenge for this week is to decide to be a Judo Executioner. Don’t be a player that attends a competition and improvises on the mat. Be the guy or girl who walks out there and gets the job done. It should be visible to anyone watching that you are 100% sure of what you are doing.

As with all things on the site, I recommend you talk with your coach and others and make it a team effort.

You are of course welcome to ask me question via the comments on the site or email me at


References: –

By Sean McCann, USOC Sport Psychologist- Strength and Power

Image by John Morris on Flickr

Comments (2)

eljinDecember 22nd, 2011 at 1:45 am

very helpful…. I won three consecutive matches against a brown, white and green…
the best part about it is I’m a white belt…. (^_^)

SkyFebruary 7th, 2017 at 2:39 pm

I’ve been doing judo since 4th grade, i am now in highschool finishig up my last year as a senior. Coming from Kaneohe Oahu as a yellow belt lol, te reason i’m so low is because i’d always skip out on promotions and always stop every now and then. But its my last year and I wanna be able to play in states this year. For the past 3 years i’ve been making too 6 in our big official tournaments, but i end up getting injured or concussion. This article has opened my mind to Judo and it has given me a different view about things, i use the steps and honestly its been working for my club practices, I can’t wait for season to start where i can use this in a match and see how good i perform, and if i fail i can keep practicing for states. Thank you for this article, its been helping me

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