Mental imagery – learn more about this mental technique and how it can improve your performance in martial arts and self-defence.
For some time now during class I have been trying to explain the importance of visualising an attacker or opponent in front of you when training. Train like you are fighting (controlled of course) but visualising and feeling the simulated emotions of an actual self-protection encounter and the physical techniques you are learning.
I am hopeful that this blog will help shed more light on the importance of mental imagery and visualisation to improve your training. Mental Imagery is a technique we can use to improve our physical and mental performance in a fight, combat situation or during training.
A technique in which we use our imaginations to visualise:
• A situation.
• Ourselves inside it.
• The way we perform and feel in that situation.
For example: Before a physical self-protection encounter ever happens we can visualize (with as much use of all our senses as we can).
• The situation. The location, the screaming, the words used, the smell of the environment, the witnesses or the attacker standing in front of you.
• Ourselves inside the situation. Our heart rate, our feelings (anger, stress, anxiety, fear etc). Our thoughts. The clothes we are wearing. Our body is preparing itself, I am ready to act.
• The way we perform and feel. We are very aware, we are too fast for them. We strategise, we know where to hit. Whenever he sets up for his right hook, we strike instantly with a straight punch.
We feel good, the tension is decreasing, and we see an escape route, we are now home safe. This is only a short and small example of what our mental imagery could be like.
Improving quality of performance through mental imagery
Deepening our experience by simulating it, by “being” there and solving mental problems which arise like over-stress, over-motivation, over-confidence or lack of it and so on.
We can experience a fight as if we’re actually fighting. Getting hit and hitting, the stress we feel when we look in our opponents eyes. Face and solve the problems either during the mental imagery session or afterwards.
Whenever we perform an action it is our brain which performs it for us (aside from a reflex), by imagining the action in our mind we actually train and prepare our brain for what it must do.
This “brain workout” can be done in many ways, 2 important ones are outlined below.
Mental Imagery: Micro and macro
• Micro – on a small scale we imagine ourselves doing one detailed movement at a time for example – delivering a punch.
First we visualize the proper timing for acting (for instance when he steps in with a cross), then we visualize our legs and the direction of their movement. While they extend we can see and feel our hand come up, knee bend forward or hip start to rotate. Our shoulders follow through – the arm extending and at the last second the fist closes.
This is a good way to improve individual techniques, especially ones which for some reason we’re “stuck” on, and despite the physical and technical training we can’t seem to get it right.
• Macro – on a large scale we imagine ourselves performing a series of movements. Without going too deep into the actual motion of each movement. For example, visualising what we will do (and actually doing it in our mind) inside the “striking range ” position. Or visualising what we’ll do (and actually doing it in our mind) when we’re caught in a grab position.
We can imagine ourselves performing a combination or imagine the whole fight. If we “succeed” in our mind to perform to the level we want, then the mental imagery has trained our mind for proper behaviour, response and execution. It has improved and developed our self-confidence.
If during the session we lack the ability to perform, for example. In our imagination we can’t seem to work our tactics due to lack of understanding, or lack of ability to execute. Yes in some cases our mind will “let us know” we have a problem to execute by not letting us imagine the “scene” or by not letting us experience it in details. We can now begin to solve the cause of the problem through education and other methods.
Improving quality of training with mental imagery
We can use mental imagery during our workouts to improve everything we reviewed developing performance quality. With an addition of improvement and reinforcement of our training motivation and refocusing on our specific workout goals.
• We can use mental imagery as a refocusing method.
• We can use mental imagery as a method for relaxing.
Mental imagery’s most important rule is: Making it as real as we can!
By using as much of our senses as we can. The image must be vivid, real and continuous without “frame gaps” like a good movie, with the addition of utilising other senses as well.
Seeing the events through our eyes. This method is helpful especially when we’re working on mental aspects. Seeing the events through an outsiders eyes. This method is helpful especially when working on technical elements and martial arts techniques in general.
Mental imagery can be performed through using an outside person like a colleague or martial arts instructor to help us with the visualisation or by performing it on our own.
There are different preferences and opinions as to how to achieve proper mental imagery. My best advice for any martial artist is to test and examine and find what works best for them.
When and where to train and perform the mental imagery:
• Before a workout.
• During or as part of our warm ups.
• During training.
• For relaxing.
• After training.
• And so on.
Like any technique and skill we should train it in order for it to become useful and effective as well as easy and fast to perform.
• Try to involve as many senses as possible and create a realistic image of the situation.
• The images should be optimistic, positive and successful. If there’s an obstacle which interferes, good, solve it and return to the process.
• Practice between 10 – 20 minutes a day in order to increase effectiveness and skillfulness of the technique.
• Mental imagery should be learned and practiced while we are relaxed and in an un-distracting environment. Afterwards we can, step by step, practice it in normal and then in stressful situations.
• Having a colleague martial arts instructor teacher or trainer can be helpful.
Although mental imagery is defined as a mental training tool, it can also be a martial arts techniques training tool and a preliminary tool for fight simulations and acquiring fighting experience.
Mental imagery can never replace actual physical training. It is a stepping stone on the path to training our most important attribute – our mind.
If you or your child are interested in enrolling in martial arts classes, the Whitby Martial Arts Academy has the classes and teachers to help your child succeed. We will do our best to help you achieve your martial arts goals. Come on down to the Ontario Self Defence Centre.
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