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Deconstructing Taekwon-Do

Visualization for Martial Arts: Get Better Without Training

Meditating monk

Have you ever tried using visualization for martial arts training? If you haven’t, you should. It’s fantastic.

Visualization isn’t a new concept. It’s been used in the sports world for decades, but I still know plenty of people who don’t incorporate it into their practice. That’s a shame, because numerous studies have shown that combining visualization with physical practice can seriously improve your skills. In fact, visualization alone can sometimes be almost as good as physical practice.

So what is visualization? It’s all about imagining yourself doing specific skills or performing in certain situations to help yourself improve as an athlete and a martial artist. It can help you perfect your technique, get you in the right mindframe to succeed or reduce negative thoughts, just to name a few benefits.

You can visualize exercises for sparring, patterns, destruction (i.e. breaking boards or other things), or any aspect of your training.

What can I visualize?

It’s all fine and good to say that you should can (and should) use visualization for martial arts training, but how do you know what to imagine? Here are a few ideas:

  • Visualize practicing a pattern with perfect technique.
  • Visualize yourself winning an event (patterns, sparring, whatever) at a tournament to get yourself in the right frame of mind.
  • When first learning a new pattern, practice it in your head to get the diagram down.
  • Visualize an intense sparring match to acclimatize yourself to the pressure (make sure you win the match).
  • Feel yourself performing a pattern and feel each muscle contract and relax at the right moments as you perform each technique.
  • Run through a sparring strategy to help ingrain combinations, etc.
  • See yourself performing your pattern, and focus on things like balance, good stances and proper preparation for each technique.
  • Visualize the sights, sounds and smells of a competition venue (going into this level of detail is great for all of your visualization sessions).
  • Visualize perfect technique as you break more boards than you ever have before.

How to practice visualization for martial arts

I don’t know whether there’s a definitive best way to practice visualization, but there are some overall tips that seem to work well. I’d recommend trying a few different things in your practice to see what works for you. Just like physically practicing an activity such as the martial arts, no single method will work the best for everyone.

Here’s the general outline to follow:

  1. Start with a plan. Decide what you’re going to visualize before you start. Don’t just let your session be haphazard or your mind will wander.
  2. Relax. Let yourself get into a comfortable position and relaxed frame of mind to let the visualization happen. Sit or lie down; whatever works for you.
  3. Use all of your senses. Visualize yourself in a fully-formed world by imagining all the details of your environment. How does the venue look? What colour are the walls? Are there people? How loud are they? Do you have an opponent? What do they look like? Are you standing on mats? What colour are they? What do they feel like? What do they smell like? You get the idea… The more “real” you can make your visualization session, the more benefit you will get from it.
  4. Decide on your point of view. When you visualize, do you see the scene as if you’re watching through your own eyes (first person), or from outside your body (third person)? You may find one easier than another, so it may take practice to be able to make the other work for you. A first-person point of view is usually better, because it more closely simulates real practice. But sometimes third-person is good, such as when you want to focus on how your technique looks as you move.
  5. Find the right intensity. Dial up the intensity as you need to. The more vivid your visualization, the better. For something like a sparring match, sometimes it can be good if it feels so real that your heart is pounding and you’re starting to sweat. But you don’t need to turn it up to 11 for every session.
  6. Wrap it up. Slowly finish up your visualization come back to the real world.

Like every skill, learning visualization for martial arts takes practice. You may not be able to do it well at first, but it will come with time. The more you do it—and, more importantly, the more often you do it—the better. Try practicing just 10 minutes a day. The more days of the week you can fit in a 10-minute session, the better.

Hopefully, you’ll soon start seeing the benefits in the real world.