New year’s resolutions aren’t for everyone, so if you’ve got your eye on a specific training or karate goal for 2022, here’s an alternative that might prove even more effective.

There’s a famous story about a soldier held captive during the Vietnam war.  While he was in captivity, he maintained his sanity by mentally playing 18 holes of golf every day. He’d walk the course, feel the sun on his back and the breeze through his hair, choose the perfect club, hit the perfect swing, score the perfect score. When he was eventually released and returned home, he played the same golf course he’d used in these visualisation sessions, and put down the best score of his life, having not touched a club in years.

Today, visualisation training is commonplace amongst athletes. Michael Phelps is dedicated to his visualisation practices and has often said it’s a game-changer in his performance. Every night before bed, Phelps visualises every aspect of his race, starting from walking out of the locker room, standing on the blocks, racing with speed and tenacity, and finishing with a triumphant celebration when he wins.

Says Bob Bowman (Phelps’ coach) about visualisation:

  1. It must be vivid
  2. It must be rehearsed many times (the brain cannot distinguish between something we visualise and something that’s real).

“By the time you’re on the spot to compete, you’ve already done it hundreds of times. The brain switches off and the body automatically knows what to do, which is to move into what you’ve visualised.”

Applying visualisation training in karate

There are a few ways you can apply this effective technique to your martial arts training, but perhaps most importantly, you need a purpose. This exercise is much more effective when you know what the end goal is, e.g. a belt grading or tournament, because it allows you to work backwards and outline the best approach. It’s very effective as a complementary practice to enhance your usual training schedule, even when injured. The easiest way to decide what to work on is to look at your current situation and look at what makes you most nervous or gives you the most trouble. Then you’re ready to dive in.

  1. For memory practice: Visualise the sequences or moves of kata. Every time you visualise your kata, the neuro-muscular pathways associated with that kata’s movements strengthen in your mind and body.
  2. For technical improvement: If you’re working on a particularly challenging aspect of your training or trying to improve your technique for a particular move, visualise yourself doing it perfectly in your mind.
  3. For success: Believing that you’ll win affects the way you perform. For example, seeing yourself defeat a difficult opponent, successfully achieving a move you’re having difficulty with, or completing high-stress training exercises with ease (like multiple combination sequences and multiple attacker defenses, etc.) will strengthen your chance of success.

How to

You can visualise from an external perspective (when you see yourself performing from outside your own body, like a spectator), or from an internal perspective (when you look through your own eyes i.e. from your own point of view). The experts suggest using a mix of both for best results.

Visualisation is not just for sports performance but can be used for business and school performance too. Like almost everything else, the key is in the consistency of practice. It can be hard in the beginning but like karate itself, gets easier with training.

Give it a try.