Visualization and Imagery: Training Tool for the Martial Artists
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Visualization and Imagery: Training Tool for the Martial Artists

Visualization and imagery are powerful tools a martial artist can add to his/her training regimen to achieve maximum performance. But what are the qualities behind this tools that make them so effective?


It has been said that the strongest weapon in a martial artists’ arsenal is the mind that mastery of the martial arts is just mastery of the mind after all. With this premise, the fighter must not only strive to concentrate on physical aspect of his training but also on the integration of his mind component as well.

Visualization and imagery are powerful tools a martial artist can add to his/her training regimen to achieve maximum performance. But what are the qualities behind this tools that make them so effective?

According to researchers, the pictures we “see” in our mind’s eye, the inner “pictures” we feel or hear through our subconscious and conscious state have a real lasting power. They dictate and determine our reality. Theoretical antecedents of this theory are traceable to the late nineteen century, when W.B. Carpenter, author of the “Principles of Mental Physiology” postulated what we called an “ideo-motor principle.” According to this principle, whatever idea occupies our minds finds expression in our muscles.


Contemporary research further confirms this early finding. In their book, "The Mental Athlete”, Kay Porter and Judy Foster states: “Each time you ‘see’ yourself performing exactly the way you want with perfect form, you physically create neutral patterns in your brain.” These patterns are like small tracks permanently engrave on the brain cell. It is the brain that gives the signal to the muscles to move. It tells each muscle to move, when to move, and how much power. “Numerous studies have confirmed the fact that vividly experienced imagery, imagery that is both seen and felt, can substantially affect brain waves, blood flow, heart rate, skin temperature, gastric secretion and immune response…in fact the total physiology.” (Houston, The Possible Human, 1982)

Physical performance improves because the mind cannot distinguish between mental and physical experience. To your brain, a neutral pattern is a neutral pattern, whether it is created by a physical act or mental act. Your brain sends messages to the muscles and the muscles react. Visualization and imagery can be visual, auditory or kinesthetic. Some athletes have a strong physical “feeling”. They are more aware of how it “feels” that what it looks like. When they visualize, they really don’t have a picture. They have a feeling, a gut reaction, a physical response or memory. This is what works for them and they find it hard to “see” anyway though they may be using the term “visualization”. These hold true for those athletes who experience their performance by how it sounds – the crowd, the voices within, the words from support from their team mates, the music and rhythm they perform to or hear during the game and so on. For them also there may be no real picture but rather a sound or rhythm in their mind that guides them in their performance.

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Experts have found that visualization and imagery are most effective when used at least once a day at a time when a person is relaxed and undisturbed for at least 20 minutes. Porter and Foster further recommends the following to enhance the process: “You must know what you want and what results you are aiming for a particular visualization. It is good to have the knowledge of the ‘language’ of your event, the terms and idioms of your sport. Along with this, you should have a clear picture of how it looks to perform your event perfectly. This you can get by watching the best athletes in your sport in person, on television or looking at pictures in magazines or at posters. We suggest that you hand pictures of athletes performing your event to perfection where you can see them as often as possible. This will continually create the perfect picture in your mind, a feeling in your body, or important sounds or words and will keep you connected with what it will take for you to be the best you can be."

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In the genre of martial arts, the late Bruce Lee was an adherent of more or less similar method. Aside from the 5,000 books in his martial arts library, Bruce used to watch boxing films over and over again to ingrain techniques to his brain. In an article written by Mito Uyehara, in the book “The Legendary Bruce Lee”, it says

“Bruce’s boxing idol was Muhammad Ali who was the greatest heavyweight he had ever seen. Bruce used to watch Ali’s film over and over again until he knew most of his movements. To adopt some of his technique, Bruce would watch Ali’s film through a reflection of a mirror. Since Bruce’s stance was south paw and Ali is orthodox, he could view Ali’s fight in south paw through the mirror.”

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In an excerpt from the article by Dr. Jerry Beasley in Black Belt Magazine dated May, 1992, undefeated heavy weight karate champion Joe Lewis relates his experience with Lee. “We would begin each lesson with a general discussion of philosophy and we would review fight films of Jack Dempsey and Muhammad Ali.” The method was to view the films repeatedly in order to get the image of the perfect technique into your mind. “Lee could convince you that you could do what he was telling you could do", Lewis claim.

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Another important thing that researches have discovered was the fact that when practice occurs solely on the mind, it is more effective in at least some respect than when it takes place on the playing field. Another martial art legend, the late Floro Villabrille, Kali’s master of death match uses visualization and imagery as a major part of his pre-fight preparation. In the book “The Filipino Martial Arts”, he quoted saying, “Before a fight, I go to the mountains alone, I pretend my enemy is there. Imagine being attacked and in imagination I fight for real. I keep this up until my mind is ready for the kill. I can’t lose. When I enter the ring, nobody can beat me, I already know that man is beaten.” Even karate champion and film star Chuck Norris reveals that in his tournament days, he uses visualization prior to his actual matches. It has also been demonstrated that athlete who have never performed certain feats before can, after several specific visualization experiences over a period of weeks or months, perform that event very skillfully.

James W. De Mike, a first generation Bruce Lee student and practicing hypnotherapy, uses visualization extensively in his teachings, according to him, “Katas (forms) or a particular technique may be practiced. You can add speed to your motion once the moves and principles are learned. Practice simple techniques first. Spend time being an observer and then switch to participant role. More concentration and clarity will be developed as you practice imagery. In time, the body will actually be able to learn the action as if you were physically doing it."

Through the positive evidences regarding the value of visualization and imagery is overwhelming. The fighter must not see it as a panacea for his total development. One of the highest goals of martial arts is the unification of the body and mind. Mental training is the yin to perfectly compliment physical training which is the yang. It is something that any serious practitioner of the martial arts or physical culture cannot do without.

Many thanks for the thoughts of Perry Mallari and Marilitz Dizon of RAPID JOURNAL.

All images from GOOGLE IMAGE

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Comments (8)

Visualization is such a valuable tool in so many scenarios. Nice!

That was a great read! Thank you for sharing that. I rated it up and started to follow you, hope to see you in my list of friends too! Jeff

@James, I definitely agree, visualization can be used in many aspects, many thanks! @Jeffrey, thanks for the follow and vote.

Good article Ron.

Very interesting. Isn’t there a saying about visualizing fighting a tiger, and when it comes time to fight the tiger, you have already done it 100 times before. I also remember reading a long time ago about how someone in martial arts broke their hand, and visualized it healing every day. Visualized the bones actually mending.

Beautiful. You can also use visualization for your own relationships with others. It does work.

Good article on the mental game – so important. Everybody was Kung-Fu fighting...

Dear all, many thanks for the read, votes and comments, highly appreciated.