I used to think visualization was a bunch of mumbo jumbo. It seemed too weird and ‘out there’ for me to really pay much attention to, so initially I ignored the concept in my martial arts practice.
Later, when I came across the imagery and visualization so prevalent in Taijiquan, I felt torn. Was I going to have to abandon logic in order to embrace Taiji’s study methodology? After all, how could a formless mental construct affect me physically?
But then I read the book The Art of Learning (written by Chess Master / Tai Chi push-hands world champion Josh Waitzkin). In it, Waitzkin talks about how he handled having his right hand in a cast for seven weeks leading up to the US National Push-Hands competition:
“I had an idea that I might be able to keep my right side strong by intense visualization practice. My method was as follows: I did a daily resistance workout routine on my left side, and after every set I visualized the workout passing to the muscles on the right. My arm was in a cast, so there was no actual motion possible— but I could feel the energy flowing into the unused muscles. I admit it was a shot in the dark, but it worked.” (Josh Waitzkin, Art of Learning*)
Although his language still seemed a little iffy (eg ‘feel the energy flowing into the unused muscles,’) there was nothing iffy about the results – he won the tournament.
Anecdotal evidence is nice, but I also wanted to see what the scientists had to say. I found several different meta-analyses that all agreed that mental practice such as visualization has a positive effect on performance (Source 1, 2, 3).
So now I’m a proselyte to the power of visualization and try to leverage it in my training. Whether it’s practicing moves in my head or imagining invisible enemies when applying my moves, it’s proven pretty effective for me. What are your thoughts and experience with using visualization and imagery in training? Tell us about it below!
*Waitzkin, Josh (2007-05-08). The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence (p. 131). Free Press. Kindle Edition.